Rochelle Sumner is an American visual storyteller, installation artist, performance artist, and conceptual artist living and working in Charlottesville, Virginia. She combines photos, created by her 'artner', photographer Will Kerner, with writing, performance, and costume. Sumner weaves narratives about her experiences and those of her fictional characters. She created her persona of the The Bonnet Maker in her art from an Old German Baptist Brethren (OGBB) woman who leaves her old order and plain community. In old order culture, believers live apart from mainstream society practicing deep self-denial and strict social distancing. The Bonnet Maker’s journey is about unbonneting identity, retrieving essence, and integration.
“The Bonnet Maker visual narrative combines photos, text, writing, performance, and costume to weave a concept inspired by my OGBB great-grandmother Ida Mitchell Puffenbarger from Franklin, West Virginia (1868- 1972). She lived a headship directed, head-covered, religious-order life. Headship prescribes a women’s purpose: to be subordinate to men. The Bonnet Maker’s journey is about shame, un-bonneting identity, essence retrieval and integration. The Bonnet Maker’s bonnets are physical as well as metaphorical. Coverings handed down through generations of women. And like many coverings, they are self-made. As I plunged deeper into The Bonnet Maker’s character, I discovered she was me.”