We Can Do It:
Women on the Job

Founded in 1801, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was once known as America’s premier shipbuilding facility—which, at its peak during World War II, gave birth to Pearl Harbor’s USS Arizona and employed nearly 70,000 people. Boasting a 300-acre industrial park, today it is known for much more—the largest U.S. movie production studio outside of Hollywood, New York City’s oldest operating whiskey distillery, artist lofts that feature a panoramic view of the Manhattan skyline, and an innovative exhibition center, BLDG 92.

On the 3rd floor of BLDG 92 is Gallery 92, dedicated to exhibits that showcase tenant work, new collections and materials, art and historic interpretation. Currently on view is “Reflections on Rosie,” an art installation that looks at the legacy of Rosie the Riveter and the work of four female entrepreneurs who operate out of the hub today.

Ghosts of the Navy Yard

The “Reflections on Rosie” exhibit fluidly combines art and history, featuring a collaborative art installation that was inspired by over 20 oral history interviews with women who worked at the Navy Yard from 1942-1945, collected in partnership with the Brooklyn Historical Society. The current Navy Yard tenants, Susan Woods of Aswoon, Nora Ligorano of Ligorano/Reese, and Melissa Kirgan and Xing-Zhen Chung Hilyard of EkoLab, drew inspiration from the oral history interviews to create the art installation piece.

dressDress form and gown with a textile print inspired by the war effort. Photo: Sewon Christina Chung

The collaborative installation resulted in a dress form and gown with a textile print inspired by the war effort. Welded by Susan Woods, the fabricated dress form is inspired by quotes depicting the arduous physical labor. Melissa Kirgan designed the dress using stylized textile print by Nora Ligorano. The details on the dress include ship propellers and bomb motifs that resemble flowers, reflecting the political experiences of the women during WWII.

womenCatherine Hennings Sarnowski, Anne Harper, Lucille Kolkin and Ida Pollack (1942). Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Historical Society


Each of the walls of the gallery feature stylized silhouette of the WWII Rosie by Xing-Zhen Chung Hilyard. The four silhouettes of women represent key transformations experienced by women during the time. The first one, entitled “The Bobby Sockser,” is a silhouette of a young woman bounding out of her parents’ front door. The second one is “Rosie leaves for work,” and portrays Rosie wearing overalls. The third one is “Pay Day” Rosie, dancing in her new outfit she purchased herself. And finally, the exhibit concludes with “Homemaker” Rosie disappearing into her demure domestic role, and leaving the workforce.


iPads displaying information for the exhibition. Photo: Sewon Christina Chung

Continuing the narrative of women’s experience in the Navy Yard and bringing it to the present, an exhibit app on two iPads feature interviews with each artisan, the oral history clips that served as key sources of inspiration, as well as archival images from WWII-era.


Art meets History

Situated inside the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard, Gallery 92 is connected to halls leadings to the museum’s permanent exhibits, chronicling the mighty history of the former shipbuilding center and the manufacturing future of the site. Along with the gallery, BLDG 92 includes a café with a patio view of the Navy Yard, educational programs, and archival resources. The weekend bus tours begin at BLDG 92, which uncovers layers of Brooklyn history and provides access to the eerie abandoned buildings by the waterfront. And of course, you can always follow that with a whiskey tour around the historical distillery and talk some more about art.

  • Gallery 92 – “Reflections on Rosie” – Until May 31, 2013, Wed – Sun: 12 – 6pm [Works not for sale]

Article by Sewon Christina Chung