Burning Man at the Renwick Gallery Volume 40.4

TRUTH IS BEAUTY by Marco Cochrane of stainless steel rod and stainless steel mesh, 2013. Photograph by Eleanor Preger, courtesy of the Renwick Gallery. THE 10 PRINCIPLES. Night scene: BURNING MAN PARTICIPANTS, 2013. Photograph by Neil Girling, courtesy of the Renwick Gallery.

Creativity is the principle that lies at the fiery heart of Burning Man. It is the sacred act that is celebrated by this neo-Pagan, techno-Hinduist, born-again-hippie festival, which represents to participants the absolute freedom to be one’s true self. It is appropriate that the hellishly hot, sandy basin in which the event sits is called the Playa. Metaphorically, it’s located on the boundaries of modern civilization and the vast unknown, between proverbial sea and sand. Effectively, it’s humanity’s sandbox, a place to play without all of the artificial constraints and prejudices we humans have made for ourselves.

      That word, play, is a much underappreciated aspect of human nature. Nora Atkinson would probably agree. As the Lloyd E. Herman Curator of Craft for the Renwick Gallery, Atkinson put together the landmark exhibition, “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man” for many reasons, ranging from the personal (a former resident of the state of Washington, she felt a longing for West Coast culture) to the idealistic. As the quintessential outsider event, bringing Burning Man to the nation’s capital had more than a touch of subversiveness to it.

Burning Man was born in San Francisco, on the original Playa, Baker Beach, in 1986. It all began when carpenter Larry Harvey and his friend, Jerry James, knocked up a crude wooden effigy of a human being, dubbed the Man, bundled him up into the back of a Ford pickup truck, and carried it down to the shoreline. There, they and a group of friends raised the combustible figure, doused him with gasoline, and the rest is history.

WINTER IS COMING... by Manish Arora of silk and metallic armor, hand-embroidered, hand-embellished, chain-linked by hand, 2015. Photograph by Carolyn L.E. Benesh.

THE PLAYA PROVIDES NECKPIECE from various artists, assembled by Jennifer George, of metal, plastic, crystal, abalone, wood, and sterling silver, 2006-2017. The gifting economy that underpins the entire foundation of Burning Man, both literally and figuratively, leads to a continual and constant exchange of medals, pendants, badges, brooches, and other memorabilia as signs of affection, friendship, community, and shared memories. Photograph by Patrick R. Benesh-Liu.

      Well, not quite. The catalysts that transformed the Baker Beach gathering into a temporary settlement nestled in the sweltering sands of Nevada desert were the po-po, and a group of like-minded malcontents, thrillseekers and iconoclasts known as the Cacophony Society. Like Russian matryoshka dolls, the Society came from a small group of friends who dubbed themselves the Suicide Club—after surviving, according to local lore, a stint hanging precariously from a loose railing over the crashing Pacific Ocean below Fort Point. Afterwards, Gary Warne and three compatriots recovered to safety, with a solemn oath to live each day as their last. These dwellers of the fringe, inhabiting the periphery of the human experience, would attract more like-minded individuals. Happenstance (and word of mouth) brought the flotsam and jetsam of San Francisco together on Baker Beach, celebrating the immolation of the Burning Man.

The festivities were interrupted in 1990, as the local police informed the revelers that the party was over. The community did not waste any time; during Labor Day weekend, a procession set out from Golden Gate Park, to find Burning Man’s new home, in Black Rock Desert, Nevada, far to the north of Reno. Here, in the middle of nowhere, underneath the blazing sun, a member of this band of merry adventurers, Michael Michael, marked the boundary between worlds with a foot dragged through the dirt, baptizing it with the words, “On the other side of this line, everything will be different. Reality itself will change.”

AERIAL VIEW of Burning Man gathering at Black Rock City, 2012.  Photograph by Scott London.

      Black Rock City is the real final frontier (pardons to Gene Roddenberry). There might be a lot of wild, unexplored and untamed land left on planet Earth, but Burning Man dives deep into the social, spiritual and ethical territory that lays far out in uncharted waters. Ten Principles girdle the philosophical foundation of Burning Man: Radical Inclusion, Gifting, Decommodification, Radical Self-Reliance, Radical Self-Expression, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility, Leave No Trace, Participation, and last, but absolutely not least, Immediacy. It is radical in that most honest of ways, by being a pure expression of what it preaches.

What may surprise those who view the festival as frivolous is the amount of work that goes into organizing Burning Man, and the structures that have grown up around it. The Department of Public Works (whose insignia is the Man circumscribed by the spokes of a tire wheel, embedded in a great black gear) has a laundry list of tasks that include “Building logical roads, creating and placing signage, maintaining approved potable water systems, providing portable and stationary electrical power, assisting with major art projects, and setting up the small-plane airport and runway.” The fact that between all those practical considerations, nestled surreptitiously, is the art, illustrates how the boundaries between practical life and art grow thin and merge together here. Like in many indigenous and folk traditions, there is no separation.

It was this challenge, of authentically presenting the spirit of the event, presenting the glitz and glamour without obscuring the substance, that Nora Atkinson faced in mounting the exhibition at the Renwick, part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Like a living flame, its temporary nature and spontaneity is its essence. How do you communicate that to an audience inside a building that is more than a century old?

 

BEFORE I DIE by Candy Chang (New Orleans, Louisiana), 2011. As an experiment in community building, and healing, Chang created the first wall on an abandoned house in her neighborhood of New Orleans. A response to a loved one who had just died, now these participatory installations, like David Best’s Temple, allow its audience an intimate relation with the art. In fact, the audience is part of the art itself. Photograph by Carolyn L.E. Benesh.

 

      The key, Atkinson reveals, is collaboration. “I reached out early on to the Burning Man organization. I had already had in my head a number of artists that I wanted to include, many of them being perennial artists that I thought really represented the aesthetics that have come out of Burning Man. But I also wanted to make sure that the community felt heard, and that the internal community favorites made it into the show, and that we had a really wide spread.” She makes reference to the populist nature that is at the root of Burning Man, an “Anything You Can Do I Can Do” ethos that sees MFA trained artists creating installations alongside carpenters and death metal heads.

Some, like Michael Garlington, graduated from Burning Man University by first working in the Department of Public Works, then apprenticing to celebrities such as David Best, who created the temple made of recycled wood that takes over the Grand Salon on Renwick’s second floor. Now Garlington’s work is exhibited by a gallery, and he erects his own sacred structures on the dusty surface of the Playa. For Atkinson, revealing this network of connections and relationships that develop through the festival was vital, as was giving Burners (a term for Burning Man attendees/devotees that is as contentious as it is ubiquitous) a voice in the show. “We actually put out a call in the Burning Man community, through the Burning Man organization, asking people to submit artists that they thought were important, artists that were some of their favorites, to us. And there were some pieces in the exhibition that made it in that were discovered through people’s suggestions.”

TEMPLE by David Best and the Temple Crew of recycled wood, 2018. Best creates wooden temples, spiritual structures, that are lit on fire each year at Burning Man. The Renwick commissioned him to create a temple for the exhibition, which Best dedicated to people who have lost, whether it be a loved one or something else. Visitors were encouraged to write on small wooden plaques that could be placed at the various altars around the temple. Best has said that there are few sacred spaces where people can reflect on loss and to celebrate and remember our deepest emotions. Photographs by Carolyn L.E. Benesh.

      While the art installations may be the most memorable aspect of the festival’s visual milieu, Atkinson wanted to present the experience of Burning Man in a holistic and comprehensive manner, and what is a day on the Playa without body paint, glow-in-the-dark fabrics and otherworldly outfits?

READY TO LOVE ENSEMBLE by Manish Arora of thread, silk, beads, crystals, faux patent leather, felt, sequins, and iridescent armor, hand-embroidered, hand-embellished, hand-appliquéd, chain-linked by hand, 2016. Photograph by Carolyn L.E. Benesh.

      Normally we associate costumes and clothing as being different; one is unserious, fun and fantastical, while the other is outerwear to protect ourselves from the elements. Both however are the same in one very obvious respect: they are objects worn on the body. It is the gentle and not-so-gentle continuous pressure of society that makes certain outfits “costumes,” generally because they are too outlandish for people to comfortably accept as clothing. 

In fact, we are rejecting the validity of the wearer’s humanity. A person wearing something so outside the norm that we don’t recognize them as part of “our group” anymore becomes a caricature. Whether it is the loose, voluminous clothing of a clown, replete with red hair and rubber nose, or the dazzling ethnic attire from a foreign culture, for many people that invokes The Label of Other.

The costumes and clothing generated by Burners speak to the dissolution of societal labeling, just as the gifting of food, water and services represents an intentional shift away from a heartless status quo towards a healthy one. What you wear on the Playa is an expression of self; a statement of both exploration and identity where the message is simply, “This is who I am.” Whether the image you are projecting is what you want to be, what you actually are underneath society’s baggage, or the self you are finally, after many years, comfortable with revealing, Burning Man, for all its carnival illusions, is rather more real than the circus it superficially resembles.

With limited space and a huge breadth of material, Atkinson had to establish criteria for what pieces she wanted to display in the exhibition. The route she chose was to present artist and designer-made costumes to highlight the more unusual and fantastic wearables seen at Burning Man, while using photographs to give visitors an idea of what the every day Playa-goer looks like. She jokes about how when she has taken Burners through the exhibition, the most audible criticism is “Where’s the duct tape?” For many, who don’t know how to sew or cut fabric for clothing, ensembles are assembled from thrift-store purchases and random gear shimmied together with glue and a prayer.

NAGANA BRASS GOWN by Gelareh Alam of hand-cut leather, and custom metal work by Jungle Tribe, 2014. Although resembling something out of Mad Max, Alam’s intention for both pieces in the exhibition were born of a desire to express her thoughts on the emotional investment, both good and difficult, that love requires in a wearable piece. Photograph by Carolyn L.E. Benesh.

      That is not the case with the specimens on display here. Even though they appear like the regalia of alien queens, Gelareh Alam’s Cocoon Gown and Nagana Brass Gown, along with Caley Johnson’s collaborative piece the Crown of Nagini, are more than simple costumes. Rather than being made for theatrics or pretending, Alam’s clothing is meant to raise the stature of the wearer, and to create an aura of confidence that elevates them. They are also deeply personal. Alam, who grew up during the Iranian revolution, has been going through a journey of self-realization since she arrived in the States.

When Alam first came to the U.S. to study fashion design at the Art Institute of California, she was moving from a degree in psychology to a new world, without being able to speak English. She found her voice through visual communication, which she feels led to her emphasizing sight above the other four senses. America gave her the room to explore and grow as a human being. When Alam went to Burning Man in 2007, as she was completing her degree, it was because a friend gifted her with a birthday ticket.

What that visit did for her self-confidence was profound. She brought some of her clothing to the festival, and the recognition she received from total strangers was like the cosmos giving her the proverbial wink and nod. “I could not believe the response I was getting. It was amazing to see. Suddenly I was being praised for the creativity that I was not allowed to practice growing up, and that was a huge transformation.

“Burning Man was so natural for me, it felt like home,” says Alam. “Expression in the elements. Sublime. Here was a culture screaming that radical self-expression was not just good, but demanded. It was a place to re-define myself, and align with peace, equality, human empathy. It was transformational and deeply empowering. As an artist I am constantly in search of inspiration and constantly trying to break through those barriers. At Burning Man, this is the whole point of everything anyone does there.”

THORAX, AMBASSADOR OF THE INSECTS by Tyler FuQua of reclaimed materials, 2015-16. Photograph by Carolyn L.E. Benesh.

     Tyler FuQua has been constructing giant puppets for over fifteen years as his true passion, while making a living as a contractor. Building things is in his blood, whether it’s remodeling a bathroom or creating large metal installations. “Of course, it’s way more fun to build a giant robot instead of remodeling a bathroom,” he explains, “but sometimes I get projects that combine art and functionality.” His wearable costume, grandly titled Thorax, Ambassador of the Insects, was inspired as he mused about the speaker grills on his stereo, which resembled alien bug eyes. “I made the first helmet using these grills but it was just too ominous. I build fun things for all ages so this just wasn’t doing it for me. I went back to the drawing board and made what you see now. I really wanted to use as many reclaimed materials as possible, so the creation of Thorax was really determined by what I could find on the shelves at thrift stores. I would just walk around with an open mind until I found something that would work for what I needed. A lot of my art is creature-based, and I am a huge superhero fan, so Thorax is a conglomeration of those two things.”

There is also an element of self-invention. For many, Burning Man is that rare time in their life when they can be someone else. The straitjacket of their work, home or family life is temporarily lifted, and they are free to experiment with who they are. On the Playa, Burners find themselves anew, break apart previous conceptions of self, and come back together, rejuvenated, in some cases reborn, no LSD or ayahuasca required.

That isn’t to say everyone who comes to Burning Man finds it a transcendent experience; indeed, the point is the festival represents different things to different people. Perhaps that’s what makes it such a uniquely American phenomenon. Atkinson notes one of the reasons why she chose it as the subject of an exhibition was that Burning Man is as American as apple pie. “It was born in this very frontier culture, this sort of West Coast culture and Silicon Valley, believing that just because something has been done one way before doesn’t mean that’s the way it has to be done. The idea of being out in a vast, empty environment and creating something entirely new from scratch has a lot to do with the entire American dream and the spirit of what we are as a country.”

TOTEM OF CONFESSIONS by Michael Garlington and Natalia Bertotti at Burning Man, 2015. Photograph by Michael Holden, courtesy of the Renwick Gallery.

      Such a multidimensional entity as Burning Man isn’t meant to be pinned down by taxonomists, although many will try. One flailing wing of the butterfly might be identified in that the festival is a radical social experiment. By undergirding the laboratory with strong, actively exercised principles, the Mad Scientist is unleashed into “the real world.” This doesn’t take place in a vacuum, a society without rules that is the nightmare of many a dystopian take on the future. In fact what we have here is a nascent utopia, taken to its practical heights by the wild and untameable spirit of the people involved. But the dream doesn’t die with the end of each year’s festivities; it keeps being passed on by those who lived it, out there on the dusty earth of the Nevada desert.

SUGGESTED READING
Bruder, Jessica.
Burning Book: A Visual History of Burning Man. New York: Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2007.
Christians, Karen and Christine Kristen. Jewelry of Burning Man. Santa Rosa, CA: Global Interprint, Inc., 2015.
Raiser, Jennifer. Burning Man: Art on Fire. New York: RacePoint Publishing, 2016.
King, Nicholas. Burners. Cochiti Lake, NM: Laughing Coyote Press, 2017.
Galbraith, Carrie and John Law. Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society. San Francisco: Last Gasp, 2013.
Jones, Steven T. The Tribes of Burning Man: How an Experimental City in the Desert Is Shaping the New American Counterculture. San Francisco: CCC Publishing, 2011.

LORD SNORT by Bryan Tedrick, 2016. Photograph by Duncan Rawlinson, courtesy of the Renwick Gallery.

“No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man” is showing in two phases, with the full exhibition through September 16, 2018, then certain works will be viewable through January 21, 2019, at the Renwick Gallery, Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20006.
Visit their website at www.americanart.si.edu/visit/renwick.

Burning Man debuts annually; for 2018 it met from August 26 - September 3.
Visit their website at www.burningman.org.

 

     Get Inspired!

 
 

PBL_Contributor-2018.jpg

Patrick R. Benesh-Liu is Associate Editor of Ornament and continues to find time to enjoy craft in between writing, travel and tech support. A scene hopper, Benesh-Liu has spent time in a variety of art and craft-based communities, from millennial pop culture fan groups like Anime cosplay and furry costumes to outsider art museums like the John M. Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. While in Washington, D.C. at the Renwick Gallery’s landmark exhibition, “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man,” he realized his interests were all leading to one place, Black Rock City. After interviewing Nora Atkinson, the Renwick’s Lloyd E. Herman Curator of Craft, as well as artists whose work was featured, the interconnectivity of this event with creative communities became apparent. As Ornament’s reporter, he also provides a zesty compilation of the latest news in craft.

Feathers and Fashion Volume 40.4

ROSEATE SPOONBILL WATERCOLOR (Platalea ajaja) by John James Audubon (1785-1851), circa 1831-32. Purchased for the New-York Historical Society by public subscription from Mrs. John J. Audubon, 1863. Photographs courtesy of the New-York Historical Society. Audubon admired these prehistoric-looking wading birds, the largest North American member of the ibis family. The beauty of their feathers brought the species to the brink of extinction by 1920. They survived after the Audubon Society dispatched wardens to protect them and urged the passage of strict conservation laws. Today, the Roseate Spoonbill is one of the great success stories of the conservation movement.

The centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 is a milestone for the field of ornithology, but the fashion world deserves to share in the celebrations, too. The passage of the Act—which prohibited the hunting, killing, trading, and shipping of migratory birds and regulated America’s commercial feather trade—was the direct result of women rallying together to resist the fashion for extravagantly beplumed hats that had devastated bird populations worldwide.

      In honor of what the National Audubon Society has declared the “Year of the Bird,” the New-York Historical Society’s recent exhibition “Feathers: Fashion and the Fight for Wildlife” blended fashion, activism and conservation science to honor the early environmentalists who helped turn the tide of public opinion against so-called “murderous millinery.” At a time when “ethical” and “sustainable” are once again trendy style buzzwords, the show served as both a cautionary tale and a call to action.

THE BIRD ON NELLIE’S HAT SHEET MUSIC, 1906. New-York Historical Society Library, Bella C. Landauer Collection.

      In the second half of the nineteenth century, hats were essential year-round accessories for respectable women. But they were more social conventions and decorative accoutrements than practical sources of warmth or protection from the elements. “A hat is nothing but a pretext for a feather, an excuse for a spray of flowers, the support for an aigrette, the fastening for a plume of Russian cock’s feathers,” wrote French art critic Charles Blanc in his 1875 treatise Art in Ornament and Dress (L’art dans la parure et dans le vêtement). Hats increasingly incorporated not just feathers but bird’s wings, heads and even entire bodies.

Far from being seen as barbaric or macabre, these avian accessories were initially admired for their natural beauty, artful craftsmanship and scientific interest. At a time of rapid urbanization, they brought city dwellers closer to nature; there was a corresponding fad for terrariums and aquariums. In February 1900, Vogue described a chic Parisienne wearing a “little toque . . . adorned with a few upright wings of some sort of South American bird, the sleek feathers of which gleamed like jewels.” The dead birds might be mounted on wires to create the illusion of movement. Sometimes they were framed in a bucolic mise-en-scène of leaves, twigs, dead mice, and reptiles. Advances in taxidermy in the 1880s and ‘90s affected hats as well as hunting trophies.

Hats served as posthumous perches for everything from petite songbirds like starlings, parakeets and hummingbirds to large and flamboyant birds of paradise, peacocks and even owls, reanimated with glass eyes. Milliners might amp up their exoticism by assembling Frankenfowl hybrids from the head of one bird and the wings or tail feathers of another. Plumes were dyed colors unknown in nature, or formed into trompe l’oeil flowers.

RED-LEGGED HONEYCREEPER EARRINGS of preserved hummingbird heads, gold, metal, unidentified maker, probably London, England, circa 1865. Animal parts and insects decorated late nineteenth-century jewelry. In 1865, London jeweler Harry Emanuel patented a method to inset hummingbird heads, skins and feathers into gold and silver mounts. As objects of beauty as well as scientific fascination, the dazzling birds’ heads and feathers were prized as earrings, necklaces, brooches, and fans. 

      “Colibri”—the French word for “hummingbird”—was slang for a frivolous person, making the diminutive creatures especially fitting fashion emblems. In 1889, the Parisian milliner Madame Josse created a toque trimmed with cut jet and “a dragonfly made of the breast-feathers of humming-birds,” according to the Millinery Trade Review. The English called hummingbirds “flying gems,” referencing their value as well as their beauty. The birds’ iridescent feathers, heads, skins, and even entire bodies were incorporated into hats, fans and pieces of jewelry; in 1865, London jeweler Harry Emanuel patented a method of setting them in gold and silver mounts. An example in the exhibit showed a pair of hummingbird-head earrings circa 1865 with the beaks tipped with gold.

Indeed, feathers adorned every part of a fashionable woman’s body. The enormous Roseate Spoonbill was a favorite of fan-makers; it was nearly extinct by 1920, though it rebounded after the Audubon Society dispatched protection wardens to its colonies. A bustled ice-blue satin evening gown of 1885 featured a swansdown-trimmed collar and train. Swans were an attribute of Venus, the Roman goddess of love, making their feathers an appropriate feminine ornament. Like the gown’s velvet underskirt and lace cuffs, swansdown was both expensive and sensual. It also played a part in beauty rituals, formed into powder puffs. Just as birds use their extravagant plumage to attract potential mates, so do people. 

SILK SATIN EVENING DRESS with feathers and swansdown accents by R.H. White & Co (1853-1957), Boston, Massachusetts, 1885. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.

TUNDRA SWAN WATERCOLOR (Cygnus columbianus) by John James Audubon. Purchased for the New-York Historical Society by public subscription from Mrs. John J. Audubon, 1863. Tundra Swans once nested over most of North America, but disappeared rapidly as civilization advanced westward. By the 1930s, fewer than one hundred remained south of Canada. With protection from hunting and the disturbance of plumers, northwestern populations have rebounded. Today, their population is stable enough to sustain a limited hunting season in some areas.

SILK SATIN EVENING DRESS with feathers and swansdown accents by R.H. White & Co (1853-1957), Boston, Massachusetts, 1885. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009. TUNDRA SWAN WATERCOLOR (Cygnus columbianus) by John James Audubon. Purchased for the New-York Historical Society by public subscription from Mrs. John J. Audubon, 1863. Tundra Swans once nested over most of North America, but disappeared rapidly as civilization advanced westward. By the 1930s, fewer than one hundred remained south of Canada. With protection from hunting and the disturbance of plumers, northwestern populations have rebounded. Today, their population is stable enough to sustain a limited hunting season in some areas.

      A delicate gold and diamond tiara—worn by a bride on her wedding day in 1894—sported trembling egret feathers instead of an aigrette, the feather-like spray of jewels named for the white bird who wears a lacy cape of plumage during nesting season. Egret feathers were scornfully dubbed the “white badge of cruelty” by wildlife advocates. They were worth a princely twenty dollars per ounce in 1915, according to The Tropic Magazine; as a result, egrets were hunted nearly to extinction. In 1902, about a ton and a half of egret plumes were sold in London, representing around 200,000 adult birds (and the destruction of two to three times that number of eggs).

 

GREAT EGRET WATERCOLOR (Ardea alba) by John James Audubon, 1821. Purchased for the New-York Historical Society by public subscription from Mrs. John J. Audubon, 1863. The National Audubon Society adopted a flying Great Egret, one of the chief victims of turn-of-the-century plume hunters, as its symbol in 1953. The sheer splendor of their aigrettes positioned the Great Egret on the edge of extinction by the early twentieth century. With conservation laws, the species has rebounded. AIGRETTE HAIR ORNAMENT (from a Snowy or Great Egret) of egret feathers, gold, gold wire, diamonds, J.H. Johnston & Co, NYC, 1894. Museum of the City of New York, Gift of Mrs. Mary S. Griffin, 1961. Mature Snowy and Great Egrets develop wispy feathers along their breasts, heads and tails during their breeding season. Because of this fleeting growth, these feathers were among the rarest milliners used.

HERRING GULL WATERCOLOR (Larus argentatus) by John James Audubon with George Lehman, 1831. Purchased for the New-York Historical Society by public subscription from Mrs. John J. Audubon, 1863. ACCESSORY SET OF HERRING GULLS, feathers, silk, including muff and tippet, unidentified maker, USA, 1880–99. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection, 2009. This unusual muff and tippet, made with four adult Herring Gulls harvested during breeding season, demonstrates how accessory manufacturers exploited these birds.

 
At the height of the “Plume Boom,” the U.S. fashion industry consumed five million wild birds annually, driving many species to the point of near extinction. London, the international hub of the unprocessed feather market, imported nearly 7,000 bird of paradise skins from New Guinea and more than 7,600,000 birds from India and Brazil in the first quarter of 1884 alone.

      Birds and birds’ wings were popular trimmings for the low, brimless hats called toques that trended in the Edwardian era, lending dimension and visual interest to minimalist style. “It’s the toque that dominates,” the weekly magazine La Semaine littéraire declared in 1901. “Birds, alas! entire seagulls rest on these toques, or else a bird’s head forms the middle in front, the two wings spread out to cover the whole hat.” Though seagulls may not seem exotic today, the large Herring Gull species nearly went extinct due to its popularity for hats and other accessories around the turn of the century. A gruesome highlight of the show was a matching muff and tippet set made of carcasses from four adult Herring Gulls; their distinctive red markings indicate that the gulls were killed during breeding season, when their plumage was at its most spectacular.

 

MME. FAUCHÈRE TRADE CARD, circa 1894. Numerous feather traders, importers and manufacturers were located in New York City. Many of the feathers incorporated into clothing and hats were imported from South America, South Africa and Africa. Game and plume hunters from Florida, Texas and Louisiana supplied many of the domestic feathers. 

 

      Women were not the only fans of feathers, however; the nineteenth century was the great age of men in uniform, and the exhibition included a military hat brandishing an exotic scarlet plume. But it was women—often the very elites who helped popularize feathered fashions—who were the first to respond to the trend’s alarming consequences for the environment.

 FLORENCE MERRIAM BAILEY (1863–1948). Florence Merriam Bailey began her ornithology career while a college student. She established the Smith College Audubon Society in 1886 after becoming alarmed by the numbers of birds and feathers that adorned fellow students’ hats. Distinguished by her reverence for scientific observation, many of her books, including  Birds Through an Opera Glass  (1889), became important field guides. 

FLORENCE MERRIAM BAILEY (1863–1948). Florence Merriam Bailey began her ornithology career while a college student. She established the Smith College Audubon Society in 1886 after becoming alarmed by the numbers of birds and feathers that adorned fellow students’ hats. Distinguished by her reverence for scientific observation, many of her books, including Birds Through an Opera Glass (1889), became important field guides. 

      At the height of the “Plume Boom,” the U.S. fashion industry consumed five million wild birds annually, driving many species to the point of near extinction. London, the international hub of the unprocessed feather market, imported nearly 7,000 bird of paradise skins from New Guinea and more than 7,600,000 birds from India and Brazil in the first quarter of 1884 alone. South America and Africa (particularly France’s African colonies) provided the lion’s share of exotic birds. By 1911, it was estimated that the Paris fashion industry was responsible for the deaths of 300 million birds per year. This grim toll was exacerbated by the fact that birds were hunted when their feathers were at their most magnificent—that is, during mating and breeding seasons, which magnified the problem of hunting birds by disrupting their reproductive cycles and dooming their orphaned chicks to death.

GEORGE BIRD GRINNELL (1849–1938). Born in Brooklyn, Grinnell played a seminal role in American conservation. In 1886, Grinnell founded the Audubon Society of New York, the forerunner of the National Audubon Society (1905). He launched it from its publication Audubon Magazine as “an association for the protection of wild birds and their eggs.”

      The growing concern over the rampant pillaging of exotic bird populations for their plumage led to the formation of England’s Plumage League (later the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) in 1889 and, in America, a series of regional Audubon Societies, named for ornithologist John James Audubon. (Fourteen life-sized watercolors of birds—depicted living, flying and in their natural habitats—from his landmark 1838 book The Birds of America were on display.) The National Audubon Society was founded in 1905; in 1953, it adopted an egret as its symbol.

In Gilded Age New York, socialites Harriet Lawrence Hemenway and Minna Hall staged tea parties to try to persuade their rich friends to stop buying hats with real plumage. Lilli Lehmann, a German opera singer and animal lover, campaigned passionately against wearing feathers during a residence with the Metropolitan Opera, offering her fans autographs in exchange for a promise not to wear feathers. Florence Merriam Bailey, an ornithology student at Smith College, established a campus Audubon Society in 1886 after becoming alarmed by the numbers of birds and feathers that adorned her classmates’ hats.

Politicians and many in the fashion and feather trades pushed back against these protests; after all, jobs were at stake. A cottage industry of “willowers”—often Italian immigrants, sometimes children—who specialized in lengthening the short strands of inferior ostrich feathers were among those affected. The Act impacted these laborers as well as feather importers, hat manufacturers and retailers. Surprisingly, some naturalists and ornithologists rallied to the defense of the feather dealers, pointing out that their destructive tendencies had been exaggerated by ignorant if well-meaning activists, and it was not in their financial interests to hunt birds to the point of extinction.

However, the feather trade was not just devastating to bird populations but to the greater environment; gulls, for examples, are instrumental in keeping shorelines clean. It also impacted the fashion workers who toiled in dangerous conditions in tenements to create feathered hats. Eventually, these widespread moral and environmental concerns were codified into law in the form of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This landmark legislation is credited with saving numerous species from extinction, including the Snowy Egret, Wood Duck and Sandhill Crane. It also paved the way for later legal protections of wildlife, such as the Endangered Species Act of 1973. 

A similar statute, the Importation of Plumage Act, was passed in the United Kingdom in 1922. In France, where a guild of plumassiers—the artisans who dyed, shaped, processed, and sold feathers for use in apparel—had been active since the sixteenth century and retained considerable political power, change was slower to come. But it was undoubtedly hastened by formation of the Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO) in 1912, as well as by World War I, which inaugurated a new era of minimalism in French fashion.

UNKNOWN WOMAN WEARING AN AUDUBONNET. American Museum of Natural History, Special Collections. The Audubon Society also addressed the feather craze by promoting “birdless hats” trimmed with a variety of ribbons, flowers and fabric.

      Feathers from game and poultry destined for the dinner table remained morally neutral, as did ostrich feathers, which could be plucked from the tail without harming the bird. Milliners found creative ways to lend exoticism to non-endangered farm fowl like ducks, geese and chickens, or create artificial exotic “birds” out of commonplace feathers and glue. Ethical “Audubonnets” were decorated with ribbons, artificial flowers and twists of fabric; Audubon chapters commissioned leading milliners to design them.

The tradition continues today. Paris-based Lemairé, which has been supplying feathers to haute couture houses for more than a century, routinely makes feathers from common barnyard birds look like exotic specimens. British milliner Stephen Jones, whose work has crowned the heads of Princess Diana and the new Duchess of Sussex, has long used farm fowl feathers and artificial feathers in his elaborate headpieces, in compliance with Audubon Society guidelines.

As feathered hats and frocks have cycled back into fashion in recent months—seen at royal weddings, on the red carpet and on the runways of design houses like Nina Ricci, Calvin Klein, Balenciaga, Prada, Proenza Schouler, and Alexander McQueen—the morality of wearing feathers is once again being debated, just as many women are reluctant to wear fur or leather. Even down-filled winter coats are increasingly advertised as being “ethically sourced” and “cruelty free.” In February of this year, the Trump administration reversed a key provision of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, saying it poses a burden for utilities and energy companies; wildlife advocates argue that this move effectively guts the law. Maybe the Audubonnet will make a comeback?

“Feathers: Fashion and the Fight for Wildlife” showed April 6 – July 15, 2018, at the
New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, New York 10024.
Visit their website at www.nyhistory.org.

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Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell is an art historian specializing in fashion and textiles. She has worked as a curator, consultant and educator for museums and universities around the world. Chrisman-Campbell is the author of Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, published by Yale University Press. Chrisman-Campbell was recently honored by the Costume Society of America, receiving the Betty Kirk Excellence in Research Award. For this issue, she explains the history behind the “Feathers: Fashion and the Fight for Wildlife” exhibition at the New-York Historical Society, tracing a fascinating line between exploitation and activism.

Penn Museum Middle East Galleries Volume 40.4

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 BRICK FOOTPRINT, circa 2100 - 2000 B.C. This print of a human foot was discovered on an ancient mud brick used in construction at the royal city of Ur (modern-day Iraq), and is now placed at the entrance to the Penn Museum’s Middle East Galleries.  All photographs courtesy of the Penn Museum.   QUEEN PUABI NECKLACE of gold and lapis lazuli with central floral design, 2450 B.C. 

BRICK FOOTPRINT, circa 2100 - 2000 B.C. This print of a human foot was discovered on an ancient mud brick used in construction at the royal city of Ur (modern-day Iraq), and is now placed at the entrance to the Penn Museum’s Middle East Galleries. All photographs courtesy of the Penn Museum. 
QUEEN PUABI NECKLACE of gold and lapis lazuli with central floral design, 2450 B.C. 

It starts with a single footprint. Impressed some four thousand years ago by an anonymous Sumerian into a mud brick in the royal city of Ur, and recovered there a century ago, this mark makes a simple declaration, but one that lies at the heart of all human culture: “I was here.” The first object the visitor encounters upon entering, it is an apt beginning to the story that unfolds across the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology’s newly renovated and expanded Middle East Galleries, which opened to the public on April 21.

Click Image to Enlarge

Top to bottom, left to right: RAM IN A THICKET STATUETTE of gold, lapis lazuli, copper, shell, red limestone, and bitumen, one of a pair found in the “Great Death Pit,” in the royal city of Ur, modern-day Iraq. ANIMAL GAME BOARD of twelve engraved shell plaques of lapis lazuli, limestone and shell. FOOTED BOWLS for eating and drinking, Hissar, Iran, circa 4500 - 4000 B.C. QUEEN PUABI GOLD HAIR COMB with seven finials in the shape of eight-petal blossoms, 2450 B.C. LUNATE EARRINGS of hammered gold, worn by Queen Puabi, 2450 B.C. BEADS of largely agate, gold and single carnelian bead, found in the “Warrior’s Grave,” Akkadian period, circa 2250 B.C.

      Through some twelve hundred objects—more than half of which have never before been on display—this suite of three spacious, well-lit galleries chronicles no less than the emergence of human civilization across millennia, from the earliest villages and towns to increasingly complex urban settlements that paved the way for the modern metropolis. “These galleries tell you a story about how ancient peoples changed their way of life to stay in the same place all year round,” says museum director Julian Siggers. “This led to the formation of the world’s first cities, in ancient Mesopotamia. Urbanization dramatically speeds up innovation and introduced many of the issues—good and bad—that are still with us today. So this story really resonates with all of us because it is our story.”

The artifacts come from more than two dozen excavations by Penn archaeologists in the so-called Fertile Crescent (mostly in modern-day Iraq and Iran) that revolutionized our understanding of the ancient world. Perhaps the most dramatic discoveries sprang from the joint Penn/British Museum excavations of the Royal Tombs at Ur led by Sir Leonard Woolley in the 1920s and 1930s. These include the famous Ram in the Thicket statuette of gold, silver and lapis; a silver boat-shaped lyre decorated with a stag; and the centerpiece of the museum’s Middle East collection, Queen Puabi’s headdress and jewels.

ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH SUNDAY MAGAZINE, September 28, 1930, newspaper article about Royal Tombs of Ur discoveries: “What Science Has Discovered About the Personal Adornment of Chaldean Ladies.” 

      In January 1928 Woolley sent a breathless telegram (in Latin, for secrecy) to Philadelphia. Translated, it reads: “I found the intact tomb, stone built and vaulted over with bricks of Queen Shubad [Puabi] adorned with a dress in which gems, flowers, crowns and animal figures are woven. Tomb magnificent with jewels and golden cups.” This royal burial chamber, dated to around 2450 B.C., contained not just the body of the bejeweled queen, which was laid out on a wooden bier, but also those of her attendants—six men and sixty-eight women who, as reward for their service, were bludgeoned to death and buried with their queen, along with a trove of royal artifacts, all remarkably well preserved.

Queen Puabi’s headdress is truly spectacular to behold. It includes more than twelve meters of gold ribbon, which was wound around her voluminous hair (think Princess Leia in Star Wars). Above this she wore three wreaths composed of strands of carnelian and lapis beads and festooned with gold leaves. Each leaf is a single piece of gold hammered into shape and folded at one end into two loops that attach the leaf to the strands and the strands to one another. The most ornate wreath features two- and three-pointed willow leaves tipped with carnelian beads, and flowers with petals of lapis and shell. A frontlet joins three strands of lapis and carnelian with twenty gold rings. Atop it all, a large gold comb erupts into an array of star-shaped flowers. A pair of boat-shaped gold earrings completes the ensemble.

According to Jane Hickman, a specialist in ancient jewelry and editor of the museum’s Expedition magazine, Queen Puabi had on more than twelve pounds of ornamentation when she was discovered. “The hair comb itself weighs a pound!” Hickman and her colleague, collection keeper Katy Blanchard, note that all of the materials used in the headdress had to be imported from neighboring regions—the gold from present-day Afghanistan or Syria, the lapis from Badakhshan in Afghanistan, the carnelian from the Indus Valley—indicating the enormous wealth of the queen, as well as the far-flung trade networks that had already developed at this early stage of civilization.

QUEEN PUABI REGALIA of headdress, beaded cape and jewelry of gold, lapis lazuli and carnelian, discovered on the queen’s body in her tomb at the Royal Cemetery of Ur, circa 2450 B.C. Puabi was wearing about five pounds of jewelry, mostly gold, on her head and about seven and a half pounds of jewelry, mostly semiprecious stone beads, on her body. Photograph by Bruce White.

      A modern proverb admonishes us that “you can’t take it with you,” but the ancients seem to have had other ideas. Although much is unknown about Sumerian burial rites and beliefs, the fact that people of importance were buried with their treasures, and warriors with their weapons, suggests a belief that these objects would be of further use to their owners. Blanchard notes that Queen Puabi’s diadem is “more correctly a series of necklaces.” One possible explanation is that these earthly treasures were intended to serve as currency in the afterworld. “Maybe in every level of the underworld she’s handing over a necklace to make it through to the next place,” says Blanchard. “So she took it with her as payment. These are questions we still have.”

Indeed, nearly a century after they were unearthed, these treasures still have many secrets to divulge, and research on the collection is ongoing. Interactive kiosks in the galleries utilize digital technology to allow visitors to take a deeper dive into some of these topics of interest, including what the motifs on ornaments and vessels tell us about the flora, fauna and agricultural practices of the region, many of which continue in various forms today.

Later excavations at sites such as Rayy, near present-day Tehran, yielded artifacts from the Islamic period, which fill much of the third gallery. These include many rare manuscripts such as an illustrated copy of the Khamsa of the twelfth-century Persian poet Nizami and an illuminated Qur’an, as well as everyday objects such as cooking vessels and textiles from the Ottoman period.

The legacy of Near Eastern archaeology cannot be separated from the area’s more recent history and the often troubled relationships between its modern-day inhabitants and the West. “We can’t open galleries from this region of the world without noting that the deep material, human and cultural heritage of the region is also under attack,” says Siggers. With this in mind, the Penn Museum has launched a Global Guides initiative with funding from the Barra Foundation. Through this program, the first of its kind in the nation, the museum has hired as tour guides immigrants from Iraq and Syria. These men and women will, according to associate curator Stephen Tinney, “pair the history of ancient Mesopotamia and surroundings with stories drawn from their own unique experiences growing up in the Middle East,” giving visitors a broader perspective on the region’s long history of continuity and conflict.

Fostering such connections between ancient and modern experience was a stated goal of the Penn Museum’s transformation of its Middle East collections, the first in an ambitious series of planned renovations to the institution’s signature galleries. Indeed, one emerges from these galleries with the sense that our histories—and therefore our destinies—are much more intertwined than we are often led to believe, and that the key to our shared humanity lies in our creativity and the innovative solutions each culture arrives at in addressing the common problems we face.

The Penn Museum is located on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, 3260 South Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104. Visit their website at www.penn.museum.

 

WILLOW WREATH of gold, lapis, carnelian, and shell.

 
 

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David Updike is an editor at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where his current projects include exhibition catalogs on Marcel Duchamp and the Art to Wear movement. His profile of designer Wendy Stevens appeared in Ornament, Vol. 40, No. 2. For this issue, he ventured across the Schuylkill River to another Philadelphia cultural treasure, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, to tour its newly renovated Middle East Galleries. His visit left him with a renewed respect for the common, ancient roots of human civilization, and a little bit in awe of Chaldean superstar, Queen Puabi.

Vanishing Traditions: Miao Textiles Volume 40.4

MIAO WOMAN’S FESTIVAL JACKET of cotton, silk, embroidered, Taijiang County, Guizhou Province, China. Dating from the 1950s, this ceremonial costume was once worn by the wife of the Guzang Festival’s leader. Detail is from the back of the festival jacket. Photographs courtesy of The Textile Museum. 

Dependent on the material accumulations of others, museums around the world have long been recipients of the passionate predilections of collectors. A day arrives when it is time to pack up one’s stuff and leave prized possessions to some established institution for, hopefully, responsible conservation. That storage issue has a history stretching over the millennia. In Britain, the Ashmolean at Oxford University, the world’s oldest university museum, became in 1677 the first public museum when it received its first collection with Elias Ashmole’s “cabinet of curiosities.” The collection was divided between the “wonders of nature” (naturalia) and the “handworks of man” (artificialia). Here could be viewed a variety of natural life, from a salamander, a flying squirrel, shells, and birds from India, to the stuffed body of the last dodo seen in Europe. Artificialia contained agate goblets, rhinoceros horn cups, a bead abacus, Chief Powhatan’s mantle (Pocahontas’s father), Chinese boots. One can readily surmise that these objects were collected with a wondrous excitement that discovery inspires when encountering the formerly unknown. Significantly, while the larger purpose of the Ashmolean was to enhance preservation of knowledge, with these objects recorded and systematized; specifically it was their public display that had an equally great benefit, so the greater populace could participate and benefit. Admission was open to all, with a fee, and not restricted only to the few elite. These actions, dating from the seventeenth century, have long impacted the museum world and the cultural and social ramifications have been incalculable.

MIAO WOMAN’S JACKET of cotton, silk, embroidered, Yahui Township, Danzhai County, Guizhou Province, China, twentieth century. MIAO WOMAN’S APRON of cotton, silk, Job’s tears, chicken feathers, embroidered, Rongjiang County, Guizhou Province, China, mid-twentieth century. Photograph by Patrick R. Benesh-Liu.
MIAO WOMAN’S JACKET of cotton and silk, embroidered, Guiding County, Guizhou Province, China, mid-twentieth century. Behind the jacket is a pleated, indigo-dyed Miao woman’s skirt. Photograph by Patrick R. Benesh-Liu.
MIAO YOUNG MAN’S JACKET of silk, cotton, metal bells, Job’s tears, embroidered, Suoga Township, Liuzhi County, Guizhou Province, China, mid-twentieth century. Photograph by Patrick R. Benesh-Liu.

      In a much more contemporaneous example, a recent exhibition at The Textile Museum at George Washington University demonstrated the importance of material gifts to a museum’s identity and mission, and how in resulting exhibitions they inform and educate the larger public. In 2015 Bea Roberts, a collector from California, gifted her 284-piece Chinese minority textile and ornament collection, from Guizhou Province in Southwest China, to the museum. On her trips to this mountainous, subtropical region, Roberts quickly learned just how evanescent cultural traditions were in our swiftly changing present-day. Beguiled by the handcrafted works she found in Guizhou, she was determined to collect and preserve what she knew would “vanish” from the many cultural groups that make up Guizhou. Understanding that traditional cultures are rapidly being absorbed by larger, more dominant ones, perhaps even within a generation, has spurred many collectors to acquire sooner rather than later. (The Han account for almost ninety-two percent of the Chinese population, with fifty-five other ethnic minorities officially recognized.) Cultures that once had little contact with the “outside” world are now sometimes unrecognizable in their original form. It’s the what’s here today is gone tomorrow syndrome of loss.

MIAO WOMAN’S FESTIVAL JACKET of cotton, silk, embroidered, Taijiang County, Guizhou Province, China. Dating from the 1950s, this ceremonial costume was once worn by the wife of the Guzang Festival’s leader. Detail is from the back of the festival jacket. Photographs courtesy of The Textile Museum. 

      Given a keen eye and an instinct for both the singular and the representative, Roberts collected some amazing and instructive physical examples of textiles and jewelry, primarily from the Miao. One is an astonishing Miao festival jacket from the 1950s, an embroidered tapestry of rich patterning, with figures from Miao folklore surrounded by the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac. Practically every bit of surface is embellished with musicians, flowers, birds, and more than twenty butterflies referencing the “Butterfly Mother,” the primal ancestor of the Miao people and a central focus of Guzang Festival rituals (celebrated every thirteen years, although more festivals are now annual). Dating from the 1950s, this ceremonial costume was once worn by the wife of the Guzang Festival’s leader.

Textile surfaces exhibit the rich profusion of transformative iconography that permeates minority cultures—bats symbolize happiness and good fortune; hybridized silkworm dragons and fish dragons, other abstracted shapes indicate the importance of achieving a successful birth; birds are also important as protectors and divine messengers. Dress with such totemic imagery enhances the possibility of communing with ancestors or with spirits of the natural world where everything is thought to be alive and interconnected.

DONG CHILD’S HAT, decorated with pompoms and the eight Daoist immortals, of cotton, silk, silver alloy, embroidered, Liping or Rongjiang County, Guizhou Province, China, mid-twentieth century. Photograph by Patrick R. Benesh-Liu.

      Baby carriers, intrinsically functional, are also opportunities for other potent imagery—eight-pointed stars, sunrays and octagons symbolize protective maternal deities who will attract light, warmth and energizing lifeforce to the infant. Children’s hats especially incorporate symbolic motifs to safeguard the growing youngsters and they are often embroidered with auspicious motifs such as lions, fishes and butterflies. One Dong charmer is festooned with pompoms and appliquéd bulging eyes intended to trick evil spirits into thinking the child is a ferocious animal and, leaving nothing to chance, has the twelve Daoist immortals in silver alloy attached.

Trained by female family members and starting early, young girls will learn everything about her clan’s textile techniques—handweaving, indigo dyeing, embroidering are among the critical skills to learn. It can take as long as five years to make a profusely decorated outfit to wear during one’s wedding and the festival cycles, so it is crucial that a garment is beautiful and well made. Technical and aesthetic proficiency is closely linked to attractiveness and desirable marital outcomes. The design and making of an apron as a gift from a young woman to a young man specifies her interest and shows off her accomplishments. Worn by men as well as women, aprons memorialize Miao daily life, its landscape and flora, its folklore—one embroiderer revealed the influence of local songs on their pictorial representations: “If you only embroider and don’t sing, you won’t know the stories of your patterns. Someone who doesn’t sing well doesn’t embroider well.” 

GEJIA WOMAN’S FESTIVAL JACKET, front and back, of silk, cotton, embroidered, indigo-dyed, Matang Village, Kaili City, Guizhou Province, China, mid-twentieth century. Photograph courtesy of The Textile Museum. Installation photograph of back of jacket by Patrick R. Benesh-Liu.

      Subtlety is never the point. Mastery of techniques is to be visibly demonstrated in every possible way, from a festival jacket’s sturdy construction to finely embroidered (and removable) patches that decorate shoulders, sleeves and aprons (and can be passed through generations). More is more and more is highly desirable for a successful garment and similarly true for minority jewelry. Silver is preferred for its power to throw off evil or demons. While textiles are the complete purview of women, jewelry is made by men trained in metalworking who design the neckpieces, pendants, earrings, bracelets, hairpins, and festival crowns, in silver or more typically a silver alloy, that are integral to the success of a festival costume. They are as exuberantly abundant in their design as the lavishly decorated textiles. With auditory attributes bestowed by jingling metal components, nothing should stand in the way of boisterously announcing a family’s wealth at something as important as the Guzang Festival in Guizhou Province.

SUGGESTED READING
Exhibition Catalog
. Contributing authors Angela Sheng, Deng Qiyao, Xi Keding, Li Qianbin, Zhang Xiao, Stevan Harrell, Kate Lingley, Huang Ying Feng. Writing with Thread: Traditional Textiles of Southwest Chinese Minorities. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Art Gallery, 2009.
Roberts, Bea. Vanishing Traditions: Textiles and Treasures from Southwest China. Davis, CA: UC Davis Design Museum, 2010.

“Vanishing Traditions: Textiles and Treasures from Southwest China” showed February 24 - July 9, 2018 at The Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. Visit their website at www.museum.gwu.edu.

 

MIAO FESTIVAL CROWN of silver alloy, cotton and silk streamers, Leishan County, Guizhou Province, China, 1980s. Photograph courtesy of The Textile Museum.

 
 

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Carolyn L. E. Benesh is Coeditor of Ornament and our in-house expert on contemporary wearable art. As Ornament’s resident itinerant, she moves to and fro across the USA in search of inspiring craft, great experiences and, of course, excellent food. Each year she travels to Washington D.C., where Ornament gives the Excellence in Jewelry Award at the Smithsonian Craft Show, this year awarded to Biba Schutz. Her visit was a busy affair, with old friends and a plethora of clothing exhibitions filling the capital. At George Washington University’s Textile Museum, Benesh had the pleasure of meandering through “Vanishing Traditions: Textiles and Treasures from Southwest China,” where a concise visual commentary presented a wide range of Miao minority garments and adornment. She also writes about some of the exhibitors new to this year’s International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe.

Stepping Out Volume 40.3

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SQUARE TOE, SQUARE HEEL, TWINED CHILD’S SANDAL WITH BOLSTER TOE (Ancestral Pueblo) of yucca, leather, ochre, B.C. 500–A.D. 500. The wearer’s second and third toe slipped under the leather strap below the “fringe” that decorates the toe-end of the sandal. A doubled cord then went over the top of the foot and was tied to the ankle and heel straps on either side of the ankle. This sandal is decorated with a red stripe below the leather bolster. Others were more elaborately decorated with red and black geometric designs. Photographs by Chris Dorantes, courtesy of the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, except where noted.

BOY’S MOCCASINS (Northern Cheyenne) of buckskin, rawhide, glass beads, sinew, 1875-80. The small and somewhat irregular white beads on these moccasins help date them.

Most of us are acquainted with moccasins: think of kids’ Halloween costumes or old movies; “driving mocs” for the car; high-tech mocs for rock climbing. The eye-opening exhibit “Stepping Out: 10,000 Years of Walking the West,” at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe through December 31, 2018, tells a much bigger story, that dramatically shifts how to see and appreciate traditional handmade Native American footwear. Gorgeous examples, helped by the museum’s especially strong American Southwest and Plains holdings, look as bright and as prepossessing as the day they were made. Excellent wall texts, three full outfits and three videos that demonstrate construction and beading techniques and discuss heritage and innovation, combine to explain the depths of meanings and identity associated with moccasins. Displayed in four regional groups corresponding to historic tribal homelands, they represent millennia of artistry, design and complex cultural significance. “Stepping Out” offers a rich and satisfying understanding of their role in the lives of indigenous people, past and present.

BOY’S MOCCASINS by Santiago Romero (Jemez) of leather, sinew, vegetal dye, 1950s.

      A chronological arrangement begins with prehistoric sandals made of yucca leaves and fibers, and sweeps around the gallery to today. The dry climate of the American Southwest preserved the three-thousand-year-old sandals found in rock shelters far and wide. In a video, archaeologist Mary Weahkee (Comanche/Santa Clara) makes a Mogollon-style pair of yucca sandals, which are surprisingly tough and sturdy. Although simple at first glance, sandals served as exposés. Just like moccasins, they were intended to announce as much about the wearer as about their world. Made by myriad different finger-weave techniques of plaiting, twining or wrapping, some had tiny painted decorative details; in one unworn example, an impossibly intricate raised pattern covers the soles. They all testify to identity and belonging. If you saw a sandal’s imprint in the dust, you not only knew someone had passed by, but you also knew their culture. Whether friend or foe, they also told you whose territory you were in—virtually a GPS system for navigating.

Sandals disappeared in the Southwest around seven hundred years ago, and moccasins appeared. Then as now, moccasins are built of brain-tanned deer, buffalo, elk or moose hides, with thicker rawhide soles, depending on the tribe. Men’s moccasins are usually around ankle height, while women’s rise to the knee. Tall women’s moccasins from Taos Pueblo look almost demure: plain leather falls in soft folds, covered in matte white kaolin clay and fastened with a single concha-style button. In the old days moccasins were sewn by a relative or close friend, and given as a gift; everything anyone wore was acquired one piece at a time. A more recent trend toward designing and making everything as a set at once is seen in a magnificent full outfit made by Jerry Ingram (Blackfeet) around 1991-92, using brain-tanned, smoked elk and deerskin lavishly decorated with porcupine quills, glass beads, feathers, ermine skins, and sinew. 

MAN’S MOCCASINS (Mescalero Apache) of buckskin, rawhide, dye, glass beads, tin tinklers, early 1900s. The heel and vamp fringes on this pair of moccasins share a similar style to men’s moccasins from southern Great Plains tribes.

WOMAN’S MOCCASINS (Shoshone Bannock) of brain tanned elk hide, rawhide, glass beads, brass buttons, sinew, cotton thread, commercial ribbon, 1920–1940. The floral patterns on these Great Basin moccasins were inspired by designs on European and European-styled goods. The Shoshone became famous for their beautifully executed beaded flowers, especially roses.

WOMAN’S MOCCASINS (Comanche) of brain tanned buckskin, rawhide, pollen pigment, glass beads, nickel-plated brass buttons, early 1900s. These tall moccasins protected the wearer’s legs while riding horseback.

      Once European traders arrived with glass beads, the distinctiveness of many tribes’ moccasins grew even more pronounced. Moccasins can be dated by their beads, because the cut, size and colors available changed over time. A mounted board shows the range of bead sizes, starting with miniscule #15 seed beads seen in Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho moccasins. Northwest tribes fell for extravagant beaded florals, like the famous “Shoshone rose,” of which there are several different ones on view. Big, exuberant blossoms could not be sewn using the common lane or hump stitch, in which short lengths of beads are laid down side-by-side to create a solid surface. Instead, as renowned beadwork artist Teri Greeves (Kiowa/Comanche) shows in a nearby video, the two-needle stitch technique was invented to tack down beads in curves. One of the stellar accomplishments of the exhibit is how it helps distinguish between, say, Sioux and Blackfeet—in the designs, the materials and in how they were built. Others are more recognizable: White Mountain Apache moccasins feature a stubby, fuzzy “cactus-kicker” toe; the Shawnee, Kiowa and Comanche favored embellishments of rows of tin cones, or lush heel and side fringes, which happen to cascade gracefully riding on horseback (and made a nice status symbol, too, letting everyone know you owned horses).

MOCCASINS (Hidatsa and Cree) of buckskin, rawhide, quills, glass beads, sinew, brass beads, circa 1880. The quillwork technique on this pair of moccasins is indicative of Hidatsa origins, but the beadwork looks Cree. These may have been made by someone whose background included both tribal traditions or made for someone who descended from both tribes.

BOY’S MOCCASINS (Southern Cheyenne) of buckskin, rawhide, glass beads, sinew, paint, late 1800s. The narrow sole on these shoes is a hallmark of Cheyenne moccasins made for Cheyenne use. The heel and side fringes are often seen on men’s moccasins from the southern Plains.

BEADED CONVERSE ALL-STARS SNEAKERS by Teri Greeves (Kiowa/Comanche) of commercial shoes, glass beads, 1999.

      A properly made moccasin had the patterns and colors signifying the tribe. Bead workers carried over much older geometric, abstract designs that symbolized sacred landscape elements, or important animals, or reminded the wearer of the shared stories and beliefs of the tribe. Among the Plains tribes, beadwork was mixed with quillwork, made from flattened, dyed and sewn porcupine quills, which continued in use for a long time. In a pair of circa 1910 Sioux moccasins, branching, narrow-leaf shapes in quillwork meander across a red field on the vamps (tops). But the wearer, looking down, sees the ears and antlers of a deer’s head: the connotations were personal and spiritual. In the later nineteenth century, when tribes were forced together onto reservations, there was much swapping of designs and techniques, like in the circa 1870-1880s moccasins joining Hidatsa and Cree elements. At dance competitions today at inter-tribal pow-wows, hand-beaded regalia often looks like a mashup of designs from several tribes, prized for its showy elaborateness as much as for the fine quality of the work. 

MOCCASINS WITH BEADED SOLES (Sioux) of cowhide, glass beads, sinew, tin tinklers, cow tail hair, prior to 1890. Commonly thought to be for use in burials, moccasins with beaded soles were in actuality a way to honor living people. They were used in ceremonies, to recognize individual achievement and to show status. Some have wear on the soles, confirming that they were worn to walk on.

      Modesty was not an issue out on the Plains. Possibly the moccasins of the Sioux, Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho are the most flamboyant in the exhibit. Certainly showstoppers, they are absolutely blazing with bold colors and exquisitely beaded designs. A side text happily blows up a popular myth about fully beaded soles, shown in a handsome pair of Sioux moccasins with two neat rows of yellow hoof prints crossing the bottoms. They were never intended only for burials, as is commonly thought: beaded-sole moccasins were conduits of honor and respect. Old photographs display them worn on horseback for ceremonials, and now they are essential for a celebration or special event.

Moccasins are vital to Native American life. In 2012, Jessica “Jaylyn” Atsye of Laguna Pueblo launched “Rock Your Mocs” day as a way of affirming Native identity. Held the week of November 15, it has grown into a movement across the country (see facebook.com/RockYourMocs). Following in the steps of all Native footwear, where you use whatever materials you have available, some contemporary Native artists have brilliantly integrated mainstream cultural artifacts with beadwork traditions. A pair of Steve Madden high-heel sneakers stands in mid-stride near a child’s high-tops, both fully beaded by Teri Greeves. She explains in an accompanying video that sneakers are “familiar across the planet,” and perfect for telling the story of the Kiowa. Christian Louboutin stiletto heels beaded by Emil Her Many Horses (Oglala Sioux) look ravishing and recognizably Native. Native Americans are finding more ways to say who they are. “Stepping Out” jubilantly declares, in the words of the Navajo prayer: “In beauty all day I walk.”

BEADED STEVE MADDEN SHOES by Teri Greeves (Kiowa/Comanche) of commercial shoes, glass beads, 2017. Among the Kiowa, the men were traditionally the pictorial artists. In contrast, Kiowa women created abstract patterns to encode their knowledge of the world. These shoes celebrate those female artists. Each pair of images shows an abstract pattern drawn from Kiowa parfleches (hide containers) or from the beadwork on moccasins, cradleboards, and other items, and pairs that design with the woman who may have created that pattern and its meaning. Photograph by Stephen Lang.

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

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Leslie Clark, a writer and editor with a mad affinity for textiles, is based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She was captivated by the exhibition of Native American moccasins at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, not least because of its presentation. “Curator Maxine McBrinn draws you in with stories and commentary that bring alive the personal meanings of moccasins. Tribal cultures and traditions are not trapped in the past; instead the lore and legacy of moccasins seem to make them walk beside us now. Showing through December 2018, it’s a do-not-miss exhibit.”

Iris van Herpen Volume 40.3

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IRIS VAN HERPEN. Photograph courtesy of Jean Baptiste Mondino, Iris van Herpen and the Phoenix Art Museum.

A great deal of passion must reside within Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen. An initial stroll through the capacious Steele Gallery, turned over to van Herpen’s “Transforming Fashion” at the Phoenix Art Museum, makes an immediate visceral jolt that gathers strength visually. Instead of succumbing to an ambiguous desire to flee what appears to be a disturbing alien command center, time begins to slow and the exhibition increasingly captivates, exercising upon one a more cerebral curiosity over the installation. Fifteen distinct collections of forty-five ensembles, dating between 2008 and 2015, are arranged mostly along two very long rows staged with vocalless sentinels garbed in the astonishing, unsettling aesthetic that physically transforms them. But the real experience takes place internally, as the world van Herpen has created is housed in a phantasma of dreams, revelations, nightmares, hallucinations, visions. It is unlikely that many will embrace it; observe it yes, willingly enter it, probably not.

      Since the young designer’s first collection in 2007, at the age of twenty-three, her work has transcended the shock value she is known for in the “gowns” designed for celebrities like Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Björk, and Tilda Swinton. Her works are designed for the female form of which we are accustomed, but the body is really a springboard for sculptural compositions that serve her drive for incorporating modern discoveries and innovations into her collections. They have become an important vehicle for arriving at a place where her experimentations reveal something seminal and descriptive about the nature of the human body through the power of dress. A dialogue considered necessary, she has described, as being “between our inside and our outside.”

      Science and technology are her muse and the primary stimulus to her creations. And it is here that van Herpen’s evolving aesthetic vision is most consistent, reflecting a personal desire to plunge into and plumb the depths of what modern technology offers the human experience, positively and negatively. We have been living in such a world for some time; so van Herpen’s work is a venture in making sense of our quickly changing temporal landscape. It is one that no longer quantifies life in futuristic imaginings but in the daily here and now, whether we embrace it or endeavor to escape.

MICRO DRESS from 2012 collection of metallic coated stripes, tulle and cotton. Photograph by Patrick R. Benesh-Liu.

      “Looking around me,” she has written, “I consider what I can’t see as much as what I can see, and that transformative focus creates freedom in my work. Each garment and every collection is an embodiment to new understanding and discovery, on the conceptual level, on the level of materiality and on the level of femininity. It’s my search for new forms of femininity through organic silhouettes, delicate craftsmanship, innovation and the collaboration with other artists, architects and scientists.”

In her collections, van Herpen uses 3D printing for garment construction and materials such as laser-cut acrylic mesh and resin. More recently in Lucid, from 2016, one of her more fascinating iterations, she chose lucid dreaming as the subject, where the dreamer, while exercising some sense of control, is aware of dreaming. “When I design,” she says, “the draping process most of the time happens to me unconsciously. I see lucid dreams as a microscope with which I can look into my unconsciousness.” In a collaboration with architect Philip Beesley, Lucid manifests what van Herpen terms “the fine line between reality and unreality,” a useful theme that can be drawn throughout her collections. Astonishingly, one of the dresses was composed of five thousand TPU-92A-1 transparent hexagonal laser-cut elements, a thermoplastic polyurethane. This use on a grand scale of a modern material inspires some sense of awe.

From 2012, Micro is a collection inspired by scientific photographer Steve Gschmeissner’s works. Gschmeissner uses Scanning Electron Microscope  (SEM) technology to reveal the plastic universe of microorganisms and how beautiful they are in their infinite diversity. With this collection van Herpen set about trying to make visible a world unseen by us but still an equally vital one, inhabiting and sharing the same plane as our own.

Gschmeissner’s photographs are taken of specimens that are chemically fixed to preserve their inherent structures, but van Herpen veered in a different direction, interested in taking another path, desiring rather to create more imaginative organisms than ones that actually exist. It too is a plastic world and the forms swirl, grow and change, bulge, encapsulate, shoot off into space. Whatever the collection, the overarching theme is repetition and reiteration. It is everywhere in van Herpen’s work and sharpens her desire to exalt and honor the inner and exterior movement that all living organisms possess.

 

RADIATION INVASION DRESS from 2009 collection of faux leather, gold foil, cotton, and tulle. Photograph by Patrick R. Benesh-Liu.

 

      2009’s Radiation Invasion marked the beginning of the challenging themes that resonate throughout her annual collections and van Herpen’s grappling with some understanding of technology’s role in society (and perhaps, rule thereof) and how it inevitably affects the physical body and spirit. The idea seemed to stem from an intercontinental phone conversation that caused van Herpen to question the unimaginable flow of digital information that takes place and how it is everywhere, ubiquitous in its presence, drowning us, but also lifting us to spheres we cannot possibly anticipate. She began to develop more thoroughly a simple concept based on repetition, endless repetition, communicating energy and powerful forces, both fascinating and repulsive. It has dominated her work ever since, possessing her, driving her passions.

How can humanity possibly survive in such an environment? Van Herpen’s answer seems not to be reticent: survive we must; just make it work for you in the best way creatively possible.

“Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion,” shows at the Phoenix Art Museum,
Phoenix, Arizona, through May 13, 2018.

INSTALLATION VIEWS. Photographs by Patrick R. Benesh-Liu.

 

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Carolyn L. E. Benesh is Coeditor of Ornament and our in-house expert on contemporary wearable art. As Ornament’s resident itinerant, she moves to and fro across the USA in search of inspiring craft, great experiences and, of course, excellent food. Benesh reviewed the astonishing Iris van Herpen show at the Phoenix Art Museum this March, during a stay in the city to attend the Heard Museum Indian Fair. Both museums have fascinating and probing permanent collections as well as temporary, such as the van Herpen show at PAM and the jewelry of Richard Chavez at the Heard.

Tattoo Exhibition Volume 40.3

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In Moby Dick, Herman Melville bemoaned the ephemerality of tattoos: “These mysteries were therefore destined in the end to moulder away with the living parchment whereon they were inscribed.” How does one display—much less demystify—this “living parchment” in a museum setting? A touring exhibition organized by the Musée du quai Branly in Paris—and most recently seen at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles (November 19, 2017 - April 15, 2018) —offers a novel solution: silicone torsos, arms and bottoms decorated with tattoos commissioned for the show from prominent contemporary tattoo artists like Chuey Quintanar, who was born in Mexico but moved to Long Beach, California, as a child, and Leo Zulueta, who grew up in Hawaii and draws inspiration from traditional Micronesian tattooing. (Zulueta refuses to copy traditional tribal designs faithfully, however, considering it disrespectful.) The Los Angeles installation highlights the city’s own rich tattooing history and contemporary skin art scene. Today, Southern California is known for the black-and-gray style of finely detailed, single-needle tattoos, which spread from East Los Angeles via the U.S. prison system.

      Some of these tattoos offer so much coverage that they resemble clothes more than ink. Tattoo traditions have much in common with textile production. Needles “embroider” the skin; carved tattoo blocks recall those used to block-print textiles. The Ainu women of northern Japan wear textiles embroidered with patterns similar to those used in their tattoos; a gorgeous embroidered robe is on display. The show privileges full-limb or full-body tattoos over the more familiar Pokemon characters, roses, or “tramp stamps.” One Ed Hardy design on display is a single giant squid covering the entire body, except the lower arms; it was created for a surgeon, who wanted to be able to roll up his sleeves to scrub in without revealing his tattoo. Japan, in particular, is associated with “bodysuit” tattoos; though they were outlawed in the late 1800s, they remained in favor with the yakuza, perpetuating the link between tattoos and crime that persists in Japan (and elsewhere) today. 

      As trendy as tattoos may be, they have a five-thousand-year history, covering almost every continent and every time period. The oldest known tattoo was discovered on the body of a fifty-three-hundred-year-old mummy found in the Alps. Tattoos have been used to identify, beautify, mark rites of passage or physical maturity, and confer protection, fertility, or healing. England’s National Maritime Museum has mounted excellent exhibitions on the seafaring history of tattoos, but this show’s anthropological approach allows for a broader geographic, thematic and temporal scope. It reminds us that “tattoo” is both a noun and a verb; if there is one thing these disparate global tattooing traditions have in common, it is that the process is as important as the end result. 

Tattoos have always been made and worn by men and women alike. In some tribes in Borneo, men carve tattoo blocks but women are responsible for the tattooing. Among the Ainu, tattooing is performed exclusively by and on women, including around the mouth. Indigenous Arctic women acquire chin stripes to indicate that they are ready to marry. Jessie Knight became the first full-time, professional female tattooist in the U.K. in 1921; she took several years off after she got married, returning in the late 1930s just in time to ink the men and women fighting World War II. 

Tattoos have functioned as signs of status as well as brands of shame, combining physical and psychological pain. In the nineteenth century, criminals were branded with tattoos. Simple pictures inked on the hands of prisoners in the Russian gulag told their life stories: their crimes, their years behind bars, their number of convictions. Victims of the Armenian genocide and the Holocaust were tattooed, for identification as well as humiliation. A haunting photo shows twelve-year-old concentration camp survivor Aljoscha Lebedew displaying his tattoo, a mutilation he would bear for the rest of his life. But many of these painful reminders have now been appropriated as badges of honor. Prison tattoos are a thriving and respected subgenre. Grandchildren of concentration camp survivors have voluntarily had their grandparents’ identification numbers inked on their arms as indelible memorials.

YONYUK WATCHIYA “SUA.” An exhibition print, from Bangkok, Thailand, 2008-2011. Photograph by Cedric Arnold, courtesy of Galerie Olivier Waltman. KORURU OR PARATA (gable mask) of carved wood, white pigment, paua shell, Maori, New Zealand, nineteenth century. Photograph by Thierry Olivier and Michel Urtado. WHANG-OD OGGAY. An exhibition print, from the Philippines, 2011. Photograph by Jake Verzosa.

TATTOOED SILICONE TORSO. Leo Zulueta, 2013. Photograph by Thomas Duvall.

      If tattoos seem to be everywhere today, they are also under threat. Several indigenous tattooing traditions were outlawed or erased by missionaries in the aftermath of the so-called “Age of Discovery,” when Western explorers and traders first encountered tattoos. In 1876, Thomas Edison patented an electric steel pencil that inspired some of the first electric tattoo machines, which were advertised as being faster and less painful than tattooing by hand. This technology—quickly adopted worldwide—popularized tattoos and paved the way for intricate new pictorial styles, but also led to the demise of time-honored techniques. Many artists working today have gone back to the old-fashioned methods. Traditional Maori tattooing—an exceptionally painful blend of tattooing and scarification, using chisels to cut channels into the skin, including the face—is enjoying a renaissance in modern-day New Zealand, a “so old it’s new” expression of cultural pride. But new technology is continually revolutionizing tattoo art. The show ends with a silicone arm sheathed in a glow-in-the-dark “sleeve” tattoo that can only be seen under black light in a nightclub.

The exhibition is wonderfully varied in its materials; in addition to silicone forms, video and photography, there is a wealth of historic tattoo-making equipment, from needles and blocks to small sculptures made of the compressed ashes of cremated monks or burnt religious manuscripts, used for making ink in Myanmar. If there is a fault to this otherwise extravagant display, it is of being too big; one can only look at so many electric needles before one’s skin begins crawling with revulsion—or itching for a tattoo of one’s very own.

     Get Inspired!

 
 

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Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell is an art historian specializing in fashion and textiles. She has worked as a curator, consultant and educator for museums and universities around the world. Chrisman-Campbell is the author of Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, published by Yale University Press. Chrisman-Campbell was recently honored by the Costume Society of America, receiving an award for the Betty Kirk Excellence in Research Award. For this issue, she gets under the skin of the “Tattoo” exhibition at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles.

Beads: A Universe of Meaning Volume 40.2

 MAN’S MOCCASINS by Iowa artist, 64.5 x 32.3 centimeters, circa 1875.  Private collection. Photographs   by Neebinnaukzhik Southall (Ojibway),   courtesy of the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian except where noted.  GAUNTLETS by Plateau artist, 35.6 x 22.9 centimeters, circa 1940.  Private collection.  MOENNITARRI WARRIOR IN THE COSTUME OF THE DOG DANSE   by Karl Bodmer (1809-1893), circa 1840.

MAN’S MOCCASINS by Iowa artist, 64.5 x 32.3 centimeters, circa 1875. Private collection. Photographs by Neebinnaukzhik Southall (Ojibway), courtesy of the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian except where noted. GAUNTLETS by Plateau artist, 35.6 x 22.9 centimeters, circa 1940. Private collection. MOENNITARRI WARRIOR IN THE COSTUME OF THE DOG DANSE by Karl Bodmer (1809-1893), circa 1840.

"Beads: A Universe of Meaning,” currently on exhibit at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, explores the diversity of Native American beadwork traditions practiced throughout the United States. Almost since their introduction to the New World at the end of the fifteenth century, glass beads have been used by Native artists to convey ideas about tribal, community and personal identity; wealth and status; beauty and spirituality; as well as about popular culture, resistance and relationships. Featuring more than seventy pieces dating from circa 1800 to the present, the exhibition presents beadwork as a fundamental medium of artistic, cultural and personal expression.

BAG DEPICTING A WHITE-TAILED DEER by Sandra Okuma (Luiseño/Shoshone-Bannock), 2011. Private collection. 

      The first piece encountered in the gallery is an early nineteenth-century man’s outfit, consisting of a painted  hide shirt and leggings embroidered with porcupine quills and beads. The leggings resemble those worn by Perishka-Ruhpa in Karl Bodmer’s portrait, Moennitarri Warrior, In the Costume of the Dog Danse, painted in about 1840. The quillwork strips that line the shoulders of the shirt and the outer edges of the leggings are trimmed with the type of large blue beads that early traders and explorers first brought into Native communities after about 1670, with the opening of the North American fur trade. In exchange for beaver pelts, which were highly valued in Europe as a material for felted fur hats, French entrepreneurs provided their Native American trading partners a variety of European-made items. Metal tools and cookware, cloth, ribbon, and thimbles were welcomed and readily incorporated into Native life. But glass trade beads, whose lustrous colors evoked natural materials—crystal, shell, copper, and stone—that already held profound cultural and spiritual meaning, resonated in a way that other goods did not. Beads fit easily into existing ideas about ornamentation and design, and they required no preparation. As they became available, women increasingly combined them with traditional embroidery materials, such as bird or porcupine quills, to decorate clothing, bags, cradleboards, and dwellings, thus enhancing their families’ material and spiritual standing within their communities. They also brought honor to themselves: a woman’s artistic contributions in the form of beadwork and quillwork demonstrated her virtue, and was valued to the degree that women’s craft societies were equal in status to men’s military societies. Women who showed artistic promise were subjected to rigorous tests of skill, accompanied by extensive ceremonial initiation, feasting and recognition that involved the entire community.

MÉTIS CREE COAT, 76.2 x 71.1 centimeters, circa 1900. Although the cut of this coat suggests that it was made during the late nineteenth century, it is possible that the beadwork is earlier and has been repurposed from another garment. Private collection. Photograph by Ornament.

      A significant portion of the exhibition is devoted to beadwork traditions of the Pacific Northwest. By the early nineteenth century, Native trade networks had carried European and Chinese glass beads to indigenous people living in the Columbia River Plateau—the area comprising interior Oregon, Washington and western Idaho. The first migrant trains carrying Euro-American settlers began to arrive during the 1830s, after a wagon trail had been cleared from Independence, Missouri, to Fort Hall, Idaho. By the 1850s newcomers flooded into the territory, converting open land into farms and towns and compromising sites where Plateau women customarily gathered basketry materials and edible plants. After 1855 Plateau people were increasingly confined to reservations, and the annual cycle of foraging and hunting became more difficult to maintain. As women spent less time gathering, processing and preparing basketry fibers and traditional foods, they turned their attention to beadwork, developing a unique tradition that, then as now, encouraged innovative and individualistic design. Floral patterns, inspired by imagery on commercially printed cotton cloth, transfer-ware ceramics and other products traded from or seen in the possession of white newcomers, began to appear by the 1870s. Horses were the subjects of the first pictorial designs, reflecting local equestrian traditions that date to the 1700s. These were followed by depictions of other animals, birds, fish, and people. During the twentieth century Plateau artists enthusiastically embraced images drawn from popular culture, ranging from glamorous “flappers” to Nipper, the RCA Victor dog. 

VEST by Plateau artist, 50.8 x 40.6 centimeters, circa 1900. The beads have been sewn onto commercial cotton fabric. Private collection. Photograph by Ornament.

 

 

In 1910 a group of Oregon businessmen organized the Pendleton Round-Up—a celebration of the town’s frontier heritage that featured horse racing and riding competitions. Modeled after popular entertainments such as Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, the success of the event depended upon the participation of Native American performers and demonstrators, who attended annually. In 1916 at the age of fifty-three, Nez Perce rodeo rider Jackson Sundown won the “all around” bronc riding competition, beating men half his age and securing his place as a legend of the sport. His victory roused tremendous enthusiasm among Plateau people. 

As other rodeos and round-ups followed, they not only became opportunities for Native people to gather and compete for prizes, they also inspired lavish displays of beaded clothing, accessories and horse gear. A horse collar beaded with bright orange flowers, made by Irene Onepennee during the 1950s, and a circa 1930 flat bag with the image of a bronc rider emblazoned against a bright blue sky, attest to the importance of these events and to Sundown’s continued popularity.

The mounting of an exhibition such as this one, in which the qualities of the featured pieces include fragility, weight and a range of ages and techniques, presents challenges that require a high level of skill and craftsmanship on the part of museum technicians, as well as on that of the artists. This is especially true in an institution the size of the Wheelwright, where staffing is limited and budget is always a challenge. For most installations (including this one), we rely on the expertise of a team of contractors: exhibitions designer Louis Emmanuel Gauci of Knoxville, Tennessee; lighting designer Todd Elmer of Santa Fe, New Mexico; and preparator Jack Townes of Estacada, Oregon. For this exhibition, Jack was assisted by artist and volunteer Cathy Short (Citizen Potowatomi) of Santa Fe.

 

WOMAN’S BEADED YOKE by Plateau artist, 132.1 x 101.6 centimeters, circa 1950. Detail shows the lovely beaded flowers enhancing the yoke. Private Collection. Photographs by Ornament.

      Normally the Wheelwright’s fifteen-hundred-square-foot changing exhibitions gallery is gutted and redesigned for each new project. For “Beads,” time and budget prevented us from building new casework from scratch, and we were challenged to adapt both storyline and object placement to a pre-existing design. We decided to place the shirt and leggings in a tall, narrow case at the entrance to the exhibition because they represent the beginning of our story. Their age and condition meant that they could not be displayed on a mannequin; instead they required the full support of a padded slantboard.

Using cotton fabric and polyester batting, Jack and Cathy designed padded inserts for each part of the outfit. Powerful magnets encased in tyvek pouches hold the shirt and leggings, with their inserts, on to a slanted panel of medium-density fiberboard upholstered with batting and polyester fleece. The result is that the outfit is fully, but invisibly, supported. Magnets are similarly used to mount bags, pouches, beaded cuffs, and other pieces throughout the exhibition. They safely bear the weight of fragile objects, and spare the expense of creating individual armatures for each piece.

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During the twentieth century Plateau artists enthusiastically embraced images drawn from popular culture, ranging from glamorous “flappers” to Nipper, the RCA Victor dog.

      In an effort to emphasize that beadwork is a living (and thriving) tradition, the exhibition avoids a strict chronology, and frequently juxtaposes nineteenth-century pieces with contemporary work. A Sandra Okuma bag depicting a white-tailed deer shares a case with a nineteenth-century pouch bearing an image of a Federal eagle. Jaime Okuma’s beaded and ribbon-appliquéd coat is placed opposite a heavily beaded Plateau dress of blue wool trade cloth. A large case at the back of the gallery, devoted to beadwork made especially for children, holds a pair of circa 1870 Columbia River Plateau cradleboards with lavish floral designs, Jamie Okuma’s contemporary Baby on Board cradleboard, and Teri Greeves’s and Dennis Esquibel’s collaborative Ahday Chair. Modeled on the design of a Kiowa cradle, the chair is designed as a small throne for an ahday child. In Kiowa tradition, this favored child receives all of the best that a family can give—insurance that should the worst happen, one family member might survive. Greeves writes, “Though this practice may seem unfair to the other children within the family, I believe it has a very serious function in relationship to the fragility of life both in the past and the present. The ahday is the child that might have a greater chance of living, of surviving the brutality of genocide. The ahday becomes the beauty of life, a being to make beautiful things for, a being of hope in all that is beautiful in Kiowa life.”

KEN WILLIAMS POWWOW REGALIA, consisting of headdress, choker, vest, collar, tie, belt, shirt, breechcloth, leggings, beaded mirror bag, and Eagle tail fan that were provided by Williams’s many friends. Williams is Northern Arapaho and Seneca. Photograph by Ornament.

      To illustrate the importance of beadwork as a signifier of contemporary Native identity, the exhibition includes clothing and accessories currently in use by Wheelwright staff and associates. Arapaho/Seneca artist Ken Williams is a renowned beadworker, and also the manager of the Wheelwright’s museum store, the Case Trading Post. Ken’s knowledge of beadwork traditions and his expertise as a collector informed much of the exhibition, but museum protocol prevented us from including his work in the show. However Ken’s personal regalia—the outfit he wears for powwows and other events—is an assemblage of work by many other artists, acquired mostly as gifts from family members and friends. Ken generously agreed to lend it for the exhibition. 

While it is possible for museums to acquire specially designed mannequins made of archival materials, the cost of these is prohibitive. Instead, the Wheelwright has assembled a collection of female forms, purchased primarily at local “going-out-of-business” and garage sales. We customize these for museum use by padding them with polyester batting and Ethafoam, an inert polyethylene foam used extensively in exhibitions and to store museum objects safely.  To support Ken’s outfit we purchased an inexpensive, commercial male mannequin made of shiny white plastic. We expected to cover the mannequin with a neutral-colored knit material. But with limited choices at our local chain fabric store, and in consultation with Ken, we decided instead on a gold lamé jersey—a reference to Ken’s outgoing personality and his love of sparkling gold jewelry. Cathy Short set about creating a handstitched hood and gloves to cover plastic parts that would not be hidden by regalia.

The creation of the “Kennequin” (as it was dubbed by museum staff) was enjoyable for the exhibitions crew, but it also helped us to address ideas related to contemporary Native identity, and the continued importance of beadwork in Native American life and culture. One of the most striking components of Ken’s outfit is a feathered headdress that he received as a gift from Kiowa-Comanche elder, the late Jeri Ah-Be-Hill, Teri Greeves’s mother. When Ken received the antique Arapaho headdress it was in poor condition: the only salvageable parts were the feathers and a strip of beadwork. Ken removed these, cleaned them up, attached them to a new cap, and added decorative elements of his own—a treatment that both Greeves and Williams agree is an appropriate use of treasured antique materials. The spirit of the artist inhabits regalia, making it a living creation. Through renewal and reuse, it lives on.

REFERENCES
Berlo, Janet Catherine and Ruth Bliss Phillips. Native North American Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Grafe, Steven L. The Origins of Floral-Design Beadwork in the Southern Columbia River Plateau. PhD Dissertation. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1999.
. Beaded Brilliance: Wearable Art from the Columbia River Plateau. Oklahoma City: National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, 2006.
Penny, David W. Art of the American Indian Frontier: The Chandler-Pohrt Collection. Detroit: Detroit Institute of Arts, 1992.
 

“Beads: A Universe of Meaning” is on view at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian,
Santa Fe, New Mexico, through April 15, 2018.

 

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      Get Inspired!

 
 

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Cheri Falkenstien-Doyle is the Marcia Docter Curator of Native American Jewelry at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, Santa Fe, New Mexico. As the curator of a small museum that originates all of the exhibitions it presents, she works with an exceptional team of designers, preparators, museum staff, and volunteers. Her current projects include exhibitions with printmaker Melanie Yazzie, and silversmith Norbert Peshlakai; as well as a catalog of the Jim and Lauris Phillips Collection of Native American Jewelry.

20/20 Exhibition Volume 40.2

SUZANNE AMENDOLARA: CAST STERLING SILVER ELEMENT, measuring 6.4 x 5.1 x 1.9 centimeters, for the “20/20” collaborative exhibition. Photograph by the artist.

Collaborations are a unique form of education: they bring new ideas to artwork, create a different purpose for making and force artists to take responsibility for creative decisions. As an artist making metalwork for more than three decades, I occasionally get caught in a rut or feel like my work is dated or insignificant. The problem-solving aspects of collaborative pieces help me to work through these challenges. For example, during the past several years, I have engaged in collaborations with Daniel DiCaprio, Renée Zettle-Sterling and Robert Thomas Mullen and much enjoyed how the discourse stretched my imagination. Working with elements created and handed to me by another artist to complete forces me to think in a different manner than I normally do when resolving a piece. It is also informative to see how other artists use forms that are particular to my work. Experiencing both vantage points of the collaborative process allows me to generate unfamiliar and fresh solutions in my own studio practice. In every single case, these collaborations were rich and rewarding experiences for both artists.

      Brigitte Martin, the founding editor of crafthaus, suggested that I expand and formalize my collaborations as part of an invitational exhibition project that she would co-sponsor. The works were to be shown during the Society of North American Goldsmiths Conference, at the Marion Cage Gallery, in New Orleans, from May 24 to 27, 2017 and online at the crafthaus website, crafthaus.ning.com, from September 23 to October 31, 2017. Our premise was to cast multiples of a single sterling silver element, then send one of them to each member of a group of artists with the request to complete the piece by October 15, 2016, using the shape in any way they chose. Measuring 6.4 x 5.1 x 1.9 centimeters, mine could be interpreted in numerous ways, yet still indicative of my own work, and it would be my only contribution to the show. The majority of the artists wanted to keep their piece a surprise and I saw most of them for the first time as I unwrapped their packages when they arrived to be photographed.

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      While the exhibition title was tied to our original intent of inviting twenty artists, “20/20” also inferred perfect vision or being able to see clearly. In a case of spontaneity, we kept the title even though the show went on to include twenty-one artists. Brigitte and I were concerned with seeing a broad range of solutions to our challenge and developed a list of artists who have a wide range of working styles. Entering into a collaboration, there needs to be total trust between the artists. Therefore, every artist was given complete control over their end of the project; they could forge it, cut it, solder onto it, color it, etc.

We chose artists who work in jewelry and objects in traditional ways (Tom Muir, John Rais, Todd Reed) and others who work with experimental and nontraditional materials and processes. Joshua Kosker made a series of jewelry from tangelo peels. Teresa Faris collaborates with her bird who chews wood that she then incorporates into her pieces. We invited jewelers, metalsmiths, enamelists, sculptors, and artists who work with wood and steel. Some artists, such as Alexis Spina, currently a graduate student at the University of Georgia, and Logan Woodle, an assistant professor at Coastal Carolina University, earning his MFA in 2012, are emerging in the field; while others are well-recognized and established (Andy Cooperman, Marilyn da Silva and Thomas Mann).

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      It was also exciting to see the collection of pieces with markedly different approaches. A few to mention: Joshua Kosker used humor to create a “high end” bathtub stopper with rubber and sterling; Marilyn da Silva used the casting to create one of her quintessential books; Todd Reed encrusted the surface of the casting with diamonds; Andrew Kuebeck used an enameled decal of nude males; and Kathryn Osgood used her typical natural forms found in the Outer Banks with textural enamel and pearls.

Naturally, I was also interested in seeing how the artistic handwriting of each artist would alter my work. And those hoped for influences did appear. Adrienne Grafton’s piece and the way she builds her narrative and Andy Cooperman’s forms and surfaces were those that have gone on to inspire me. In general, I learned to look at forms from every possible angle and orientation including upside down, the cross section and using partial forms or impressions of form. It was also intriguing to observe how artists used color, surface, line, and texture with a variety of materials.

Our purpose for putting together the show was to teach the artists involved, as well as the viewer, about different ways of seeing. There were no preconceived ideas of what each artist would do, just the anticipation that they would bring their own aesthetic to the project. The results were beguiling, entertaining and a testament to the power of creativity.

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Suzanne Amendolara is a metalsmith and teaches Jewelry Design/Metalsmithing at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. Amendolara served as President of the Society of North American Goldsmiths from 2011-2014, and is currently on the Board of Governors at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. Her metalwork has been exhibited regionally, nationally and internationally in galleries and museums, and is part of the permanent collections of The Renwick Gallery and the White House Collection of American Crafts, Washington D.C.

Nadine Kariya Volume 40.2

 PEONY FAN PENDANT of  cloisonné  enamel, fine silver, sterling silver, pearls, and gold-filled chain, 1975.  Photograph by Nadine Kariya.  NADINE KARIYA IN HER STUDIO.  Photograph by Kari Berger.

PEONY FAN PENDANT of cloisonné enamel, fine silver, sterling silver, pearls, and gold-filled chain, 1975. Photograph by Nadine Kariya. NADINE KARIYA IN HER STUDIO. Photograph by Kari Berger.

KINGFISHER BON VOYAGE PENDANT of carved boxwood, tin coaster, post-war Japanese porcelain fugu buttons, aquamarine, gilded wishbone, sterling silver, brass, fourteen karat gold, enameled iron, 2015. Photographs by Daniel Fox, Lumina Studio except where noted.

The Bainbridge Island Museum of Art’s exhibition of work by Seattle jewelrymaker Nadine Kariya is called “The Hammer and the Peony,” and the title is perfect. It evokes the idea that work—skilled, diligent, physical work—is required to create beauty. With her hammers, several of which share display cases with her jewelry, Kariya has for more than four decades used her skills as a master metalsmith to make jewelry that is astonishing for the complexity of its craftsmanship and its exquisite design.

      The show, curated and designed by Greg Robinson, the museum’s Chief Curator, includes about seventy pieces and serves as a retrospective of Kariya’s career. The exhibition is remarkable for several reasons, including that Kariya has made just about every type of jewelry you can name, from pendants and necklaces, to brooches, bracelets, rings, earrings, and cufflinks. She has made jewelry that looks tribal, such as the magnificent Dragon Stick Pearl Necklace, 2011, a regal composition of pinkish, oblong freshwater pearls and African brass beads. And she has made jewelry descended from the ateliers of European royal jewelers, such as the queenly Chalcedony Oval Ring, 2010.

Having supported herself for a couple of decades as a commercial jewelrymaker, there is not much that Kariya can not or will not design. Much of her work over the years has been commissioned, so she has often had to center jewelry around a stone or precious object given to her by a collector. Kariya obviously relishes the challenge. 

KINGFISHER CAUGHT BETWEEN MAN’S GOD AND MOTHER NATURE NECKPIECE of sterling silver, eighteen karat gold, shakudo, carved boxwood, melamine and tin images, fourteen karat vintage snake, diamonds, steel cut beads, aquamarine, garnet, and braided leather cord, 2015.

      Noteworthy too is Kariya’s expertise in every technical aspect of jewelrymaking, from forging, fabrication and welding, to engraving and the alchemy involved in making cloisonné and alloys. She has also carved hardwood to create jewelry. And though metal is the basis of nearly everything she makes, Kariya has sometimes included found objects such as fossils, vintage treasures and animal bone. Her attraction to precious and semiprecious stones—often in majestic sizes—is a signature of her aesthetic.

“The Hammer and the Peony” starts with work from the early 1970s, including Voyager Brooch, 1973, the first piece Kariya sold after earning her BFA in Metal Design from the University of Washington. Made of amethyst, fine silver, sterling silver, and cloisonné enamel, the disc-shaped piece is about two inches in diameter and suggests an amethyst eye gazing into a dark sky. A fiery glow surrounds the oculus; perhaps the sun is in the background. There are white moons, or celestial bodies of some kind, below the oculus. Even in this first professional work Kariya’s talent as a colorist comes through in the brooch’s dramatic palette.

BIRTH OF ATHENA NECKLACE of sterling silver, shakudo, eighteen karat gold, negative quartz, diamond, elastic cording, 2017.

UME TV RING CONTAINER of sterling silver, cloisonné enamel, jeweled knobs, rotating antenna, 1976.

      Kariya’s skill with cloisonné is on display in other pieces from the 1970s, especially in a group of small silver boxes that could be containers for precious unguents. In Ume TV Ring Container, 1976, Kariya made a golf-ball size sterling silver television perpetually displaying a cloisonné screen of red plum blossoms, called ume in Japanese. The television knobs are small jewels. The antenna rotates. The box is charming but it is also a nod to the importance of television in 1970s culture, and a reference to Kariya’s Japanese-American heritage. Plum blossoms are a popular decorative motif in traditional Japanese art and design.

Among Kariya’s signature forms are rings and bracelets. Two large bangle bracelets made since 2000 are studies in complex alchemy and intricate surface embellishment. To make the bracelets Human Grid and Moonflower, Kariya used shakudo, an alloy of copper and gold; shibuichi, an alloy of copper and silver; and argentium®, an alloy of germanium and copper. The gold, silver and alloys create metallic palettes of surprising breadth and brilliance. In these bracelets and other pieces, Kariya uses the silver jewelry as a canvas on which to add decoration and pattern.

Until a few years ago, Kariya considered herself a maker of non-narrative jewelry. Her work had always been elegant and beautifully designed, but rarely imbued with stories or social commentary. Then in 2010 she was asked to participate in an exhibition in which each artist made work relating to a particular year from the twentieth or early twenty-first centuries. Kariya chose 2009 and made a piece about Barack Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize. The piece is a suite of four brooches, each containing lines from speeches Obama made during the year. A white dove with an olive branch in its beak is the center of the suite. Obama’s words are engraved in spiraling ribbons held in a man’s hand, which emerges from the cuff of a peony-decorated sleeve. 

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      Kariya notes in her exhibition statement that the Barack Obama suite inspired her to make more narrative work. Since then she has created other ambitious narrative pieces. One is Kingfisher Caught Between Man’s God and Mother Nature, a necklace of sterling silver, eighteen karat gold, alloys, carved wood, gemstones, braided leather cord, and a vintage gold snake. Prominent is the iconic image of God’s hand touching man from Michelangelo’s fresco, The Creation of Adam, on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. A carved wooden kingfisher is trapped behind the giant hands, and in back of the bird is a glimpse of Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. The Kingfisher is a recurring character in Kariya’s recent work, and in numerous traditional cultures the bird represents peace and prosperity. But in this large, ceremonial-looking neckpiece, the bird seems to represent humankind caught between the world we have created, with our laws and belief systems, and the natural world. In spite of its discomfiting environmental message, it is another beautiful piece. And as this thoughtful, serene exhibition demonstrates so well, beauty brings us joy, which is something we can always use more of.

SUGGESTED READING
Lorene, Karen.
Celebrating 70. Seattle: Lorene Publications, Facèré Jewelry Art Gallery, 2010.
Snyder, Jeffrey. Art Jewelry Today 2. Atglen: Schiffer Publications, 2008.
Updike, Robin. “Nadine Kariya: A Formalist Approach.” Ornament, Vol. 23, No. 2, 1999.
—. “Celebrating 70: Seventy Jewelers, Seventy Challenges.” Ornament, Vol. 33, No. 5, 2010.
—. “Nadine Kariya: Spiraling Arabesques.” Ornament, Vol. 34, No. 5, 2011.

“Nadine Kariya: The Hammer and the Peony,” shows at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art,
Bainbridge, Washington, through February 28, 2018.

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      Get Inspired!

 
 

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Robin Updike, a regular contributor to Ornament, is a Seattle-based arts writer who has been following Nadine Kariya’s work for many years. During that time Kariya’s elegant jewelry has been collected by some of Seattle’s best known metal arts patrons as well as those who simply admire beautiful, statement-making jewelry. Having supported herself for years as a commercial jeweler, Kariya combines outstanding craftsmanship with a highly refined aesthetic. Kariya’s current exhibition at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art is a feast for the eyes and the soul.

Royal Crests & Vajra Masters Volume 40.2

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art is something of a labyrinth—a vast collection of galleries within galleries. On a morning in the middle of the week after Christmas, the Met was full of visitors from around the world drawn to the permanent collection as well as to various blockbuster offerings: a David Hockney retrospective, and “Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer.” Two shows at opposite ends of the main building offered retreats from these throngs—and cultural revelation and enlightenment related to empowering adornments.

CREST (TSESAH) of wood, Bamileke, Cameroon, 91.8 × 57.8 × 33.0 centimeters, late nineteenth/early twentieth century. The Menil Collection, Houston. Photographs courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

       Tucked in among the displays in the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas section of the museum is “The Face of Dynasty: Royal Crests from Western Cameroon” (through September 3, 2018). The inspiration for the show was the Met’s acquisition in 2017 of an eighteenth-century monumental royal crest, or Tsesah, carved by an unknown artist from the Grassfields region of the Central African country. The museum borrowed three additional crests—out of a total of fifteen known extant examples—from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum for African Art, the Menil Collection and a private collection.

According to the curators, this first-ever display of more than one Tsesah in a single show offers an opportunity to appreciate their formal qualities “comparatively.” While the four crests share certain design characteristics, such as their “bombastic facial features” and soaring, expansive brows incised with linear patterns, they vary in size and condition. Some of them have been crudely but deftly repaired, yet they remain imposing, their earthy textures lending them a timeless quality.

In a “MetCollects” video interview about the Tsesah acquisition, Alisa LaGamma, the Pulitzer Curator in Charge for the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, calls the Met crest “a sensational art form,” noting how it defies categorization: “it’s not freestanding, it’s not a mask, it actually was a crest that came out as part of a ceremony for the ascension of a new leader to the throne and his succession.” LaGamma remarks on the crest’s “out-of-the-box visual thinking” and how it was “original in its own time, but… remains fresh to this day.” 

African masks were of great interest to modern artists; one thinks of Picasso and others who found inspiration in their stylized visages. The Met display includes an installation shot from the exhibition “African Negro Art” mounted at the Museum of Modern Art in 1935 in which a Tsesah crest is shown displayed on a white pedestal. The Met exhibition also featured a twenty-seven-foot-long ndop royal display cloth; like the crests, ndop cloths were part of the “practice of power” in the Bamileke region of Western Cameroon and were tied to “long-standing regional exchange networks.”

Deep within the Met’s Asian Art section, the penetralia, as it were, of the northern end of the building, “Crowns of Vajra Masters: Ritual Art of Nepal” (through December 16, 2018)offers a stunning arrangement of five elaborate crowns, symbols of ritual authority worn by the hereditary caste of Vajracharyas, the highest ranking figures in Nepalese Buddhist community (the name is translated as “thunderbolt scepter master”).

VAJRACARYA PRIEST’S CROWN of copper, gold, turquoise, semiprecious stones, silver foil, Nepalese, 34.3 x 21.7 x 23.0 centimeters, circa fifteenth/sixteenth century. Rogers Fund, 1948. Collection of Metropolitan Museum of Art.

      The crowns in the show represent the five Transcendent Buddhas of awakened wisdom. The curators have arranged the crowns in a mandala configuration, with paintings and various objects of ritual performance surrounding them. Entering the darkened room is something of a religious experience—not a temple, per se, but a place of intense and remarkable sacred imagery and imagination.

The ornate dazzling crowns, which date from the thirteenth to the eighteenth century, are made of gilt copper with applied repoussé medallions that have been set with semiprecious stones, crystals, rocks, and coral. They were worn by bodhisattvas, perfected beings possessed of compassion and spiritual wisdom. Four of the five crowns are from the Met’s collection; the fifth was borrowed from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Each conical crown varies in its iconography and decorative elements. A crown from Nepal’s early Malla period (thirteenth/early fourteenth century) features a series of diadem plaques that depict the bodhisattva Manjushri accompanied by smaller plaques of gift-granting goddesses. By contrast, the most recent crown in the show, dated 1717, has no figurative elements and is the most highly decorative, with a profusion of lotus flower plaques and floral bosses. Nearly all the crowns are surmounted by a stylized thunderbolt—the vajra—scepter, its five prongs sometimes resembling the beaks of birds. 

The pieces also vary in their construction, but the metalworking is consistently outstanding. Some elements are riveted to the crown, others are cast. The stones also differ from piece to piece: the VMFA collection crown features a diadem band inlaid with a rich blue lapis lazuli while several others are accented with turquoise. 

The crowns are complemented with an array of Nepalese objects equally stunning in their imagery and creation. Distemper-on-cloth mandalas offer elaborate representations of deities, including the wrathful Chakrasamvara with his embracing consort, Vajravarahi. A couple of mandalas depict the fearsome sword-wielding Acala (translated as “immovable”) who is said to be able to cut through the veil of ignorance.

Other objects in the show relate to the ritual offerings made by the Buddhist priests. There is an iron fire-offering ladle inlaid with gold and silver; a libation conch, which is used to pour blessed water during Vajracharya ceremonies; and a brass ewer with a spout in the form of the sea creature Makara.

In both the Tsesah and Vajra shows, one comes away with a sense of awe. Whether the impulse to create these astonishing adornments came from a need to display power or express belief, the individuals who carved and cast these objects were masters of their arts. The Met exhibitions help give them their due.

“The Face of Dynasty: Royal Crests from Western Cameroon” and “Crowns of Vajra Masters: Ritual Art of Nepal” show through September 3, 2018 and December 16, 2018, respectively, at the Metropolitan Museum, New York City.

      Get Inspired!

 
 

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Carl Little, after submitting his reviews for this issue, joked about the complexities of navigating the vast Metropolitan Museum of Art, saying that “I considered leaving behind a trail of bread crumbs.” He relied on guards to guide him to two remarkable shows: “The Face of Dynasty: Royal Crests from Western Cameroon” and “Crowns of Vajra Masters: Ritual Art of Nepal.” Paintings of Portland, Little’s third collaboration with his brother David will be out in June. The two brothers also recently worked together on The Art of Arcadia, celebrating the founding of the national park in Maine.

Veiled Meanings Volume 40.2

DETAIL OF GREAT DRESS (BERBERISCA OR AL-KISWA AL-KABIRA) of silk velvet, gilt-metal cords, braided ribbons, Fez, Morocco, early twentieth century. Photograph by Mauro Magliani, courtesy of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. WOMAN’S OUTER CLOAK (ABAYA) of silk with gilt-metal thread, Baghdad, Iraq, later 1920s/early 1930s. Photograph by Mauro Magliani, courtesy of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. WOMAN’S ATTIRE of silk, silk velvet, cotton satin, and gilt-metal cord embroidery, Mashhad, Iran, early twentieth century. Photograph by Mauro Magliani, courtesy of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. 

DETAIL FROM COAT OF RABBI SALIMAN MENACHEM MANI of broadcloth and gilt-metal-thread couched embroidery, Hebron, Ottoman Palestine, early twentieth century. Photograph by Patrick R. Benesh-Liu/Ornament.

Housed in Felix Warburg’s former Fifth Avenue mansion on New York City’s “Museum Mile,” The Jewish Museum is one of the world’s oldest museums dedicated to the presentation of art and Jewish culture. Founded in 1904, and featuring collections from the ancient to the contemporary, its current focus highlights apparel from the collection of The Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Over twenty countries and one hundred examples of Jewish costume from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries illuminate the diversity and complexity of Jewish identity and culture in “Veiled Meanings: Fashioning Jewish Dress.”

      Staged in a darkly lit room for protection of its textiles, the lighting serves as a successful aid to what turns out to be a fascinating and immersive ambiance. We understand that clothing serves to functionally cover our bodies (a form of shelter from our nakedness and to separate us from the natural world); but its cultural dimensions are far deeper and wider wherever it is worn, gaining ever more complicated meanings as it emerged from the mists of time. With Jewish migration historically worldwide, “Veiled Meanings” addresses this subject thematically in the exhibition’s four sections: Through the Veil; Interweaving Cultures; Exposing the Unseen; and Clothing that Remembers. Largely subsumed by non-Jewish cultures, it is not surprising that Jewish clothing was identical to, or a tweak of the dominant nationality, as well as having characteristics identifiably Jewish, such as badges, the color yellow, the Judenhut (the Jewish hat), and specific types of robes and face gear marking them as different from Christian and Muslim societies.

 

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      Female outdoor body wraps were the custom throughout the Middle East and Central Asia, in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Uzbekistan. Through the Veil shows the degree that body wraps primarily masked female personal identity, shielding it from public scrutiny. As indicators of status or religion, one display of differentiation was the wearing of veils; in Baghdad, Iraq, Christian women did not cover their face, but Jewish women wore a fine-mesh black horsehair veil for more total concealment. 

Especially interesting is the amalgamation of cultural diffuseness brought about by migrations over time and place throughout the world. In the section Interweaving Cultures, there is seen a zesty embrace of contemporaneous internationalized fashions, motifs and materials in the making and wearing of dress. One delightful representative is an ensemble where the skirt was inspired by a ballet tutu. This shalita gained popularity and imitation after a European visit in 1873 by the Shah of Persia and his (favorite) wife.

As both a protection from evil and symbolic of fertility, a bride’s palms were painted with henna dye and reflected ongoing traditional beliefs. Sewn by her mother, the Henna Dress was made for Dakhla Rachel Mu’allem, who was married at eleven, and worn to the child’s henna ceremony prior to the marriage ceremony itself. The dress shows a mixture of cultural influences from the Ottoman coatdress worn by Muslim and Jewish women to the European-style gathered long skirt sewn to a long-sleeved top. Like this one with its decorative flourishes, many garments pointedly emphasized and amplified the breast area. Interestedly, and a curious conundrum, in a culture that was sexually restrictive and proscribed modesty as a critical indicator of the virtuous female, these dresses were not considered immodest. Today they might be considered a mixed message of what is a women’s traditional role in a culture experiencing worldly influences, vacillating between tradition and modernity.

WOMAN’S COAT (KALTACHAK) of brocaded silk, ikat-dyed silk and cotton lining, Bukhara, Uzbekistan, late nineteenth century. Photograph by Patrick R. Benesh-Liu/Ornament.

HENNA DRESS of silk satin, silk and lace ribbons and tinsel embroidery, Baghdad, Iraq, 1891. Photograph by Mauro Magliani, courtesy of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. GROOM’S ATTIRE WITH AMULETIC SYMBOLS of indigo-dyed goat hair and brocade jacket and trousers with silk-floss embroidery, cotton shirt, artificial silk sash, Zakho, Iraqi Kurdistan, early twentieth century. Photograph by Patrick R. Benesh-Liu/Ornament.

      Two stunning garments, a woman’s kaltachak from Uzbekistan of brocaded silk and ikat-dyed silk, and from Iraqi Kurdistan a groom’s attire decorated with diamond-shaped amuletic symbols, are breathtaking examples of craftsmanship at work. In Zakho, from where the groom’s outfit derives, Armenian weavers were renowned for the high quality of their patterned goat-hair fabrics. The woman’s coat is a superb example of the compelling presentation that ikat-dyed fabric makes; and the combination of brocade and silk is elegant and luxurious. This kaltachak likely reflects the political and social changes that were taking place in Bukhara following the Russian conquest and Jews were free to emigrate to Ottoman Palestine. By the end of the nineteenth century some one hundred eighty Bukharan Jewish families had resettled in Jerusalem and it is surmised that this extraordinary coat is from one of these families.

The importance of family in Jewish life, ensuring its continuance and stability, is another feature of the exhibition with its examples of children’s clothing. Symbolic weddings of five-year-olds were held in Moroccan communities on Shavuot, the holiday celebrating the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai and was meant to strengthen the children’s connection to the Torah and its commandments. Imitating a real groom’s attire, the boy’s suit here is decorated with hamsas (hand symbols), a North African emblem to ward off evil.

“Veiled Meanings” shows the degree to which Jewish dress is akin to other periods of history in timeless, essential struggles between religion, tradition and modernity, East and West, freedom and equality. Yet the exhibition’s power is its ability to synthesize what is visually unique and specific to Jewish life, experience and culture, by how dress has not only been regulated by those cultures that controlled Jewish daily life but the “way of life” (orah hayyim) proscribed by Jewish law itself.

In a subtle and understated way, the exhibition invites questions about how we live with a sense of respect, tolerance and accommodation for those who make up this world. How do we live safely and well in a turbulent world with forces that we, ourselves, cannot control, yet still rise to the challenge of expanding the inherent possibilities of what it means to be human? Many questions are there for answering.

“Veiled Meanings: Fashioning Jewish Dress, from the Collection of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem,”
shows at the Jewish Museum, New York City, through March 18, 2018.

INSTALLATION VIEW of Interweaving Cultures, Section Two of “Veiled Meanings: Fashioning Jewish Dress,” at The Jewish Museum. Photograph by Jason Mandella, courtesy of The Jewish Museum, Jerusalem.

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Bonus Gallery

These photographs were taken at the Veiled Meanings exhibition in New York, November 2017.

 

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Carolyn L. E. Benesh is Coeditor of Ornament and our in-house expert on contemporary wearable art. As Ornament’s resident itinerant, she moves to and fro across the USA in search of inspiring craft, great experiences and, of course, excellent food. In the waning months of 2017, she made her annual trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, a much beloved annual stop, adding a visit to New York City for more work. After one delightful morning spent at the Neue Galerie’s Cafe Sabarsky with artist Reiko Ishiyama, Benesh went on to The Jewish Museum to review “Veiled Meanings: Fashioning Jewish Dress.”

Native Fashion Now Volume 40.1

DRESS, HEADPIECE AND CAPE by Orlando Dugi (Diné) of paint, silk, organza, feathers, beads, and twenty-four karat gold; porcupine quills and feathers; feathers, beads and silver, Desert Heat Collection, 2012. Model: Louisa Belian. Photograph by Thosh Collins.

Inset:
THE MESSENGER (THE OWL) CAPE AND HEADPIECE by Margaret Roach Wheeler of silk/wool yarn, metal, silver, glass beads, and peacock feathers, Mohatan Collection, 2014. Photograph by Greg Hall.
 

Fashion exists along an interesting spectrum—that of building personal and public identity. It is the overarching narrative, the sizzling, morphing cinematic of the mind’s eye that is constantly reinventing itself. While fashion as a concept exists universally, the institution’s birthplace, and the subsequent structure that was created from those beginnings, could fairly be ascribed to Paris. As such, fashion has been a European-dominated organism for most of its modern existence.

      As a sculptor of identity, then, it is perhaps most apropos that a people who have struggled with retaining and defining their identity have become the most recent insurgents within what has for the last century been a Western cultural enterprise. Represented in the exhibition “Native Fashion Now”, originating at the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts, and ending this September at New York’s National Museum of the American Indian, the work of sixty-seven Native American artists and designers reassesses the topic of fashion, and introduces exciting possibilities towards where it is traveling.

The exhibition is better viewed through the lens of perspective and context to achieve maximum impact. Fashion is ravenous, devouring and subsuming participants in a high stakes competition for fame, recognition and income. But the greatest fashion designers have always been subversives—Elsa Schiaparelli, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Yves St. Laurent, Christian Dior, Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, Rei Kawakubo, and Issey Miyake shared a mindset that flouted rules and sensibility to change how the game was played. In doing so, they shifted the boundaries of the masculine and feminine.

What modern Native fashion designers are doing, then, is more clear within this setting. Seen not as minor titillations in a leviathan oeuvre, but as poking holes and proffering jests that subtly undermine the status quo, these designers are introducing a radical concept, bringing the legitimacy of non-European aesthetics into the world of fashion. The exhibit, in covering a diverse range of work, examined the many directions from which this change can emanate. Take, for example, the striking ensemble Desert Heat by Orlando Dugi (Diné).

In this dress, Dugi has carefully aligned the shock value of most contemporary fashion with a cultural aesthetic grounded in his own tradition. Desert Heat’s long, shimmering dress, dyed shibori-style with ardent crimsons, blotches of black and coronas of orange, is topped with a mantle of feathers, draped over the wearer’s shoulders and locked around the throat with a beadwork collar. A headdress of porcupine quills and feathers surmounts the whole like a wild woman’s crown. All of these elements contain traces of Dugi’s native world, and to those in the know it is hard not to see his outfit for what it is—a ferociously graceful costume that transforms its wearer into a bird of prey. Paying homage to the dancer’s ensembles of Native American tribal rituals, it also respects the animals of the earth. Indeed, although not indigenous to North America, Dugi’s piece resembles the snake-slaying secretary bird of Africa.

POSTMODERN BOA of stainless steel, sterling silver, enamel paint, and feathers, by David and Wayne Nez Gaussoin (Picuris Pueblo/Diné), 2009. Model: Tazbah Gaussoin. Photograph by David Gaussoin; courtesy of Museum of Indian Arts and Culture.

      While Western contemporary fashion appears to be a monolithic construct of fashion labels and major design firms, contributors to it have differing ideas of what fashion actually is. From those who consider themselves artists rather than fashion designers, to those who see no distinction between the two, and finally people who firmly see themselves as couturiers, the term, like art itself, is subject to interpretation. Native artists Wayne Nez and David Gaussoin (Picuris Pueblo/Diné) work in a variety of media, and their contribution to the exhibition is Postmodern Boa, a serpentine rising spiral of enameled steel festooned with feathers.

As an item of adornment both sleek and slinky, coquettishly hiding its wearer yet revealing glimpses through dark crimson, Postmodern Boa evokes an aura of pomp and mystique. Yet despite its allure, the origins of this crafted object are deeper. The community-focused nature of Native culture was what brought about its creation. The Gaussoin brothers had been collaborating for a series of fashion show fundraisers, with the aim of raising money for a nonprofit that enabled Native American youth to attend the Santa Fe Opera. “These early fashion shows took place in a night club. I think that idea of opera and night club together kind of explains that piece,” Wayne Nez recalls.

These hidden roots, which despite being unknown to the outside observer exist regardless, are an integral aspect of Native fashion. The undercurrents of family, tradition and community are present in many of the works displayed in the exhibition. Niio Perkins’s (Akwesasne Mohawk) pièce-de-résistance, a blue cotton and velvet dress with cuffs, collar and belt decorated with intricate beadwork, in the traditional Woodlands Indian style, is demure, understated and attractive. Its modest demeanor, in comparison to more contemporary styles, belies the lush embellishment of vines, flowers and leaves, vivid against a stark black background. Two white birds resembling doves, accented with small pearls, meet in the middle of her waistband, their green beaks almost touching. It is a symbol of both beauty and peace.

EMMA ENSEMBLE by Niio Perkins (Akwesasne Mohawk) of cotton, velvet, glass beads, and metal pins, 2010. Photograph by Ornament.

      All made by hand, Perkins’s ensemble could not have manifested without the influence and inspiration of her mother, Elizabeth. Perkins’s development as an artisan is strongly connected to the artistic environment of both family and tribal culture. “I learned to bead as a child in the lap of my mother,” she recollects. “She is a phenomenal seamstress and designer of traditional clothing in her own right. I was a needy baby; she had to hold me as she used the sewing machine. When I started to get in the way, she gave me a bowl of beads and taught me a few techniques to occupy my little hands. I grew up among families who beaded to supplement their income. It has always felt like a natural thing to do.”

A jacket embellished by Thomas Haukass (Sicangu Lakota) for his friend Kenneth Williams Jr. (Northern Arapaho/Seneca) is a statement on the importance of connections and relationships for Native Americans. While the cream-colored linen blazer is European in design and origin, it has been transformed into a canvas for ledger designs, an open book, as it were, that takes a quintessential Native expression of preserving identity in the face of assimilation and oppression. Each warrior on the jacket is a hero, a doer of mighty deeds and a collector of titles. The term “counting coup”, after the Native warrior tradition of striking an opponent with a coupstick, speaks to the recognition, and recollection, of courage. For Haukass, this garment was his way of honoring the accomplishments of his fellow artist.

Sometimes the roots of something mighty come from a single seed. Louis Gong is of the Nooksack tribe, who share the Northwest Coast of Washington with other Coast Salish peoples. He is also French, Scot and Chinese, and this unique mix has led to exploring his own identity through art.

The prelude to this story came from junior high. Sometimes what we lack can give rise to passionate desire later in life, and so it was with Gong. “I grew up poor, so in seventh and eighth grade, when everyone was wearing Vans, I wanted to own some but couldn’t afford them,” he explains. “Fast forward twenty years, I saw a coworker wearing a pair of Vans, and it brought back that sense of wanting to buy one.” Gong went to the store to search through rows of shoes, but nothing he found seemed to represent him, and who he was. He bought a blank, white pair, brought them home, and took a sharpie to the sneakers with gusto. As his hand put ink to canvas, formline designs grew and flourished until Gong was left with an elaborately decorated piece of footwear that spoke to his unusual and complex heritage.

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      These sneakers would be the seed for Gong’s business, Eighth Generation, a vehicle for empowering Native artists. A farseeing philosophy guides his vision for the company. Seven generations is an intertribal concept for making decisions, a framework of sorts that says every action should be considered for its impact on the next seven generations. The name Eighth Generation imparts Gong’s personal touch, relating both to his Cantonese background, where the number ‘8’ phonetically sounds like the word prosperity, and his gesture of respect to the preceding generations that laid the foundation for where he stands today. 

Giving back to the community, both national and local, is natural for him. “I’ve heard it referred to as a culture tax,” he says. This understanding, that we are part of the fabric of a creative world, is shared by most Native artists, and is perhaps the greatest disjunct from the world of contemporary fashion, where famous names and big labels, with commercialized products that have unknown makers, stands today. The real scoop is not only how Native artists will change the outward aesthetics of the fashion industry but its processes as well. In that, “Native Fashion Now” is a portent of things to come.

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Patrick R. Benesh-Liu is Associate Editor of Ornament and continues to find time to enjoy craft in between writing, travel and tech support. Earlier in the year he made the trip to New York, where he visited the National Museum of the American Indian, a peaceful space for insightful exhibitions on Native art. There he had the chance to see “Native Fashion Now”, an enterprising and innovative show organized by the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. That viewing laid the foundation for an exploration into Native art as it relates to contemporary fashion. Speaking with Native artists, he was amazed at the stories that lay underneath the surface of each piece. As Ornament’s reporter, he also provides a zesty compilation of the latest news in craft.

Black Fashion Designers Volume 39.5

 COAT by Harbison, Spring 2015, United States.  All photographs © The Museum at FIT, New York.

COAT by Harbison, Spring 2015, United States. All photographs © The Museum at FIT, New York.

It has always been a struggle for the African American, whether the battlefield has been civil rights, politics, entertainment, culture, or art. Underlying all of these, and much more, has been a wrestling with identity, of coming up with a sense of self that was true, historically rooted, and as an avenue for self expression within the predominant Caucasian culture. While fashion might seem an unlikely realm in which to resolve the contradictions and tensions inherent to black identity, in many ways it is a timeline, deep with symbolism and broad in inspiration, with which that journey can be measured. Thus it was amply shown with “Black Fashion Designers,” recently closed at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (December 6, 2016 – May 16, 2017).

      What makes black fashion? It is perhaps best likened to a quilt or tapestry; filled with individual parts that up close seem unrelated or separate, but from afar come together to create something wild, diverse, unusual, meditative, and beautiful. Each African-American designer, whether recognized for her or his talents or sitting in the shadows, out of the limelight, had to swim against the inertia of prevailing institutions that were built by a largely white demographic. The central triumph of FIT’s exhibition was in raising awareness of these makers and trendsetters, and by selecting representative pieces demonstrating how wide-ranging the contributions of black fashion designers truly has been. In isolation, it can be difficult to envision the breadth of the field.

 

WEDDING DRESS (front, back and detail) by Ann Lowe, made for Judith Tabler, 1968.

      The exhibition exploded that limited vision with seventy-five ensembles from sixty different designers. In the darkened corridor of the Fashion & Textile History Gallery, rows of illuminated mannikins told a nuanced tale of African-American expression, from past to present, starting with Anne Lowe’s wedding dresses. Five divisions made up the exhibition and provided it with structure; Eveningwear, Menswear, Street Influence, African Influence, Breaking Into The Industry, Experimentation, Black Models, and Rise of the Black Fashion Designer. One striking example from 1968 featured a sweeping train and a figure-hugging bodice, plain and nearly unembellished but for a garland of appliquéd flowers trailing near the hem. These blooms scatter themselves across the train, as if the bridesmaids were tossing flowers in the bride’s wake. A collar of flowers along the neckline complete the natural simplicity of Lowe’s dress.

What this elegant article neglects to publicize is Lowe’s prominence as the fashion designer for the rich and famous. She learned her craft from her grandmother, Georgia Cole, a former slave from Alabama. Cole’s own story is one of those old school romances, having been liberated by her husband, a free black man by the name of General Cole. That her granddaughter would one day be couturier to Jacqueline Kennedy (whose wedding dress is also in the exhibition) is proof that African Americans have and continue to flourish in spite of adversity.

DRESS by Balmain (Olivier Rousteing) of raffia, silk, rhinestones, Spring 2013, France. JUMPSUIT by James Daugherty of polyester matte jersey, circa 1974, United States. DRESS by Jon Haggins of silk, 1980-1985, United States. LEGGINGS AND HAT by Patrick Kelly of spandex, straw, cotton, Spring 1988, France.

      However, the beauty of the exhibit was putting into context the sheer range of aesthetic contributions made by black fashion designers, from the simple and the demure to the loud, fun and exuberant. A checkered dress from Balmain, the French fashion house which recently designed costumes for the Paris opera, is a nearly Wonderlandian ensemble combining the glitz of Mardi Gras with a surreal twist on medieval pageantry. Olivier Rousteing, the man behind this chic, starchly embroidered outfit, became the creative director of Balmain when he was just twenty-five. Despite being seen as a black sheep in the fashion world, for reasons beyond just his race, Rousteing made significant changes in the Balmain brand, increasing its percentage of sales for menswear to forty percent, and opening up a boutique in London. He also has helped evolve its aesthetic, hybridizing Western designs with Asian influences. Perhaps of most notoriety in this digital age, Rousteing tipped Balmain over the one million follower mark on Instagram, thanks to his dedication to taking selfies with a variety of celebrities, among them Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé, Chris Brown, and Rihanna.

The understated elegance of James Daugherty and Jon Haggins was a look at the other end of the spectrum, and their simplicity on first glance may conceal their fundamental contributions to fashion. Daugherty’s sleek polyester beauty, in glowing sea foam green, is a form of jumpsuit evocatively dubbed a “sizzler” by Ebony magazine. Born during the 1970s, his slinky design was emblematic of the era. Daugherty himself got his career underway working for the celebrated American costume designer Edith Head, and would end up teaching at the FIT.

Haggins’s royal blue silk number features a plunging back-cowl and a geometric staircase surface pattern that shimmies its way down around the waist and hips. A graduate of FIT, he founded his own fashion label in 1966. His decision to move away from stiff, structural dresses towards loose and elegant fabrics that draped languidly upon the body laid the groundwork for the decade to come.

 

ENSEMBLE by Christie Brown of cotton, synthetic, Spring 2016, Ghana.

 

      The section named African Influence spoke to the challenge of deriving inspiration from Mother Africa without falling into imitation. Some pieces, such as a pair of trousers and a clever hat made to mimic the practice of African women balancing a basket on their heads to carry food and goods, by famed black designer Patrick Kelly, were playful homages. Others, like a diaphanous dress adorned with flowers, cut out patterns and paisley edging by the fashion brand Christie Brown, are actually from Africa. Christie Brown originates in Ghana, and was established by Aisha Ayensu in March 2008. Named eponymously after Ayensu’s grandmother, the relatively young brand won Emerging Designer of the Year Award in 2009 at Arise Africa Fashion Week in Johannesburg, South Africa, and also earned the right to represent Ghana in the Parisian Arise L’Afrique-a-Porter in 2010. Both bright and floral, with a screen-printed scene of the savannah decorating the back of the coat that rests on the wearer’s shoulders like a mantle, the piece is most unique for the open-work appliqué panel covering the chest, which mimics the paisley patterns adorning the waist.

 

JACKET (back detail) by Pyer Moss, Spring 2016, United States. 

 

      The exhibition was unafraid of tackling the unpleasant social issues that are part and parcel of the lives of these designers, and the political angle of black fashion was explored in both t-shirts, which featured loud, demonstrative statements on injustice and the environment, and fully realized garments. Such was aptly, and soundly, displayed by the duality of a t-shirt and a men’s jacket by Pyer Moss, an American fashion label founded by Kerby Jean-Ramond, a Haitian-American whose parents came to the States in 1980.
Along the hem of the jacket in raw paint reminiscent of graffiti is scrawled the words “We Already Have a Black Designer.” The white shirt is a reliquary of names of those black men who have died in confrontations with the police, and was worn by Jean-Ramond to his spring 2016 fashion show.

Throughout the exhibit, the unveiling of this history is a potent reminder of the vitality and contribution of these artisans to the contemporary fashion movement.

 

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Patrick R. Benesh-Liu is Associate Editor of Ornament and continues to find time to enjoy craft in between writing, travel and tech support. This year saw him visiting New York for the veritable deluge of fashion shows on display during this past spring, such as “Black Fashion Designers” in the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. After observing the parade of garments and ensembles made over several decades, he comments, “You learn that some of the seminal styles of the twentieth century were pioneered by African-Americans. The slinky, silky jumpsuit that filled the discotheques of the 1970s? That is called the sizzler, and it was made by James Daugherty.” Back on the West Coast, it was his pleasure to meet Bhagwan Das Soni and cover the trunk show of his jewelry at the Fowler Museum at UCLA. As Ornament’s reporter, he also provides a zesty compilation of the latest news in craft.

Counter-Couture Volume 39.5

 

CHRISTOPHER CROOKEDSTITCH DRESS of hand-dyed cotton with beads and found embellishments, 1978. KASIK WONG RED RAY DRESS of gauze, net and metallic brocade, 1974. BIRGITTA BJERKE DRESS of crocheted yarn, circa 1970. YVONNE PORCELLA PATCHWORK DRESSES of cotton fabric, ribbons and molas, 1972. Installation photographs by Rex Rystedt; courtesy of Museum of Arts and Design.

 

It was bound to come around; fifty years later is about the right time for museums to gather their curatorial muscle for reviewing, gathering, documenting, and committing to an exhibition that has now achieved some distance, to allow for some semblance of an objective, informed presentation. Sometimes they are wonderfully subjective thematically, which can make for engaging, fascinating exhibitions. That time has come for America’s personal counterculture, ranging from the 1960s to 1970s. Initially organized by Washington state’s Bellevue Arts Museum, “Counter-Couture: Handmade Fashion in an American Counterculture” is now showing through August 20, 2017, at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York City. Another exhibition is cementing that time in current consciousness with “The Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll,” at San Francisco’s De Young Museum through August 29, 2017. The hippie meme continues spreading its message of love and peace and there are sure to be more exhibitions exploring this iconic cultural framework.

 

EMBROIDERED PATCH, a Levi Contest submission, 1974, artist unknown. Courtesy of American Craft Council. ALEX AND LEE shown in Native Funk and Flash, 1974. Photograph by Jerry Wainwright. SCRUMBLY KOLDEWYN OUTFIT of sewn cloth doilies and other materials, 1972.

 

      Displayed at the museum is a full representation of the handmade through the techniques favored during this innovative era, yet based on traditional methods put to service in unique ways: crocheting, knitting, weaving, featherwork, leatherwork, dyeing, beading, appliqué, painting, stitching, felting, quilting. Particularly engaging, and so characteristic of the garments, is that the street and ceremonial fashion of the times was an inclusively-based American style, drawing on global sources, consciously, not subliminally, arrived at. They were adapted, personalized and individuated, a new formula for “mixing and matching.” And they were fresh and exciting, especially after the 1950s when post-wartime clothing constraints were set aside and younger people began to use clothes to sartorially express themselves.

 

FAYETTE HAUSER wearing her Cosmic Gypsy ensemble of grass skirt and found objects, 1970. BILLY SHIRE JACKET of Levi denim, adorned with rivets, rim sets, furniture studs, and desk bell, 1975.

 

LESLIE CORRELL DANCEPIECE #1 of brass, Turkish “evil eye” beads, other trade beads, mounted on Indonesian batik, 1971.

      Those expecting the works contained in Julie Schafler Dale’s exceptional Art to Wear (1986) will be denied that pleasure. Her extraordinary volume listed works of genius, like that of Jean Williams Cacicedo, but not shown to similar advantage in “Counter-Couture” with a crocheted, quilted wool and velvet vest from 1972. Very few rise to the pinnacles that Dale’s refined selections portrayed. Certainly, there are highpoints with garments by Kasik Wong who influenced others but never received proper acclaim until after his death. There is the much celebrated Welfare jacket by Billy Shire in Levi denim, brass studs, rivets, furniture studs, and desk bell. Shire was the winner of Levi’s Denim Art Competition. An over-the-top tour-de-force of the period’s embrace of an insatiable appetite for surface design, Shire’s jacket glows from the metal and rhinestone studs crossing the denim surface in a carefully designed yet ambling, druggy symmetry.

Before fashion changed a few decades later, this clothing and jewelry still had wearability as its locus, and consciously expressed a basic romanticism for both feminine and masculine genders with its timely tendency for individualistic liberalism and radicalism as its cultural inspiration. Adornment appealed to the age’s sense of theatrics, from the artistic point of origin to wearer to viewer. The effect could be bold and graphic or subtle and suggestive. It strongly identified with aspects of ethnography and primitivism; was emotional in context, to provoke or invoke a response, be it hot or cool; and it celebrated and exposed the body as a form of kinetic sculpture, as living, sensuous flesh. If the idea was to cover the fabric or whatever material was used, maybe improve upon it, possibly deliberatively or spontaneously, leaving nothing untouched; the results often worked, sometimes hilariously so, striking one dumb with appreciation for their incongruous, kaleidoscopic visions.

ALEX AND LEE NECKLACE of clay scarab, brass, moss agate, abalone buttons, hand-dyed, knotted and woven cord, 1973.

      Clothing was not the only objective for personal adornment. Giving rise to a singularly American lexicon for jewelry construction, Alex and Lee’s works assembled diverse materials like lobster claws, feathers, rabbit fur, monkey hair, leather, clay, glass, in a feast of perfectly arranged assemblage. Deserving of popular culture’s new coinage for one of a kind, their jewelry not only astonished the eye, but was beautiful and elegant, and influenced designers for decades to come.

For all the euphoria, joy and whimsy, a darkness clouded the American atmosphere and showed up prominently in bodily accoutrements, in patches, buttons, body painting, t-shirts, and peace pendants. Riots, wars, marches, rebellions, and violent deaths with the gunning down of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, John and Robert Kennedy, marked irrevocably the complicated ways in which we acted and viewed ourselves. All of this was at odds with a deep sense of the necessity to create a better society than born into, even with its overwhelming challenges, such as the one in which we now belong. The idealism of the age may have been splintered by the realities of its time and place, and its clothing and jewelry no longer worn, becoming archival material, but it reflected an Earth-based spirit that was tolerant, kindly and welcoming. Its better nature expressed a sort of mantra deeply woven into the American origin narrative. We the people are here to form an ever more perfect union, rising above and fixing our flaws, and that noble work is constant and never ends. It was a vibrant, passionate search fifty years ago that continues to this day.

 

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Carolyn L. E. Benesh is Coeditor of Ornament and the magazine’s in-house expert on contemporary wearable art. As Ornament’s resident itinerant, she moves to and fro across the United States in search of inspiring craft, great experiences and, of course, excellent food. In the wake of her trip to the Smithsonian Craft Show in Washington, D.C., always a pleasurable encounter, she continued by bus to the Big Apple, to review “Counter-Couture: Handmade Fashion in an American Counterculture” at the Museum of Arts and Design (March 2 – August 20, 2017). Having been in her youth through that hallowed period, Benesh took great enjoyment (and tried not to wallow in nostalgia) in seeing the experimental work pioneered by artists who were her contemporaries.

Celestial Volume 39.4

 NU WA, THE CREATOR PENDANT by Cynthia Toops, metalwork by Nancy Bonnema, of micro mosaic polymer clay, sterling silver and old steel caliper, on a sterling silver chain, 2016.  Photograph by Doug Yaple. Background:  PISMIS 24.  Photograph courtesy of NASA, ESA and Jesús Maíz Apellániz (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, Spain). Acknowledgment: Davide De Martin (ESA/Hubble).

NU WA, THE CREATOR PENDANT by Cynthia Toops, metalwork by Nancy Bonnema, of micro mosaic polymer clay, sterling silver and old steel caliper, on a sterling silver chain, 2016. Photograph by Doug Yaple. Background: PISMIS 24. Photograph courtesy of NASA, ESA and Jesús Maíz Apellániz (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, Spain). Acknowledgment: Davide De Martin (ESA/Hubble).

Humans have always gazed at the heavens with wonder and awe. The sky, with its endless shifts in light and mood, inspires fear and faith, science and fantasy. The gods of nearly all religions dwell in the endless, unfathomable worlds beyond our little planet, as do the extraterrestrial civilizations described by science fiction writers. Even as astrophysicists study space and explain what they know, the celestial world remains tantalizingly mysterious to most of us. And thank goodness for that.

      In times of personal or societal turmoil, we turn to the sky with its infinite possibility and dream of worlds beyond our own. The artists in “Celestial: Comets, Cupids, and Other Heavenly Bodies,” a recent exhibition (February 8 - 28, 2017) at Facèré Jewelry Art Gallery, in Seattle, Washington, were inspired by shooting stars and blue moons, meteors and cloud patterns, origin myths and the zodiac, time traveling and communication with other worlds. The exhibition was a delightful antidote to the dark skies of mid winter and dark horizons everywhere. 

The exhibition included the work of twenty-two artists mostly from the United States and Canada. With jewelry displayed on reproductions of celestial maps, the show looked like part of a stylish observatory display, as though the jewelry represented miniature solar systems for us to study. Jan Smith’s exquisitely crafted enamel and silver neckpieces suggest tranquil blue landscapes on other planets. Plants and animals could live on these welcoming orbs. At a time when our earth’s environment is increasingly fragile, Smith’s Oort Cloud and Once in a Blue Moon offer hope for worlds with still pristine blue waters and clear skies.

METEORITE LANDING RING by Checha Sokolovic of sterling silver, patina, charcoal, cement, dye, and resin, 7.0 x 3.2 x 5.1 centimeters, 2016. Photograph by Barbara Cohen. UNIVERSE RING by Jennifer Merchant of acrylic, fine silver leaf, silver, glitter, and printed photographs, top measures 3.2 x 2.2 centimeters, 2016. Photograph by Jennifer Merchant. RADIANT CUFF by Wolfgang Vaatz of oxidized sterling silver, eighteen karat yellow gold and diamond, 2016. Photograph by Wolfgang Vaatz.

      Cynthia Toops, noted for her work in polymer clay micro mosaic, created narrative pieces based on myths about the heavens. Her pendant Nu Wa, The Creator is named for a goddess from Chinese mythology with a human face and a snake’s body. Nu Wa is the goddess of order and she also created humans. One of her heroic acts was to stop the heavens from collapsing onto earth. Toops collaborated with metalsmith Nancy Bonnema to make the piece.

Checha Sokolovic’s work incorporates treated charcoal used as gemstones. Meteorite Landing is a sterling silver and cement ring with a hunk of treated charcoal displayed like treasure. Meteorites that land on earth are in fact treated like precious rocks, and Sokolovic’s work raises questions about beauty and exactly what makes a material precious. Jennifer Merchant’s acrylic-based necklace and ring included bits of space photography. Merchant excels at building layers of acrylic, fine silver leaf, silver, and glitter all in the service of creating depth. For these pieces she also used snippets of photographs taken through the Hubble Space Telescope. Her necklace and ring, both called Universe, are glimpses of infinity.

Some of the most striking work was abstract in design but rich with cosmic allusion. Carla Pennie McBride’s several pieces are studies in black and white, positive and negative space. Light and Dark Necklace is a translucent epoxy resin sphere held in place by a chain of beads made from black lava. It is an elegant piece of jewelry as well as a poetic reference to the interdependence of our rocky planet and the life-giving atmosphere that surrounds us.

      Then there is Kirk Lang, who found a real meteorite to work into his brooches. Lang’s work is formal and well made and the hexagonal shape of his brooches suggests clusters of atoms and molecules, or other scientific phenomena made visible. Crafted of titanium, gold, diamonds, and meteorite, Lang’s work also refers to the preciousness of materials. In this case, shards of meteorites are as valuable and beautiful as diamonds and gold.

Nadine Kariya mined Greek mythology for inspiration, and made rings and neckpieces referring to Athena, Aphrodite and Ganymede, a Trojan prince who Zeus transformed into an eagle. Like heroes from all classical mythologies, the Greek gods travel between Earth and the heavens at will. With its classical grandeur, Kariya’s work could easily be worn by the gods of any culture.

MOONBEAM ANTHEM 1: BOWIE (obverse, reverse) by emiko oye of LEGO in fine and Argentium silver, and stainless steel pin. 10.8 x 9.53 x 2.54 centimeters. Photograph by Daniel Fox, Lumina Studio.

      There was work in the show representing shooting stars, the signs of the zodiac, and planets belted by outer rings, in the manner of Saturn. For wit, however, it is impossible to improve on pieces by Jana Brevick and emiko oye. Brevick has for many years made work about robotics, extraterrestrial communication and any number of other subjects sparked by her fascination with science and outer space. Her silver brooch/pendant Tracking Heartbeats resembles a miniature radio tower perched on a scooped out antennae dish. You can imagine it floating through space listening, perhaps indefinitely, for a message from another world.

Artist emiko oye infuses smart design with pop culture in a way that was perfectly apropos to this exhibition. Using purple and black LEGO pieces, she made brooches that resemble tiny space ships. Like the galaxy crossing space ships in Star Trek, her LEGO transporters are all right angles and diamond shapes. San Francisco-based oye is known for creating cheerful jewelry out of the bright plastic toy bricks. But for this show she also added song lyrics about the eternal appeal of looking beyond Earth for inspiration. On the backs of the brooches she inscribed lyrics from David Bowie, Prince, Depeche Mode and the character Hedwig, in the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Bowie and Prince, who both died in 2016, sometimes presented themselves as messengers from other worlds. When times are tough on our planet, the musicians suggested, dream of better worlds far, far away. The jewelry in “Celestial” made it easy to dream.

 

RINGS BROOCH by Sara Wauzynski of sterling silver, eighteen karat gold, egg tempera on gesso, pearls ,and garnets, 2.75” x 1.5” x 1.25”.

 
 

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Robin Updike, a Seattle-based arts writer and a regular contributor to Ornament, is a longtime observer of the craft scene. Over the course of more than two decades she has reviewed many exhibitions at Facèré Jewelry Art Gallery in Seattle and has always been impressed with the gallery’s themed, group shows. In this edition of Ornament Updike reviews a Facèré exhibition in which twenty-two jewelry artists made work about celestial bodies, both real and metaphorical. She let us know that the resulting show was “dreamy.”

Yves Saint Laurent Volume 39.3

The legendary Yves Saint Laurent designed clothing for his glamorous mother and created exquisite wardrobes for paper dolls when he was still in his teens. Though he grew up in Oran, Algeria, far from Paris, the world’s fashion capital, Saint Laurent at seventeen won the Woolmark Prize competition, a prestigious international fashion industry award. A year later he was handpicked by Christian Dior, the sun king of 1950s haute couture, to be Dior’s second in command. From his start as a design prodigy until the closing of his heralded haute couture maison in 2002, Saint Laurent’s remarkable clothing redefined what it meant for women to be stylish and contemporary.

 

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Robin Updike has followed fashion in one way or another for most of her life. As a teenager she sewed most of her own clothes and in those years Vogue Patterns carried designs from major international designers, including Yves Saint Laurent. Updike still owns a prized Vogue Pattern for the famous YSL tuxedo for women and she was delighted to able to spend time at the Seattle Art Museum’s gorgeous homage to the legendary designer. Based in Seattle, Washington, Updike, a regular contributor to Ornament, writes about art, style and wine.

JOLI! Sierra Leone Headdresses Volume 39.3

JOLI! A Fancy Masquerade From Sierra Leone

The Fowler Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles, is extremely fortunate to have a rare group of eleven Joli headdresses from Sierra Leone, which are on view in the museum’s Focus Gallery through July 16, 2017. Joli headdresses are among the most complex and elaborately configured masquerade structures we know from sub-Saharan Africa, and the Joli masquerade was performed only in the port city of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, during the 1970s.

      Following Sierra Leone’s independence, achieved in 1961 after over one hundred fifty years of British colonial rule, a wave of young migrants from the countryside—mostly members of the Temne ethnic group—moved to Freetown in hopes of finding greater opportunities and a better future. This gave rise to socioeconomic concerns about how best to integrate this influx of newly arrived young people into the city. Charitable organizations in Freetown—among them the Zorrow Unity Society and the Young Men’s Muslim Association (YMMA)—offered them food and shelter. These organizations also sponsored a variety of guided activities to help them adjust to urban life.

MASQUERADE HEADDRESS of wood, pigment, wire, fabric, fringe, braid, polyurethane foam, metal, 58.4 x 55.9 x 68.6 centimeters, Freetown, Sierra Leone, circa 1970s. Images courtesy of the Fowler Museum at UCLA.

      Notable among these efforts was the sponsorship of masquerades. Zorrow Unity and YMMA formed the Joli Society to produce a citywide parade festival to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, as well as other festive occasions. Members of the society were tasked with helping to create the spectacular headdresses that they would wear during these occasions. The word “fancy,” used to describe the events, seems to have come from its appearance in advertisements for yardage in local newspapers, as ornate brocades, damask, lace, and fringe were key materials used to create Joli headdresses. The term may also have entered the lexicon because “fancy costumes” were worn at balls during the British colonial era.

Deeper antecedents of the Joli masquerade may reside in a lantern festival celebrating the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr that seems to have originated in the 1930s and may have been inspired by a Gambian festival celebrating the Christmas season. Over time, the handheld lanterns morphed into large motorized floats constructed with bent and twisted wire, bamboo and wood. These wire frameworks were covered with layers of fabric and paper. In the 1970s Joli headdresses were made using the same materials and techniques and adopted many of the themes that had been used in the floats, becoming a sort of portable equivalent. The elusive water spirit Mami Wata, who represents beauty and fertility, was frequently represented on headdresses. She often wears an elaborate crown, which may represent her own power or be a holdover from British royal iconography. A rampant lion and unicorn, symbols of the British crown, are also commonly featured on Joli headdresses. As Sierra Leone was and still is predominantly Muslim, it is not surprising that superstructures also portray mosques or Al-Buraq, the magical horse with a human face who carried Muhammad from Mecca to Jerusalem and back. Elephants, biplanes and other fanciful imagery are also common.

X-RAY OF MASQUERADE HEADDRESS shown above depicting the structural engineering of the object primarily using wires of different gauges. CT scan and X-Ray made possible with the cooperation of the UCLA Radiology Department, Translational Research Imaging Center.    

      Joli headdresses were produced in several stages, each undertaken by individuals with different skills. During the course of exhibition preparation and research, the Fowler arranged with the UCLA Radiology Department, Translational Research Imaging Center, to have one of its headdresses examined using Computed Tomography (CT), which employs computer-processed combinations of many X-ray images taken from different angles to produce cross-sectional images, allowing the viewer to see inside an object without cutting or dismantling.

As the CT scan reveals, the first and innermost layer provided the headdress’s structural foundation or armature and was made from bent and twisted wire of different gauges. A second layer was composed primarily of polyurethane padding, which was in turn overlaid with a wide array of materials: cloth printed with floral motifs or animal prints, gingham, shimmering brocades, lush velvets, beaded veils, and embellishments including Christmas tinsel, garlands, plastic flowers, cowrie shells, fringes, rickrack, lace, and mirrors.

One or more wooden masks were attached to the fancy superstructure, giving a face to the Joli headdress. The coiffures of these carved wooden masks were painted a high-luster black, which helped to reflect the light, and the use of pink, violet, red, and other vibrant colors to paint their faces is evocative of masking traditions of southeastern Nigeria, especially those of the Ibibio peoples. The entire headdress was worn on top of the head. The Joli masquerade performer completed the ensemble with a full-body costume made of printed cloth, with white gloves and knee-high white socks to cover his hands and feet.

MASQUERADE HEADDRESS of wood, pigment, wire, fabric, tinsel, fringe, ribbon, metal, 91.5 x 68.6 x 55.8 centimeters, Freetown, Sierra Leone, circa 1970s. MASQUERADE HEADDRESS of wood, pigment, wire, fabric, tinsel mirrors, fringe, ribbon, metal, 64.7 x 53.3 x 16.73 centimeters, Freetown, Sierra Leone, circa 1970s. MASQUERADE HEADDRESS of wood, pigment, wire, fabric, tinsel, fringe, ribbon, metal, 91.5 x 68.6 x 55.8 centimeters, Freetown, Sierra Leone, circa 1970s.

 

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Gassia Armenian is Curatorial and Research Associate and Editorial Assistant at the Fowler Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles, where she conducts collections and database research to facilitate curatorial and scholarly endeavors and manages various aspects of planning and organizing museum exhibitions. Prior to her work at the Fowler Museum, Armenian was a Consultant-Project Coordinator at the US Agency for International Development—for Junior Achievement of Armenia where she developed and implemented civics-education training programs and teaching methodologies for principals and teachers from the Republic of Armenia in the United States and in Armenia. In this issue, she writes about the Fowler’s exhibition on Sierra Leone headdresses.

Vlisco. African Fashion Volume 39.3

African Fashion
On A Global Stage

We tend to talk about “globalization” as though it were a relatively recent development in our history. Particularly in relation to the textile industry, it is also seen (often justifiably) as an exploitative process aimed at producing cheap wearable goods for mass consumption in the West. The reality, of course, is that it is older and more complex than we imagine and can sometimes involve connections forged over many decades among far-flung cultures, leading to creative collaborations that reflect both global networks and local and regional innovations.

      A case in point is Vlisco, the Dutch company whose vibrant textiles, based on Indonesian batik wax-resist techniques for printing color on cotton cloth, have for a century and a half enjoyed enormous popularity throughout West Africa. In the hands of local dressmakers, these Dutch Wax (or Wax Hollandaise) prints are transformed into gorgeously designed garments that reflect the tastes, traditions and trends of the region’s various cultures.

A generous sampling of the products of this intercontinental collaboration can be found in “Vlisco: African Fashion on a Global Stage,” on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through January 22, 2017. The show is a key component of “Creative Africa,” a suite of exhibitions at the museum surveying African art across multiple mediums, including painting, sculpture, photography, architecture, and textiles, with an emphasis on the contemporary.

 

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David Updike is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia. A regular contributor to Ornament, he most recently previewed the 2016 Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show. In these pages, he reviews “Vlisco: African Fashion on a Global Stage,” an exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art that showcases the creative synergy of West African fashion designers crafting beautiful formal wear from “Dutch Wax” printed textiles. Next up in Ornament is Updike’s feature article on jeweler Barbara Heinrich from Pittsford, New York.

Sandy Swirnoff Volume 39.3

Sandy Swirnoff

Knotted Fiber Jewelry

FRIDA of nylon thread, Tibetan coral, glass seed beads, Indonesian silver beads, 2006. Collection of Grace Stewart. Photographs by Katie Gardner, courtesy of Mingei International Museum.

Sandy Swirnoff creates necklaces of intricately knotted nylon thread in colorful hues, embedding them with beads of all kinds, and sometimes with rescued shards of Art Nouveau glass. Thirty of these unique and wearable works of art are on view in Sandy Swirnoff—Knotted Fiber Jewelry, an exhibition presented by Mingei International Museum in San Diego, from January 14 to June 4, 2017. Swirnoff’s knotting process is a spontaneous style of macramé. According to the artist, “The best way to create free-form knotting is to watch carefully which direction the cords naturally want to go, to see if there is a pattern forming, a new shape wanting to appear, or some connection between areas that is graceful and has movement.”

 

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Christine Knoke Hietbrink is Director of Exhibitions and Chief Curator at Mingei International Museum in San Diego, California’s Balboa Park, which she joined in June 2010. Her most recent curatorial projects include “Sandy Swirnoff: Knotted Fiber Jewelry,” “American and European Folk Art from the Permanent Collection” and “Black Dolls from the Collection of Deborah Neff.” Knoke holds a BA in Art History from the University of California, Los Angeles, and an MA in Art History and Museum Studies from University of Southern California.