Wiley Sanderson Volume 40.3

WILEY SANDERSON PAGE in a promotional packet for the University of Georgia’s art department, circa 1955. Courtesy of Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries.

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Τhe stories about photographer Wiley Sanderson (1918–2011) are legendary and sometimes shocking. Most of them come from his students and colleagues at the University of Georgia and involve his insistence that the darkroom be spotless (did he really make students lick the floor to prove its cleanliness?), his raging diatribes and his inclination to pop out his glass eye to show the custom “WS” logo painted on it. When his work was included recently in a craft history exhibition at the Georgia Museum of Art, visitors who knew him were surprised to learn that this single-minded, unyielding pioneer in bringing pinhole cameras to university classrooms was also an accomplished mid-century jeweler, metalsmith and weaver. Few people, even within his own community, were aware that for two decades, from the late 1940s through the late 1960s, he investigated the possibilities of materials and techniques in modern jewelry.

 
It’s up to today’s craftsmen to make tomorrow’s heirlooms... Machines can’t shape metal, blend threads or mold clay like a pair of loving hands.
— Wiley D. Sanderson
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      Wiley Devere Sanderson, Jr., was born in Detroit, Michigan, to a mother who became head of the home economics department at Wayne State University and a father who was an electrical engineer. He took an early interest in photography and soon developed an awareness of craft and design as well. He attended Olivet College in Michigan, and studied at the Mills College Summer Session of 1940 in Oakland, California, with Bauhaus artists László Moholy-Nagy and György Kepes. Then, from 1941 to 1945, he served as an instrument flying instructor in the United States Army Air Corps, teaching pilots how to use the complex instruments on cockpit panels. He married Rosella “Roz” Nagle (1926–2010) in 1944, and they had three daughters.

Following World War II, Sanderson returned to school on the G. I. Bill and received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in industrial design and crafts, with distinction in metalsmithing, from Detroit’s Wayne State University in 1948; there he studied traditional methods under Arthur Nevill Kirk, a prominent English-born silversmith. Next, Sanderson attended Cranbrook Academy of Art, near Detroit, and obtained his Master of Fine Arts degree in metalsmithing and design in 1949. He arrived at Cranbrook just as metals classes resumed following an erratic period of operation due to the Depression, materials shortages during the war and staffing changes. Richard Thomas, who had just graduated from the program, became the new metals teacher in 1948, when Sanderson arrived, and taught there until 1984.(1) Sanderson excelled and received a Silver Medal for Metalsmithing from the faculty upon graduation.(2)

      Sanderson wrote in his thesis, “Metal Expression by Centrifugal Casting,” that centrifugal casting (in which he used the lost-wax method to create a mold that he then put in a machine that spun the mold, forcing metal into the cavity) had “grown in stature through industrial research,” and described its value to craft as “its directness of fabrication.” He added, “My enthusiasm over this new-found technique was spurred on by the freedom and inspiration of Cranbrook.” The centrifugal casting technique was developed in England in the early nineteenth century, revived by dentists in the early twentieth century, then, according to Janet Koplos and Bruce Metcalf in Makers: A History of American Studio Craft, was adopted by jewelry manufacturers in the 1930s, with studio jewelers following close behind. Marbeth Schon, in Form & Function: American Modernist Jewelry, 1940-1970, credits Bob Winston as the first to incorporate the process into courses at an institution of higher learning, the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, in the mid-1940s. So, when Sanderson focused on the technique at Cranbrook, it was a relatively new skill for a studio craftsman and he was helping to expand and refine the process. Mickey Story, an instructor in the Applied Arts Department at Texas Technical College, referenced Sanderson’s thesis when she wrote Centrifugal Casting as a Jewelry Process in 1963, which indicates that his research was considered informative and important within the field.

Illustrations of Sanderson’s work from his time at Cranbrook appear in a jewelry textbook from 1953 by D. Kenneth Winebrenner, Jewelry Making as an Art Expression, and include a brooch consisting of a cast silver biomorphic shape pierced by a hammered gold wire suggesting a facial profile, cast silver earrings of abstract human figures, a silver ring with a rounded hollow box formed around a pearl, and a cast and enameled brooch with a reclining stick figure. Sanderson revealed his practical approach when noting of the ring that the box would protect the pearl from wear, and of the brooch that casting the raised lines of the stick figure avoided “troublesome solder joints in enameling.”

 

BROOCH of sterling silver and rhinestones, 6.4 x 4.8 x 2.5 centimeters. Collection of Janet Sanderson Johnson. Photograph by Demitra Thomloudis.

 

      Shortly following his graduation in 1949, Sanderson moved to Athens, Georgia, to teach craft at the University of Georgia, and remained there for the rest of his career. Like other programs around the country, the art department at UGA expanded rapidly in the years following World War II with returning servicemen attending school on the G. I. Bill. As the craft instructor, Sanderson covered topics in metals and textiles; the other craft area taught there, ceramics, had its own faculty. A description of the skills covered in one of Sanderson’s jewelry and metalwork classes, listed in the university’s 1950-51 catalogue, reads, “a thorough grounding in the techniques necessary to execute well-designed objects in metal; including forming, chain-making, chasing, repoussé, stone setting, tool making, metal finishing, enameling, and centrifugal casting,” reflecting Sanderson’s broad knowledge of techniques. 

In 1950, Sanderson received a prestigious scholarship to attend a silversmithing workshop conference, the fourth of five annual conferences organized by Handy & Harman, a New York City–based company that refined and sold precious metals. Organized by the artist and educator Margret Craver, these four-week summer workshops were important in promoting metalsmithing in the United States and establishing a network among modern educators in this field.(3

In an interview with the Detroit News, Sanderson extolled the importance of the workshop: “It’s up to today’s craftsmen to make tomorrow’s heirlooms... Machines can’t shape metal, blend threads or mold clay like a pair of loving hands.”(4) He described silversmithing as “almost a lost art” in the United States until the workshops began. Sanderson acknowledged that the objects created by silversmiths were expensive because they required so much labor but proposed that, with more opportunities to see such work, the public would realize that “hand-wrought metal has more individuality, more warmth than machine-made products.” Sanderson created a modern coffee pot during the workshop that was included in a traveling exhibition of works completed by the participants.

 

BROOCH of sterling silver and rhinestone, 2.5 x 4.8 x 1.6 centimeters. Collection of Janet Sanderson Johnson. Photograph by Demitra Thomloudis.

 

      Sanderson’s research during his first two decades at UGA included woven and printed textiles, and, increasingly, photography, but throughout the 1950s and well into the 1960s jewelry and metals remained important. The university required departments to submit annual reports with highlights of each faculty member’s activities and requested regular updates from professors for their personnel files. Though Sanderson’s submissions generally were cursory, they are essential in documenting his accomplishments. In his annual report for 1952-53 he listed his research as “experimental process in centrifugal casting,” and by 1955-56 he was working on developing “a silver-bronze alloy suitable for centrifugal casting,” while “designing and making jewelry for an average of two to three hours per week.” In 1958-59 he specifically noted making jewelry using cire perdue (the lost wax method) and rhinestones; the following year he again highlighted that he used “rhinestones in well-designed contemporary jewelry.”(5) Most modern jewelers at the time used gemstones, so his focus on rhinestones was an atypical, even a radical, choice for an artist of the era. Sanderson also created numerous modern pickle forks, a focus he noted in his 1959-60 materials. (His daughter Janet recalls that he liked pickles, especially the watermelon rind pickles his wife made and canned each summer.)

 
VINTAGE PHOTOGRAPH of cast silver brooch made to suggest a martini glass.  Collection of Jewelry and Metalwork, Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia. Photograph by Wiley Sanderson.

VINTAGE PHOTOGRAPH of cast silver brooch made to suggest a martini glass. Collection of Jewelry and Metalwork, Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia. Photograph by Wiley Sanderson.

 

      The majority of Sanderson’s known surviving jewelry, and much of what is recorded in period photographs he took of his jewelry, is silver, often cast. Several brooches, with colorful rhinestones, have rough textures that create strong contrasts between light and dark. Some works feature small gold accents, such as a gold wire squiggle hanging within an elongated crescent pendant or as round “eyeballs” in an undulating creature-like pendant. One set of cufflinks features lowercase “a”s and belonged to a former president of UGA, while another set of cufflinks with buttons as well features an abstract pattern with roughly radiating lines resembling orange slices; a set of buttons with a brooch, recorded in a photograph, had high relief designs suggesting martini glasses with olives. He marked much of his work with an abstract image of a horned figure, that may, according to his second wife, Mary Sayer Hammond, whom he married in 1983 (he and Roz had divorced around 1970), relate to a portrait a visiting artist did of him titled Satan Sanderson, suggesting an embrace of his reputation for being difficult.

VINTAGE PHOTOGRAPH of a silver and cocobolo pickle fork. Collection of Jewelry and Metalwork, Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia. Photograph by Wiley Sanderson.

      The most unusual area of Sanderson’s jewelry research involved using steel-loaded epoxy to form jewelry, which he first listed as an activity in 1964-65. He also invented a pigment-loaded epoxy to embellish the epoxy/steel-formed pieces, and he noted that it was “a means of ‘enameling’ metals that could not heretofore be enameled by conventional methods.” Unfortunately, no detailed accounts of this research are known. One surviving example of this jewelry is a cone-shaped pendant with bright red “enamel” on the outside and rhinestones affixed randomly to its dark interior. According to his family, he called the material he used “plastic steel,” which is the trade name of a metal-filled epoxy putty used for automotive, plumbing and similar repairs—Devcon’s Plastic Steel was introduced around 1956. His daughter Janet, who sometimes watched him work at home, believes he enjoyed the material because it was easy to use, allowed for freeform creations, and did not require a heat source when applying backs to brooches. Sanderson’s adaptation of this industrial material, and his interest in unconventional and nonprecious materials, was very forward thinking. According to Hammond, Sanderson repeatedly submitted the plastic steel work to competitions and shows, but it was regularly rejected because it was not traditional metal. It was not until several decades later that artists embraced a related modeling-clay-like, metal-infused material, Precious Metal Clay, which emphasizes how ahead of his time Sanderson was.

VINTAGE PHOTOGRAPH of a cast silver pendant with ebony bead. Collection of Jewelry and Metalwork, Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia. Photograph by Wiley Sanderson.

      Sanderson showed his work nationally in the 1950s, including in the First State Fair of Texas Invitational Craft Show, a contemporary jewelry exhibition at the University of Nebraska, and the Third Art Center Invitational Craft Show in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1954, the High Museum of Art, in Atlanta, presented his “unusual and distinctive jewelry,” along with the work of several of his students, in the exhibition “Contemporary Jewelry and Metal.”(6) Later, the exhibition “Craftsmen of the Southeastern States,” the last in a series of regional surveys organized by the American Craftsmen’s Council [ACC (Now known as the American Craft Council)], included a cast silver pendant with an aquamarine, titled The Gemologist, and a cast and forged silver and gold pickle fork by Sanderson. This show traveled during 1963–64 to the Atlanta Art Association, the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts, and the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City.

Like many university art faculty, Sanderson also gave lectures and led workshops outside of his classroom, and these reflected his interests in contemporary design and jewelry. He presented a survey of contemporary design in metalwork to the Athens Home Demonstration Club in 1952; in 1957 he led a five-day workshop sponsored by the Chattahoochee Handweavers Guild at the Atlanta Art Institute on handwoven rugs, emphasizing Scandinavian flossa and rya methods; in 1959 he spoke to the Art Center Association in Louisville, Kentucky, about “Jewelry Design Today.” He addressed the National Art Education Association in Tampa, Florida, in 1960, about “Design for Today’s Craftsman.” In 1963 he gave a lecture on centrifugal casting at the Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair and Conference in Tennessee; and in 1967 he spoke about contemporary design to the Chattahoochee Handweavers Guild. He led two workshops for southeastern regional conferences of the ACC, one on centrifugal casting in 1963 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and one titled “Photography for the Craftsmen” in 1966 in Athens, and was a founding member and early president of the Georgia Designer-Craftsmen group, which was organized in 1959 in Atlanta and affiliated with the ACC. 

PENDANT of metal-loaded epoxy and rhinestones, 7.0 x 3.8 x 0.6 centimeters.  Collection of Janet Sanderson Johnson. Photograph by Demitra Thomloudis.

PENDANT of metal-loaded epoxy and rhinestones, 7.0 x 3.8 x 0.6 centimeters. Collection of Janet Sanderson Johnson. Photograph by Demitra Thomloudis.

      As skilled as Sanderson was in crafts, his primary passion was photography. He introduced photography classes at UGA in 1953 and worked to incorporate photography in the craft program by, for example, investigating ways to use it to assist with the teaching of textile design. In 1967 the art department restructured its offerings, and Sanderson focused exclusively on photography, which became its own area, while additional faculty, Glen Kaufman and Robert Ebendorf, were hired to teach in the newly formed areas of fabric design and jewelry and metalwork—Sanderson took pride in having to be replaced, as he saw it, by multiple professors. The transition, though, was not seamless. Space was limited, and the studio that had housed all of craft now needed to accommodate both photography and jewelry and metalwork (fabric design settled in a nearby building), which he viewed as an encroachment into his territory. Indeed, there were arguments over space for years, until jewelry and metalwork moved to a different location on campus.

Sanderson retired in 1989. Though he spent almost half of his teaching career in craft, that area is overshadowed by his time in photography—more than twenty years worth of students have memories of making pinhole cameras with him. In addition to his focus on photography in the later decades of his career, several other factors contribute to the lack of recognition of his role as a mid-century modern jeweler: he rarely talked about his earlier work; his mark is not easy to read nor well known, hampering identification; and, as he was not bound by any need to make a profit from his creations and worked in multiple fields, the volume of his production of jewelry was limited. However, Sanderson created a body of innovative, distinctive work that presents an addition to the canon of mid-century American modern silversmiths, especially in the Southeast, and reflects the spread of modern jewelry techniques and styles in the post-war years.

VINTAGE PHOTOGRAPH of a design for a sapphire engagement ring in gold (in progress). Collection of Jewelry and Metalwork, Lamar Dodd School of Art, University of Georgia. Photograph by Wiley Sanderson. PHOTOGRAPH OF WILEY SANDERSON, Detroit News, September 1, 1950. Courtesy of Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries.


1—For more on the history of metalwork at Cranbrook, see J. David Farmer, “Metalwork and Bookbinding,” in Design in America: The Cranbrook Vision, 1925-1950, New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 145-171.
2—Martin Magid, “When I become a man I would like to be an artist,” Photographica World 156: 50, 2017. 
3—Jeannine Falino and Yvonne Markowitz, “Margret Craver: A Foremost 20th Century Jeweler and Educator,” Jewelry, The Journal of the American Society of Jewelry Historians 1: 15, 1996-97. 
4—Joy Hakanson, “Detroit Silversmith Shapes Tomorrow’s Heirlooms,” Detroit News, September 1, 1950. 
5—Annual reports and faculty files are in the collection of the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries. 
6—“Surrealistic Touch Marks Baker Show,” Atlanta Journal and Atlanta Constitution, April 25, 1954. The students were Marion Davidson, Dan Berry and Aubrey Henley.

SUGGESTED READING
Ashley Callahan, Annelies Mondi and Mary Hallam Pears
e. Crafting History: Textiles, Metals, and Ceramics at the University of Georgia. Athens: Georgia Museum of Art, 2018.
Jeannine Falino, ed. Crafting Modernism: Midcentury American Art and Design. New York: Abrams in association with the Museum of Arts and Design, 2011. 
Martin Magid. “When I become a man I would like to be an artist,” Photographica World 15: 48-55, 2017. 
Marbeth Schon. Modernist Jewelry 1930-1960, The Wearable Art Movement. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2004.
     —. Form & Function: American Modernist Jewelry, 1940-1970. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2008.

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

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Ashley Callahan is an independent scholar and curator in Athens, Georgia, with a specialty in modern and contemporary American decorative arts. Together with Annelies Mondi, deputy director at the Georgia Museum of Art, and Mary Hallam Pearse, she recently co-curated an exhibition at the museum titled “Crafting History: Textiles, Metals, and Ceramics at the University of Georgia” that included works by Wiley Sanderson. She was pleased to have a chance to expand the research from that project and appreciated the assistance she received from Sanderson’s daughter, Janet Johnson, scholar Martin Magid who recently wrote about him for Photographica World, his widow Mary Sayer Hammond, and everyone at the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries. 

Idar-Oberstein Volume 40.3

GEBRÜDER WILD COMPANY BEAD SAMPLE CARD, showing a wide range of Idar-Oberstein agate ornaments, including some rarely seen in the African trade. The top row displays talhakimt, turmrings and simulations of feline claws.

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Beads from Idar-Oberstein are easy to spot. Whether they are part of a Mauritanian headdress, prayer beads from Mecca or a strand from a West African market, they have a standard set of characteristics—striped dark brown, black or orange stones, cut in a variety of distinct shapes and made with great skill and precision.

      A German town of about thirty thousand people, Idar-Oberstein has been known throughout history as a place of stones, with local deposits of mostly low grade agate, jasper and other semiprecious stones. When it comes to bead history specifically, the town is almost synonymous with a wide array of agate beads that were traded to African and Arab countries. Though these stones were probably used since Roman times, the first documented proof of stonecutting in Idar-Oberstein dates from the fifteenth century. This was not a source of much income though. Due to economic hardship in the 1800s, growing numbers of Germans from this region settled in Brazil searching for opportunities. In 1827, a group of stonecutters from Idar who had settled in Brazil found local Brazilian agate deposits. The first shipment of rough stones arrived in Idar-Oberstein in 1834 and led to the very successful production and trade of Idar-Oberstein agates. 

STONECUTTER AT WORK. Stonecutting was hard work, abetted by having to lie down and push against the grindstone. Young workers risked a deformed chest. In general, the lifespan of the workers was short. Photograph from early 1900s. ROUGH BRAZILIAN AGATE STONE BOULDERS brought into Idar-Oberstein, from early 1900s. Photographs courtesy of Floor Kaspers.

 
 

      The rough stones from Brazil were auctioned in Idar-Oberstein. They were sorted, weighed and small pieces were cut off to show the natural color and banding. At first, a lot of the stones were cut and set in gold jewelry; later on, they were mostly made into loose agate objects, like beads and pendants for a foreign market. The agate from Brazil proved tough competition for the Indian agate. As a result, the agate trade from India slowed down and production and wealth in Idar-Oberstein grew quickly.

NEWER PRODUCTION TALHAKIMTS, TALHATANAS AND TURMRINGS, IMPEXCO COMPANY. Germans call these turmrings, although English terminology distinguishes them as three types. The rounded “soft” edges indicate tumble polishing and therefore are newer pendants, dating from the 1960s.

      Trade companies were set up in the mid-1800s to serve the market for stone beads. An example is Gebrüder Wild, a company established in 1858—the firm was known around the world for their production of African jewelry. Harald Wild, from the company, in describing the process says, “The traders brought all the craftsmen together. Before the arrival of Brazilian agate, there really was not much of a professional industry. The traders managed to get the cutters, drillers, polishers, and the women stringing the beads working together. Companies like Gebrüder Wild would give orders to the different craftsmen to produce certain goods, which would then be exported in bulk.”

The traders brought examples of designs in agate to Cairo, even though it was not real carnelian; but the color was good, and so it was held in high regard (Spittler, 2002). In the second half of the twentieth century, the trade was more and more done by the Africans themselves.

BEAD SAMPLE CARD FROM THE GEBRÜDER WILD COMPANY, of hand-polished talhakimt, with sharp edges, thus pre-1960s. The blue agate examples have not been seen in the African trade.

Many of the bead merchants traded in a great variety of items, and they cooperated with other European beadmaking places. For example, they would let the people in Gablonz (Bohemia, now the Czech Republic) make glass copies of the agate beads. These copies were sent to Idar-Oberstein and traded together with the agate beads. Examples are the talhakimt pendants. Their design was patented by German cutters, and then the makers in Gablonz were given permission to make the same designs in glass. Since the 1980s, the demand for stone beads in Africa has declined.

The coloring is what really set the beads apart from those coming from India. The rough material, agate, is a striped or banded version of chalcedony. In nature, different metals produce different colors, and the resulting agates are called sardonyx, chrysoprase, carnelian, or onyx, depending on their color. 

Artificial coloring techniques were already used in antiquity, but the Germans managed to perfect it. Brown was made by soaking the stone in a sugar solution and then heating it, turning the sugar into a dark brown caramel with white stripes. Black “onyx” was made by putting the stone in sulfuric acid and sugar and then heating it (Francis, 1994). The sugar would get carbonized. Each color had its own recipe. As Si Frazier referenced in Beads (1999): “It was found that certain types of Brazilian agate were eminently suited for staining. The agate could be turned red, white, blue, green, black, or yellow using inorganic chemicals, colors which would not fade in the harsh sunlight of Africa or the Middle East. The recipes were regarded as highly important trade secrets.”

The people from Idar-Oberstein refer to the coloring techniques as brennen (heating or burning), färben (coloring or dyeing) and beitzen (often translated as staining, but a different, more permanent, technique). Different processes produce different colors. Most of these techniques were developed in Idar-Oberstein between 1813 and 1879 (Trebbin, 1985).

The stones would be cut into smaller pieces, and these pieces were pre-cut into the basic shapes. For this first step, it was easier and cheaper to use a hammer and chisel to shape the stone, because grinding is more time-consuming. For big beads and other products, the stone was shaped directly on the wheel. Smaller pieces, like cabochons, would be stuck onto a wooden handle so they could be ground against the wheel. 

Idar-Oberstein cutters used large stone wheels that could be up to two meters wide and weigh up to three hundred kilos. Generally, two people would work on a wheel powered by a water mill. Some of the wheels had grooves to make specific shapes like round, oval and bicone roughs. Stonecutting was not an easy or a healthy profession. The cutters would lie on a wooden bench, pushing the stone against the wheel (Frazier, 1999). 

The final step on the wheels was the polishing which was done on beechwood cylinders, with earth as the abrasive agent. From the 1960s onwards, most of the polishing, especially on beads with simple shapes, was by tumbling. Instead of individually polishing the stone they were tumbled together, which is a much more efficient but a less precise process. It is also a way to distinguish the older beads from the newer ones. The beads with sharp edges are most likely made before 1960.

 
 

Left to right: BARREL OF ROUGH UNTREATED AGATE at the Impexco Company in Idar-Oberstein. HEATING A POTFUL OF AGATE BEAD ROUGHS on the stove, part of small scale treatment of agate to arrive at the orange/carnelian color, at the Impexco Company. UNTREATED AGATE with pieces core-drilled for bead blanks. Note the gray color versus that of the treated bead blanks in right-hand photograph. HALF-FINISHED BEAD BLANKS from Idar-Oberstein, ready to be drilled, cut or polished, already treated to reveal the intricate banding patterns. Courtesy of Floor Kaspers Collection.

 
 

BULK STRAND OF AGATE TALHAKIMT PENDANTS, as well as other stone and glass beads from the African trade, from a West-African vendor at a recent African Art Village Show, Tucson, Arizona. These talhakimt appear to be pre-1960s, as indicated by the series of small cuts or nicks along their edges.

      The trade and production of agate beads in Idar-Oberstein took off once the companies discovered a Brazilian agate source. The skill of the craftsmen, the quality of the stone, the use of international trade routes, and adapting to the world market was how Idar-Oberstein became a very successful beadmaking town.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Much help in the research of stone beadmaking in Idar-Oberstein has come from Harald and Julia Wild, Wolfgang Weinz and Wolfgang Kley. Support has come from the Bead Society of Los Angeles.


REFERENCES
Dalarozière, Marie-Françoise. 1994 Perles d’Afrique. Édisud, Aix-en-Provence, France.
Dubin, Lois Sherr. 1987 The history of beads, from 30,000 BC to the present. Harry N. Abrams Inc, New York, USA.
Francis, Peter Jr. 1994 Beads of the world, a collector’s guide with price reference. Schiffer Publishing, Atglen, USA.
     —2001 The stone bead industry of southern India. Beads, Volume 12-13.
Frazier, Si. 1999 A history of gem beadmaking in Idar-Oberstein. Beads, Volume 10-11.
Kaspers, Floor. 2016 Beads from Germany, Idar-Oberstein, Lauscha, Neugablonz. Marblings Publishing, Netherlands.
Liu, Robert K. 1982 Amira Francoise: Living with beads in the Sudan. Ornament 5 (4): 24-27. 
     — 1987 Imitators and Competitors, India, Idar-Oberstein and Czechoslovakia. Ornament 10 (4): 56-61.
     —1995 Collectible beads, A Universal Aesthetic. Ornament, Vista, USA.
Spittler, Gerd. 1999 Der Weg des Achats zu den Tuareg-eine Reise um die halbe Welt. Geographische Rundschau, Jahrgang 54, Heft 10.
Trebbin, C. 1985 Achate, geschliffen in Idar-Oberstein – Amulette, Schmuck und Zahlungsmittel in Afrika. Die Heimatfreunde Oberstein e.V., Idar-Oberstein.
Wild, Julia. 2016 Afrikanisches Geld aus Idar-Oberstein. Simurg, Kulturzeitschrift, Heft 6.

 

BEAD SAMPLES FROM THE GEBRÜDER WILD COMPANY traded to Mecca at the turn of twentieth century. Many were used in the Sudan, some repaired with silver caps when the ends broke (Liu 1982).

 
 

    Get Inspired!

 
 

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Floor Kaspers is an independent bead researcher and artist from the Netherlands. She has been exploring European bead history through her travels. By going to factories, old dump sites, shops and museums, she collects not just beads, but the stories connected to beads. After learning more about bead history, she also started making her own beadwork and glass art as a new way to explore the medium of beads and glass. Kaspers has written several books, including Beads from Germany which describes the development and production of beads in three German bead towns: Lauscha, Idar-Oberstein and Neugablonz. In the article on stone beads from Idar-Oberstein she explains the origin of the stones, the designs and the techniques of these typical agate trade beads.

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.

 

Click Images for Captions

 

      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.

Click Images for Captions


Bonus Gallery

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

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

CLEB_Contributor.jpg

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.”

Degas and the Paris Millinery Trade Volume 39.4

 
An inveterate window-shopper, Degas often foregrounded the hats in his paintings, turning these overlooked accessories into the main event. Some of the same hats appeared in different Degas images, suggesting that he kept a collection in his studio.
SELF-PORTRAIT IN A SOFT HAT   by Edgar Degas, oil on paper, mounted on canvas, 26.0 x 19.1 centimeters, 1857.  Courtesy of Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.

SELF-PORTRAIT IN A SOFT HAT by Edgar Degas, oil on paper, mounted on canvas, 26.0 x 19.1 centimeters, 1857. Courtesy of Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute.

In the late nineteenth century, hats were essential accessories for both men and women across the social spectrum. As an informal group of avant-garde artists—dubbed the Impressionists—began to reject traditional academic subjects in favor of painting scenes of everyday life in Paris, hats took center stage in canvases capturing the minutiae of the modern world. A new exhibition at the Saint Louis Art Museum, “Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade,” unites intimate Impressionist paintings of Belle Epoque milliners and their clients with surviving examples of the chic chapeaux that inspired them.

      These flowered, feathered and frilled confections were works of art in their own right, with price tags to match; the Impressionists recognized their creators as kindred spirits. The milliners in their paintings are depicted as not just window dressing, but as fellow artists; in some scenes, such as The Milliners in the Saint Louis Art Museum’s collection, the colorful hats in their hands even resemble artist’s palettes. At its height, the Paris hatmaking industry employed nearly one thousand milliners, most of them female, ranging from famous names like Caroline Reboux and Jeanne Lanvin to anonymous ouvrières and trottins. In addition, the industry encompassed the major secondary trades that provided its materials, notably fleuristes, who created artificial flowers, and plumassiers, who prepared bird plumage. Although centered in Paris, millinery was a global trade, as feathers imported from Africa and South America adorned hats exported to New York and Chicago.

PARIS, RUE DU HAVRE by Jean Béraud, oil on canvas, 35.2 × 27.3 centimeters, 1882. Courtesy of National Gallery of Art, Washington.

      While milliners appear on streets and inside shops in the Impressionist paintings of Pierre-August Renoir, Édouard Manet, and Eva Gonzalès, no artist was more attuned to this engine of modern mercantilism than Edgar Degas, who explored the theme of millinery in twenty-seven paintings and pastels. Like the ballerinas and jockeys Degas is best known for painting, milliners occupied a marginal social space, where working-class artisans could mingle with the upper crust. An inveterate window-shopper along with his friend and fellow artist Mary Cassatt, Degas often foregrounded the hats in his paintings, turning these overlooked accessories into the main event. Some of the same hats appeared in different Degas images, suggesting that he kept a collection in his studio.

For Degas, hats represented modern commodity culture, as well as offering an endless source of variety, color and texture. While the capacious bonnets of the early nineteenth century protected the wearer’s face from the elements and her modesty from prying eyes, by the 1870s, women’s hats were purely ornamental, offering little 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 Charles Blanc in his 1875 treatise L’art dans la parure et dans le vêtement. “It is placed on the head, not to protect it, but so that one can see it better. Its great usefulness is to be charming.”

The capote (French for “hood”) popular in the 1850s and 1860s made a resurgence in the late 1880s for evening and reception wear. It was considered flattering to most faces and, though small in size, could be rich in ornamentation; one example in the show is made of silk tulle, velvet and pongee, a lightweight raw silk, topped by ostrich feathers. “The tendency now is to make [capotes] very decorative,” Vogue reported in 1893. “All sorts of jeweled passementerie, embroidered crêpes and tulles enter into their composition, and notwithstanding their diminutive size they are sometimes very costly.” In 1893, the duchesse de Maillé attended an exhibition opening wearing a capote “covered with mistletoe, the berries being represented by gigantic pearls and the leaves by emeralds, which attracted much notice, so close to nature was this costly imitation of Christmas ‘blossoms.’ ”

THE SHOP GIRL by James Tissot, oil on canvas, 146.05 x 101.6 centimeters, 1883-1885. Courtesy of Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.

      Instead of shielding their wearer, hats increasingly served as blank canvases for all manner of trimmings and decorations, including not just feathers but the wings, heads and even entire bodies of birds. These avian ornaments lent dimension and visual interest to the low, brimless toque hats popular around the turn of the century. “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,” the weekly magazine La Semaine littéraire declared in 1901. These small toques quickly ballooned into wide, mushroom-shaped nests for pheasants, birds of paradise, hummingbirds, peacocks, and even owls, all mounted with glass eyes. Curiously, Degas never painted these birdlike hats, preferring to depict ostrich feathers, although probably for aesthetic rather than moral reasons.

In nineteenth-century France, colibri (French for “hummingbird”) was used as slang for a frivolous person, making the frolicsome creature an especially fitting fashion emblem. European and North American incursions into Central and South America made hummingbirds found there readily available to fashion dealers as well as specimen collectors. The tiny birds’ iridescent feathers, heads, skins, and even entire bodies were incorporated into hats and jewelry, including hummingbird-head earrings and brooches.

In 1911, it was estimated that the Paris fashion industry was responsible for the deaths of three hundred million birds per year. Growing concern over the rampant pillaging of exotic bird populations for their plumage led to the formation of England’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in 1889 and America’s Audubon Society in 1913. The use of game and poultry feathers remained morally neutral, as did ostrich feathers, which could be plucked from the tail without harming the bird. As the tide of public opinion turned against so-called murderous millinery, French modistes increasingly employed their talents to lend exoticism to materials from non-endangered, domestic fowl like ducks and chickens, or create artificial “birds” out of feathers and glue.

Almost as popular as feathered hats were hats trimmed with artificial flowers, which tended to be worn in the summer and at the theater. Fashion designer Paul Poiret recalled in his memoirs that women’s hats transformed theaters into flower gardens. Fleuristes used a vast array of stamps, irons and goffers to transform delicate silks and muslins into flowers of astonishing botanical accuracy. Of the estimated twenty-four thousand fleuristes working in Paris between 1896 and 1906, eighty to eighty-five percent were women. Flowermaking was the profession of Nana, Emile Zola’s heroine, and Mimi, the title character of Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La Bohème”—as well as Marie Dupuis, who became one of Renoir’s favorite models.

MME GEORGETTE: WOMAN’S HAT of black lace and artificial flowers on wire frame, 50.8 x 29.8 centimeters, circa 1910. Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. WOMAN’S HAT of straw with ostrich feathers, silk lace and artificial flowers, 24.1 x 48.3 x 41.3 centimeters, circa 1910. Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. MAISON VIROT: WOMAN’S HAT of plaited straw over wire frame, silk velvet and maline, silk roses, leaves, and ferns, with alterations, 39.4 x 38.1 centimeters, circa 1900. Courtesy of Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. WOMAN’S HAT of silk faille, velvet, cord, jet beads, and African starling, 10.2 centimeters crown height, 21.0 x 22.9 centimeters overall, circa 1890. Courtesy of Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

      Maison Camille Marchais was known for creating remarkably lifelike imitation flowers. The roses on the hats the firm exhibited at the Exposition Universelle of 1889 were so realistic “that a bee tried one,” a visitor observed. Customers could purchase artificial bouquets as well as flower-trimmed hats. “The extrachic... is to offer a mass of flowers from Camille Marchais,” the magazine La Grande revue reported in 1880. “The mass is stuffed with huge bunches of violets, gillyflowers, roses, daffodils... and at the base a clump of natural lily of the valley with one or two roses to complete the illusion; impossible to imagine anything more successful... because this bouquet is durable, whereas the bouquet from Nice is withered before it arrives.” So convincing was the illusion that the butler to a Russian princess allegedly ruined a bouquet Marchais had sent from Paris by plunging it into a vase of water. 

Artificial flowers could transform the humble shepherdesses’ sunhat into a garment fit for a queen. Flat, flower-trimmed straw hats in the bergère (shepherdess) style evoked the rustic wardrobe Marie-Antoinette had adopted a century earlier for playing milkmaid in her model village, Le Hameau. Le Magasin des Demoiselles dubbed similar hats “chapeaux Trianon,” after Le Petit Trianon, the queen’s miniature palace in the gardens of Versailles. These historical revival styles were popular during the reign of Empress Eugénie, who was fascinated by Marie-Antoinette and frequently dressed as the martyred queen for court masquerades.

THE MILLINERY SHOP by Edgar Degas, oil on canvas, 100.0 x 110.7 centimeters, 1879-1886. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

      A very different type of straw hat was the boater, so named because it was originally worn by men for yachting and other summer sports. It began to appear on women during the 1880s, often paired with tailored ensembles inspired by menswear. In 1884, Maud Watson won the first women’s singles championship at Wimbledon wearing a boater, which lent a masculine touch to her corseted and bustled tennis ensemble. It was a rare example of a unisex hat style in the Impressionist era and quickly became associated with the active, independent “New Woman” who so fascinated Degas and his contemporaries. In 1894, when a bicycling craze swept France, fashionable sportswomen paired voluminous bloomers and with tiny boaters perched on the tops of their heads. By the 1890s, boaters could be seen on city streets, trimmed with artificial flowers.

YOUNG GIRL ON THE GRASS by Berthe Morisot, oil canvas, 74 x 60 centimeters, 1885. Courtesy of Ordrupgaard Museum.

      Women’s hats grew in size along with fashionable hairstyles. The large, full coiffures of the early 1900s—often augmented by false hair—brought a corresponding inflation in hat size. Hats were worn perched atop these full coiffures, anchored by hatpins, which could be highly ornamental in their own right. A large bouquet of artificial flowers was one visual trick used to mask the gap between the smartly tilted hat and the hair.

While women’s hats were one-of-a-kind works of art created by modistes, men’s hats were typically made by male chapeliers (hatmakers) in a much more standardized style—a quality emphasized by Édouard Manet’s Masked Ball at the Opera. Despite their uniformity, however, hats were one of many essential male accessories that enlivened and complicated the comparatively limited palette, range of garments, and choice of textiles available to men in the late nineteenth century. The top hat (chapeau haute de forme) was a formal hat worn day and night throughout the nineteenth century. Originally made of beaver felt, by the 1850s it was covered in gleaming silk. Although the top hat underwent minor changes in shape over time as the size and curvature of the crown and brim evolved, its phallic silhouette remained a distinctive aspect of menswear.

Degas abandoned his millinery subjects in the mid-1880s, only to return to them in the late 1890s, when he shifted his focus from the milliner’s customers to the milliner herself. These works, which experimented with color and abstraction, were very personal, not for sale; at the time of his death in 1917, Degas had several millinery pastels and paintings in his studio. By this time, millinery itself was on its last legs. Widespread backlash against the plumage trade and the outbreak of World War I doomed the once-ubiquitous hat. It shrank and shed its ornamentation, finally disappearing from everyday life. 

MASKED BALL AT THE OPERA by Édouard Manet, oil on canvas, 59.1 x 72.5 centimeters, 1873. Courtesy of National Gallery of Art, Washington.

“Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade” exhibits
at the Saint Louis Art Museum through May 7, 2017 and the Legion of Honor in San Francisco,
from June 24 to September 24, 2017.

 

Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell is an art historian specializing in fashion and textiles, and a frequent contributor to Ornament. 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. She contributed to the catalogue of the exhibition “Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade,” currently showing at the Saint Louis Art Museum and then moving on to San Francisco’s Legion of Honor. Next up for Ornament is her article on Aileen Ribeiro.

Virginia Dudley Volume 39.4

 
Everything I do is related to arts and crafts… It’s not a way of life, it is life to me. If not for that, I’d see no point in living.
— Virginia Dudley
CONTEMPORARY VIEW OF VIRGINIA DUDLEY’S PROPERTY.  Photographs by Ashley Callahan .

CONTEMPORARY VIEW OF VIRGINIA DUDLEY’S PROPERTY. Photographs by Ashley Callahan.

Virginia Dudley was born in 1913 in the small town of Spring City, Tennessee, and grew up in Chattanooga, an industrial city nestled around a bend in the Tennessee River amid the dramatic scenery of the Cumberland Plateau. She practiced many artistic media—photography, printmaking, painting, sculpture, ceramics—and is best known for her award-winning enamels of the 1950s. The records documenting her life and career are fragmentary, but enough survives to indicate the impressive diversity of her artistic pursuits, her remarkable skill and vision, and her determined and independent personality. In an interview for the Chattanooga Times in 1962, she firmly expressed her passion for her vocation: “Everything I do is related to arts and crafts… It’s not a way of life, it is life to me. If not for that, I’d see no point in living.”

FISH BRACELET of enamel on copper with silver, 5.08 x 17.15 centimeters, circa 1955, illustrated in Design Quarterly, 1955. Collection of Patricia Antonia Collier. 

      Dudley’s parents were not wealthy, but her mother encouraged her interests, and through a series of scholarships, Dudley pursued an art education. She first received a scholarship to the University of Chattanooga (now the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga), where she studied photography and painting from 1937-1940, earning a certificate of completion of art training. Then she won a scholarship to study in New York—a city she loved—at the Art Students League, where her instructors included William Zorach and Wil Barnet. While in New York, she also studied at the Craft Students League and served as Berenice Abbott’s photographic assistant at the New School for Social Research.

In 1943 she was awarded a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship and left New York to spend a year traveling in the South making photographs and sketches. Though most fellowships went to African American artists, some went to “white southerners with an interest in race relations,” as noted by the Spertus Museum in Chicago for an exhibition of Rosenwald-supported art. Dudley, as her niece Patricia Antonia Collier recalls, was staunchly opposed to segregation. Around this time, she acquired property in Rising Fawn, Georgia, on Lookout Mountain (near Chattanooga) and built a small home. She also married Oscar “Mac” McElhaney (1897-1944), a retired commercial photographer, who died near the end of her fellowship period.

After this loss, Dudley returned to the Art Students League, also studying at Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17, which he had relocated from Paris to New York when World War II began. During this second period in the city she met Joseph Spencer Moran (1923-2005), a graduate student in English at Columbia, and they married in 1946—though she again kept her given name.

Moran took a teaching job at New Mexico College in Las Cruces (now New Mexico State University), but Dudley told the Chattanooga Times (1955) that she did not relish the role of faculty wife. She enrolled in school briefly at New Mexico College, then in 1948 accepted a scholarship to Scripps College in Claremont, California, near Los Angeles, and did graduate work at Claremont Graduate School. Dudley had become enchanted by enamels while in New York, where she had seen an exhibition of medieval enameled objects at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Claremont was one of the few places in the country that offered enamel instruction. She studied with leading enamelist Jean Ames (1903-1986), who, with her husband Arthur (1906-1975), was part of “the development of a dynamic enameling movement in Southern California,” as Bernard N. Jazzar and Harold B. Nelson note in their book Little Dreams in Glass and Enamel.

VIRGINIA DUDLEY working in her studio, circa 1954.  Collection of Patricia Antonia Collier. Photograph by A. Glenn Hanson, Max Keister or Guy Hayes.

VIRGINIA DUDLEY working in her studio, circa 1954. Collection of Patricia Antonia Collier. Photograph by A. Glenn Hanson, Max Keister or Guy Hayes.

      During this time, Dudley also traveled to northern California where she visited Pond Farm, an artists’ colony founded by Jane and Gordon Herr that offered the Pond Farm Workshops from 1949-1952. There she encountered, as reported in the Chattanooga Times (1952), “artists from Austria and Germany who had, as she had, the thought that enameling was an art that should be revived.” She received her M.F.A. in 1950, creating a series of large enameled wall panels for her thesis as well as her own kiln.

American studio craft in all areas grew quickly in the post-war years—as returning G.I.s filled schools, academic programs expanded, and opportunities to exhibit and purchase craft multiplied—and the field of enamels was no exception. A relatively small niche within the craft world, enamels often was linked with ceramics, as both use kilns and involve the application of vitreous surfaces to grounds. Exhibitions like the Ceramics Nationals, which originated in Syracuse, New York, at the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts (now the Everson Museum of Art), then traveled nationally, brought important media and public attention to contemporary ceramics and enamels. Dudley’s work appeared in many of the Nationals between 1949 and 1959, including the 16th in 1951, which featured two of her trays, Metropolitan and Golden Fishes, and the 19th in 1956 for which she won an award for enamels.

METROPOLITAN TRAY of enamel on copper, 20.32 x 20.32 centimeters, marked “rising faun enamels/virigina dudley” on back, circa 1951. Collection of Patricia Antonia Collier. Photograph by John Poehlman.

GOLDEN FISHES TRAY of enamel on copper, 22.2 x 25.4 centimeters, signed “rising faun enamels/virginia dudley” on back, circa 1951. Collection of Patricia Antonia Collier. Photograph by John Poehlman.

      In 1950 Dudley returned to her home in Rising Fawn with Moran and they established Rising Faun Enamels—with a “u” rather than a “w” to distinguish from the town and to reference the mythological woodland creature—and created pins, pendants, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, tie clips, cufflinks, trays, and wall plaques or mosaics, that “sold in fine stores all over the country from New York to California” (Atlanta Journal and Atlanta Constitution, 1952). They worked with the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild, and Dudley explained, “The guild encourages craftsmen of the area by helping to exchange information, market products, and obtain raw materials.”

During the 1950s Dudley and Moran expanded the one-room cabin by adding a studio, living room and kitchen. Andrew Sparks described the home in the Atlanta Journal and Atlanta Constitution (1953) as “constructed largely of love and tarpaper, second-hand windows, old doors and lumberyard bargains.” He also referred to it as “one of the most interesting modern houses in Georgia,” noting, “the front yard is a cantilevered slab of sandstone that projects over an 87-foot vertical drop into a gorge that looks like a
green-and-blue Grand Canyon.”

BIRD BROOCH/PENDANT of enamel on copper, 6.99 centimeters diameter, circa 1950-1957. Collection of Patricia Antonia Collier. Photograph by Ashley Callahan.

      The house sits on the edge of a bluff overlooking Johnson’s Crook, a scenic bend in the valley, and is near both Tennessee and Alabama. Though the address is Rising Fawn, that town—the closest with a post office—sits at the base of the mountain, and the community at the top is referred to as New Salem. The area had developed a reputation as an artists’ colony, thanks to Fannie Mennen’s (1903-1995) efforts, starting in 1947, to organize annual art sales known as the Plum Nelly or Clothesline Art Show.

Dudley was resourceful and fiercely self-reliant, and the couple lived in the home without electricity for a couple of months, without a car for four years, and without running water. They enjoyed the seclusion, and the Chattanooga Times (1952) reported: “Here on Lookout Mountain, they found the freedom to build as they pleased, paint and draw when they wanted to, to fire up the furnace at midnight, if that hour is convenient for them.”

In 1954 Craft Horizons included a six-page illustrated article by Moran that details Dudley’s process. He wrote: “She is demonstrating through her studio-workshop that enameling can be an artistic medium of variety, subtlety and elegance, providing a modest livelihood for the hard-working practitioner.” He offered this description of her studio: “The nucleus of the workshop is the large table on which Virginia applies enamel to copper. This table, flanked on two sides by shelves containing jars of enamels, is directly beneath a skylight. To the right of the table stand the two kilns where the enamels are fired. A wood-burning space heater stands close to the chimney in the south wall.”

SEA BIRDS PANEL of enamel on copper, sand, paint, 81.28 x 48.26 centimeters, circa 1954. Collection of Georgia Museum of Art, University
of Georgia. Photograph courtesy of Georgia Museum of Art.

      For larger works, like enamel plaques, Dudley made preparatory oil paintings, often dividing them into sections to plan basic colors and shapes. Moran prepared the copper, cutting and forming it as needed, and polishing it. Dudley applied the enamel—she had about three hundred colors—to the metal through a variety of methods to create different effects; Moran described how she sprinkled powdered enamel through a fine mesh screen, trailed it gradually between her fingers for a loose and linear effect, and painted “moistened enamel with a brush” for “the greatest control and precision.” Each piece, whether a pendant or a section of a mosaic, would be fired multiple times—usually just for a few minutes each time—to melt the enamel and fuse it to the metal, creating a thin, glassy surface. Small earrings usually required about six firings, while larger, more complex elements might require up to twenty-nine firings. Moran wrote that Dudley was “fascinated with the rich, latent possibilities to be wrought by the fusing of metal and enamels through intense heat,” and there was “always a tremor of excitement when we [opened] the kiln and [took] out an enameled piece.”

The Rising Faun Enamels are sophisticated in their range of techniques, variations in form, color combinations and complexity of layers. The metal is carefully shaped and the objects are finished on the back (counter enameled). Dudley achieved an impressive depth with her enamel, sometimes creating objects with opaque surface colors punctuated by small open areas revealing a translucency below that suggest dappled light shining into mountain streams. Her color combinations—even in miniature—are striking, with hot pink next to bright orange, or golden green below a vivid aqua. Her designs ranged from cubist-inspired geometrics to mid-century biomorphic forms, and she favored natural motifs,
especially fish.

While Dudley incorporated her last name into the designs of most of the larger trays and plaques, or added her name, “rising faun enamels,” or “virginia and joseph” in enamel on the back, the jewelry is less consistently marked. Some larger pins and pendants have her name on the front, and some jewelry has paper labels on the back with “RISING FAUN ENAMELS/VIRGINIA AND JOSEPH” (sometimes with the line “FROM THE SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS”), but many items are unmarked.

While Rising Faun Enamels fit into the small world of studio enamels, it also fit into the growing field of modern studio jewelry, another area for which Dudley was recognized. In 1955 and 1959 the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis—a leader in promoting mid-century design and craft—included her work in two important issues of its publication Design Quarterly that were dedicated to contemporary jewelry. The 1955 issue, a who’s who of American mid-century jewelry, showed black and white photographs of two of Dudley’s bracelets, both composed of free-form sections, one abstract with light speckles on a dark ground and the other with fish. The 1959 issue included a pendant described as a “gold and silver encrustation on enameled copper,” and includes this quote from her: “I consider each piece of jewelry important within itself, a compatible object which intensifies the being of the wearer by heightening the presence and expanding the reality of the person.”

 
FISH BROOCH/PENDANT, 7.78 x 3.81 centimeters, paper label on back marked “VIRGINIA DUDLEY.”

FISH BROOCH/PENDANT, 7.78 x 3.81 centimeters, paper label on back marked “VIRGINIA DUDLEY.”

 

      In 1954 Dudley explained, “When we built our studio, we were striving to solve a problem perplexing to many artists and craftsmen today: the problem of creating and marketing objects made by hand, with skill and sensibility, for those seeking not just the unique or unusual, but objects, well-made and functional, to gladden the discriminating who are so often wearied by mediocrity and monotonous repetition.” This goal may have been too idealistic, though, especially given their remote southern setting, and the next few years saw a shift in their approach as they worked to supplement their income. In 1955 they opened a retail shop in their home, American Craftsmen, selling Rising Faun Enamels as well as the work of about nine other craftsmen. By 1956 Dudley was teaching classes at the University of Chattanooga Evening College and at the Hunter Gallery of Art in Chattanooga, and in early 1957
she took a job with the Army directing arts and crafts recreational programs at Fort Monroe in Virginia. Though likely determined largely by financial concerns, this change may also reflect Dudley’s inclination to move on to new projects after she mastered a technique, a characteristic her niece remembers well. Dudley once stated, “A constant wariness of being trapped by one material, one approach, lives with me.” Her new job soon was followed by divorce, which marked the end of Rising Faun Enamels.

ABSTRACT BROOCH/PENDANT, 8.26 X 5.56 centimeters. 

      Dudley continued to include enamel work as part of her roster of activities in the following decades, but its prominence diminished. Also, by the 1960s, making enameled jewelry became a popular hobbyist activity, and kits with pre-cut flat forms and limited colors resulted in a saturation of the market that, as Jazzar and Nelson note in their book Painting with Fire: Masters of Enameling in America, 1930-1980, “began to undermine [enamel’s] status as a legitimate and highly regarded form of contemporary art.” Dudley returned to her earlier pursuits of travel and education, and maintained her Rising Fawn home as a weekend or summer retreat. From 1958-1959 she did post-graduate work at the College of William and Mary, and in 1959 at the University of Maryland’s overseas branch in Uijeongbu, Korea, where the Army transferred her to oversee more than a dozen craft shops, which she did until 1961 when she took up a similar role for the Air Force for two more years.

      Even though she was moving on to new activities, Dudley’s reputation as an enamelist was well established. In 1957 Oppi Untracht, instructor in enameling at the Brooklyn Museum Art School, published the how-to book Enameling on Metal, which featured illustrations of several of her plaques/mosaics, including Sea Birds. Also, in 1959 the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City (now the Museum of Arts and Design) included Dudley in its seminal exhibition titled “Enamels,” which included five of her works, from an early tray to recent jewelry.

NECKLACE with metal choker. Shield is 6.03 x 9.21 centimeters. Jewelry is enamel on copper, circa 1950-1957.  Collection of Patricia Antonia Collier. Photograph by Ashley Callahan.

NECKLACE with metal choker. Shield is 6.03 x 9.21 centimeters. Jewelry is enamel on copper, circa 1950-1957. Collection of Patricia Antonia Collier. Photograph by Ashley Callahan.

During a visit to Rising Fawn in 1962 she discovered that her home had been burglarized, and that many of her finest works, both paintings and enameled plaques, as well as a box of clippings and catalogs, had been stolen. The local newspaper reported, “A quantity of ‘Rising Faun Enamels’ jewelry also was removed, including one-of-a-kind pendants, medallions and cuff links.” None of the material, valued at ten thousand dollars, was recovered, and the event remained a source of bitter frustration to Dudley. 

From 1963-1971 she taught art at Shorter College, in Rome, Georgia, then, as her eyesight began to fail, retired to Rising Fawn. She died in 1981 at age sixty-seven. Though Rising Faun Enamels existed for only seven years—a brief passage in her productive life—that period of creative focus, entrepreneurial collaboration with Moran, and immersion in the natural beauty of her region resulted in a body of work that reflects both the captivating qualities she admired in the medieval enamels that first inspired her and the modernism of the mid-twentieth century.

SUGGESTED READING
Jazzar, Bernard N. and Harold B. Nelson
, Little Dreams in Glass and Metal: Enameling in America, 1920 to the Present. Los Angeles: Enamel Arts Foundation, 2015.
     —Painting with Fire: Masters of Enameling in America, 1930-1980. Long Beach: Long Beach Museum of Art, 2006. 
Stevenson, Margie and Patricia Collier. “Virginia E. Dudley.” Chattanooga Regional Historical Journal 10: July 2007, 49-70.
Thomas, Joe A. Virginia Dudley and American Modernism, exhibition brochure, Zuckerman Museum of Art, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, Georgia, July 1-August 2, 2014.
Virginia Dudley website: http://www.virginiadudley.org.

EARRINGS ON RISING FAUN ENAMELS CARDS of enamel on copper, varying sizes, circa 1950-1957. Collection of Patricia Antonia Collier. Photograph by
Ashley Callahan.

     Get Inspired!


Ashley Callahan is an independent scholar and curator in Athens, Georgia, with a specialty in modern and contemporary American decorative arts. After repeatedly encountering Virginia Dudley’s name for years while working on various research projects about craft in Georgia and modern jewelry, she became an admirer of Dudley’s accomplishments in the field of enamels, especially jewelry. She was thrilled when family friends Sally and John Poehlman of Rising Fawn put her in contact with the current occupant of Dudley’s amazing home, David Lyons, and with Dudley’s niece, Patricia Antonia Collier. Callahan appreciates the support, enthusiasm and warm welcome she and her husband enjoyed in Rising Fawn.

Chinese Silver Hairpins Volume 39.4

CHINESE SILVER HAIRPINS, an excellent representative sample of the numerous styles, from single to multi-tine examples. A number are decorated by enameling, gilding or set with glass simulations of jade and coral. These are fabricated, cast or die-struck, some with multiple techniques. Sizes range from 8.5 to 21.2 centimeters (cm) long, and 0.6 to 13.4 centimeters wide.  Courtesy of Leekan Designs. Photographs by Robert K. Liu/ Ornament .

CHINESE SILVER HAIRPINS, an excellent representative sample of the numerous styles, from single to multi-tine examples. A number are decorated by enameling, gilding or set with glass simulations of jade and coral. These are fabricated, cast or die-struck, some with multiple techniques. Sizes range from 8.5 to 21.2 centimeters (cm) long, and 0.6 to 13.4 centimeters wide. Courtesy of Leekan Designs. Photographs by Robert K. Liu/Ornament.

Hair adornments were a vital part of women’s jewelry in many parts of East Asia, recently reinforced during a visit in 2016 to the Asian galleries of the Newark Museum of Art. Metal hairpins were not numerous among the Japanese, Korean and Chinese jewelry on display, although Chinese metal examples have been well documented (Duda 2002, Hang 2005, Lingley 2007, Liu 1999). Perhaps this results from many such ornaments being from the lower classes or general populace, and not from the upper classes, thus not of significant crafting or preciousness to warrant inclusion in museum collections.

      While on this same trip, I was able to study a large selection of relatively simple Chinese silver hairpins at Leekan Designs of New York, well-worn and dating from the early twentieth century or possibly even earlier, obtained from Beijing in the 1980s. Later, Paddy Kan sent me a more comprehensive collection of hairpins. The twisted wire hairpins shown on the facing page do not appear to have been published before, although some of the other more elaborate ones are shown in Duda (2002), Hang (2005) and Lingley (2007). Given the large populations of this country during the last centuries, such hairpins would be expected to be numerous, especially since some were worn in multiples, although all vintage Chinese jewelry is now scarce. Most hairpins were stuck into buns, to hold this hairstyle in place, while flat ones had hair wrapped around them. Interestingly, the very simple twisted hairpins have been employed as defensive weapons by women in Chinese martial arts movies. To anyone with an interest in metalsmithing, these hairpins are most likely products of small, unsophisticated workshops, but demonstrate a surprising number of clever techniques, also used in the manufacture of the metal portions of Chinese bangles (Liu 2013).

I do not know if such jewelry techniques have been covered in the Chinese literature, since I do not read Chinese, although Hang (2005) does mention the use of press-molding for rattan and silver bangles. Hang is also the most comprehensive in coverage of Chinese hairpins, historic and vintage. Najdowski (2011) has described and shown images of dies used by the Miao minority in making repouseé silver or base metal jewelry. It is very likely that Han jewelers also used similar tools and techniques, given that dies were widely used in hairpin manufacture. Due to the extensive and repeated use of popular motifs in Chinese jewelry, which all have significant meanings as rebuses (Bartholomew 2006), it makes sense to use dies to replicate these complex, yet standardized designs.

REFERENCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
Bartholomew, T.T. 2006 Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art. San Francisco, Asian Art Museum: 352 p.
Duda, M. 2002 Four Centuries of Silver. Personal Adornment in the Qing Dynasty and After. Singapore, Times Edition: 208 p.
Hang, H. 2005 Precious Adornment Kit. Ming, Ching to Republic of China Era. Female Traditional Silver Ornaments. Beijing, Sanlian Bookstore: 422 p.
Lingley, K. A. 2007 Excelling the Work of Heaven. Personal Adornment from China. Featuring the Shyn Collection. Honolulu, University of Hawai’i Art Gallery: 158 p.
Liu, R. K. 1992 Wholesale to the Trade. Overseas Trading Company. Ornament 15 (3): 104-105.
—1999 Collectibles. Chinese Hair Ornaments. Ornament 23 (2): 8-9.
—2013 Vintage Chinese Bangles. Rattan, bamboo, coral, and more. Ornament 37 (1): 16-19.
Najdowski, P. 2011 Guzang Miao Festival. Ceremonial silver. Ornament 34 (5): 70-73.

 

Click on Photos for Captions

 

     Get Inspired!


Robert K. Liu is Coeditor of Ornament and for many years its in-house photographer. His recent book, The Photography of Personal Adornment, covers forty-plus years of shooting jewelry, clothing and events related to wearable art, both in and out of the Ornament studio. Recently he has been giving one-on-one photography lessons at our office, as well as teaching workshops on bamboo and matrix jewelry. In this issue Liu writes about vintage Chinese silver hairpins of the general populace, an important item in the personal adornment of many Asian women in the past centuries.

Tufted Tales: Chenille Garments Volume 39.3

Georgia and textiles, cotton in particular, have a long association, and the West Georgia Textile Heritage Trail is bringing increased recognition to the history of the industrial growth resulting from that union. In addition to the expected cotton mills, the trail highlights numerous factories devoted to the production of garments and accessories including hosiery, underwear and—in Bremen—menswear. In the northwestern corner of the state, especially in the town of Dalton, the trail focuses on the old highway where small roadside businesses sold souvenirs like tufted peacock bathrobes and on the mills that manufactured chenille bedspreads and garments before focusing on the production of carpet. My book Southern Tufts: The Regional Origins and National Craze for Chenille Fashion, published by the University of Georgia Press, is part of a growing body of research into the region’s textile history and the first to focus on tufted fashion.

      In the spring of 2015 the West Georgia Textile Heritage Trail organized a conference focused on using the arts to tell textile stories; the event included presentations about mill town music, life in a mill village, using theater to convey information about the past, and incorporating narrative elements into the promotion of historic destinations. I shared stories about the makers and manufacturers of tufted garments, encouraging the careful reconsideration of well-known stories and the inclusion of individuals at all levels of production, as well as stressing the importance of preserving objects. Following are five tufted textile stories.

CATHERINE EVANS WHITENER AND CANDLEWICK KIMONOS

CATHERINE EVANS WHITENER with a candlewick bedspread, circa 1960. Courtesy of Bandy Heritage Center for Northwest Georgia, Carpet and Rug Institute Photograph Collection.

      Almost any recounting of the history of Georgia’s tufted textiles begins with the story of Catherine Evans Whitener (1880-1964) and her “rediscovery” of the traditional candlewick technique for decorating spreads in the late nineteenth century. Actually, there was increased interest in these historic textiles in many parts of the United States as part of the Colonial Revival. As Americans celebrated the country’s centenary and reflected on the people, places, and objects associated with its founding, they turned to forms like candlewick spreads, originally popular in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, for inspiration. 

Whitener, inspired by an antique candlewick spread in a relative’s home, made her first few spreads as gifts, then began selling them. Orders quickly outpaced her individual production capabilities and she taught neighboring women her process. She either drew her own pattern or copied an existing spread by placing it fluff-side down with a fresh sheet on top that she rubbed with a greased tin (or other “stamping iron”) to transfer the pattern. Then she stitched the pattern with plain running stitches, clipped the stitches with scissors, and boiled the fabric to shrink the weave and hold the stitches in place. Finally, she dried and fluffed the spreads, creating the familiar pompom decorations. The women she taught in turn instructed others, and a cottage industry developed. By the mid-1910s department stores throughout the Midwest and New England carried the popular southern bedspreads. As automobile travel increased (especially by the late 1920s), Dalton also developed a thriving culture of roadside stands, known as “spreadlines,” selling tufted products.

As consumer demand for the textiles increased, and due to government pressure for fair wages, the industry mechanized in the early 1930s. The new machine-tufted textiles were called chenille, French for “caterpillar,” to distinguish them from the earlier hand-tufted candlewick goods. As the mechanization process progressed, the machines evolved from single-needle converted sewing machines to large, multi-needle machines that could produce tufted yardage. Later, carpet became the dominate tufted product, eclipsing chenille in the 1950s. 

MRS. RALPH HANEY wearing a candlewick kimono with a peacock design, circa 1920. Courtesy of Georgia Archives, Vanishing Georgia Collection, gor466.

      The tufted textile industry whole-heartedly embraced and promoted the story of Catherine Evans Whitener by the 1930s. For example, in 1953 a buyer for Rich’s department store in Atlanta wrote an article for the Tufted Textile Manufacturers Association Directory, the industry’s annual publication, advising stores to tell their sales forces “about the young farm girl, Catherine Evans, who made the first modern tufted spread in 1895 and launched a multi-million dollar industry.” As Philis Alvic details in her book Weavers of the Southern Highlands, other textile production centers in southern Appalachia in the early twentieth century offered similar stories in order to connect their modern textiles with antiques and capitalize on the popularity of the Colonial Revival.

Though rarely mentioned, Whitener made garments—aprons and kimonos—as well as spreads. While none of her garments are known to survive, a single photographic image from the region showing Mrs. Ralph Haney (née Exzene Carter, 1894-1962) wearing a kimono suggests the type of work Whitener would have done. Haney’s kimono appears to be hand tufted in a single color on a solid color background and shows a peacock next to a vase in a trellis setting.

I found several advertisements from 1923 in northeastern newspapers for candlewick kimonos, and while the ads do not mention Georgia, the garments are similar in style and description to Haney’s. One ad, for the Joseph Horne Company in Pittsburgh, lists some of the color combinations of these garments as “gray with rose designs, orchid with lavender, orange with blue, pumpkin with white, black with rose, old blue with white, yellow with yellow, leaf green with green.”

These were part of a vogue for Orientalism in fashion, and the butterflies, peacocks, and kimono form are relevant to that theme. The production in southern Appalachia of kimonos that were handcrafted using a traditional technique related to the Colonial Revival and reflecting a Japanese-inspired contemporary fashion trend, represents a remarkable combination of influences that enriches Whitener’s story and helps expand its significance beyond local history.

A PINK CANDLEWICK DRESS

CANDLEWICK COTTON DRESS, circa 1930s. Photograph by Michael McKelvey. Collection of Bradley Putnam.

      While visiting with a collector in Tunnel Hill, a small town north of Dalton, I encountered an unusual pink dress and bonnet. The dress was a mystery to the collector; he purchased it because it was tufted, but did not know its history.

At the time, I was well into my research and particularly interested by how in the late 1920s and early 1930s women from the region helped promote candlewick spreads by traveling to department stores throughout the country to give hand-tufting demonstrations. Often these women wore Colonial Revival style costumes with bonnets. An ad for a demonstration at Macy’s in New York in 1931 reads, “You’ll have to imagine the log cabin and the cotton fields background. But the girls themselves, in cotton frocks and sunbonnets, will be here, tufting the spreads by hand, just as they do in their native Georgia.” Other evidence suggests that these “native costumes,” as they often were called, were sometimes tufted.

As I examined the pink dress—hand tufted then dyed, assembled with a sewing machine, a silhouette that recalls a French shepherdess—the details all suggested that this was a rare survival: an example of a costume worn by a hand-tufting demonstrator. It is not an accurate copy of anything that existed historically and it is not a style that was ever popular during the twentieth century, but it is appropriate as a circa 1930 interpretation of something from “golden olden times.”

The marketing of candlewick spreads was not the only entrepreneurial enterprise that benefited from the incorporation of Colonial Revival style costumes. Fashion historian Beverly Gordon, in an article on Colonial Revival fashion published in Dress, explains that by the interwar years the practice was popular in businesses such as Colonial-style tea rooms (with costumed waitresses) because the high moral associations with the style helped increase profits. She also notes that historical accuracy was less important than conveying a sense of a charming and picturesque past. The lovely image that the candlewick demonstrators presented helped sell bedspreads, but it was actually a far cry from the experiences of many of the tufters, often desperately poor women working long, hard hours for very little pay.

EMILY BENNETT AND U.S. 41

TWO VIEWS of Mrs. J. H. Bennett’s chenille business, with Willie Jean Chitwood, Helen Bennett (Mrs. Bennett’s daughter), and Aveline Chitwood seated at left, circa 1937. Photographs probably taken by Iduma Chitwood. Collection of Helen Johnson.

      Many small businesses existed along the highway, first called the Dixie Highway and later U.S. 41, in northwestern Georgia. One belonged to Mrs. J. H. Bennett (née Emily Mealor or Mealer, 1904-1997). Select records from her business survive in the collection of the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society in Dalton, and one of her daughters, Helen Johnson, who lives a few miles from where her mother worked, recalls many details about what she made.

Bennett began working as a hand tufter while her husband farmed; they lived out in the country at the time and she sold her wares on the spreadline of a friend who lived near the highway. Then the family moved to U.S. 41 and she set up her own spreadline near the Resaca Confederate Cemetery, just south of Dalton. In the early 1930s her husband built her a little log cabin and she worked there alone. In many ways, she epitomized the popular notion of a traditional Appalachian craftswoman; she almost always wore a bonnet, she used an old-timey needlework technique, she was near a Civil War historic sight, and she worked in a log cabin, albeit a brand-new one. In 1936 the Atlanta Journal even included two photographs of her business on a rotogravure page about Bedspread Boulevard, as the highway was called at the time. In addition to bedspreads, she made pillows and aprons, which the newspaper described as “novel.”

CHENILLE COTTON APRON by Mrs. J. H. Bennett, undated. Photograph by Michael McKelvey. Courtesy of the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society, Crown Gardens & Archives, Dalton, Georgia, gift of Helen Johnson.

      Bennett soon acquired a single-needle tufting machine, adding bath sets, capes, jackets, and robes to her inventory, then moved to a new spreadline down the road. Her daughter believes that Bennett’s ability to sew clothing—a skill learned of necessity because she had four daughters and limited income—helped her translate the tufted textiles into appealing garments.

Bennett had regular customers who would visit her when traveling U.S. 41 to vacation in Florida and who would write to her during the year to place orders. Sometimes travelers would make purchases as they traveled through and she would ship the goods to their far-away homes. She also sold to a few department stores in Chicago. Bennett continued her business until Interstate 75 opened in 1965 and drew away the tourist traffic from the older highway, though she still tufted until she was eighty years of age.

ARTHUR RICHMAN AND THE ART-RICH MANUFACTURING COMPANY

MATCHBOOK COVER advertisement for Blue Ridge Manufacturing Company, circa 1945. Private Collection.

      As chenille garments became increasingly popular in the late 1930s, several big spread companies realized that they needed to bring in specialized talent. They knew how to manufacture and design and market spreads, but clothing was new to them. Samuel Hurowitz (b. Russia, 1898-1975), who had founded Blue Ridge Spread in Dalton in 1933, added a garment department and in 1939 had hired Arthur “Artie” Richman (b. Poland, 1904-1965), an experienced garment designer in New York, to run it.

Richman’s designs for Blue Ridge included a series of chenille robes with playing card motifs, recorded through patent applications. He filed for the patents in April 1943 and was granted them in December 1943, but during that time much of Blue Ridge’s production was turned over to the war effort.
Blue Ridge featured the heart design in an advertisement in Glamour in 1944 that acknowledged the reality of wartime retail. Part of the text reads, “We are still trying to make shipments… to at least one store in each city so that you may have yours.”

Sometime before World War II ended Richman left Blue Ridge to start his own company, Ann-Lee Chenilles, which existed only briefly. By 1947 he had established Art-Rich Manufacturing Company, a large, long-lived business that focused on chenille robes for women and children. The overwhelming majority of chenille manufactories were in northwestern Georgia, and in 1949 the industry produced almost five and one half million chenille robes. Even though Richman’s business was one of the younger ones in the region and it never manufactured hand-tufted candlewick products, he still capitalized on the appeal of the industry’s early southern roots by adding paper tags to his robes that read, “This chenille robe is made where the candlewick tufting industry originated,” with an image of cotton.

MODEL wearing a chenille robe by Art-Rich, circa 1953. Courtesy of Bandy Heritage Center for Northwest Georgia, Carpet and Rug Institute Photograph Collection.

      For many years robe companies used the same basic pattern to make traditional wraparound robes, but as chenille robes started to lose favor in the 1950s—as national fashions changed and as carpet became the dominant tufted product in northwestern Georgia—robe manufacturers introduced a variety of different styles to try to maintain market share. Richman even wrote an article for the Tufted Textile Manufacturers Association Directory in 1954 addressing how the production of robes had shifted from employing single-needle machines (as multi-needle machines that could produce tufted yardage were common by that time) and one pattern that was used for years with just some variation in the decorative motifs to an industry with “constantly changing” styles requiring “new patterns... to keep pace with the trend.” He pointed out that the small changes, including the buttons and buttonholes and various trimmings, required additional materials and labor.

During the 1950s duster robes surpassed the popularity of traditional wraparound robes. These new robes, typically three-quarter-length, could be styled a variety of ways and appealed to the growing youth market. Chenille robes, though, never regained their former prominence and began to fall out of fashion. Art-Rich diversified its offerings, adding terrycloth robes. Shortly before Arthur Richman died in 1965, his son Martin Richman (1929-2007) took over the company. Art-Rich continued experimenting with new styles
and other materials, but could not compete as cheaper imported goods hit the market, and closed in the early 1980s.

MARILYN WOLF AND THE CHENILLE REVIVAL

POSTCARD of children’s recycled chenille bathrobes, 1997. Photograph by Michael Scott Studio, New York City. Marilyn Wolf Designs, collection of the artist.

      Chenille fashion experienced a revival towards the end of the twentieth century. Beginning by the early 1970s, crafters and designers began cutting up old tufted bedspreads to make new products, especially garments including jackets, robes, bloomers, aprons, bibs, skirts, pullover blouses, and hats. Many were motivated by nostalgia as well as an interest in recycling encouraged by the burgeoning environmental movement.

One of the designers to repurpose old spreads was Marilyn Wolf of Narberth, Pennsylvania. She had established a small manufacturing business around 1970 and in the mid-1990s she made a small collection of chenille robes using chenille yardage she had purchased from a close-out sale. Then, through an acquaintance who happened to own a rag factory (a business that collected leftover fabrics from thrift stores and other sources), she gained access to a seemingly limitless supply of vintage spreads. By the 1980s and 1990s, as many original owners of tufted bedspreads downsized their homes, secondary markets were flooded with inexpensive materials.

MARILYN WOLF JACKETS FLYER, “Jackets fashioned from vintage chenille,” circa 1997. Marilyn Wolf Designs, collection of the artist.

      Wolf used these to make colorful one-of-a-kind robes and jackets for women, as well as teddy bears and baby blankets, that are notable for their playful patchwork aesthetic and postmodern profusion of colors and patterns. As the supplies of chenille dwindled and material became more precious, and, she notes, as the market for high-end art clothing for children increased, Wolf turned her attention to small robes, rompers, and jackets for children. She often added non-chenille materials like marabou or vintage buttons. She sold her designs through exclusive stores including Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s and in children’s boutiques across the country. When she could no longer find adequate supplies of quality chenille, she turned to other materials.  

 

Though the tufted textile industry was centered in the South, it became a national phenomenon. While Hollywood helped cement the iconic status of the chenille robe—with appearances ranging from glamorous actresses like Katharine Hepburn in Holiday in 1938 to Oscar-winner Shirley Booth’s downtrodden character in Come Back, Little Sheba in 1952 to Michael Douglas as a creative writing professor in the Wonder Boys in 2000—its presence in the lives of everyday Americans led to innumerable personal stories and memories about the material. In sharing my research for Southern Tufts, I have heard many recollections—about a mother’s favorite aqua robe with flowers, a child’s fascination with the rows of tufts on a bedspread, a family member who devoted a lifetime to the industry—and I welcome more stories and encourage the preservation of tufted textiles and their histories.



SUGGESTED READING
Alvic, Philis. Weavers of the Southern Highlands. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2003.
Callahan, Ashley. “From Roadside to Runway: A History of Chenille in Fashion.” Ornament 34.4: 26-31, 2011.
The Center for Public History at the University of West Georgia. Images of America: The West Georgia Textile Heritage Trail. Mount Pleasant, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2015.
Deaton, Thomas M. Bedspreads to Broadloom: The Story of the Tufted Carpet Industry. Acton, Massachusetts: Tapestry Press, 1993.
Gordon, Beverly. “Costumed Representations of Early America: A Gendered Portrayal, 1850-1940.” Dress 30: 3-20, 2003.

 

     Get Inspired!

 
 

Ashley Callahan is an independent scholar and curator in Athens, Georgia, with a specialty in modern and contemporary American decorative arts. The University of Georgia Press published her book Southern Tufts: The Regional Origins and National Craze for Chenille Fashion in December 2015. She grew up in Dalton—known over time as both the Bedspread Capital of the World and the Carpet Capital of the World—and is pleased to be able to share information about the tufted textile industry’s history and about her home state’s contributions to American fashion.

Stone Beads and Their Imitations Volume 39.1

Lapidary Skills & Imitations In Stone Beads

FOUR ANCIENT TABULAR/LENTICULAR HARD STONE BEADS FROM AFGHANISTAN AND TWO REPLICA AGATE BEADS; these carnelian and agate tabular beads are very similar to Mesopotamian third millennium beads, 2.8 - 3.5 centimeters long, 0.6 - 0.9 centimeters thick. Courtesy of Anahita Gallery and J. Lafortune, 1978. Two lowest beads are new replica tabular agate and leech beads from Iran and Cambay, 0.6 - 1.0 centimeters thick; Courtesy of W. Seifried, 2006 and Beadazzled/Kamol, 1999. Due to better lapidary equipment, especially drills, many replica beads are now thinner than the prototypes. Photographs by Robert K. Liu/Ornament; shot with studio strobes, using softboxes for both transillumination/reflected lighting or just reflective lighting when shooting on black Tufflock. 

Recently we relocated our office of the past twenty-six years into a much more manageable space. This entailed examining, sorting and discarding old files, as well as other material collected over forty-two years of publishing. While packing our study bead collections, I was struck again by the beauty of ancient hard stone beads, the lapidary skills of their makers, and how skilled contemporary stone beadmakers had become in producing imitations, replicas or their own designs. Such observations and insights are very similar to the pleasure of re-discovering books in your library that you have not read for years.

      I have always regarded tabular hard stone beads of the third millennium as among the most aesthetic uses of stone, as well as so-called leech beads, which can date as early as 2200 to about 300 B.C. (Liu 1999). If one is cognizant of bead history and technology, the roles of stone beads in ancient world trade and exchange, then the importance of simulations would be readily apparent...

 

      To Read The
  Complete Article


Robert K. Liu is Coeditor of Ornament and for many years its in-house photographer. His recent book, The Photography of Personal Adornment, covers forty plus years of shooting jewelry, clothing and events related to wearable art, both in and out of the Ornament studio. In this issue Liu writes about the Ethnic Costume Museum in Beijing, which he visited with Carolyn and Patrick in 2013, on a return to China after sixty-seven years in the United States. While going through the recent move of the Ornament office, he restudied some ancient stone beads in its study bead collection, marveling at both the skill of ancient and contemporary stone beadmakers, especially those who did replicas or imitations.

Mood Indigo Volume 39.1

 

JAPANESE BEDDING COVER (futonji) of cotton cloth with indigo dye (kasuri), Meiji period 1900-1912, Gift of the Christensen Fund. Background: NIGERIAN ADIRE ONIKO with full moon (osu bamba) of cotton cloth with indigo dye, twentieth century. Gift of the Christensen Fund. All textiles collection of Seattle Art Museum; photographs courtesy of Seattle Art Museum.

 
 

Spend an hour wandering through the Seattle Asian Art Museum’s seductive exhibition of indigo-dyed textiles and you will understand why blue is just about everyone’s favorite color. From Japanese kimonos and bedding, to Nigerian garments, Flemish tapestries, Korean wrapping cloths, and a Guatemalan huipil, the brilliant, saturated blue achieved with indigo dye gives the textiles a richness and depth that are unimaginable in any other color.

      Take the large, sumptuous cotton cloth from Nigeria that shows an abstract pattern of full moons. The panel is a midnight sky of swirling moons, exuberant and wild even though, unlike many textiles in the show, it is monochromatic. The Nigerian artisan who made this piece seems to have been inspired by the same pulsating full moon that fascinated Vincent van Gogh. The dark indigo gives the cloth the look of an endless, cosmic night sky. More tranquil, and plusher, are the quilt-like yogi from nineteenth-century Japan. The thick cotton ‘kimonos’ were made as bedding rather than garments to be worn. The thought of sliding yourself underneath one for the night is delicious. The bedding kimonos are indigo though many are also decorated with imaginative scenes relating to dreams and sleeping. One especially charming scene shows hares leaping through frothing ocean waves. As a soporific, counting fat white rabbits leaping through a seascape is probably at least as effective as counting sheep—and far more magical.

JAPANESE COVERLET (detail) in kimono form (yogi), of cotton cloth with freehand paste-resist decoration (tsutsugaki). Gift of Virginia and Bagley Wright.

      There are many antique kimonos in the show, most of them beautiful. An indigo-colored, nineteenth-century child’s kimono is decorated at mid-body with an ivoryand celadon design. Another kimono-shaped bedding quilt has light blue borders and a spectacular display of peach, orange and yellow fans across the back. As always when contemplating the beauty of antique kimonos of this caliber, it is striking how the long, boxy shape of this traditional garment is perfect for ornamentation. Like nearly everything in the exhibition, the kimonos come from the Seattle Art Museum’s permanent collection, which is particularly rich in Japanese and African textiles and artworks.

JAPANESE CHILD’S KIMONO of bast fiber (asa) cloth with freehand paste-resist decoration (tsutsugaki) and handpainted pigments and ink decoration, nineteenth century. Gift of Virginia and Bagley Wright. JAPANESE SUMMER INFORMAL KIMONO (yukata) of cotton cloth with indigo dye (katazome), Taisho period, early twentieth century. Gift of the Christensen Fund. JAPANESE KIMONO of cotton cloth with indigo dye (shibori), Taisho period, early twentieth century. Gift of the Christensen Fund.

      Indigo dye has a fascinating history. Natural indigo comes from plants of the large Indigofera genus. The species used for indigo dye require tropical or sub tropical climates. They resemble basil plants and making dye involves drying the leaves then creating cakes of dye, a painstaking process. Indigo has always been grown in Asia, West Africa and parts of Central and South America. Europe lacks the climate to grow indigo successfully, so for centuries indigo dye came to Europe through trade with Asia and Africa. India was the first major producer and exporter of indigo, and it supplied the wealthy in ancient Greece and Rome. The name “indigo” is believed to be based on the ancient Greek word for India.

Indigo has always been valuable because it is the only reliable natural blue dye. After Europeans colonized North America and Caribbean Islands, indigo plantations on the islands and in South Carolina produced great wealth for their owners. Indigo was known as “blue gold.” Synthetic indigo was invented in the early twentieth century, and most jeans and other blue textiles today are made with synthetic indigo since it is cheaper to make and easier to work with. Unfortunately the exhibition offers almost none of this history, which would have been a welcome addition.

FLEMISH WOOL TAPESTRY OF ASIA by Jacob van der Borcht, late seventeenth century. Gift of the Hearst Foundation, Inc. 

      Among the most dramatic pieces are the three late seventeenth-century Flemish tapestries depicting allegorical scenes of the continents of Africa, Asia and America. At a square thirteen feet they are stunning and they are examples of indigo as the color of splendor and luxury in seventeenth-century Europe. In each tapestry the continent is represented by a woman who sits, queen-like, on a throne in what the Flemish tapestry designer presented as an idealized natural setting. In each tapestry the magnificent woman is surrounded by a cornucopia of plants, animals and rosy, cherub-like children. The visual clichés are amusing to our twenty-first-century sensibilities: Asia is shown with a camel and a fanciful pagoda in the background, for instance. But all the women wear blue clothing. Asia’s gracefully draping gown is a particularly deep, rich indigo—perhaps the designer’s homage to India as the traditional source of the dye.

Also of interest are the historic Japanese fire fighters’ suits. These remarkable mid-nineteenth-century outfits consist of pants, boots, gloves, short kimono, and full head and face covering, all made of thick indigo-dyed cotton. The entire outfit turns the firefighter into a superhero, which is what they were to the communities where they lived and worked. According to the exhibition notes, fire fighters put on these outfits, then soaked themselves—fully dressed—in water before entering burning buildings. Wrapped in thick, wet cotton, they were able to withstand the heat longer than they would have otherwise. Firefighters were important and much respected members of the community, and this was reflected in the indigo color of their protective uniforms.

BLOCKS QUILT by Annie Mae Young, 2003. General Acquisition Fund.

      Much of this handsomely installed exhibition focuses on textiles from Asia and Africa, but there are pieces to admire from the Americas. An early twentieth-century rug from the southwestern United States and a Guatemalan blanket of the same period are both designed to show off blue fibers. Both are classic examples of native weaving, with designs in indigo as the focal point. Another remarkable abstract composition is seen in a contemporary quilt by Anna Mae Young, one of the famous quilters from Gee’s Bend, Alabama. Her quilt suggests a Mondrian painting in which rich bands of indigo cloth play the starring role.

This exhibition will not travel. But if you are in Seattle before October, “Mood Indigo” is worth a visit. If the sun is out, the Seattle summer sky and the waters of the Puget Sound will be intensely blue. Our associations with the color blue, since it represents our natural world, are primal. “Mood Indigo” makes that crystal clear.

 
 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

Robin Updike is a Seattle-based arts writer with a deep attachment to artist-made jewelry. As a former newspaper art critic she also has an interest in artists and the difficult choices they often face when it comes to their careers. For both reasons, she was pleased to have the opportunity to interview Julie Shaw, a jewelrymaker whose life as an artist is notable not only for the remarkable work she has made, but for the joyful, open-hearted way in which she has created a life wholly dedicated to art. In this issue Updike also reviews a handsome exhibition about indigo-dyed textiles at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. The exhibition is a serene reminder of why blue is such a primal color for us all.

Reigning Men Volume 39.1

SILK COAT with silk embroidery, France, circa 1800. ZOOT SUIT of wool and twill, with spectator shoes of leather and suede, United States, 1940-42. Photographs courtesy of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, © Museum Associates/LACMA.

For much of human history, it has been a man’s world—except in the museum world, where menswear is often overlooked in favor of the more colorful, ornamental fashions worn by women. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s new exhibition “Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear, 1715–2015” serves as a powerful corrective to the long-held notion that menswear is boring and drab. “Everyone thinks the gray flannel suit still exists!” says curator Kaye Spilker. “It was a wonderful journey to find out how interesting menswear really is.”

      The show covers three hundred years of male style, from the macaroni to the metrosexual. Despite the subtitle, it is not limited to fashionable dress; there are some utilitarian pieces, including a redcoat’s red coat, a Brooks Brothers blazer, blue jeans, and, yes, a couple of gray flannel suits. But they are juxtaposed against examples of cutting-edge fashion, both historical and contemporary. 

 

HELMUT LANG VEST of leather, synthetic/cotton felt, bottle caps, laminated foil, from Spring/Summer 2004.
JOHNSON HARTIG FOR LIBERTINE ENSEMBLE (detail) of silk twill jacket, silk vest, cotton shirt, silk twill, satin, and damask scarf, Fall/Winter 2009-10.
JOHNSON HARTIG FOR LIBERTINE ENSEMBLE (detail) of wool twill and felt, mother of pearl buttons, with wool cap, Fall/Winter 2012-13.

 

      To Read The
  Complete Article


Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell is an art historian specializing in fashion and textiles, anda frequent contributor to Ornament. She has worked as a curator, consultant and educator for museums and universities around the world. In this issue, she goes behind the scenes of LACMA’s groundbreaking menswear show, “Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear, 1715–2015.” Chrisman-Campbell is the author of Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, published by Yale University Press.

Fashion Victims: Q&A Volume 38.5

“FASHION VICTIMS” INSTALLATION   featuring a nineteenth-century English or French dress and William Morris wallpaper, both containing arsenical green. Like many of Morris’s wallpapers this pattern was tinted with arsenic for the simulated garden and mercury for the vermilion red roses. 

“FASHION VICTIMS” INSTALLATION featuring a nineteenth-century English or French dress and William Morris wallpaper, both containing arsenical green. Like many of Morris’s wallpapers this pattern was tinted with arsenic for the simulated garden and mercury for the vermilion red roses. 

 

“Fashion Victims. The Pleasures and Perils of Dress” is an exhibition of fashion objects from the nineteenth century that demonstrates how fashion seduces while ignoring the potential harm to both wearer and maker.

Dr. Alison Matthews David (School of Fashion, Ryerson) approached her friend and colleague Elizabeth Semmelhack (Senior Curator, Bata Shoe Museum) with the idea of researching an exhibition that could be a companion to her forthcoming book, Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present (Bloomsbury, September 2015). They received an SSHRC grant (Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) to fund research on issues related to toxic chemicals and the impact on makers and wearers, as well as issues of constriction within fashion. Their research took them to England and Paris, to medical libraries and chemistry labs.

Many complexities are demonstrated through the objects shown, from the very narrow, uncomfortably straight shoes which were more economical to make because they only used one last, to the celluloid combs that could provide a simple luxury by replacing endangered animal products yet also caused factory fires, putting workers at risk due to their high flammability. The popularity of arsenical green, a bright emerald hue that retained its color in artificial light is evident in shoes, dresses and wallpaper. Testing showed that even some of the objects in the exhibition were positive for arsenic. It was usually the maker who was most affected by the use of toxic chemicals yet new technologies also created a democratization of fashion by reducing the cost and making fashion more accessible to the lower classes.


HAND-EMBROIDERED BOOTS by shoemaking firm of François Pinet, French, late nineteenth century. Much of Pinet’s footwear was factory-made but he also employed seven hundred embroiders who labored in less than comfortable conditions creating botanically accurate floral embroidery. Photograph by Ron Wood. Photographs courtesy of the Bata Shoe Museum.

 

Semmelhack  One might imagine a glamorous woman cramming her foot into these uncomfortable hand-embroidered boots by Pinet, but we wanted the viewer to think about the women embroiderers working in poorly lit garrets who might never even be able to own the objects they were making. With the introduction of department stores consumers shifted from having things made by a visible person to going into stores and picking out things with a brand identity. With readymade goods there is no sense of labor anymore.

Avila  It’s amazing how what went on in the nineteenth century parallels what is going on in today’s society. We still don’t know who makes our clothes or what chemicals are being used.

Semmelhack  In the nineteenth century industrialization was not only changing and democratizing fashion, but one of the reasons Victorians were so obsessed with flowers and arsenic green was that artificial nature met the needs of this new age after the denuding of nature in the industrial landscape. As this craze for green in the middle of the century hit a high point, doctors began to notice that their upper class clients had rashes associated with arsenic and recognized connections to the seriously ill dressmakers or artificial flower workers they would see at the hospital clinic. 

Matthews David  The introduction of synthetic colors created a giant chemistry experiment on the public. New dyes might leach from shoes or socks worn next to skin depending on the acidic or alkaline quality of the wearer’s sweat. Doctors were seeing stripy skin burns from boldly striped red or magenta socks that continued to be popular products since not everyone was affected.

Semmelhack Women were being expected to dress in all the new invented colors while men were supposed to dress like the machinery and the factories where they acquired their wealth, so you have black stove pipe hats and pants. Bad blacks would discolor or turn yellow so a good shiny black was also a status symbol. Shoeshine boys littered the landscape because the dirty street conditions made it difficult to stay clean.

CELLULOID COMB, English, circa 1880s. “Hair jewels” like this celluloid comb were popular gifts from husbands to wives however they were highly flammable.


Matthews David  One of the aniline by-products, nitrobenzene, was used for shoe polishes and liquid blacking. Highly toxic nitrobenzene oxidizes the iron in human blood; people were at danger, when, instead of buying a new pair of boots they dyed their old stained yellow pair black to look respectable. They often put them on before the polish dried and the toxins would be absorbed through the skin.

Semmelhack  Likewise, hatters went mad from the use of mercury for felting animal hair into desirable top hats.

Avila  Obviously there were people aware of many of these dangers, why didn’t concerns have more influenceon fashion?



Semmelhack  In the nineteenth century there were also social movements to help the upper classes understand about animals’ rights and the plight of workers. So there was social concern at the same time that there was social injustice. Desire and economics are powerful forces. All of these chemists and entrepreneurs believed that science is better, so they put these things out on the market and then when things went wrong they blamed the consumer—‘oh she’s so vain.’ Friedrich Engels claimed that bourgeoisie women caused the most harm to the workers but who were wearing top hats? Who invented mechanical tools? Who required women to dress in an ornamented way? Those questions never came up because women who dressed like men ran into trouble—it was even illegal in some areas. Fashion drives the economy; often the greatest risk is to not follow fashion.

Matthews David  Even today, how many of us would wear something that is not socially acceptable? Social pressures are often more risky than potential health risks.

“Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century” shows at the Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, though June 2016. Learn more at www.batashoemuseum.com.


Susan T. Avila is a textile artist, professor and Chair of the Department of Design at the University of California, Davis. She encountered the “Fashion Victims” exhibition while researching a new body of artwork related to health and wellbeing. While Avila’s new work is aimed at using fashion to promote awareness of health, in particular women’s cardiovascular health, the number one killer of women, her visit to the Bata Shoe Museum added another dimension to how fashion has affected health over the years. She was surprised how much information is left out of most fashion history books and was especially dismayed to realize that green, her favorite color, is fraught with a scandalous past.

Comment

Susan T. Avila

Susan T. Avila is a textile artist, professor and Chair of the Department of Design at the University of California, Davis. She encountered the “Fashion Victims” exhibition while researching a new body of artwork related to health and wellbeing. While Avila’s new work is aimed at using fashion to promote awareness of health, in particular women’s cardiovascular health, the number one killer of women, her visit to the Bata Shoe Museum added another dimension to how fashion has affected health over the years. She was surprised how much information is left out of most fashion history books and was especially dismayed to realize that green, her favorite color, is fraught with a scandalous past.

Royal Hawaiian Featherwork Volume 38.5

Royal Hawaiian Featherwork. Na Hulu Ali'i

 

LEI HULU feather lei of yellow ‘o‘o (Moho sp.) feathers, red Kuhl’s lorikeet (Vini Kuhlii) feathers, and black ribbon, 36.5 x 3.8 centimeters). Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Ethnology Collection.

 
 

In every possible way, humans have made dramatic and creative use of the natural environment in its evolution as a species. Over the millennia with a rapacious enthusiasm we learned how to defoliate the land of its trees and dredge from the water its creatures. Everything we have touched has been a tour de force of reductive skill, from the food we eat to how we adorn our body. Being initially frugal, we found a way to not only kill and eat other natural organisms but to use their skins to clothe ourselves. After we developed methods to trap and kill birds, in due course their feathers became a prime source of colorful adornment from ritual use to power dressing. Even into the twentieth century, the world-over avidly snatched parrots, toucans, jays, kingfishers, all possible bird life, from the skies and their perches, plucked their feathers and refashioned them to feather our own bodies. For a few historical illustrations—think of China for the brilliant blue of the kingfisher turned into hair pins and headdresses—or of Brazil for the variegated Channel-billed Toucan for royal cloaks and plumes for the head.

‘AHU ‘ULA cape of red ‘i‘iwi (Vestiaria coccinea) feathers, yellow and blank ‘o‘o (Moho sp.) feathers, and olona (Touchardia latifolia) fiber, 70 x 107 centimeters, early nineteenth century. Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Ethnology Collection. 

KAHILI STAFF of red Kuhl’s lorikeet (Vini Kuhlii) feathers, Hawaiian domestic fowl or moa (Gallus gallus) feathers, green, sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) shell, and walrus (Odobenus rosmarus) ivory, 129.5 x 15.2 centimeters, nineteenth century. Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Ethnology Collection.

      An astonishing reminder of the complicated attraction of the feather for personal adornment is “Royal Hawaiian Featherwork: Na Hulu Ali’i,” the first major exhibition of Hawaiian featherwork in the continental United States. The exhibition time line stretches from the arrival of European explorers, unification of the islands in 1810, the Kamehameha dynasty, the conversion to Christianity after the arrival of missionaries, the overthrow of the Hawaiian government in 1893, its annexation by the United States in 1898, and to sovereignty protests by Hawaiians. Co-organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu (and rarely seen outside of Hawai’i), the exhibition at the de Young Museum concomitantly showed visually breathtaking and thought-provoking examples of human ingenuity through seventy-five long cloaks and short capes, helmets, feathered lei, and royal staffs.

The Hawaiians primarily made use of six bird genera: Moho spp. and Drepanis pacifica for their yellow and black feathers, Vestiaria coccinea for scarlet feathers, Psittirostra psittacea and Hemignathus spp. for dark green and olive green feathers, and Himatione sanguinea for red feathers. Of these birds the species are either extinct, uncommon, declining or endangered. Only the Hemignathus spp. is still common.

Cloaks and short capes (‘ahu ‘ula), feathered lei (lei hulu), helmets (mahiole), and royal staffs (kahili) symbolized the divinity and power of Hawaiian royalty and the elite who supported their dynasties. These garments and accessories served as important visual markers for identifying themselves, and their social status, setting them apart from the rest of their people and, for a frequently warring group, as a form of ritual protection. Beautifully and painstakingly wrought, these valuable objects were also used as a form of diplomatic outreach to secure political alliances and agreements.

QUEEN KAPI’OLANI. Photographer unknown. Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Collection. 

Now fewer than three hundred royal featherwork (hulu ali’i) are known to exist, almost as vanquished as the fowl from whence they came. The de Young Museum installation centered on pieces made for Hawaiian royalty dating from the late eighteenth century and ending in the early twentieth century. Some of ‘ahu ‘ula were collected by explorers like Captain James Cook and were on loan from the Museum of Ethnology in Vienna or the British Museum in London. Called Hawai’i’s crown jewels and as astonishing as these are, the mind still tries to grasp what stunningly beautiful examples the centuries must have brought forth—crafted by master artisans to amplify the royal personages symbiotic birdlike movements as they pranced and flew across the battle ground or engaged in religious ceremonies.

 

The capes could have great personal value like an ‘ahu ‘ula that Kamehameha IV bestowed as an expression of sympathy in 1861 to Lady Franklin, the widow of a British Royal Navy Officer and explorer who disappeared as he sailed from England to seek the Northwest Passage. From the nineteenth century and having a very different history, another ‘ahu ‘ula was worn by Chief Kekuaokalani, a nephew of Kamehameha I who fought against the rule of Kamehameha II and the abolishment of the kapu system that governed social and religious customs. In 1819, he was killed in the Battle of Kuamo’o on the island of Hawai’i, along with his wife, Chiefess Manono, who fought beside him. The cloak was taken as a battle prize for Kamehameha II.

One fortuitous discovery by Queen Kapi’olani, during her stay in England in 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, was of a cape that had been given by King Kamehameha V to E. Faulkner, paymaster of the HMS Havannah in 1857. She purchased it to return to the Hawaiian nation, naming it Kekaulike Nui for the great chiefs and chiefesses in Hawaiian history.

 

 

MAHIOLE feathered helmet of yellow mamo (Drepanis pacifica) feathers, red ‘i‘iwi (Vestiaria coccinea) feathers, black and yellow ‘o‘o (Moho nobilis) feathers ‘ie‘ie (Freycinetia arborea) aerial roots, and olona fiber, 36 x 16 x 36.5 centimeters, circa late eighteenth to early nineteenth century. Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Ethnology Collection.


      A type of head adornment, the colorful lei hulu were the only articles of featherwork worn by high-ranking women. Yet within its simple circumference, there was a great variety of feathers and patterns that could be utilized and translated into lovely, ethereal halos. The art of making feather lei hulu continues and today communicates love or friendship. After European contact, and another form of feather innovation, Western-style hats became fashionable with lei now designed to lie flat against the hat as decorative hatbands.

Feathered crested helmets held great importance for the warrior statesman. Shown here, this example is the only mahiole in the Bishop Museum that can be traced to a known chief. Kamehameha I gave a mahiole made of red ‘i’iwi feathers with a high crest of yellow mamo feathers and an ‘ahu ‘ula of ‘i’iwi and ‘o‘o feathers to Kaumuali’i, chief of Kauai’i, as a symbol of their agreement to unify the Hawaiian Islands under Kamehameha. Before arriving at the Bishop Museum, they were owned by Reverend Samuel and Mrs. Mercy Whitney of Kauai’i, who were among Hawai’i’s first missionaries.

Anonymously handcrafted from life itself, these Hawaiian cloaks, capes, leis, and staff made in servitude to royalty remain far after their human departures, testament to the astonishing ability of humans to create objects of beauty.

 

   GET INSPIRED!

 
 

Carolyn L. E. Benesh is Coeditor of Ornament and the magazine’s resident expert on contemporary wearable art. As an Ornament traveler, part of her yearly itinerary takes her to the Smithsonian Craft Show in Washington, D.C., as well as the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show in Pennsylvania. Both are destinations that provide treasured encounters each time she visits them. In early March she visited the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market, which showcases some of the best contemporary Native American art. In addition, she visits museums, galleries and conferences throughout the United States. Benesh reviews the spectacular “Royal Hawaiian Featherwork” exhibition at the de Young Museum.

Immortal Beauty Volume 38.4 Preview

Immortal Beauty
Highlights from the Robert and Penny Fox
Historic Costume Collection

 

“ZODIAC” EVENING DRESS and detail by Elsa Schiaparelli, Winter 1938–39. Gift of Mrs. Rodolphe Meyer de Schauensee. All photographs by Michael J. Shepherd, courtesy of Drexel University.

In a sense, “Immortal Beauty” marked a debut more than a century in the making. As the first full-scale retrospective drawn from Drexel University’s Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection (FHCC), the exhibition and its catalogue showcased the depth of this remarkable assemblage of more than fourteen thousand garments, accessories and textiles.

      Seventy-five objects were selected by FHCC curator Clare Sauro “both for their historical significance and their aesthetic beauty,” as well as to give an “overview of more than two hundred fifty years of fashion change.” Indeed, the offerings ranged from an Italian textile fragment of about 1550 to a pair of heel-less platform leopard-print “booties” designed by Giuseppe Zanotti in 2012–13, but the focus was primarily on international haute couture of the twentieth century, including garments by fashion luminaries such as Cristobal Balenciaga, Gabrielle Chanel, Halston, Mary Quant, Oscar de la Renta, and Elsa Schiaparelli...

 

    Read the Full Article

 
 

David Updike is an editor at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which makes use of his incisive writing for exhibition catalogues and other publications relating to the museum. A frequent contributor to Ornament, he recently gave his observations of jewelers Rebecca Myers and Holly Lee, residents of Maryland and Pennsylvania respectively. This issue David covers the “Immortal Beauty: Highlights from the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection” from Drexel University, where he gives a blow by blow of each gorgeous dress from the university’s extensive holdings.

Cochineal Volume 38.4

Cochineal
The Red That Colored the World

 

FIREFIGHTER’S CEREMONIAL COAT of wool with gold- and silk-thread, Japan, eighteenth-nineteenth century, Edo period. Photograph by John Bigelow Taylor. All photographs provided by Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

A first-class exhibition stirs up a sensation like jumping off into the unknown. “The Red That Colored the World,” originally at the Santa Fe Museum of International Folk Art, did that and more, taking the novel approach of investigating the long-lost legend of a color. Called “an epic story of art, culture, science, and trade” by Camilla Padilla, exhibition co-curator with Dr. Barbara Anderson, it led one, like going through the Narnia closet, on a great adventure to seize upon marvels of red.

The essential marvel is cochineal: a tiny bug that lives and breeds on prickly pear cactus in the Americas. The female stores in her body enormous quantities of carminic acid, which produces a deep crimson-red dye. For close to two thousand years in Mesoamerica it was cultivated as an ideal colorant for protein fibers like silk and wool. Not until the arrival of the Spanish in the 1520s in Mexico did cochineal pass into recorded existence and become an invaluable dyestuff in global trade. As an archetype of a brilliant collaboration between nature and human ingenuity, cochineal was and still is applied to almost everything conceivable: textiles and clothing, books, murals, sculpture, furniture, oil paintings, as a varnish on violins, and in cosmetics, food and candy.

PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG WOMAN WITH A HARPSICHORD, artist unknown, Mexico, early eighteenth century. Photograph courtesy of Denver Art Museum.

It took six years to locate and organize around one hundred and twenty-five magnificent examples of art with cochineal, loaned from museums and collections in London, New York, Denver, and Austin, and from Mexico, Peru, Spain, and Italy. The exceptional quality and craftsmanship of the selection celebrates how much red mattered. Whatever the culture or the epoch, red connoted rank and wealth and symbolized the sacred. It was hard to produce. The exhibition included samples of other natural sources of red dye—vermilion, cinnabar, lac, kermes, madder, even Polish and Armenian cochineal. They were expensive, toxic to extract, and not very stable. By comparison, cochineal was a dream, because of its super-saturation, its colorfastness and its ability, combined with mordants like lime or alum, to create an amazing spectrum of colors, from pink and salmon to apricot, magenta, scarlet, and a rich plum purple. A gilded beech armchair, upholstered in warm red wool dyed with cochineal, came from Napoleon’s council room at Malmaison. Cochineal was so coveted (and everyone was forking over such a fortune to the Spanish to buy it) that Napoleon offered a hefty “prize of 20,000 livres to the person who will find how to give wool by means of madder a solid vivid color… which most closely resembles cochineal scarlet.”

Maybe to stymie competitors, the Spanish claimed it was a grana, a little seed. Europeans never realized it was an insect until the invention of the microscope in the late seventeenth century. By the same token, everything in the exhibition was tested. Mark MacKenzie, head of the museum’s conservation department, did approximately twenty-five hundred analysis runs using primarily HPLC (high performance liquid chromatography) technology to confirm wherever American cochineal was present. The point was not for viewers to figure out that a particular red comes from cochineal, like finding Waldo in a crowd, but to amplify our appreciation for its singular and inexplicable beauty. 

THE SAVIOR by El Greco, from the Apostles series, Toledo, Spain, circa 1608-1614. Photograph by Tomas Antelo, Instituto del Patrimonio Cultural de España

Cochineal travelled everywhere. A sixteenth-century painting by El Greco of El Salvador in a red robe, and a Van Gogh picture from 1888 of a pair of worn boots both contain it. Spanish colonial artists lavished cochineal red, called carmine lake by pigment makers, on sumptuous rococo-inflected devotional art. Cochineal turns an eighteenth-century Japanese ceremonial firefighter’s coat bright red, and animates embroidered silk flowers with a vivacious wine red in an early nineteenth-century valance from Samarkand in Central Asia. From Mexico, the pièce de résistance is an eighteenth-century lacquerware papelera (writing chest) made in Michoacán and intricately painted with mythological figures, flowers and landscape views containing a soft berry red.

Once synthetic dyes came along in the late nineteenth century, red went into decline as a precious color. But since the 1970s, a revival of interest in natural dyes has steadily grown. Today Peru produces over eighty-five percent of the cochineal on the market, with the Canary Islands close behind. Fashion and textile artists especially favor cochineal. Two dresses from designer Mariano Fortuny were one of the crowning glories of the exhibition. Fortuny had a passion for color and experimented with cochineal to produce a palette of superb reds. To see an iconic pleated-silk Delphos gown up close is to realize just why he was called the Magician of Venice.

“The Red That Colored the World,” an integral part of Santa Fe’s 2015 Summer of Color, has now closed. Fortunately, there is still an opportunity to see this thematic presentation in another venue. It is showing at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California, through March 21, 2016. 

PAPELERA, writing desk of pine, lacquer and iron, Mexico, eighteenth century. Photograph courtesy of Museo Franz Mayer.

 
 

Leslie Clark is a freelanced writer and editor in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Clark, who claims red is her favorite color, was flabbergasted by her visit to the “The Red That Colored the World” exhibit at the Museum of International Folk Art up on Museum Hill. “I had no idea how exhaustively people worked, for centuries, to produce a red color. No wonder kings and prelates hogged it for themselves. Cochineal changed everything. Even now, with synthetic dyes around, its amazing properties are still the best. It makes you grateful to Mother Nature and those little bugs.”

Orientalism Volume 38.4 Preview

Orientalism
Where East Met West in the Court of Versailles

 

MADAME D’AGUESSEAU DE FRESNES by Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-LeBrun, 1789. Courtesy of National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Samuel H. Kress Collection (1946.7.16). 

"Fashion victim” is a very modern term for a very old phenomenon. In eighteenth-century France, petite-maîtresse—meaning “little mistress”—was the preferred term for someone who followed fashion for its own sake, regardless of how arbitrary, expensive, ugly, or unflattering it might be. Like today’s “fashion victim,” it could be an insult or a compliment, depending on your perspective; after all, you had to be fashionable in order to be called a fashion victim. It was even said that Marie-Antoinette—perhaps the ultimate fashion victim—was “prouder of the title ‘petite-maîtresse’ than ‘Queen of France.’ ” The petite-maîtresse and her male equivalent, the petit-maître, may have been fashion victims, but they were also fashion role models, appearing in fashion magazines and fashion plates...

 

    Read the Full Article

 
 

Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell is a fashion historian specializing in fashion and textiles, and a frequent contributor to Ornament. She has worked as a curator, consultant and educator for museums and universities around the world. This issue she investigates the surprisingly extensive impact of the Orient on European culture... and most importantly, clothes. Though refracted, interpreted, and distorted through the prism of the West, the styles of East Asian and Middle Eastern fashion had an indelible effect on Parisian couture. Chrisman-Campbell is the author of Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette published by Yale University Press this year.

Zhou Dynasty Glass Volume 38.4 Preview

Zhou Dynasty Glass and Silicate Jewelry

 

Since I began studying the faience, glass and other silicate ornaments of the Zhou Dynasty in 1975, this field has undergone a sharp dichotomy. While previously mostly foreign scientists or Chinese outside of China researched their chemical makeup, age and stylistics, in the past decades Chinese themselves have begun to intensively study their composition, through sophisticated non-destructive techniques like XRF and Raman spectroscopy, but with little attention to their typology, chronology or how they were made or used, despite the enormous increase in number of excavated sites bearing such beads (Gan 2009; Kwan 2001, 2013; Lankton and Dussubieux 2006, 2013; Li et al., 2015; Liu 1975, 1991, 2005, 2013; Yang et al., 2013; Zhu 2013). Now regarded as important cultural relics, beads of the Zhou/Han times were widely sold since at least the 1990s on the world antiquities markets, often sourced by looting, and which are still available (Murphy 1995; Liu 1996-1997).

      Faience, composite silicates and glass came late to China, lagging behind the Near East; faience about 1000 B.C. and composite silicates, frit and glass in the Spring and Autumn/Warring States (W.S.) periods of the Zhou dynasty. By then, bronze and stone industries were well established, with the former using sophisticated piece-mold and core-casting, while the latter employed similarly advanced lapidary technology. Even in the 1970s, I realized that these early Chinese glassworkers had adapted some of these same techniques for fabricating their glass ornaments, as seen in mold-cast, press-molded and lapidary-finished Zhou and Han glass artifacts. My own research on composite beads also implicates the role of early ceramics.

 

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Robert K. Liu is Coeditor of Ornament and for many years its in-house photographer. His new book, The Photography of Personal Adornment, covers forty plus years of shooting jewelry, clothing and events related to wearable art, both in and out of the Ornament studio. In this issue he writes about the extraordinary crafting of Zhou Dynasty/Warring States faience, glass and other silicate ornaments, as well as their complexity.

The String Theory Volume 38.2 Preview

The String Theory

CELTIC SQUARE KNOT, WOVEN PATTERN AND TREFOIL-DECORATED BEADS BY TOM HOLLAND, respectively 3.4, 2.9 and 3.4 centimeters high. The Celtic knot bead, also known as a Tibetan heart knot bead, took over an hour to make; the cross-hatching background contains eighty stringers of an inch and a half long, or ten feet of hair stringer total. Holland has made over sixty beads like this, with the same design on front and back, all of them exercises in muscle memory and heat control of the stringer. Photograph by Robert K. Liu/Ornament.

CELTIC SQUARE KNOT, WOVEN PATTERN AND TREFOIL-DECORATED BEADS BY TOM HOLLAND, respectively 3.4, 2.9 and 3.4 centimeters high. The Celtic knot bead, also known as a Tibetan heart knot bead, took over an hour to make; the cross-hatching background contains eighty stringers of an inch and a half long, or ten feet of hair stringer total. Holland has made over sixty beads like this, with the same design on front and back, all of them exercises in muscle memory and heat control of the stringer. Photograph by Robert K. Liu/Ornament.

Making glass beads has been my primary income for over two and a half decades. I employ many techniques, one of which is working with stringer, those fine strands of glass pulled from a small molten gather and applied in the flame of the torch to the surface of the bead. Eight years ago I started investigating cross hatching and its decorative potential. Some of the beads had a fabric look, so I tried to accentuate this effect. The idea of using glass stringer to mimic string sparked the idea of projecting knot patterns on the bead’s surface. While researching knot patterns and string history I came upon an article by Bednarik (2000), who pointed out the dependence of the bead on the string and knot in order to be an ornament. Without the string and knot, the bead is just an object with a hole in it. The purpose for any bead is to suspend it from someone or something. Here are a few things I have learned about the triad of the bead whose primary function is symbolic or spiritual, while the string and the knot’s primary function is utilitarian.

 

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Tom Holland, along with his wife Sage, has been contributing to the contemporary glass beadmaking movement through research of historical techniques and lectures. They have written articles for Ornament on Warring States and Islamic Period glass beads, taught internationally, as well as the United States and have been featured in many books and periodicals. Holland will be making a presentation on the string, knot and the bead at the 2015 Gathering in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The couple found each other through their love of beads and continue to create glass art in the solar home they built in the woods of the Arkansas Ozark Mountains.

Chinese Children's Hats Volume 38.2 Preview

Chinese Children's Hats

TIGER HAT COMBINED WITH SCHOLAR’S HAT, a beautiful example of textile arts and symbolism, 15.0 centimeters wide. These hats were photographed in an improvised studio, on a brass armature, with a black Tufflock backdrop. They were lit with an external flash on a Canon 7D, with or without additional slipon diffuser, besides the Speedlite 580EX’s own translucent diffuser. When we felt the armature was too obtrusive, it was removed using the Photoshop clone tool (Liu 2014). Pam Najdowski Collection. Photograph by Robert K. Liu/ Ornament .

TIGER HAT COMBINED WITH SCHOLAR’S HAT, a beautiful example of textile arts and symbolism, 15.0 centimeters wide. These hats were photographed in an improvised studio, on a brass armature, with a black Tufflock backdrop. They were lit with an external flash on a Canon 7D, with or without additional slipon diffuser, besides the Speedlite 580EX’s own translucent diffuser. When we felt the armature was too obtrusive, it was removed using the Photoshop clone tool (Liu 2014). Pam Najdowski Collection. Photograph by Robert K. Liu/Ornament.

Chinese children’s hats reflect the powerful parental desires of the protective, aspirational and inspirational functions for these attire (Leung 2010, Lin and Lin 1996; Liu and Rossi 1991; Szeto and Garrett 1990). Like Chinese jewelry, they are replete with symbolism, which in turn can be read as verbal rebuses or auspicious sayings by those who are knowledgeable (Bartholomew 2006, Pei 2004). In fact, these children’s hats often have silver components sewn on, thus intermingling textile and jewelry techniques and the similar symbolism common to both (Duda 2002).

 

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Robert K. Liu is Coeditor of Ornament and for many years its in-house photographer. His new book, The Photography of Personal Adornment, covers forty years of shooting jewelry, clothing and events related to ornaments, both in and out of the Ornament studio. This issue he writes about his experiences teaching photography and black bamboo jewelrymaking workshops. Later this year, he plans to teach photography workshops at the Ornament studio. Liu also collaborates with Pam Najdowski about Chinese children’s hats, a disappearing folk art and now a sought after collectible. The images in the latter article were shot in an improvised hotel room studio, demonstrating another easy way to photograph textiles and fiber artifacts.


Educated at Oberlin College and the University of Michigan, Pam Najdowski was a teacher and social worker for the Santa Fe Public Schools for over two decades, as well as school counselor for the International School of Tianjin, China, 2003-2005. She has extensive ethnographic experience with Chinese minorities, having both lived there and traveled almost two dozen times to minority areas of Guizhou, Guangxi and Yunnan. Najdowski has been the guest at two Chinese Folk Art Expos, and conducted extensive research, consultation and lecturing on Chinese minorities, their textiles, clothing and silversmithing. She operates Textiles Treasures in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Death Becomes Her Volume 38.1 Preview

Death Becomes Her. A Century of Mourning Attire

INSTALLATION VIEW OF “DEATH BECOMES HER: A CENTURY OF MOURNING ATTIRE,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Anna Wintour Costume Center. The exhibition followed the period from the 1830s to 1915, when average life expectancy was less than fifty and death in childbirth or as a child was common. The ensembles ranged from states of full-mourning to that of half-mourning. Photographs by Carolyn L. E. Benesh/Ornament.

INSTALLATION VIEW OF “DEATH BECOMES HER: A CENTURY OF MOURNING ATTIRE,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Anna Wintour Costume Center. The exhibition followed the period from the 1830s to 1915, when average life expectancy was less than fifty and death in childbirth or as a child was common. The ensembles ranged from states of full-mourning to that of half-mourning. Photographs by Carolyn L. E. Benesh/Ornament.

Surprisingly, and surprisingly not surprising, the recent fall costume exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art refashioned appreciation for mourning garments, a form of dress that no longer dominates world traditions. In “Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire,” visitors noticeably crowded around the soberly dressed mannequins housed in the confining space of the basement gallery. The gallery has recently been renamed the Anna Wintour Costume Center. Wintour is the celebrity editor-in-chief of Vogue and the museum’s chair for its annual fundraising gala, since 1995.

Attendees seemingly took as long to experience this unusual and smaller thematic display as the earlier expansive main floor blockbuster in the spring for couturier Charles James. Perhaps some necessary self-reflection and identification took place, as its subject is one that touches us all. This exhibition dealt not in bursts of color and iconoclastic design but rather the important subtleties of black and gray, the shadow colors that honor life’s end and our final rite of passage.

Gray silk wool poplin, black silk faille, black and white silk cording and fringe make up an American wedding ensemble from 1868.

Gray silk wool poplin, black silk faille, black and white silk cording and fringe make up an American wedding ensemble from 1868.

Just as the Charles James exhibition illuminated a portion of cultural history through fashion during the twentieth century, so did this display of clothing from the Victorian and Edwardian periods. For most of history, death struck humans early and often. Rituals developed over the world, and every culture has its way of marking the life cycles from which we all partake. Birth, marriage and death rituals purposely concentrate our minds on the significance of transiting the arc of life and memorialize the universality of human experience.

But within the costume center’s darkened space, the time frame was specific and its thirty spectral mannequins were tokens of a past that evinced an almost obsessive devotion to the many rules attached to public and private mourning and how these were woven into the fabric of everyday life. We have nothing remotely prescriptive
like it today. While one tradition has not been entirely dismantled—black is still the favored color of mourning—in other aspects of funerary occasions, dress has become so casual and colorful that T-shirts/shorts/and flip flops are considered to be just fine and not disrespectful to the departed.

“Death Becomes Her” follows the period from the 1830s to 1915. Average life expectancy was less then fifty and death in childbirth or as a child was common. Infant mortality was so ubiquitous that some parents did not name their children until their first year was reached. Disease and the Civil War only added greatly to grieving periods. A woman could always be in mourning clothes for her child, husband, parents, grandparents, and more distant family members. A husband, though, could leave mourning and remarry in as short as a month and was much less likely to be censured for doing so.

The emergence from deep black to glossy black to browns and grays is another indication of leaving mourning.

The emergence from deep black to glossy black to browns and grays is another indication of leaving mourning.

Not only her comportment demonstrated familial grief but also what a woman wore in public. Various societal conventions dictated what was appropriate during the grieving process. First, one wore all black, and then over time some white detailing was allowed; as more time passed, gray gained entry to the mourning palette. The final distinction was still visually somber but could flash something a bit more luxe, such as the exhibit’s silk dress embroidered with mauve sequins worn by Queen Alexandra when in half-mourning for Queen Victoria.

During deepest mourning, the cloth consisted of a light gauzed crinkled crepe with a matte finish. Later a bit more sparkle and sheen with silks, taffeta and moiré could be introduced. Bombazine was often used (a combination of wool and silk) as it kept black dyes the best. The dresses could be very beautiful and becoming with an elegance that also showed both dignified feminine grace as well as sexual appeal. Not yet among the dead and very much alive, women had to balance the difficult performance of combining decorous restraint with seductive allure to show themselves as available to males. Remarriage would secure their financial protection, a vital necessity for survival in the Victorian/Edwardian eras, as with most of human history.

While mourning dress was a visual symbol of grief and respect for the deceased, it also gave clues to the woman’s status and taste. Wealthy women could  commission apparel from the House of Worth while those less fortunate took an existing dress and dyed it black. The few menswear showed the degree to which males of the time mostly dressed in dark, uniformly subdued fabrics anyway, so their attire in mourning scarcely changed.

QUEEN VICTORIA MOURNING DRESS In black: silk taffeta, silk ribbon, silk lace, silk crepe, 1894-1895. The two views of Victoria’s dress show the magisterial sweep of her gown, as well as the dispensing of forms of corseting that would bind and reshape her fulsome figure. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

QUEEN VICTORIA MOURNING DRESS In black: silk taffeta, silk ribbon, silk lace, silk crepe, 1894-1895. The two views of Victoria’s dress show the magisterial sweep of her gown, as well as the dispensing of forms of corseting that would bind and reshape her fulsome figure. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The ensembles were fitted with gloves, hats, veils, and jewelry and illustrated how mourning progressed through its various prescribed phases. It was, of course, Queen Victoria who contributed so mightily to mourning practices. So over-the-top upset by her beloved husband Prince Albert’s death in 1861 the queen basically retired from all public life and wore black from that day forward to the end of her long reign and life. The exhibition showed one of her silk taffeta evening dresses, and unlike the other dresses which showed the fashionable tucked wasp waists, hers has none, an acknowledgment to her corsetless zaftig figure.

Black mourning dress may have been the color of sadness but when you wear something for two full years, as expected of a woman grieving the death of her husband, the concept has to take into account just how long you can tolerate keeping the visual performance static, especially since the times are always changing. They inevitably spawned sartorial nuances and the basic fashions could still be imitated and not abandoned. Women’s journals, like Harper’s Bazaar, reassured as to what to wear from head to toe. Therein were found what hairstyles were acceptable, which cloth to buy, where to find mourning rings and lockets, pins made of jet, onyx necklaces, handkerchiefs edged in black lace, and lovely black parasols. Stores arose catering to the death demand and some developed solely for the purpose of selling mourning textiles, bonnets, shawls, veils, and gloves.

The simplicity, starkness really, of the exhibition’s environment actually stimulated a lean-in experience. Closer examination revealed the variety and detail that black could bring to fabric, texture and patterning. It was a valuable lesson in how a severe limitation can be a guide leading to creative diversity. Exhilarating in its own way, it helped to sharpen and focus the senses, just as observing ritual, in this instance the expression of public and personal grief, was meant to achieve in practice. Communicating their sorrow without speaking of it, the silent mannequins eloquently demonstrated this profound emotion. Somehow cathartic, one leaves behind the somber basement gallery, its poignant symbols of mortality, and takes the stairway to the Met’s main floor, feeling happy to be alive and eager to meet a new day.

 

Intact Ancient Precolumbian Jewelry Volume 38.1

Intact Ancient Jewelry. Precolumbian Ingenuity

INTACT PRECOLUMBIAN NORTH COAST PERUVIAN NECKLACE AND BRACELETS of mother-of-pearl (MOP) components, mostly likely strung on cotton cord; probably of middle horizon Wari influence, circa A.D. 700 - 1000. Intact bracelets are 1.7 centimeters wide, while the necklace, in four fragments, is 28.4 centimeters wide as laid out for photography. The MOP elements are probably from Pacific black-lipped oysters that occur off Ecuador and thus are an imported luxury material. Ex-Jean Lions collection, obtained before 1980; Robert Duff collection since 2007. Photographs by Robert K. Liu/Ornament.

Strung ancient jewelry is rarely found intact, unless climatic conditions or well-protected burials prevent the rotting of the organic fibers used in assembling the jewelry. Two geographic regions, parts of the Middle East, especially Egypt, and the arid north coast of Peru are known to yield finds of intact jewelry, as well as the prehistoric American Southwest and northern Mexico (Liu 2008). The most spectacular of such finds is the faience broadcollar of Wah (Liu 2005: 57) but much intact precolumbian jewelry, especially necklaces or their fragments (Gessler 1988; Liu 2008) come from the north coast of Peru. In this article, I show some amazing Wari jewelry, that may date to circa A.D. 700 - 1000, which is strung in ways not usually employed in assembling beads/components into necklaces and are among the most intact precolumbian jewelry I have seen. In fact, the ingenious ways employed by ancient Peruvians to string jewelry may very well make us re-think how necklace components can be used, not-considered by either modern necklace designers nor archaeologists.

Peruvian precolumbian jewelry can be massive, as in the beaded pectorals of Moche royalty at Sipan, measuring sixty centimeters wide (Donnan 1993), or can have large individual elements, as in the inlaid shell components of Tiahuanaco-Wari necklaces (Gessler 1988: 50-51). However, most intact jewelry fragments I have seen are modest in scale and not complex, except possibly in their construction, sometimes involving braiding (Gessler 1988). The fragments of the Wari influenced necklace differ in both the delicacy of their components and in the intricacy of how these elements were assembled with cord. Just like how ancient Peruvian beaders at Chancay employed simple disk beads as spacers, as well as real spacers with multiple perforations (Liu 2008: 52), I do not think contemporary necklace designers, with our linear thinking, would have been able to put together this necklace like their original stringers did some one thousand to thirteen hundred years ago, using the ingenuity of stringing via grooves or knotting together thin elements into broader masses.

WARI MOTHER-OF-PEARL CARVED/INLAID BIRD COMPONENTS AND STAIRCASE SPONDYLUS AND MOP NECKLACE ELEMENTS, OBVERSE AND REVERSE; all these beads have two perforations and are drilled on the reverse side with edge perforations, except at one narrow end of the staircase beads. This type of drilling is easier than trying to drill through such thin pieces of material. Staircase elements are approximately 1.6 centimeters wide while the bird beads are 1.3 to 1.6 centimeters wide, with the latter having inlaid spondylus or turquoise eyes. The staircase strand stringing is contemporary but the method is ancient, as the same use of edge perforations is seen in an intact strand fragment (Liu 2008: 51). Most modern necklace makers would not want to have exposed thread showing on the reverse side, subject possibly to the most wear.

DETAILS OF WARI INFLUENCE NECKLACE, showing unique ways of stringing; note spun cotton cord has multiple threads. If all these elements were loose, most likely no modern restorer would have deduced how they were used, especially the way the x-shaped components are tied to either the drilled bars or to the drilled or zig-zag vertical elements. The vertically-oriented elements are strung like the two intact bracelets, by the cord being wound around the end grooves. They differ in that there is no knot in-between the bracelet elements, as there is in the necklace. The closeup at the bottom of the page is approximately 60.1 centimeters wide. The practice of knotting in-between elements can be seen in many portions of the necklace fragments, like contemporary pearls are treated. Note on facing page how this very delicate necklace has very different designs on the front and back portions. This delicacy of structure and stringing contrasts greatly with intact prehistoric Southwest jewelry (Liu 2009, 2011).