Fairy Tale Fashion Volume 38.5 Preview

JUDITH LEIBER MINAUDIERE from Fall 2013, illustrating Snow White. Photograph © Judith Leiber.

 

Glass slippers. Red riding hoods. Golden locks. Fashion has always played a central role in fairy tales, symbolizing transformation, vanity or power. And throughout history, these stories have inspired artists and designers to create capes, shoes and ballgowns worthy of the fairest of them all. The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology’s recent exhibition “Fairy Tale Fashion” displayed more than eighty enchanting objects in a magically decorated gallery dominated by a central castle.

      Curator Colleen Hill—a sunny blonde who could pass for a Disney princess—conceived the show as a through-the-looking-glass view of fashion and storytelling. “I’d had this in mind for a little while, but I was thinking more abstractly about how fashion journalists often describe especially lavish and beautiful clothes as fairy tale fashion,” she explains. However, she did not know where to start; in The Museum at FIT’s collection, she says, “everything’s high-end, everything’s intricate.” It was not until Dolce & Gabbana and Alice + Olivia presented their fairy-tale-themed Fall 2014 collections that Hill’s ideas crystallized into an exhibition examining high fashion through the lens of fairy tales. 

 

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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. This issue, she goes behind the scenes of two very different exhibitions, The Museum at FIT’s “Fairy Tale Fashion” and the traveling enamel art show “Little Dreams in Glass and Metal: Enameling in America, 1920 to the Present.” Chrisman-Campbell is the author of Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, published by Yale University Press.

Hal & Margie Hiestand Volume 38.5 Preview

Hal and Margie Hiestand

MARGIE HIESTAND NECKLACE of iridescent Bactrian glass vessel shards shaped into beads, cabochons and pendant, mounted in silver bezels. Photograph by Robert K. Liu/Ornament, shot hand-held onsite, with external-flash or self-flash and macro lens.

 

Santa Fe, New Mexico, has long been known as a center of Southwest art, especially jewelry: Native American, ethnographic and contemporary. So it is now a very competitive environment for jewelers.

      Only recently did I meet two remarkable Santa Fean jewelrymakers, Hal and Margie Hiestand, whose life reads like an adventure tale. Morocco was their start in the late 1960s, from where they bought and sold to Europe and the United States, to stores like Arrowsmith in the 1970s. They have lived in Mexico and Central America, often leading a nautical existence on their sailboat. In 1982 they moved to Santa Fe, hiring four Chihuahuans to build their iconic and energy-efficient adobe house for the next fourteen months.

 

 For The Full Article

 
 

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. He hopes to begin teaching photography to interested students later this year. In this issue Liu writes about Hal and Margie Hiestand, two extraordinary, self-trained jewelers from Santa Fe, New Mexico, and about the pricing of well-known contemporary jewelers’ work when they pass, in reference to the fibulae of the late Ramona Solberg, a beloved Northwest artist.

Gianfranco Ferré Volume 38.5 Preview

The White Shirt According to Me. 
Gianfranco Ferré

 

4 CONTRAPPUNTO SHIRT of cotton piqué and mother-of-pearl oyster buttons, Spring/Summer 1987. Photograph by Luca Stoppini.

This is an exhibition that deserves a standing ovation. The Phoenix Art Museum recently featured the work of Italian fashion designer Gianfranco Ferré (1944 – 2007) at its Steele Gallery. Worth every moment of a visit, it was one of those rarities, a well-orchestrated experience.

      Presentation is key when it comes to exhibiting clothing, and one has the feeling the curators from the Gianfranco Ferré Foundation in Milan and the Prato Textile Museum might have been subtly guided by the hand of Ferré himself in making this show come to fruition. Metal wires were strung from floor to ceiling in an hourglass shape that appeared as though the innards of a piano were upended and inverted into becoming display cases. Taut strings seem like part of an immense musical instrument, but instead provide mooring for headless manikins that are plain black canvases for Ferré’s white shirts.  

 

 For The Full Article

 
 

Patrick R. Benesh-Liu is Associate Editor of Ornament and continues to find time to enjoy craft in between writing, travel and tech support. In March he attended the Heard Guild Indian Fair & Market in Phoenix. During this year’s Smithsonian Craft Show, which he visits annually, Benesh-Liu will be discussing the craft movement in America, part of Carol Sauvion’s “Craft Now: Washington, D.C. and Beyond” panel. In addition, he writes about the dramatic exhibition of Gianfranco Ferré’s “The White Shirt” at the Phoenix Museum of Art. As Ornament’s reporter, he provides a zesty compilation of the latest craft News, where you can find out what is happening with art-to-wear in the global neighborhood.

Ramona Solberg Volume 38.5 Preview

Ramona Solberg's Fibulae

FIBULA PIN of sterling silver wire, formed, forged and filed, strung with molded Czech glass snake beads, bauxite bead, coconut shell disk bead, ostrich shell disk beads, vintage Chinese glass beads, African terracotta spindle whorl; forged/drilled dangles of silver, bronze and copper, metal bead, stone beads, copper metal disk, Venetian glass bead, many from the African trade; 13.6 centimeters wide, dating from mid-1980s. Spring portion of pin forged to work harden it; priced eighty-five dollars when purchased in 1988. Carolyn L. E. Benesh/Ornament Collection. Photographs by Robert K. Liu/Ornament.

 

The late Ramona Solberg’s found object style of jewelry continues to influence the work of Northwest jewelers Laurie Hall, Ron Ho, Kiff Slemmons, Nancy Worden, and others (Brown 2014; Updike 2001, 2006). Warm and effusive when speaking about the work of her peers, Solberg called herself the Henry Ford of jewelry, and rightly so (Benesh 1989, 2001; Liu 1995). An inveterate traveler and lover of the material culture of the many countries she visited, Solberg often combined her metalwork with beads, which she collected on her trips, and was responsible for two of the best bead jewelry exhibitions (1988, 1998) held in the United States, at the Bellevue Art Museum.

 

 For The Full Article

 
 

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. He hopes to begin teaching photography to interested students later this year. In this issue Liu writes about Hal and Margie Hiestand, two extraordinary, self-trained jewelers from Santa Fe, New Mexico, and about the pricing of well-known contemporary jewelers’ work when they pass, in reference to the fibulae of the late Ramona Solberg, a beloved Northwest artist.

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.

Little Dreams Volume 38.5 Preview

Little Dreams in Glass and Metal.
Jewelry from the Enamel Arts Foundation

 

LILYAN BACHRACH. Brooch of enamel on fine silver, twenty-four karat gold granulation, eighteen karat gold bezel, and sterling silver, 6.4 x 7.0 x 1.3 centimeters, circa 1980. 

Enameling—the art of fusing glass to metal with heat—has been used as a form of decorating metal since antiquity; the earliest known enameled objects are six gold rings decorated with cloisonné, “compartmentalized” enamel, made in Cyprus in the thirteenth century B.C. But enamel jewelry did not begin to flourish as an artform in America until the early twentieth century. The surprising history of American enamel is the subject of a new book and traveling exhibition, “Little Dreams in Glass and Metal: Enameling in America, 1920 to the Present.”

      The project is the brainchild of Bernard N. Jazzar and Harold B. Nelson, founders of Los Angeles-based Enamel Arts Foundation. The two are established scholars of art history; Jazzar is curator of the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Collection and Nelson is curator of American decorative arts at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens and former director of the Long Beach Museum of Art. They began studying and collecting enamel about twenty years ago, when a business trip to the Cleveland Museum of Art precipitated a chance encounter with that institution’s vast enamel collection.

 

   GET INSPIRED!

 
 

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. This issue, she goes behind the scenes of two very different exhibitions, The Museum at FIT’s “Fairy Tale Fashion” and the traveling enamel art show “Little Dreams in Glass and Metal: Enameling in America, 1920 to the Present.” Chrisman-Campbell is the author of Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, published by Yale University Press.

Kate Rothra Fleming Volume 38.5 Preview

Kate Rothra Fleming. 
Visions of the Natural World

 

THE BLUE DOVE NECKPIECE of torch-formed soda lime and dichroic glass, hand-fabricated, oxidized sterling silver chain; glass components sewn on with cable, 8 x 5 x 76 centimeters, 2015. Photograph by Robert Diamante.

Kate Rothra Fleming and her husband Frank Fleming first bonded over a Furmont reptile hook. She was surprised to see one in the back of his car, and he was astounded that this quiet, petite redhead knew what it was. She had recently quit her regular job to work full time as an artist, making glass jewelry, and Frank worked in the film industry, where one of his roles was to keep snakes off sets. They quickly recognized a shared passion for nature and natural history. Fleming’s mother, Elizabeth Ogren Rothra, a nature writer, was collaborating on the book On Preserving Tropical Florida (University of Miami Press, 1972) while her daughter, an only child, was young. “I spent my childhood traipsing around with mom and dad going into the remote parts of Florida interviewing the early Florida naturalists, the pioneer naturalists,” including Marjory Stoneman Douglass, a wetlands activist who wrote The Everglades: River of Grass in 1947. Fleming’s father, who taught home-bound children, helped her collect fish on the reef, including sargassum fish that she could feed in her hand by shaking tiny shrimp out of Sargasso weed. She also liked to catch snakes and recalls, “I was fascinated with the beauty of gradient colors and the smooth textures and patterns of the snakes and other reptiles that I would see. One time I found a green grass snake, just the most incredible shade of yellow green!,” adding, “I always let them go unharmed.”

 

 For The Full Article

 
 

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 recently published her book Southern Tufts: The Regional Origins and National Craze for Chenille Fashion. She met with Kate Rothra Fleming at the Atlanta Contemporary Jewelry Show. While their conversation included many topics—especially nature and antiques—that were not directly about Fleming’s work, Callahan was impressed by how successfully she distills her interests in little drops of sparkly, shiny, frosty, and wearable glass.

Chunghie Lee Volume 38.5

 

Chunghie Lee. Stillness and Motion

NO NAME WOMEN BOJAGI of silk screen printed on silk, 61 x 61 centimeters, 2005. Collection of the Peabody Essex Museum. DREAM DURUMAGI of silk, bojagi gekki triple-stitch sewing, 2015. Model: Esther Kang.


The rippling of a sleeve with the gesture of a hand defies the weight of stasis that descends on garments when they lie on a table or against a wall. The contrast between motion and stillness in this opposition is central to Chunghie Lee’s art, not only as a consequence of materials and forms, but also as a means to a metaphor for the expanded perspective that this modern master of the bojagi technique has acquired from the lessons of life. She observes that the mind is a stultifying force when it is too self-assured, too rigid in its convictions to consider alternative perspectives. Over time, however, the mind’s defenses can begin to loosen under the influence of experience. “As I reach a more advanced age,” she explains, “I find that I am a lot less rigid seeing things. When I was young I thought that one perspective was best. At that time, making mistakes was something that I would not allow. Now I find that there is a great joy in discovery through mistakes. I am ready to embrace any situation, any perspective.”

      For Lee, one of the most consequential challenges to conventions of thought came in the 1980s when she returned to her alma mater, Hongik University in Seoul, to pursue graduate studies fourteen years after receiving her BFA. A major in weaving and dyeing, she produced some garments for family members merely as exercises in technique, but the works caught the eye of her adviser, who encouraged her to expand her horizons. “I said that I was not majoring in wearables or clothing,” she recalls, “but he pointed out that there was a lot of process in what I was doing creatively, and he thought that I could go in that direction. That was a little shocking to me, because back then my perspective was not as flexible as it might be now. In Korea there was rather rigid thinking at that time. Wearable art was not considered important. It wasn’t something that I could write about as an MFA student who was not majoring in clothing.”

NOVELTY LONGEVITY DURUMAGI of silk, bojagi gekki triple-stitch sewing, hand-embroidered goldfish provided by Cynthia Good, 2012 – 2014.
Photograph by Karen Phillippi.

     Foremost among Korean artists who would eventually dispel those biases, Lee aligned her explorations in the newly encountered territory of wearable art with research into a very old form of expression through textiles: the traditional craft of bojagi making. Similar to quilts without batting, bojagi were originally produced as wrapping cloths for Buddhist sutras and statues, but their long history is more often associated with the necessity of thrift. Dating back at least to the twelfth century, bojagi spread beyond temple and palace to become patchwork inhabitants of domestic spaces, in particular modest households. These everyday, or minbo, bojagi were pieced together from rectangles of salvaged cloth to serve primarily as food coverings: protection against flies in warm weather and insulators to retain the heat of cooked foods in winter.

For Lee, the visual appeal of bojagi—with their vivid geometric compositions that seemed to anticipate later nonobjective art by such modernist painters as Kandinsky and Delaunay—constituted only one of their attractions. Just as important were the associations of bojagi with generations of humble Korean women whose identities had long since dissipated into the obscurity of history and who had, moreover, passed largely anonymously even through their own times. The makers of historical bojagi lived under deeply engrained social strictures that discouraged self-assertion by women. “They were nameless,” Lee relates. “Back then people would have called me not Chunghie Lee but mother of my son’s name.” Consequently, the simple needlework of bojagi acquired for some women implications of psychological necessity: an affirmation of identity in the absence of more conventional means. Each colorful patch represented the freedom of choice, and the nonconformist asymmetry of compositions expressed personality. Each bojagi was in effect a signature stitched in cloth.

Although the bojagi created by nameless Korean woman in the past were composed from diverse bits of salvaged fabric—handwoven from hemp, often by the same woman who would later reclaim it—Lee generally relies on new silk, which she dyes and cuts into swatches. Much of this cloth is industrially manufactured, though some is handwoven. “That’s very expensive now,” she notes, “because the cost of labor is getting higher and higher. The cloth that I use is all new. It’s not recycled. I can’t get used ones. One of the problems is that in Korea there is a custom that when people die their children and other remaining family members gather the deceased person’s clothing and burn it. That’s why there is so little chance to preserve beautiful fabrics.”

DREAM DURUMAGI II of silk, bojagi gekki triple-stitch sewing, 2015. Model:  Esther Kang. Photograph by Chunghie Lee. CHUNGHIE LEE in front of Kyoungbok Palace, Seoul. Lee is wearing one of her 3-D bojagi sculptures as body ornament. Photograph by Chanhee Choi.

Those rare antique bojagi that have survived into the present have been tremendously influential on Lee’s sense of propriety in color-arrangement, especially her appreciation of an overall harmony built upon the complexity of local dissonance: a unity of composition that stems from contrasts, even clashing, of colors in various parts of the work. The early makers of bojagi may have been constrained by the need to recycle a mix of cloth swatches in various colors, but they turned this potential handicap into an obvious strength, exploring dynamic asymmetrical color compositions that continually amaze Lee. “I teach at the Rhode Island School of Design, one of the foremost art schools in the USA,” she relates, “and those nameless women never had any formal education. But when I see their bojagi compositions I ask myself, ‘What am I, even with my art degree?’ I think that they were doing a better job with color.” While Lee’s deference to the color sense of her predecessors is characteristically modest, her own use of color, particularly her vibrant juxtapositions of complementaries, can be stunning.

The vibrational effects of complementary colors, an electric trembling to which the cones of the retina respond with intensity, serve as significant bridges between Lee’s compositions and an aspect of her work that the makers of antique bojagi did not address: movement through space. Not limiting herself to the format of the wrapping cloth, Lee has created much of her bojagi work in a contemporized form of the durumagi, the traditional long-sleeved Korean overcoat. While her durumagi—delicate, diaphanous garments of open-weave silk that filter light like gauze curtains—tend to be worn by their owners only on such special occasions as museum openings, they are conceived as kinetic sculptures. In the free space of human action, Lee’s durumagi are agents in the realization of an often serendipitous aesthetic: one that cannot be fully anticipated and controlled by the artist. This freedom, communicated through the motion of cloth, is both an acknowledgment of the social freedom in which the nameless makers of antique bojagi could not indulge and a reminder to Lee to maintain an open mind and accept the beauty of spontaneity and even accident in art and life alike.

Just as important as the metaphor for freedom from convention and predictability, however, is the less dramatic role that Lee’s durumagi play, flat against a wall, when not in use. Complementary to the ephemerality of motion that they exhibit when worn, this stillness spawns reflection on the structure of eternity: those principles and values that do not fade with time. Motion and stillness together mark the spectrum of engagement with the world, from the rational strategies of reflection, planning, and carefully controlled action to the more intuitive methods of immediate and decisive response to events as they occur. Both poles are embraced by the perspective that Lee has acquired on her journey through life, so both motion and stillness are essential to her art. “The same situation,” she observes, “can always be perceived in more than one way. I can see both sides now. It’s a result of learning more about the world.”

NO NAME WOMEN DURUMAGI of silk, bojagi gekki triple-stitch sewing, 2001-2004. Collection of the Fuller Craft Museum. Photograph by Karen Phillippi.

      The contrasting states of motion and stillness that complement one another in Lee’s durumagi are equally important to the aesthetics of her most recent forms: boxlike structures sewn from stiff patches of black, red and white fabric. Small enough to be worn as oversized brooches yet large enough to be considered diminutive sculptures, these box forms are intentionally designed to serve in both capacities. “When they’re placed somewhere, I hope near a window, they become miniature sculptures,” Lee explains, “but on the body they become pendants. They could also be neckpieces or brooches. When I have put them on the durumagi, the durumagi must be very simple. They can be hung on the wall together, or someone can wear them together. It’s a new interest and direction for me, and it’s not necessarily connected to a historical tradition. The cloth is made in a traditional way, but I am reinterpreting it.”

When Lee created the first of these new boxlike sculpture/ornaments, she had no particular precedents in mind, but later she recognized that they recalled a series of sculptures she had produced in 2004. Consisting of fabric cubes suspended from flexible-wire poles set into the ground, those forms were free to sway with the movement of the surrounding air, their impression of geometric predictability thus softened by the caprices of nature. Lee’s new sculpture/brooches carry forward this active relationship between predictability and spontaneity, but the meanings that she attaches to these traits are more carefully considered in the context of human action and attitudes. Her works, subtly and through the simplest of formal means, reflect her belief that emotional and intellectual growth occurs through a dialectic between deeply seated conventions of thought and behavior on the one hand and the momentary suspension of those conventions on the other.

DREAM RED JACKET WITH BLACK ORNAMENT of silk, bojagi gekki triple-stitch sewing, 2015. Model: Esther Kang. Photograph by Chunghie Lee.

      Lee references the human in her new sculpture/brooches through line—more specifically, red threads representing longevity that run within the bojagi construction and dangle freely from the boxlike forms. These threads of life are lines that, like the abstract lines in geometry, can be measured with precision through a logical, mathematical system that is not subject to error. At the same time, Lee’s threads flutter with the movement of a wearer, invoking spontaneity as a theme. In this respect, her works call to mind the mobiles of Alexander Calder—kinetic sculptures that the Existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre famously described as reflecting the human condition as a constant negotiation between facticity and freedom. The lengths of Lee’s threads remain constant in terms of mathematical measurement, but their flexibility gives them an almost infinite freedom to change their curves: to wave, curl and bend as they interact with the surrounding environment, submit to the force of gravity, and act under the influence of energy transferred to them by a wearer’s motions.

For Lee, the implications of time and continuity conveyed by the threads carry personal significance as well. In the first place, they are reminders that her work forms part of a historical tradition in which the bojagi sewn by women of the Korean past are in spirit carried forward into a still-unfolding future of textile art. Lee’s deep sense of participation in this historical process accounts for her enthusiastic promotion of bojagi through workshops, exhibitions and other events. More important, it has manifested itself in a desire to share her knowledge and shape the future through teaching: a commitment that has become as central to Lee’s identity as her creative work as an artist. “I would like to think that I can offer not only information but also experience,” she explains. “I can give some real help if the student is ready to use it. So I am prepared to take the next step. I would like to start a small school for underprivileged young people that would teach students how to go out and make a living. It would start with teaching fabric techniques, but who knows how it would grow? It would give students the confidence to say ‘I can do this.’ ”

The urge to make this simple assertion—to overcome restrictive conventions on thought and action, confront stasis with motion and counter oppression with freedom —lies at the heart of Lee’s work as an artist. Through her success in reviving and enlivening the bojagi technique she has, in a sense, imparted identity to generations of her nameless predecessors. Her pedagogical goals make clear that her motive has never been solely to gain her own voice but rather to instruct by example. Lee’s works in the bojagi technique, in other words, are not mere means to a successful artistic career. In their dynamic of stillness and motion lies a message of universal significance.

Organized by Chunghie Lee, the biennial Korea Bojagi Forum meets August 30 – September 4, 2016 in Seoul, Korea. For more information, visit www.koreabojagiforum.com.

SUGGESTED READING
Benesh, Carolyn L. E. “2012 Korea Bojagi Forum.” Ornament, Vol. 35, No. 4: 14-15, 2012.
Benesh-Liu, Patrick R. “Patchwork Community: 2012 Korea Bojagi Forum.” Ornament, Vol. 36, No. 1: 10-13, 2012.
Flynn, Janine Vescelius. “Reinterpreting a Tradition: New Meaning in Korean Patchwork.” Surface Design Journal, Vol. 24, No. 2: 17-22, Fall 1999.
Lee, Eunsook. “An Interview with Chunghie Lee.” Surface Design Journal, Vol. 31,
No. 4: 40-45, Summer 2007.
Peck, Nancy. “Chunghie Lee: Ambassador of Korean Pojagi.” Shuttle, Spindle & Dyepot, Vol. 34, No. 4: 53-57, Fall 2003.
Searle, Karen. “Chunghie Lee: The Pursuit of Dreams.” Ornament, 19, No. 4: 44-47, 1996.
Updike, Robin. “Bojagi Cloth, Color & Beyond by Chunghie Lee.” Ornament, Vol. 36, No. 3: 28-29, 2013.

 

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When Glen R. Brown, a professor of art history at Kansas State University, met with Chunghie Lee at the Rhode Island School of Design he was impressed by the optimistic spirit of her work and her commitment to sharing her experience with the bojagi technique through conferences, exhibitions and publications as well as teaching. “What I enjoyed most when I spoke with Chunghie,” he says, “was the passion that she showed for bojagi, not just as a technique to employ in her own work but also as a means of drawing people together.” Next issue of Ornament, Brown writes on the work of James Thurman and Umut Demirgüç Thurman.

Smithsonian Craft Show Volume 38.5

 

The first craft fair I ever encountered was in the early 1970s in Laguna Beach, a sun-kissed pearl of a beach town an hour or so south of Los Angeles. I was a suburban teenager brought to the fair by an aunt with a taste for art. I remember wandering wide-eyed through an outdoor maze of booths and tables displaying stoneware bowls and teapots, silver jewelry, botanical photographs, wood carvings, leather belts and bags, and a thousand other objects that I realized were not the same things available at the department and discount stores where my parents shopped. I was mesmerized, and I got the point. Everything on display had been handmade, probably by the person selling it.

      This seemed to me audacious, even a little subversive. Children make things with their hands. But the idea of adults in the mid-twentieth century choosing to make mugs and bracelets and blankets by hand was completely out of my sphere of understanding. Yet what I saw was compelling. Everything struck me as authentic and beautiful. After much deliberation, I bought a twenty-two dollar stoneware bowl made by a woman with a long black braid. The bowl was perhaps nine inches across and glazed in overlapping washes of azure and yellow. To my unformed aesthetic it was elegant and artistic. It became the centerpiece on whatever passed for my kitchen table for the next fifteen years as I moved from dorm rooms to starter apartments. I arranged fruit in it, and used it to serve food to guests. Though modest, it was a one-of-a-kind object that lent beauty and grace to any place I called home.

The upcoming Smithsonian Craft Show 2016 will be, as it always is, a celebration of just that transformative power of craft. Held at the National Building Museum in Washington D.C., April 21-24, the show includes one hundred and twenty-one craftspeople from around the United States. The annual show, first held in 1983, is one of the finest craft shows in the nation. For artists chosen to participate, it is a validation of their skill and creativity. This year eleven hundred craftspeople applied. The three distinguished jurors were charged with selecting artists who represent the best in their fields, whether the artists are mature masters or young innovators.

      At a time when it is easier than ever to acquire inexpensive, mass-produced clothing, jewelry, decorative and utilitarian household objets, the idea of making unique items from wood, clay, metal, fibers, glass, and other venerable craft materials can seem quaint. Manufacturers try hard to imitate real craft, though their machines can never really pull it off. No machine could ever imitate Lisa Sorrell’s skill and creativity at bootmaking. Sorrell, of Guthrie, Oklahoma, makes custom cowboy boots that no doubt will someday be in museums. She makes every bit of each boot from the colorful decorative designs on the shafts to the soles and heels. Like many artisans, she seems to have been born with gifted hands. She was making doll clothes at age twelve, and by fifteen was sewing professionally, making clothing for women in her church and prom dresses for high school girls.

“I find great satisfaction in creating functional objects,” says Sorrell. “Cowboy bootmaking appealed to me more than making clothing, because bootmaking is so physical and extremely complex. Every step in the process is a challenge, either physically or mentally.” She adds that she is “committed to the craft of cowboy bootmaking because I see myself as a link in a chain. Cowboy boots are a uniquely American craft, but it’s a craft that’s in grave danger of being lost. It has been passed along orally from bootmaker to apprentice. As I learned to make cowboy boots, I realized that I had a responsibility to learn the craft well and to pass it along to future generations.” Besides teaching and speaking on bootmaking, she produces instructional videos and is publishing a book.

If you know anything at all about the world of contemporary jewelry, Roberta and David Williamson need no introduction. The Ohio artists are among the most acclaimed jewelrymakers in the country, and their work is in the collections of major museums. In 2009 they were featured in the PBS series Craft in America. The Williamsons’ jewelry mixes a reverence for the natural world with poetic connections to home, garden and family. Crafted from found objects and antique images fabricated into sterling silver, their jewelry can conjure dreamy images of Emily Dickinson amidst the flora and fauna in her garden.

JULIE SHAW
 

Julie Shaw has been making and selling jewelry for most of her life. She grew up in Detroit and as a twelve-year-old had a job helping in the gift shop of the Cranbrook Institute of Science. She learned to polish the semiprecious stones sold there and was struck by their beauty. Soon she was making pendants out of rocks attached to chains. Remarkably, she talked the manager of her local dime store into offering her rock jewelry for sale. Later, in art colleges in Detroit and London, she studied painting and ceramics, and in her twenties supported herself selling paintings and beaded earrings at art fairs. When people started asking her to make wedding rings, she took a quick community center course in soldering and honed her skills on the job. In the thirty some years since then she has created production and one-of-a-kind jewelry, often based on her lifelong love of rocks and precious stones.

Shaw’s latest work is in enamel, which she learned to make a few years ago from her friend Barbara Minor, an enamelist and jewelrymaker. Shaw’s jewelry has an organic look that suggests the natural world. Yet her palette is brilliant and exuberant, as if she were looking at natural forms through a rainbow-tinted lens. “One reason I love the enamel is because I get to use color, and it takes me back to my days as a painter.”

K. Riley is another artisan who mixes formidable design and craft talents to create wearable art. Her jackets and coats are made of fabric she decorates with linoleum block prints of her own design. After decorating the cloth, she constructs the jackets. The sophisticated black, white and gray of her current collection suggests the graceful shape of traditional Japanese kimonos. The prints are inspired by botany and insects. Like many professional craftspeople, Riley started young. “I always loved making things,” Riley says. “My mother was a very talented dressmaker, I learned to sew from her. When I was a teenager I combined my love of sewing with my interest in printing and painting textiles. I’ve found joy in that same work all my life. I maintain a small studio with my sister as my assistant. I continue to make all the work myself, that’s where I find the joy.”

                                K. RILEY                                                      SUZYE OGAWA                                      BOYD SUGIKI AND LISA ZERKOWITZ

Riley is not daunted by competition from manufacturers. “Having more mass-produced things in the world makes it even more necessary for us to continue making well-considered, finely crafted items. The Arts and Craft Movement began in response to mass manufacturing. Everything from Etsy and the DIY movement to “slow foods” and “farm to table” has come from the need of people to find meaning in the products they use.”

Suzye Ogawa also knows something about mixing materials and techniques not often found in tandem. Her father owned a dental laboratory in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo when she was young, and she learned to cast metal in her father’s lab. She went on to a career as a public school speech pathologist, but in retirement returned to her interest in craft. Ogawa took a few basketmaking classes and “it was immediately clear that I wanted to combine lost wax castings with natural basketry materials and techniques. This work has evolved and now dominates and drives my creative spirit.”

My Laguna Beach bowl certainly had meaning in my life. I came from a family that set the table with the fancy dinnerware—which was grandmother’s porcelain from England—only for guests or holidays. The idea that everyday utilitarian things should be beautiful and well designed was completely foreign to me. In those days I would not have known what to make of Boyd Sugiki and Lisa Zerkowitz’s stream-lined, handblown glass goblets, martini glasses, vases, bowls, and cake plates. They make sorbet-colored glassware that nods to the modernist Italian and Scandinavian art glass of the mid-twentieth century. It is sleek, but gloriously cheerful. The couple met at the Rhode Island School of Design and established their studio and business in Seattle. They also make nonfunctional glass sculpture. One of their goals, they say, is “to produce beautiful handmade objects that people can live with each day and enjoy fully.”

MATT REPSHER

If Matt Repsher’s ceramics had been for sale at the Laguna craft fair forty-some years ago, I would have been intrigued. Repsher’s work is formal, structural and finished in muted, matte colors. He calls his current pieces “weed pots” because they are wide-bodied, narrow-necked ceramic vessels that could hold a single stem, a rose or a weed. That single stem would be without water, however. Like some of his other current forms the weed pots look composed of architectural elements that create the essential bones of a pot, rather than a fully fleshed out vessel. The pots are a contrast in the solidity of the clay and the adjacent open spaces. Repsher traces his fascination with ceramics to his father, who earned a master’s degree in ceramic art but later became a homebuilder. Repsher, soon to be based in Santa Fe, grew up surrounded by his dad’s ceramics, and says that his own work reflects an inherited interest in architecture and form.

SANDRA AND WENCE MARTINEZ

Sandra and Wence Martinez’s nearly thirty-year collaboration in art and in life is a fairy tale of what can happen when like-minded creative spirits join forces. Sandra was a young painter from Wisconsin whose small, abstract painting was carried to Oaxaca by a friend. The friend knew weavers in Oaxaca, and one of them, a young master weaver named Wence, translated the painting into a large weaving. When Sandra saw the weaving she was impressed. The rest is history. They arranged to meet, they fell in love, they married, and since 1994 the couple has maintained a workshop in Jacksonport, Wisconsin. Wence, who came from a Oaxacan family of master weavers, still translates Sandra’s artwork, which has references to plants, tribal art and myth, into weavings and tapestries made of hand-dyed, hand-spun wool. The Martinezes’ work is completely contemporary, yet grounded in tradition.

SARA DROWER

Contemporary craft has roots in traditional techniques, but it is by no means stuck in the past. Innovative craftmakers are using new technologies to expand the traditional craft idiom. Take Sara Drower, an Illinois printmaker and visual artist who started drawing and painting on fabric. She used those fabrics to make one-of-a-kind clothing for a while, then moved to quilts and wall hangings. Her latest work involves taking digital photos of urban scenes, transferring those images onto fabric via ink-jet printing, then quilting and beading the fabric. Her new works are small quilts, about a foot square. “I am fascinated by the quality of a photo that makes people look at it and want to know more about it,” says Drower. “So far, I have worked in a small format which requires a close look. I find that people are attracted to look at the images so I need to explain both the process and the thinking behind the work—all of which makes me try to understand what the creative process involves for both the viewer and the maker.”

My blue and yellow craft fair bowl was lost years ago during a cross-country move. But in the decades since I have tried to fill my life with handmade objects that reflect the creativity and skill of the artisans who make them—artisans such as the top talent assembled for the Smithsonian Craft Show. 

For more information on the Smithsonian Craft Show visit www.smithsoniancraftshow.org.

 

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Robin Updike is an arts writer and a longtime observer of the craft scene. Her preview of the Smithsonian Craft Show gave her the chance to interview some of the top-notch artisans selected for the show. Without exception, she was not only impressed with their work, but with their lifetime commitment to their craft and their ongoing efforts to fine-tune their skills. For instance, Julie Shaw began her life in art as a painter, then became a jewelrymaker whose work was in such demand that she started a production line and hired assistants. Well into middle age, Shaw decided to learn enameling, which she now uses to make gloriously colored jewelry. “I find that the best craftmakers are always looking for new ways to express themselves, regardless of the challenges involved,” says Updike. “It is inspiring.”