Wendy Stevens Volume 40.2

40_2_Wendy-Stevens-Cover.jpg

"The things that inspire me are buildings, architecture, the industrial essence of a city,” says Wendy Stevens. Never mind that we’re seated inside a converted barn deep in the pastoral landscape of rural Pennsylvania, the evidence of this inspiration is all around us. It’s in the machinery, the hammers and rivets, the rolls of leather and sheet metal, and especially in the products themselves: the gleaming purses, handbags and other wearable items whose delicate patterns both embody and belie their industrial materials.

      The blue-gray Vespa parked outside the studio hints at a more cosmopolitan outlook, and indeed the origins of Stevens’s aesthetic can be traced to New York’s Lower East Side. When she arrived there in the early 1980s, the area still held many remnants of its gritty industrial past. “There was scrap metal on Canal Street,” she recalls. “SoHo had machine shops where they sold tools for working on sheet metal.” Walking around the city, she saw many elements—from buildings, bridges and subways right on down to manhole covers—that would come to inspire her imaginative designs. 

WENDY STEVENS at her hand shear cutting sheet metal. Photograph by Dariel Benton-Updike.

      Stevens was no stranger to industrial landscapes. She grew up in Cleveland, home of U.S. Steel, at a time when the Cuyahoga River was so polluted that it briefly, and famously, caught fire. After living in Spain in 1977–78, she returned to the States to study bilingual education at the University of Arizona, focusing on Spanish and Italian. Upon completing her degree she relocated to San Francisco and found work as an elementary school teacher.

Disillusioned with teaching, she decided to move to New York, where a number of her friends had gone to pursue careers in the arts. She landed in the East Village, which in the early 1980s was still a relatively affordable, if dangerous, place to live. Drugs and crime were rampant, but the neighborhood was also on the cusp of becoming a major center of artistic activity. “The galleries in the East Village were just beginning,” she says. “I got there at an ideal time.” 

A defining aspect of Stevens’s career is that her creativity has worked in tandem with a very practical approach to solving problems. “Moving to a city like New York, I was fascinated with what people carried throughout a whole day. You’re walking all over the city and on subways, and you see all sorts of different things that people carry.” 

STUDIO SHOT of attaching a hinge onto bag with an upholstery hammer on the stake bench. Photograph by Kate Lacey.

      At the time, she was working as a bartender at a Tribeca club called Area. “Women would come into the nightclub carrying these enormous bags,” she recalls. “We’d have to put them behind the bar. I thought, ‘Why not just get a little durable wallet to wear cross-body? You can dance with it; it has your ID and just what you need.’ So that was one of the first pieces I made.”

This functional piece of wearable art became the template for many projects to follow. Her earliest creations were handcrafted in copper, brass and monel (a nickel alloy), but she soon discovered lightweight, durable stainless steel, after which “there was no turning back,” she says. “Sheet metal was great. I didn’t sew much growing up. I hated the fact that nothing ever kept its shape. With the sheet metal, I took a hammer and a nail, put a hole in a piece of copper, set a snap in it, wrapped it around the steel railing outside my building, and said, ‘Wow, this is pretty great!’ ” She would bring the pieces to her co-workers to try out. “All the bartenders, they were my tests, to see how it felt, how it held up.”

Dubbing her business Accessories in Metal, Stevens began fashioning bags, belts, desk accessories, “and even a pair of sandals, made of monel, for my father.” Her years in the cash-starved public school system had given her an important skill that now came into play. “With teaching you learn how to resource things,” she says. “I was able to start pulling things together. I found a company in Brooklyn that sold sheet metal, and they had tons of scrap that they just threw away. My landlord had a plumbing contracting service with all these guys. Every morning they’d be loading their truck and I’d pull them in and say, ‘How do I solder this, anyway?’ They showed me how to use a TurboTorch. So everything was kind of aligned in the right way for me to start what I’m doing.”

Click Images for Captions

      Her first big break came at an open vendor day at Henri Bendel, the New York design emporium that helped launch the careers of such luminaries as Perry Ellis, Ralph Lauren and Andy Warhol. “First in line, I was ready to show a buyer my three little, very crooked handbags,” she recalls. “So I laid out a piece of leather, put them out. She comes in and says, ‘I love them, I’m going to take three of each.’ I was thrilled. At that point, I had a soldering iron, a tin snip and a file. She asked, ‘How long will it take you to make nine bags?’ I said, ‘All summer.’ She said, ‘OK, deliver at the end of summer.’ ”

Another early buyer was Clodagh Ross & Williams, the high-end furniture and accessories shop opened by three women designers on St. Marks Place in 1986. “They loved what I was doing, that I was using an alternative material for a handbag,” says Stevens. “They ended up publishing a book and put my work in it.”

In the studio Stevens uses a deburring wheel to soften any sharp edges, and then belt sands one side of the sheet to “make the top of the piece super uniform and silky with a matte finish. I like the pieces to look soft and silky,” she says. The result is a light, textured metallic surface that resembles a piece of satin or lace fabric.

      Several years later, when she approached Lewis Dolin, who had a showroom at Broadway and Houston, he already knew her work from the Clodagh Ross & Williams publication. Dolin invited her to participate in the prestigious Accent on Design show in 1988, bringing wider exposure to her growing line of bags and accessories. He also introduced Stevens to her future husband, the furniture-maker Will Stone, who was another of Dolin’s featured artisans. 

ROLLS OF LEATHER STRAPPING, stitched and ready to attach to bags. Photograph by Dariel Benton-Updike. 

      “When I first met Will, he was doing tables, and really doing well with it. He had a major operation out in State College, Pennsylvania,” she recalls. “He would come and visit me in his studio. I’d be sitting there doing something, and he’d say, ‘What are you doing? Do you know that there’s a tool for that?’ And I’d say, ‘Really, what is it?’ ” While a relationship between two artisans could easily have turned competitive, she appreciated that Will didn’t “step in boldly, because it wasn’t his thing. He was already respectful of the fact that it was my thing.”

As her business continued to expand, Stevens found that she needed more space, which meant leaving the East Village behind. Around 1990, friends helped her find a suitable location in East Kingston, New York, a small town along the Hudson some hundred miles north of the city. “It was a great building,” she recalls. “An old sewing factory with huge wooden floors. It was perfect. I built a little apartment at one end of it.”

      Stevens remained in East Kingston for two years, continuing her long-distance relationship with Stone, who was then living in a log cabin in central Pennsylvania. When the couple decided to get married in 1992, they moved onto an old farm near Boyertown, Pennsylvania, some forty-five miles northwest of Philadelphia, converting the barn into a two-thousand-square-foot studio in which they both could work. 

In 2004, after two decades of steadily building up her brand, Stevens’s career took a sudden, devastating turn. On a cold day in January, she received a call from a neighbor to alert her that smoke was coming from the roof of their barn. More than a hundred firefighters battled the blaze throughout the day and into the night, but by the time it was over all that remained were two stone walls and a foundation.

“They couldn’t really figure out what started it,” she says. “It was a barn, so the roof was open and exposed to birds, mice, whatever, so they could have just chewed through the wires in the winter. It was absolutely freezing cold. They sprayed foam into the building. My studio fell in on top of my husband’s. It was so depressing. It was such a mess.”

Despite the shock of losing her work space, her tools and her inventory in the space of twenty-four hours, Stevens came to see the forced hiatus as a chance to reimagine her way of doing things. “It was career-changing for me,” she says. “I had started with nothing—no tools, just hand-punching holes, just really primitive ways of working with sheet metal. It had been a long process. But the fire gave me the opportunity to completely start over again with everything I knew.”

She took an online course in computer-aided design (CAD) and began focusing on how to draw her pieces. This was new territory for Stevens. “I never drew anything. I went right to the sheet metal and cut it out. All of a sudden I realized as I sat down to draw a pattern, ‘I don’t draw.’ ” She enlisted the help of a drawing instructor from Lehigh University, who “would come and sit with me. He was a big help.” 

She also began learning the etching process, which allows her to create her own intricate designs in the metal, rather than working with commercially produced patterns. “The etching process is totally amazing,” she says. “It really took a whole year, and I’m still learning what I can do with this process. I’m constantly pushing it to an uncomfortable edge for my etcher.” 

Up until the fire, her line had still included desk accessories such as lamps, picture frames and letter holders, in addition to the bags for which she was best known. She now chose to focus exclusively on bags and began drawing new designs in AutoCAD. “I have to take into consideration a lot of things when doing these drawings: Where the fold is. What the radius of the fold is. Is it too close to the pattern? Is it going to distort the pattern?”

LEATHER GUSSETS. These parts have been cut, glued and punched with holes corresponding to the metal parts where they will be attached with rivets. Photograph by Dariel Benton-Updike. 

      Her drawings are converted to film, then photo-etched into stainless steel by a company in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. A clean sheet of stainless is cut to size and coated with a chemical resist of dry film. The sheet is exposed to ultraviolet light, then placed in an acid bath for about thirty minutes. When the photoresist is removed, the pattern is etched into the surface.

In the studio Stevens uses a deburring wheel to soften any sharp edges, and then belt sands one side of the sheet to “make the top of the piece super uniform and silky with a matte finish,” she says. The result is a light, textured metallic surface that resembles a piece of satin or lace fabric. The sheets are then joined to the leather trim by rivets and outfitted with hardware designed by Stevens and produced in Italy. Most bags have hinges at the bottom and use magnetic clasps. Thanks to the resilient stainless steel, the resulting pieces are both durable and surprisingly light.

The first model she produced after the fire was appropriately titled Phoenix Bag, after the mythical bird that rose from the ashes. Others have taken their names from the fabric-like quality of her patterns, such as the Lace Clutch and Houndstooth Bag. The perforated La Camisa is shaped after the shoulders and neck of a woman’s blouse and comes in powder-coated finishes of red, graphite or black.

WENDY STEVENS STUDIO. After the studio fire in 2004, the facility was redesigned and rebuilt on the main level of the stone barn on her eight-acre farm property. In the foreground is a packing table with finished pieces. To the right is the leather cutting table with a gluing machine. Directly behind the packing table is the stake bench where the pieces are assembled. Against the wall are the orange pallet racks where sheet metal is stored with a hydraulic lift. In the background are the tool benches with slip rolls, notchers, shears, a hand press brake and a hydraulic brake, a sand blast cabinet and deburring wheels. Photograph by Kate Lacey

      Stevens’s line currently includes about fifty pieces. Their whimsical titles often derive from her love of travel and Romance languages. Her series of pasta-themed bags, for example, includes the Bucatini, Penne Purse and Capellini Clutch. The French connection comes across in her Baguette and La Pochette, while the Flamenco and El Dia reference her love for Spanish. Others take their names from the world’s great design capitals, including her London and Paris bags.

While Stevens’s designs continue to reflect the industrial aesthetic she developed in New York in the 1980s, her twenty-five years in bucolic Berks County, Pennsylvania, have not been without an impact on her work, as evidenced by the Seed Pod Purse, with its concentric, onion-like layers, as well as the Fiddlehead Fern Bag, Chestnut Bag, and a series featuring an intricate pattern of overlapping roses—all referencing plants found outside her studio. Other bags take their names from the shapes they emulate, such as the Pinwheel and Accordion.

Stevens’s work has garnered an international following and has been featured in Elle, Mademoiselle, Bazaar, and Vogue magazines. In 2010 she was honored by a solo exhibition at the Tassenmuseum (Museum of Bags and Purses) in Amsterdam. “I was the first American to be invited to do that. I went to Amsterdam and saw the collection in the museum, which was really amazing,” she says. “It’s a beautiful, big old brownstone right on a canal. You start at the top and there’s a case with one of the very first bags from the 1600s, and it’s a man bag! It’s a big huge pouch that slid on the belt with a padlock, insanely heavy.” She also saw precursors to her own work in the museum’s collection of aluminum bags from the Art Deco era. “My bags felt like they belonged there in a historical sense,” she says. “After doing something so alternative, and never feeling like I fit in anywhere, it was just great to have that experience. They ended up acquiring four pieces for their permanent collection.”

Click Images for Captions

      In the States, she has shown her work at many prestigious craft shows, including the Smithsonian Craft Show in Washington, D.C., the American Craft Council show in Baltimore, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, where she was honored in 2016 with the Ornament Award for Excellence in Art to Wear. On receiving the latter, she says, “I was surprised, shocked and thrilled! Part of the enormous challenge in designing and making my bags in stainless steel has always been to ensure they’re wearable; that they drape well across the body or over one shoulder, or fit comfortably when clutched in the hand; and that they don’t feel cumbersome or awkward, but rather become part of the person using them. So to have that interpretation honored by Ornament was a very personal success for me.”

The longevity of Stevens’s success can be attributed in large part to her ability to continue adapting and extending her work in new directions while remaining true to her particular vision. A more recent (and very profitable) extension of her line, for example, has been a series of iPhone holders that drape over the shoulder and are worn cross-body.

Her newest venture is a foray into the wedding and bridal market. “My daughter gave me this suggestion. She has friends getting married now. She told me, ‘There are shows that my friends go to, where they can see wedding dressing and meet wedding photographers.’ I’m going to develop a whole collection of wedding bags, which I’m well on my way with.” Her bridal line made its debut at a show in Philadelphia in December.

“It’s very exciting for me,” says Stevens, “because one thing leads to another. I’m thirty-two years into it and still I have so many ideas that I want to do.”

SUGGESTED READING
Arginteanu, Judy.
“Product Placement: In the Bag.” American Craft, June/July 2012, pp. 16–17.
DiNoto, Andrea. “Wendy Stevens: Industrial Chic.” Metalsmith, Vol. 35, No. 1, 2015, pp. 28–35.
Stevens, Wendy (as told to Brandi Stewart). “Blazing Recovery: A Fire Destroyed My Manufacturing Firm—and Ignited My Entrepreneurial Spirit.” Fortune Small Business, November 2008, pp. 71–72.

 

Click Images for Captions

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

David-Updike-Contributor.jpg

David Updike is an editor at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where his most recent projects include books on the art of the Mexican Revolution, the Peale family and Marcel Duchamp. His profile of Rochester-based jewelry artist Barbara Heinrich appeared in Ornament Volume 39, No. 4. For this issue, he visited the designer Wendy Stevens at her studio in rural Pennsylvania. “I took my daughter with me because she’s very interested in fashion and design, and she was totally inspired by Wendy’s work and by the idea that you could build a career around creating beautiful things for people to wear.”

Ancient Nubian Face Beads Volume 40.2

40_2_Nubian-Face-Beads-Title.jpg

ENLARGED VIEWS OF FOUR INTACT NUBIAN FACE BEADS: These very clear images show good representations of Medusa, two as a Gorgon and two as a woman. But in this case, the women are formed from Gorgon face canes, evident from the striations of their hair; numbering 8 - 9. The rectangular striations represent the writhing snakes of Gorgon. The clarity of their outlines and their precise shapes suggest that these are geometric rods that were bundled onto or overlaid the face cane and not hot-layered. These four beads present two treatments of the basic face cane, all with a black outline around the lower face, with an additional red lower surround for the Gorgons, as well as a yellow bust. The red arc represents the blood from her severed head. Gorgon canes used on spherical face beads very rarely show this feature; out of over 220 scanned images, there were only two with a blood arc.

The close conformation of the Gorgon faces suggests they are from the same cane. Gorgon as a woman has flesh-colored glass formed into a neck and shoulders, with a black line or rod for a necklace, but they differ somewhat, possibly altered when marvered or encased onto or into the matrix to form a cane, although both have 9 hair striations. All of the glass of the face, neck and bust have some degree of uneven pink, although some are more faded.

The use of flesh-colored glass for mosaic face beads is unique, since all other extant beads have the skin portrayed in white/whitish or slightly ruddy glass. Could the skin tone of all other beads have de-vitrified to white from flesh-colored? Probably not. The whitish glass around each face cane is the same and has deteriorated more than the other colors of glass. When illuminated at the right angle, these white, mottled areas are actually cracked or crazed glass.

These similarities strongly point to products of the same glass workshop, most likely Roman Egypt, possibly Nubian. The transparent green matrix around the face canes of these Nubian face beads makes this color the most common for tabular face beads, totaling 44 of 62 tabular beads examined, or seventy-one percent. Photograph courtesy of and © the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, previously published in Liu (2014: 42).

Figural mosaic images on beads are among the most rare of ancient glass. Early Roman Egyptian face beads of approximately 100 B.C-A.D. 100 represent the most numerous of such ornaments, perhaps existing in the low thousands and were widely distributed through Europe and the Middle East, and are usually regarded as luxury goods. Recent finds place them in the Crimea, Yemen, Iran, Syria, Egypt, Nubia, and Croatia (Sidebotham et al., 2015), as well as Hungary (Liu, pers. comm.). Their most common imagery displays full-frontal faces of Medusa as a Gorgon with stylized snakes as hair, or less often of Medusa as a beautiful woman with luxurious long hair, a necklace and a bust. Late Roman face beads, of the fourth/fifth centuries B.C., number less than thirty, occur primarily in northern Europe and Russia, but have entirely different imagery, most likely emperors. The only other cultures that also produced figural mosaics are the Javanese (Jatim beads of fifth/sixth century A.D., Lankton and Bernbaum 2007), Thai at Klong Thom (tabular face beads that may not be mosaics, possibly first to seventh century A.D.), at Bara in Pakistan and potentially somewhere in Afghanistan, based upon two nearly identical beads with complex griffin and duck mosaics.

      For those who study such mosaic face beads and glass with similar canes, there are major, problematic suppositions, since no workshops with such figural canes have ever been found, nor any face canes used for beads. Some Egyptian glass workshop sites did contain mosaic glass/canes (Stern and Schlick-Nolte 1994: 27). However, two larger cane slices depicting the most frequently used Gorgon and Medusa as a woman are in the collection of the Freer Gallery of Art (Liu 2008b: 62, 1.6 cm high and 2.2 cm diameter) and may be very rare examples of face canes before they were pulled or reduced to the diminutive sizes suitable for marvering onto or encasing in a face bead (page 38). Composite mosaic bars with half-face images for theater masks have been found, but these larger, more complex canes were never used for beads (Liu 2008b). 

ROUND TABULAR EARLY ROMAN MOSAIC FACE BEADS from the Crimea, all with a Gorgon face cane, 1.4 cm high, 0.4 - 0.6 cm thick; (Liu 2008b, 2014). Burial conditions there tend to weaken the glass, so one of these broke, revealing that the transverse, non-tapering perforation resulted from hot-piercing and not from being formed on a mandrel. With our observation of similar hot- or rod-piercing in Nubian tabular face beads, this probably means that all or most tabular face beads are composed of one face cane encased in a glass matrix, with the perforation pierced. They all follow the convention of having the eyebrows, eyes and nose made in one rectangular block, with the mouth a separate element. The forehead and lower part of the face are also separate; this has also been observed by Alekseeva (1971). Note that the right-hand bead is very similar in color to Nubian tabular face beads, and the lighter glass of the eye/nose/eyebrow block is clearly evident. Courtesy of Teresa and Paul Harbaugh. Photographs by Robert K. Liu/Ornament unless noted. BROKEN HOT-PIERCED LOZENGE-SHAPED NUBIAN TABULAR FACE BEAD AND FRONTAL VIEW OF BROKEN NUBIAN TABULAR BEAD OF GORGON showing distortion of cane and red arc indicating blood of Gorgon’s severed head, 1.1 cm diameter/23.830c. Note crazed, cracked or crackled glass around face cane. BROKEN TABULAR GORGON FACE BEAD VS CLASSIC ROUND TABULAR GORGON FACE BEAD FROM NUBIA; the latter is deteriorated, but the stylized rod striations are faintly visible, 1.1 cm diameter/23.788. INTACT TABULAR NUBIAN FACE BEAD OF GORGON AS A WOMAN, placed on top of flashlight in attempt to show cracks/23.830c. Note cracks, grooves on surface, as well as large amount of surface pits. All photographs of Nubian glass beads are courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, taken by Robert K. Liu/Ornament.

      Because the Gorgon/Medusa canes are placed into so many different shapes of beads (spherical, tabular, barrel, and bulla-shaped), numbering between one for tabular, two to eight face canes per spherical bead and varying in how they are placed on the bead, with a great variety of surrounds and colors, in addition to other mosaic imagery, researchers have postulated that Medusa, Gorgon and other canes employed on face beads were most likely produced as a basic cane by skilled glassworkers in Ptolemaic-Roman Egypt, such as in Alexandria, Egypt, the Levant or elsewhere in the Middle East (Henderson 2013, Lankton et al., 2016). These face/Medusa/Gorgon canes, whether in large diameter form or reduced by pulling while hot into smaller sizes suitable for face beads, were then distributed to disparate end users, usually glass beadmakers. Thus the great individual variation found on early Roman face beads. But there has also never been confirmation that face canes were an item of trade, although glass tesserae for mosaics or beads have been found in such contexts (Andersen and Sode 2010, Henderson 2013, Neri et al., 2016).

LOZENGE-SHAPED, ROUND AND SQUARE TABULAR ROMAN MOSAIC FACE BEADS, from respectively Nubia, unknown location and the Crimea. The rhomboid cane of Gorgon as a woman lacks any overlaid hair, and has a simple black bar as a necklace, like the face cane from the Crimea. The surrounding glass is badly cracked and appears whitish; it is approximately 1.2 x 1.5 cm. THE ROUND BEAD OF MEDUSA as a woman has overlaid black hair, necklace of a mosaic bar, quite similar to the spherical face bead found in Nubia on bottom of page and is 1.5 cm in diameter. THE SQUARE BEAD OF MEDUSA as a woman has a necklace and a crisp bundled-rod surround of chequer pattern; this style is one of two well known for square face beads (Liu 1976; 2008b). Square face beads are rarer then round ones but lozenge-shaped tabular beads have only been found in the one Nubian cache. In all three beads, the face cane extends through the depth of the bead. Mosaic face cane slices were probably clipped or nipped off the composite bar, and have conchoidal fractures on both obverse and reverse, before grinding/polishing, as seen in specimens on page 38. Square bead courtesy of Teresa and Paul Harbaugh. Photograph of round tabular bead courtesy of Jamey D. Allen and former Lois S. Dubin Collection.

      While we do not know the size of ancient face canes, Brian Kerkvliet (Liu 1989), the first American to make mosaic face canes, used the layering or the hot-strip method for his murrine canes. In one continuous work session of about two hours, he ended with a piece of glass cane approximately three inches in diameter by four inches long (approximately 7.5 x 10.0 cm), before pulling the rod while hot to a size small enough for application to face beads, at approximately 0.35 cm diameter.

The iconography of the three Gorgon sisters, including Medusa, the only one who was mortal, is schematic but not overly rigid when portrayed in glass mosaics: Gorgons have variable number of hair striations or stylized snakes, seen as square/rectangular rods (Liu 2014). Most, but not all Gorgons on tabular beads, also have a red line on the lower portion of the face cane, indicating the blood from her severed head, sometimes misinterpreted as a beard. Very rarely do Gorgon face canes on spherical beads display this red arc of blood. 

Medusa, shown with long black hair, a neck with necklace and bust, also shows considerable variation; she is known for her charms and beautiful hair, but in a number of her face canes, the overlying black hair barely covers the stylized snake hair, which protrude from the forehead as knobs, as seen below. Where Medusa is shown with long hair, achieved by hot layering black glass (actually purple), it varies considerably, as do the mosaic bars used to denote her necklace. The application of Gorgon and Medusa as a woman has never been seen on the same face bead, except on one extremely rare glass spindle whorl held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Liu 1976). All these images have apotropaic value, most likely adding to their value as luxury beads. Presumably, people contemporary with these face beads would have been able to decipher the meaning of all their features, but not modern viewers, who lack knowledge about their mythology and their iconography.

SPHERICAL EARLY ROMAN MOSAIC FACE BEADS from Nubia and two beads from the marketplace, with no attribution. All are Medusa with long black hair, a mosaic bar necklace, neck and bust, all in white glass for the skin (although the flesh of the Nubian bead has an ivory cast); middle bead is 1.3 cm diameter and has been highly reground. THE GREEN BEAD FROM NUBIA has two face canes and no other applied features; it is highly unusual in that the matrix of the face cane almost matches the body of the bead; usually, the cane color contrasts with the rest of the bead, as seen in the other two examples. Note the close resemblance of the mosaic bar used to denote a necklace in the round yellow tabular bead and the green spherical face bead from Nubia. THE BLUE BEAD IS A GOOD EXAMPLE of the overlaid hair not completely hiding the original rod striations on the Gorgon face cane, as noted by the partial rods or knobs on her forehead. At least 6-7 such beads have been seen. Notice the considerable variation of the nose, eyes, eyebrow, mouth, and necklaces of these six beads, as well as the hair, and that only the Nubian tabular cane has flesh-color. Photograph of the green spherical bead 24.764 courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Photograph of middle bead from Liu (1995). Photograph of blue bead courtesy of Walker Qin, collection of the Beijing Bead Museum/Library.

      In 2014, I was able to view high resolution color photographs of the tabular mosaic face beads excavated in the 1920s by Reisner in Nubia from the Merotic culture. These early Roman face beads, besides being the largest cache from a known context, were unique for their lozenge shape, versus round or square for all extant tabular face beads. Like other early Roman mosaic face beads, those from Nubia probably date from about 100 B.C.-A.D. 100, although those from Meroë are more tightly dated to 40 B.C.-A.D. 114. In addition, Gorgon canes were used to represent both Gorgon and Medusa, without overlaid black hair for Medusa, but she had a neck, necklace and bust, and many faces and bodies of both types were in flesh-toned glass, also never before seen in extant face beads (Liu 2014). Gorgon used as a woman, i.e. Medusa, is a rare mosaic image; out of a database of about 220 face beads that I have scanned, only 38 present Medusa as a woman, usually seen as plaques on spherical face beads, even rarer on tabular face beads. Of these 38, only 7 appear to be made from Gorgon canes; none of these modified Gorgon faces had ever been applied to tabular beads. Since Nubians were adept with faience working, glazed stones, glassworking in the form of unique stratified eyebeads with gold bands, as well as enameling (Markowitz and Doxey 2014a), I thought at that time that these Nubian face beads could be an excellent example of local glassworkers modifying imported face canes. But without compositional studies on the glass of face canes and their surrounds, there is no way to prove this supposition. In recent email discussions with James Lankton, he might test some of these Nubian face fragments if granted permission.

Our study of these Nubian face beads presented a compelling case for the supposition that all forms of facial images for early face beads were all derived from a Gorgon cane, adapted by beadmakers into Medusa and numerous other variations.

      With the advent of portable XRF spectrometers and their ability to undertake accurate, non-destructive compositional analyses (Lankton et al., 2016; Liu et al., 2012), museum curators and collectors should be much less loath to have their specimens tested. The Nubian face beads, while weathered to some extent, have mainly non-devitrified surfaces, so they should not skew results of XRF testing. If glass samples of the eyes/nose block, matrix of the face, their hair striations, hot-layered hair and surrounds were tested, as well as the matrices surrounding the cane slices, there should be enough information to compare with the compositional glass databases now being gathered (Henderson 2013; Lankton and Dussubieux 2006). If face beads from other known sites were also tested, the results would offer more for comparison. Large and varying differences in glass of the face canes versus their surrounds could suggest local production of the beads, with the mosaic canes as an import. 

GREEN BARREL BEAD WITH TWO FACES, found in Nubia; faces appear to be a version of Gorgon, but not seen before. Brown glass may denote hair. The face cane shown is battered and of very white glass. This bead (21.12473.4) was found with the eyebeads with gold foil or bands on the last page. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

      The face beads excavated by Reisner could have been imported by the Nubians from Roman Egypt, since there was extensive trade, including luxury items like glass, between gold and agricultural product rich Nubia and Egypt (Markowitz and Doxey 2014b; O’Connor 1993: 89). Our study of these Nubian face beads presented a compelling case for the supposition that all forms of facial images for early face beads were all derived from a Gorgon cane, adapted by beadmakers into Medusa and numerous other variations.

This past October, both Tom Holland and I were going to be in Boston, so I requested permission from Denise Doxey (one of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Egyptian Curators) if we could study the Nubian glass finds, which included those seen previously as photographs and a few others mentioned in excavation reports. Sage and Tom Holland are among the few American glass artists who have replicated ancient glass beads (2003), so I was grateful to have his experienced eye in directly examining these face beads. Since we were not at the museum long, further shortened by an emergency evacuation, I sent a set of my photographs to Sage and Tom so they could analyze them further. Tom’s first observation was that all the Nubian tabular face beads were slices from a whole cane and not face canes marvered onto a bead. Like most tabular face beads, these were therefore not made on a mandrel but were a nipped slice of a cane, reheated for working into a more uniform shape, then hot-pierced, often called rod-pierced. Hot-piercing with an iron rod distorts the cane, as seen in the photographs shown of both broken Nubian and non-Nubian tabular face beads. Interestingly, while the interior glass is distorted, the surface face cane images themselves do not show this effect. In this type of piercing procedure, the glass is hot, while the iron rod is cold. In contemporary glassworking, a red-hot tungsten rod is used to pierce cold glass, the complete opposite of the ancient process.

When we examined the tabular Nubian face beads, both intact and fragmentary, on the surface of almost all Nubian-found tabular face beads, while very well preserved, there was deteriorated white, mottled glass surrounding the face canes, also noted by Reisner in his field sketches. Using macro photography and flash at the right angle, it become apparent that this is merely extensive cracking, crazing or crackling of the glass surrounding the face cane, indicating great incompatibility with the opaque murrine face cane glass. On some, there were also fractures (very apparent with transillumination), both in the glass and on the surface, as well as many pits on the glass surface. Not all tabular Nubian face beads displayed these additional features, nor did other non-Nubian tabular face beads with similar transparent green glass surrounds. The crazed glass appears to be a translucent brown glass, seen in a few examples that had not crazed too badly (page 39). The cracked glass framed the face cane to provide support for the facial components, to prevent surface tension from distorting these features when the mosaic cane was being hotworked. This type of incompatibility was never seen on any other extant tabular early Roman face beads. 

UNUSUALLY LARGE PLAQUES OR FACE CANES OF GORGON AND MEDUSA, respectively F1909.491, 2.2 cm diameter and F1909.511, 1.6 cm high, neither perforated but ground flat on both sides. Too big for face beads, these are probably extremely rare slices of canes before they were heated and pulled or reduced in diameter to sizes suitable for use in face beads. These are the only such face canes I have seen since I began to research mosaic face canes in 1974. The Medusa slice is notable for the very luxuriant hair and having what appears to be two necklaces, one a mosaic bar. Slices of face canes were struck, clipped, snapped or chipped from a composite mosaic bar (Stern and Schlick-Nolte 1994: 62).
THREE FULL-FACE MOSAIC SLICES REPRESENTING COURTESANS, 2.2 cm high, show the same cane, but flipped; two are ground flat, one shows the conchoidal fractures as a consequence of being broken from a composite bar. Interestingly, these faces are not white, but almost flesh-colored. Both the Freer Gallery and the Metropolitan Museum of Art own identical slices, which are somewhat too small and simple for theater masks, but too large for face beads. In addition, such imagery of courtesans was never used for any face beads. Photographs were previously published in Liu (2008b), courtesy of the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Gift of Charles Lang Freer; and Liu (2008a), shows additional tabular face beads and mosaic face inlay, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

      Three other face beads from Nubia represented a round green classic Gorgon tabular bead, much degenerated so it was not possible to determine the original color of the face cane; a spherical bead with two faces of Medusa, with cane slices almost matching the green glass of the bead matrix. Rarely are face canes just marvered onto a matrix without different squares of color filling the intervening spaces, or of the face cane not being of a contrasting color to the matrix of the bead. The last was a green barrel bead with two somewhat battered and atypical faces of Gorgon (page 37); this face and that of Medusa were white, unlike the other flesh-toned Nubian tabular beads, and lack cracking/crazing of their glass, although they do show damage from burial. Thus, we strongly believe these three face beads were imports.

While Nubians certainly had skills working silicates such as faience and enameling, there is no evidence of glassworking (Markowitz and Doxey 2014b), although Lacovara (1998) comments on the importance of the Merotic glass industry. The approximately 35 intact, broken and fragmentary tabular face beads excavated from Meroë (W308 number 27, accession numbers 23.830a, b and c, Dunham 1963) show unique features: rhomboid or lozenge shape, versus round or square for all other extant tabular face beads; both Gorgon and Medusa images derived from Gorgon canes, without addition of overlaid hair on Medusa; flesh-colored face and body, versus white for other extant tabular beads; extreme incompatibility between the glass of the face canes and overlaid or surrounding glass, manifested in cracking, crazing and crackling of the glass surface. Despite all these dramatic differences, we cannot conclude whether these Merotic finds are locally altered or are imports. Whether locally adapted or imported from Roman Egypt, all the tabular Nubian beads are the product of the same workshop or beadmaker, and are unique in the totality of early Roman face beads. The other three face beads that were not found in W308 are most likely imports. Perhaps careful compositional testing will provide an answer to the origin and makers of this tantalizing group of Nubian tabular face beads.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Robert K. Liu thanks Denise M. Doxey, Yvonne J. Markowitz, Amelia Kantrovitz, and Carolyn Cruthirds of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, for providing both the photographs of the Nubian glass beads, for answering my numerous questions on their attribution, as well as permission to study, photograph and publish the Nubian material. He also thanks Jamey D. Allen for the yellow face bead image of Medusa and prior discussions on Roman mosaic face beads. 

 

NUBIAN TABULAR FACE BEADS where glass around face cane has not entirely crazed, showing its original translucent brown glass color; one can clearly see that it is not meant to be hair, but merely frames the face cane. When making a cane, the background glass of any subject is a necessary support that prevents distortion from surface tension when the mosaic cane is being hotworked.
GLASS EYE BEADS WITH STRATIFIED EYES AND APPLIED GOLD BANDS, recovered from a royal burial in the Northern Cemetery at Meroë, 1.8 cm diameter (Dunham 1957). Dating from the early second century A.D., these eye beads are the only ones known in the ancient world to have applied gold bands on their surface (pers. comm. 10/31/2014 D. Doxey), although other composite and glass beads also had gold applied (Liu 2014: 41). Note the two parallel grooves on the left-hand bead, due to gold foil or sheet having fallen off. Due to the higher melting temperature of gold than glass, it will sink into the glass, causing such grooves that have been misinterpreted as ground into the glass to accommodate the gold bands. Harvard University—Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition. Photograph courtesy of and © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, previously published in Liu 2014: 41.
PHOTOGRAPHIC SETUP FOR NUBIAN GLASS BEADS of hand-held Canon 6D, 100mm macro lens, coupled to Canon 580EX flash with plastic diffuser, on Leitz tablepod/ballhead, as primary camera. 100mm lens was coupled to Kenko 12mm extension tube to further increase magnification. Liu also used hand-held Canon 7D, 60mm macro lens with high ISO and no flash.

 

REFERENCES/BIBLIOGRAPHY
Alekseeva, E. M.
1971 Miniature mosaic in glass ornaments, first century B.C. second century A.D. [in Russian]. Sovetskaia Arkheologiia 4: 178-185.
1978 Ancient Beads of the Northern Black Sea Littoral 2 [in Russian]. Sovetskaia Arkheologiia G1-12: 104 p., plates 20-34.
1982 Ancient Beads of the Northern Black Sea Littoral 3 [in Russian]. Sovetskaia Arkheologiia G1-12: 85 p., plates 35-54.
Andersen, J. H. and T. Sode. 2010 The Glass Bead Material. In: Ribe Excavations 1970-76, Vol.6, edited by M. Bencard and H. Brinch Madsen. Jutland Archaeological Society, Hojbjerg, Denmark: 17-59. 
Auth, S. H.
1999 Mosaic glass mask plaques and the ancient theater. Journal of Glass Studies 41: 51-72.
Bruhn. K.-S. 1995 Designs in miniature: The story of mosaic glass. Corning, The Corning Museum of Glass: 48 p.
Dunham, D. 1957 The Royal Cemeteries of Kush. Vol. IV. The Royal Tombs at Meroë and Barkal. Excavated by the late George A. Reisner, edited and compiled by Dows Dunham. Boston, The Museum of Fine Arts: 218 p.
1963 The Royal Cemeteries of Kush: Vol. V. The West and South Cemeteries at Meroë. Excavated by the late George A. Reisner, edited and compiled by Dows Dunham. Boston, The Museum of Fine Arts: 466 p.
Engle, A. 1976 Readings in glass history 6-7. Jerusalem, Phoenix Publications: 142 p.
Erdrich, M. and H.-U. Voss. 1997 Die Perlen der Germanen des 1.-5. Jahrhunderts in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Schleswig-Holstein und Niedersachsen: 77-93. In: U. von Freeden and A. Wieczorek (eds) Perlen. Archäologie, Techniken, Analysen. Bonn, Dr. Rudolf Habelt GmbH: 386 p., 26 pls.
Ettinghausen, R. 1962 Ancient glass in the Freer Gallery of Art. Smithsonian Publication 4509: 44 p.
Friedman, F. D. (ed) 1998 Gifts of the Nile. Ancient Egyptian Faience. Thames and Hudson and Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design: 288 p.
Fukai, S. 1983 Persian glass beads. Kyoto, Tankosha: 238 p.
Goldstein, S. M. 1979. Pre-Roman and Early Roman Glass in The Corning Museum of Glass. Corning, The Corning Museum of Glass: 312 p.
2001 Ancient glass. In: Ancient Glass, Miho Museum: 178-183. Shiga Prefecture, Miho Museum: 217 p.
Gore, R. 1984 The Dead Do Tell Tales at Vesuvius. National Geographic 165 (5): 557-613.
Harden, D.B. 1967. Some aspects of Pre-Roman mosaic glass. Annales du 4e Congres de l’Association Internationale pour l’Histoire du Verre. Liege: AIHV: 29-38.
Henderson, J. 2013 Ancient Glass. An Interdisciplinary Exploration. Cambridge University Press: 433 p. 
Holland, S. and T. Holland. 2003 Master Class: Warring States Beads. Ornament 27(1): 46-51.
Karlin, E. Z. 2007 The historic use of the medusa image in jewelry and the decorative arts. Presented at the Second Annual Fall Jewelry Conference at FIT: A place in time: Jewelry within the context of the decorative arts. October 6, 2007, New York City.
Lankton, J.W. and M. Bernbaum. 2007 An Archaeological Approach to Understanding the Meaning of Beads Using the Example of Korean National Treasure 634, a Bead from a 5th/6th Century Royal Sila Tomb. Beads 19: 32-41.
—and L. Dussubieux. 2006 Early glass in Asian maritime trade: A review and an interpretation of compositional analyses. Journal of Glass Studies 48: 121-144.
—Diamanti, J. and J. M. Kenoyer. 2003 A bead timeline. Volume I: Prehistory to 1200 CE. Washington, D.C., The Bead Museum: 95 p.
—B. Gratuze, K. Tantrakan, Q.H. Li, and S. Liu. 2016 Scientific Analysis of Ancient Glass: Answering Questions and Questioning the Answers. In: F. Gan, L. Qinghui and J. Henderson (eds). Recent Advances in the Scientific Research on Ancient Glass and Glaze. Vol. 2, Ch. 14: 267-301. Hackensack, World Century Publishing Corp. and Singapore, World Scientific Publishing Co., Pte, Ltd: 572 p.
Lierke, R. 1992 Early history of lampwork—Some facts, findings and theories. Part 2. Fire or flame? Lampworking techniques in antiquity. Glastechnische Berichte 65 (12): 341-348.
Liu, R. K. 1974 Glass mosaic or millefiore beads. The Bead Journal 1 (1): 22-26.
1976 Ancient glass ornaments with human facial images. The Bead Journal 2 (3): 27-32.
1989 Collectibles: Mosaic Face Beads. Ornament 12 (3): 22-23.
1995 Collectible Beads. A Universal Aesthetic. Vista, Ornament, Inc.: 256 p.
2008a Jewelry of the Classical World. The Met’s New Greek & Roman Galleries. Ornament 31 (3): 36-39.
2008b Roman Mosaic Face Plaques and Beads. Ornament 31 (5): 60-65.
2012 Islamic Glass Beads. The Well-Traveled Ornament. Ornament 36 (1): 58-63, 70.
2014 Nubian Mosaic Face Beads. The Enigma of Variations. Ornament 37 (5): 40-45.
Liu, S., Q.H. Li, F. Gan, P. Zhang, J.W. Lankton. 2012 Silk Road glass in Xinjiang, China: chemical compositional analysis and interpretation using a high-resolution portable XRF spectrometer. Journal of Archaeological Science 39 (7): 2128-2142.
Markowitz, Y.J. and D.M. Doxey. 2014a Gold and the Gods. Jewels of Ancient Nubia. Ornament 37 (4): 32-37.
2014b Jewels of Ancient Nubia. MFA PUBLICATIONS, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: 184 p.
Neri, E. et al., 2016 Late Roman and Byzantine mosaic opaque “glass-ceramics” tesserae (5th-9th century), Ceramics International (2016), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ceramint.2016.09.033i.
O’Connor, D. 1993 Ancient Nubia. Egypt’s Rival in Africa. The University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania: 178 p. 
Rütti, B. 1991 Die römischen Glãser aus Augst und Kaieraugust. Forschungen in Augst 13/1: 370 p., tables.
Sarpellon, G. 1990 miniature di vetro. murrine 1838 1924. Venezia, arsenale editrice: 194 p.
Sidebotham, S.E., I. Zych, J. K. Radkowska and M. Woxniak. 2015 Egypt. The Harbor Temenos in the Southwestern Bay. Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean. XXIV/1: 306-319.
Selling, D. 1942 Mosaikpärlor med ansiksmasker. Fornvännen: 23-48.
Sode, T. 2004 The Glass Bead Material. In: Ribe Excavations 1970-76, Vol.5, edited by M. Bencard and H. Brinch Madsen. Jutland Archaeological Society, Hojbjerg, Denmark: 83-102. 
Spaer, M. 2001 Ancient glass in the Israel Museum. Beads and other small objects. Jerusalem, Israel Museum: 384 p., 2 maps.
Stern, E. M. 2001 Roman, Byzantine, and Early Medieval Glass. 10 BCE-700 CE. Ernesto Wolf Collection. Ostfildern-Ruit, Verlag Gerd Hatje: 427 p.
—and B. Schlick-Nolte. 1994 Early glass of the ancient world. 1600 B.C.-A.D. 50. Ernesto Wolf Collection. Ostfildern, Verlag Gerd Hatje: 450 p. 
Stout, A. M. 1985 Mosaic glass face beads: Their significance in northern Europe during the Later Roman Empire. Vols. I, II. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Minnesota: 359 p.
1986 The archaeological context of Late Roman Period mosaic glass face beads. Ornament 9 (4): 58-61, 76-77.
Tempelmann-Maczynska, M. 1985 Die Perlen der römischen Kaiserzeit und der frühen Phase der Völkerwanderungszeit im mittereuropäischen Barbicum. Romisch-Germanische Forschungen 43: 339 p., 80 Tafe

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

RKL_Contributor.jpg

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. A frequent lecturer, some of his topics include precolumbian jewelry, prehistoric Southwest jewelry and ancient Egyptian jewelry. In this issue Liu revisits the unique early Roman mosaic face beads found in Nubia, and enlists the help of glass bead experts and replicators of ancient glass, Sage and Tom Holland.

Aileen Ribeiro Volume 40.2

40_2_Aileen-Ribeiro-Cover.jpg

HABIT DE PEINTRE by Jean Lepautre, Jean Berain, Jacques Lepautre, French, of handcolored engraving on paper, circa 1682. Courtesy of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Clothing Art: The Visual Culture of Fashion, 1600-1914 is the latest—and possibly last—book from fashion historian Aileen Ribeiro, author of seminal studies such as Dress in Eighteenth-Century Europe; Dress and Morality; Fashion in the French Revolution; Ingres in Fashion; The Art of Dress; Fashion and Fiction: Dress in Art and Literature in Stuart England; and Facing Beauty: Painted Women and Cosmetic Art.

      Published by Yale University Press, ambitious in size and scope, clocking in at five hundred seventy-two pages, Clothing Art unleashes the full range of Ribeiro’s powers as an interpreter of art and dress, offering new insights into her areas of established expertise as well as deep dives into new scholarly territory, such as the Dutch Golden Age, the Venetian Carnival and fin-de-siècle Japonism.

The book’s broad temporal and geographical reach allows Ribeiro to make illuminating connections that would be impossible in a more focused study, as she draws parallels between the Black Prince and the Romantic dandy, between Jacques-Louis David and Arthur Lasenby Liberty. It also makes room for hundreds of sumptuous images, including many that will be new to even seasoned students of fashion history. 

Ribeiro pays close attention to items of clothing stashed in the backgrounds and margins of these artworks, which are often overlooked or considered to be mere props. She gets inside the minds of artists, examining how they coped with the physical distortions caused by corsets and crinolines. William Hogarth, the eighteenth-century artist who figures prominently in the book, wrote in his book Analysis of Beauty that dress “is so copious a Topick, it would afford sufficient matter for a Large Volume of itself.” Clothing Art proves his point. 

MARCHESA BRIGIDA SPINOLA DORIA by Peter Paul Rubens, Flemish, of oil on canvas, 1606. Samuel H. Kress Collection. Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art.

      The rise of fashion history as a discipline began with artists, who sought to give their historical paintings authenticity, often by using period garments as props or recreating them in their studios. Ribeiro points to the intense thought and debate artists have historically devoted to fashion, and the ways it has informed their work. Society painters like Franz Xaver Winterhalter and Alfred Stevens—often dismissed as “etoffistes”—were sensitive to not just the surfaces but the social nuances of clothing. The Pre-Raphaelites and the artists of the Wiener Werkstätte designed clothes that embodied their artistic philosophies; painter Mary Cassatt wore Paquin. For twentieth-century artists, fashion functioned as both signifier and scourge of “modernity.”

Bridging the still-wide gap between art historians and fashion historians, Ribeiro admonishes fashion historians to “never lose sight of the fact that works of art are works of art first and not just repositories of fashion references,” encouraging an art historical approach rather than indiscriminate cherry-picking of images. “As for art historians,” she adds, “who are sometimes too prone to think that, since we all wear clothes, they can easily understand them in art and interpret them accordingly, it has to be said that clothes in the past are nothing like the ones of today and cannot relate to them in any meaningful way.” But she cautions both groups that “every visual and textual description in the end relates to real clothes”—many examples of which are illustrated and analyzed in the text.

Ribeiro retired from her post as Professor of History of Dress at London’s Courtauld Institute of Art in 2009, but continues to be in demand as an author, speaker and consultant. She recently worked on an exhibition of portraits from the late 1880s to 1945 that coincided with London Fashion Week in September. She spoke with Ornament about her new book, the culmination of her long career of scholarship.

THE EMPRESS EUGÉNIE by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, German, of oil on canvas, 1854. Mr. and Mrs. Claus von Bülow Gift. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

      How has the field of dress history changed since you published your first book, Visual History of Costume: Eighteenth Century, in 1983?

There are two answers to this. The first is that the academic standards of much (not all) writing on clothing have tightened up, partly due to the impact of theory which, when used with perception and knowledge of the history of dress, makes for a more nuanced discussion on the subject. The downside of this is when writers on dress, particularly those working on twentieth and twenty-first century fashion, use theory without understanding, resulting in misleading and garbled work. 

The second is that periods before the twentieth century are no longer studied to the extent they should be, which limits the possibilities of historic clothing as an essential element of discourse in the humanities.

How has its relationship with art history changed? Have art historians fully embraced the importance of fashion history, and have fashion historians risen to the challenge of becoming art historians?

The abandonment of the earlier periods in the study of the history of dress has led to art historians entering the field, realizing the importance of dress and textiles to their work. 

I’m pleased that this is so, especially when they have knowledge of the subjects they write on—or feel free to ask relevant specialists for help—but sometimes this isn’t the case and errors, along with unscholarly work, are the result. On the other hand, when it comes to dress historians, they often seem frightened of art historical sources, unsure of how to make use of them in their work. Only when the history of dress is taught more widely—and more professionally—in art history departments at the university level might the situation be improved to the benefit of both sides.

HOMME DE QUALITE EN HABIT D’ÊPÉE by Nicolas Arnoult, French, of handcolored engraving on paper, 1683-1688. Courtesy of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

      Can you describe your research process? 

The research process begins with an idea, a concept, which requires quite a lot of work before a synopsis can be written. This doesn’t always mean I strictly follow the synopsis; thoughts and ideas change as part of the research process. But it provides a kind of template. Then comes a great deal of research into texts and images, the latter especially so with regard to Clothing Art. I like to collect all the information before writing as I need to see the book as a whole, as a unit.

Did you know this book was going to be five-hundred-plus pages when you began writing it? 

No, I didn’t. But about halfway through writing the book, I realized that I’d been over-ambitious in the scale of my project and thus needed many more words, and lots more images.  My wonderful editor Gillian Malpass [to whom the book is dedicated] agreed to an extended volume but was slightly taken aback at the length when I handed it in! As ever, she took it in her stride and produced a beautiful book, for which I’m most grateful.

In the book you discuss the “emotional aspects of clothes.” How does one research that elusive subject?

With difficulty! It’s still a somewhat nebulous notion in my mind, partly to do with the emotional charge of a great painting; Alfred Stevens referred to painting as “nature seen through the prism of an emotion.” To the historian of dress, things are important as ideas are, and surely emotions can reside in clothes and accessories. Lionel Trilling put it well when he talked of the “strong emotion about the life in objects, the shapes that people make and admire.” I’ve been thinking about the Five Senses recently—the subject for my keynote paper at the most recent Costume Society conference—and posit a sixth sense when looking at art, which might encompass ideas of love, understanding, memory, and so on. 

 

SELF-PORTRAIT by Judith Leyster, Dutch, of oil on canvas, circa 1630. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss. Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art.

 

      You studied under the late Stella Mary Newton, the pioneering dress historian who founded the graduate program in History of Dress at the Courtauld Institute, and eventually replaced her when she retired. How did she shape your approach to the subject? 

What seems so obvious now—that artists depict the clothes they see around them and that paintings can be dated by the clothing depicted in them—was Stella’s great and innovative contribution to the history of dress. This wasn’t surprising, as she had been married to an artist and art critic and spent many years at the National Gallery in London analyzing dress in art, identifying the clothing and textiles, and suggesting dates to undated works of art. To me, having studied history as my undergraduate degree with a focus on political events, it was a revelation to look at painting, to be totally immersed in it and how clothing made up such an important aspect of it. This approach inspired me to examine dress in art, what relations there were between truth and imagination, what meanings clothes might have, and so on.

MADEMOISELLE SICOT by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, French, of oil on canvas, 1865. Chester Dale Collection. Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art.

      What was it like stepping into her shoes at the Courtauld?

As one might expect, it was somewhat intimidating. Although I was determined to follow her approach linking art and dress, I wanted to follow my own way, and to create my own style of writing. For this reason, I never asked myself: “What would Stella do?” Although I thought it was important for students to know about the history of dress from classical antiquity onwards, I was never enthused by medieval or Renaissance clothing, which was Stella’s forte, and I positively refused to teach the study of regional or folk costume.

In this wide-ranging study, were you consciously trying not to repeat yourself? There are significant investigations into periods and subjects not covered in your previous books. Are these new areas of interest or long-term projects that haven’t appeared in print before?

I didn’t want to write a survey of the history of dress—too old-fashioned an idea. So the answer was a general introduction, a chapter on portraiture and then a series of case studies in periods with which I was familiar—the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries—and to write considerably larger chapters on the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For the last fifteen or so years, I have been involved in a number of exhibitions of nineteenth-century art—most recently Renoir at the Phillips Collection in Washington—and this has become a source of great interest and pleasure.

Do you have a favorite period or artist?

Tastes change. A few years ago, if you’d asked me this question, I would have said the eighteenth century, and possibly Jean-Etienne Liotard, not just his sumptuous portraits but the wonderful Levant paintings. And I still love Goya very much. But my favorite period now is the second half of the nineteenth century; it contains many of my favorite artists such as Manet, Whistler, Vuillard, and Lavery. In terms of a favorite period in fashion, I think I would go for the 1870s, which seems to me elegant and graceful, not too extreme like the crinolined 1860s or the harsh lines of the 1880s, with the square bustle.

PENELOPE by Charles-François Marchal, French, of oil on canvas, circa 1868. Gift of Mrs. Adolf Obrig. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

      You caution that “it is through familiarity with surviving historical garments that we begin to understand what the artist aims to do in depicting clothes in his or her work.” Obviously, this becomes difficult with the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, from which relatively few garments survive. Even from later periods, surviving garments may be inaccessible to researchers for a variety of reasons. Do you have any advice for scholars on how to get around those obstacles?

Of course, the historian of dress needs to examine extant clothing where this is possible or desirable, but in periods before the late sixteenth century there are few surviving garments. Even in later periods, clothing in museums is often limited to garments worn by the elite, high fashion, ceremonial robes, and so on. The only advice I can give (and it may sound rather odd) is for the scholar to learn about the physicality of clothing by learning how to sew—not necessarily dressmaking skills, but an ability to note how clothing is constructed and to see how clothes work on the body. While extant clothes are limited in number, far more early textiles survive in museum collections, and a study of these, allied to contemporary documents such as inventories, and close examination of works of art, should help the scholar in getting to grips with early dress itself as well as working out “what the artist aims to do in depicting clothes” and how.

You point out that art historians often misapply labels like “showy” and “brazen” to dress in Victorian art, because it’s showy in comparison to what we wear today, while subtle class clues—like a top hat instead of a bowler—may be lost on modern viewers. How do we, as students and viewers of historic clothing in art, avoid projecting our own prejudices?

As creatures of our time, we cannot totally avoid projecting our prejudices; after all, critics and artists in the past did this, too. What we can do in mitigation is to familiarize ourselves with the social behavior—manners, etiquette, class, status, cultural assumptions—of the periods in which the artists we are working on lived. A knowledge of history is crucial in providing the background to any work of art.

ARRANGEMENT IN FLESH COLOUR AND BLACK: PORTRAIT OF THEODORE DURET by James McNeill Whistler, of oil on canvas, 1883. Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

      Why begin the book in 1600 and end in 1914?

Clothing Art does include references to images of dress before 1600 and after 1914, but I decided to concentrate on the Early Modern period, a vast span of years in itself! From the seventeenth century, artists seemed to be engaged in a greater variety of ways to depict clothes, including a growing sense of how dress could depict the past. From the late eighteenth century, I sense artists thinking at a deeper level than before about the ideas behind clothing, a process intensified throughout the nineteenth century. Why 1914? This isn’t easy to answer; a case could have been made for continuing up to the outbreak of the Second World War, and possibly to the mid-twentieth century. I think I felt 1914 was a symbolic date, the beginning of the “war to end all wars,” after which a very different society emerged, and radically new forms of art were on the horizon.

Artists have historically concluded that dress could be “artistic” but not “art.” Do you agree? In the book, you conclude that “art and clothing can be seen as indissolubly linked and yet at the same time separate entities, and this is how we should appreciate them.”

I certainly stand by my statement here. I’m not yet convinced that fashion—being so intimately linked to the body—can be art. But of course jewelry is art, or can be, and there may be a case for thinking that a suit of Renaissance armor—which, after all, is metal clothing—is art. It did cost more than, say, a portrait by Titian of the man who wore the armor. 

Do you consider yourself an art historian or a dress historian, or both? 

Both. The work I do, whether writing or lecturing, relies on being both. When I began my career, I thought of myself as a dress historian, but gradually I came to wear two caps, one as a dress historian, the other as an art historian. I suppose I’ve become more attracted to art than extant clothing, although I can appreciate the skill of a dress by Worth or Poiret, and there’s a frisson when I see garments with a historical resonance such as Lord Byron’s famous Albanian costume, which I discuss in Clothing Art, and was lucky enough to examine.

LA PROMENADE by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, French, of oil on canvas, 1870. Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum.

 

SUGGESTED READING
Ribeiro, Aileen
. Clothing Art: The Visual Culture of Fashion, 1600-1914. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2017.
—. Facing Beauty: Painted Women and Cosmetic Art. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2011.
—. Fashion and Fiction: Dress in Art and Literature in Stuart England. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2005.
—. Dress and Morality. London and New York: Berg, 2003.
—. Ingres in Fashion: Representations of Dress and Appearance in Ingres’s Images of Women. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999.
—. The Art of Dress: Fashion in England and France, 1750-1820. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995.
—. Fashion in the French Revolution. New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1988.
—. Dress in Eighteenth-Century Europe, 1715-1789. New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1985.
Chrisman-Campbell, Kimberly. Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2015.

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

Campbell-Headshot.jpg

Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell is an art historian specializing in fashion and textiles. She has worked as a curator, consultant and educator for museums and universities around the world. Chrisman-Campbell is the author of Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, published by Yale University Press. For this issue, she interviewed her former mentor, Aileen Ribeiro, who recently retired as Professor of History of Dress at the Courtauld Institute of Art, in London. Chrisman-Campbell’s probing questions delved into the tensions inherent between fields, issues of academic research and the boundaries between art and fashion.

Genevieve Yang Volume 40.2

 
Meaning is an evanescent construct, and the desire to imbue meaning into her work lies at the core of Yang’s art. Her approach to cultivating an emotional narrative marries careful attention with the freeflowing aspect of imagination. Each piece is minimalistic and refined, titrated down to its essentials.

DESCHUTES PICTURE JASPER BROOCH of Deschutes picture jasper, sterling silver, champagne diamonds, 4.5 x 5.7 x 0.6 centimeters, 2017. Jewelry photographs by Hap Sakwa. DEATH VALLEY VIEW. Photograph by Abby Kihano. 

Genevieve Yang’s fascination with jewelry has deep roots. As a baby, she would often get up to mischief by pilfering her mother’s jewelry collection, draping it over herself like the Queen of Sheba. Even when not trying on her mother’s jewels, Yang had her own strands of bead necklaces that she would wear every day. Her partner in crime was her grandfather, George Lindberg, who not so subtly directed her interests into working with her hands. A salesman for Caterpillar who previously served in World War II as a flight instructor, Yang’s grandfather made his own jewelry and had an extensive studio and set of tools. His own work involved channel inlay of stones. From introducing her to rock collections and his studio, to making Yang her very own bench pin for her to wirewrap with, his delight in nurturing her desire to create was a fundamental force in her life. Not that Yang needed encouragement; from a very young age beading, wirewrapping and making jewelry was a passion that burned brightly.

     Yang’s future revealed itself as early as grade school. “When I was seven, they had me fill out this form that said ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ and I wrote ‘Jeweler’ and my brother in his wrote, ‘Make Movies.’ Now my brother’s in the film industry. So it’s really interesting. My mom thinks that kids know when they’re at that age what they want to be.”

STAR MAP OVAL EARRINGS of oxidized sterling, pure palladium, white diamonds, 1.9 x 3.2 x 0.3 centimeters, 2017. “These ovals are set accurately to actual star maps. The constellation lines are hand-engraved which reveal one earring featuring Ursa Major and the other featuring Ursa Minor.”

Her mother, Georgia Lindberg Yang, is also an art jeweler who most recently has worked with handpainted brooches. However, she was content letting her daughter find her own way. Perhaps she knew Yang had enough of a mentor in her grandfather. Interestingly, while both artists have quite different aesthetic voices, there exists a common fondness for the portrait; of using the metal as a frame within which resides a little narrative.

Yang’s work is an exploration of storytelling by a jeweler who prizes precision in technique. Her pieces are exact, clean and well executed, with strong lines and bold shapes. Into this world of carefully wrought dimensions Yang inserts the seed of a story. 

Her star maps, a popular subject that stems from the sense of wonder the celestial lights inspire, come from hours of research. She uses a database of stars to have accurate information, and the source for a particular map often stems from a personal attachment, the emotions and feelings evoked by viewing the pattern these far away suns paint across the depths of space.

GENEVIEVE YANG breaking into her mother’s jewelry box, Palo Alto, California, 1988.

      Meaning is an evanescent construct, and the desire to imbue meaning into her work lies at the core of Yang’s art. Her approach to cultivating an emotional narrative marries careful attention with the freeflowing aspect of imagination. Each piece is minimalistic and refined, titrated down to its essentials. The vocabulary of the stones and precious metals used is architectural; the silver and gold form the foundation of a cuff, providing a strong base. Decoration comes in the form of diamonds, which in Yang’s jewelry are her way of illustrating on the surface of the metal. Channels are cut into the patinaed silver, and as the diamonds are set, a transformation occurs. The silver becomes the sky; the gold, the rolling hills. And the diamonds, jagged, split, branching in lines, have now been transmuted into lightning flashing down from the heavens.

GENEVIEVE YANG in her Santa Rosa studio, 2016. Photograph by Robert K. Liu/Ornament. GEORGIA LINDBERG YANG, 2008. GEORGE LINDBERG in his Oklahoma City studio, 1997.

      Yang admits to being a jeweler whose focus is precious stones; there is something about working with such a palette that requires restraint, planning and forethought. The expense of the materials makes mistakes costly, and do-overs difficult. Taking what exists in the mind’s eye, and transmuting it into a piece of precious jewelry, is a different task than when one utilizes nontraditional materials. There is the subtle tinge of adrenaline, the necessity of exerting a level of control over one’s self.

Yet art is about serendipity as much as it is execution of an idea. In a recent series, Yang has begun making use of picture (also called landscape) jasper to depict the deep valleys and rolling hills that make up the playful interpolation of background and foreground which is the earth itself. Picture jasper, as well as agate, is what happens when deposits of silt and ash seep into cavities usually found in volcanic flows. The slow, continual layering of siliceous matter builds upon itself, forming patterns that can look remarkably like a shrubbery studded landscape. Yang’s approach to these miniature miracles is utilizing them like portraits of the land, prong setting them in a silver frame studded with tiny, glittering diamonds.

Click Images for Captions

      There is a common thread tying together the lightning, the star maps and the picture jasper portraits, and it’s not just that they are Yang’s interpretations of earth and sky. There is a narrative, underpinning each piece, which is absent in commercial jewelry. This is not by accident; it is by design. There is an intention behind Yang’s work, and she wants you to know it.

The seed that fostered Yang’s love of the scenic aspects of nature stemmed from a wilderness course she took when she was eighteen years old. Her grandfather drove her out to the site, ever her greatest supporter. “It was snow camping. It was thirty below. And it was brutal,” she pronounces. “That’s when I came up with the whole concept for doing the Phases of the Moon, which I’ve done, and now expanded on.” The evolution of this theme has taken place slowly over time, stretching out like the burgeoning branches of a sapling transforming itself into a mighty oak. From such an intimate encounter with the wild, the night sky, the stars, and the planet’s horizon, Yang found enough sensorial material to last a lifetime.

MOON RING of oxidized sterling silver, star quartz, white diamonds, black diamonds, 4.4 x 2.5 x 2.5 centimeters, 2010. 

      Transmuting those experiences into a physical form took time. Although her grandfather had taught her basic metalsmithing techniques, including soldering, Yang recognized she wanted professional instruction to broaden her foundation. She knew that she wanted to learn how to make technically precise jewelry; alternative material art jewelry was not the direction she wanted to travel. Yang heard about Revere Academy, founded by master metalsmith Alan Revere in San Francisco, and after taking a tour decided that this was what she had been looking for. She enrolled in the school’s Graduate Jeweler program, and after graduating was ready to take on the world. Her first six pieces of jewelry were submitted to the jury of the American Craft Council Baltimore show, and she was accepted.

Shows are a glamorous affair for Yang, where she can dress her best and be surrounded by beautiful worksmanship and incredible craft. She has also made many friends along the way, all of whom have helped her to become a better craftsperson and saleswoman.

Jaclyn Davidson was one of those mentors on the craft show circuit. “ ‘You are going about this all wrong. You are going to exhaust yourself. You need to save your energy for the people that really care,’ she told me. And I was like, ‘Okay.’ ” That revelation made a big impression on Yang, who prior to the established jeweler’s critique believed every visitor to her booth had to be greeted, that each person required the same amount of attention. Davidson’s advice drove home the need to be discerning with her potential customers.

Precious jewelry is not a field which many young people break into, particularly in the craft shows, and Yang was very young when she first got into that ACC show. Thomas Turner, a jeweler who often attended alongside Yang, recently recollected those early shows, reminiscing that, “You looked like a baby, when you showed up here.” She gives a lot of credit to Judith Kinghorn and Devta Doolan for being supportive of her work, in providing a constructive atmosphere that helped her feel safe and welcome.

Yang’s earliest jewelry was abstract shapes; still minimal, and hollow, which has continued to be a motif in her oeuvre. Eventually, she worked up the courage to take her big creative leap, which resulted in her first moon piece. “I sit on ideas forever,” Yang explains, laughing. Gestating, developing, turning it over and over in her mind, that piece, which would eventually become her Phases of the Moon necklace, was a concept that somehow needed to be brought forth.

PHASES OF THE MOON NECKLACE of sterling silver, twenty-two karat gold, 47.0 x 2.5 x 0.6 centimeters, 2009.

      “Sometimes I have these moments, for example, on my wilderness course, where I felt this certain way, and I thought ‘I want to capture that feeling in this piece.’ When there’s this extra layer of meaning, something that speaks to me, trying to capture this feeling that I had, I can see it come out in the piece. I’m not drawn so much to the outdoors where people say, ‘I love leaves and seedpods’ and that kind of thing; for me it’s more the landscape. This vast view, and the feeling it gives you, and trying to funnel it into my work.”

DAY LANDSCAPE CUFF of sterling silver, eighteen karat yellow gold, citrine, natural colored diamonds, 6.4 x 3.8 x 4.4 centimeters, 2013. “This is one of my favorite cuff designs which I designed and made when inspired by all things day and night.”

      In the last few years Yang and her family have suffered two tragedies, the first was the loss of her father, and then, her sister. Each passed away within three months of each other. When those whose lives are interwoven with our own are pulled away from us, an attempt is made to make sense of the nonsensical. Yang’s own journey since then has been of reclaiming herself and finding a new path forward.

Since then she has moved to a new house in Mill Valley with her husband, to which she’s relocated her studio (formerly in her mother’s home). As of last year she applied to the Mill Valley Arts Festival for the first time, wanting to test how her work would sell in her local community. She had an unexpectedly enthusiastic response to the jewelry, with a greater number of postcards finding their way into the hands of potential clients. 

“Saleswise it was good, not the best, but could have been a lot worse. I suspect that I will likely have a couple people reach out once they have some time to process my work,” she remarks contemplatively.

In her own way, Yang comes from a jewelry tradition that is similar in spirit to the multigenerational craft lineages of Native American families. The wonderful peculiarity of George Lindberg and Yang’s connection is that there was only one child in the family who received tutelage in continuing the crafting tradition. What Lindberg recognized in his granddaughter was an understanding of why jewelry is so important—it is not simply a way of earning a living. For all three jewelers, grandfather, mother and daughter, making jewelry is a form of expressing the contents of the heart.

DAY/NIGHT EARRINGS WITH CLOUDS of oxidized sterling, fine silver, eighteen karat yellow gold, pure palladium, keshi pearls, citrine, natural diamonds, rainbow moonstone, white diamonds, 2.5 x 8.0 x 2.2 centimeters, 2017. “The Day Earring features keshi pearls for clouds which are prong set over a gold landscape. The citrine sun shines above with natural diamond rays. The Night Earring features white diamonds set accurate to an actual star map with hand-engraved constellation lines.”

Jewelry’s physical perfection can hide from the casual observer the amount of effort required—the daily foibles and the dirty work that lies behind the magic curtain. At their best, a jewelry artist succeeds in communicating that depth. Looking at her carefully wrought Day/Night Earrings with Clouds, with precision-set diamonds surrounding a rainbow moonstone and tiny stones emulating the sun’s rays radiating from a bold citrine, one could hardly imagine that its maker wears sweatpants and Uggs while in her studio. However, it only takes a willingness to examine an object closely to see how Yang’s jewelry is the result of intense effort.

Once one gets past the surface, and begins to question how the object came to be, answers arrive. How were these lines that connect diamond stars made? Even without an extensive background in jewelry, one can tell that they had to be cut into the surface of the metal. How were these diamonds set, to appear as if they are intrinsically part of a piece? Once you look closely, the divots must have been made to place each diamond, which then had the metal crimped to lock each precious stone in place.

Yang has worked all her life to be able to make miniature pieces that look like they were effortless, a complete creation. Each one, which can fit into the palm of your hand, has a great deal more history than greets the eye at first glance. If, with deeper inspection, you find the phases of the moon; the rolling hills of your home state; a sun shining brightly above the mountains; or perhaps, something which relates to a very personal memory, you will have found what Yang is striving for. Make sure to tell her that; she will be glad to know.

Click Images for Captions

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

PBL_Contributor-2018.jpg

Patrick R. Benesh-Liu is Associate Editor of Ornament and continues to find time to enjoy craft in between writing, travel and tech support. On a visit to San Francisco for his uncle’s eightieth birthday, he had the pleasure of visiting Genevieve Yang and her mother, Georgia, in Santa Rosa. In her jewelry studio they discussed Yang’s work, background and inspirations. Yang’s responses ranged far and wide, from childhood to her most recent shows, and despite an interlude when the gardener’s lawnmowing provided a noisy backdrop to the conversation, Benesh-Liu came out with greater insight and appreciation into her career.

Beads: A Universe of Meaning Volume 40.2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Click on Images for Captions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Click Images for Captions

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

Cheri_Falkenstien-Doyle.jpg

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

20/20 Exhibition Volume 40.2

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

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

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

Click Images for Captions

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

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

Click Images for Captions

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

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

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

Click Images for Captions

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

Sue-Amendolara_Contributor.jpg

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

Nadine Kariya Volume 40.2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click Images for Captions

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

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

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

Click Images for Captions

      Get Inspired!

 
 

Robin-Updike_Contributor.jpg

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

Royal Crests & Vajra Masters Volume 40.2

40_2_Crests-Cover.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Get Inspired!

 
 

Carl-Little_Contributor.jpg

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

Veiled Meanings Volume 40.2

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

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

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

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

 

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.”