Tattoo Exhibition Volume 40.3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     Get Inspired!

 
 

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

The Tucson Shows 2017 Volume 39.3

PETER VAN DE WIJNGAART, FLOOR KASPARS, ROBERT WILLIAMS, BERNIE LAWITZ, AND HIS DAUGHTER HANNAH LAWITZ at the Silk Road Gem & Jewelry Show off of Grant Road, in the former Grant Inn, now the Grand Luxe Hotel and Resort. Van de Wijngaart and Kaspars are Dutch bead lovers who visit Tucson every year. Lawitz is the former owner of recently closed Beads Galore.  Photographs by Robert K. Liu and Patrick R. Benesh-Liu.

PETER VAN DE WIJNGAART, FLOOR KASPARS, ROBERT WILLIAMS, BERNIE LAWITZ, AND HIS DAUGHTER HANNAH LAWITZ at the Silk Road Gem & Jewelry Show off of Grant Road, in the former Grant Inn, now the Grand Luxe Hotel and Resort. Van de Wijngaart and Kaspars are Dutch bead lovers who visit Tucson every year. Lawitz is the former owner of recently closed Beads Galore. Photographs by Robert K. Liu and Patrick R. Benesh-Liu.

There is a thrill to treasure-hunting that transcends the humdrum routine of everyday life. It is the feeling that comes from encountering the unknown, and even more alluringly, the ability to somehow take that home with you.

      There exists a place where that is possible. It is called the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show, which is somewhat of a misnomer in that instead of being one, singular show, it is more like if one occupied a small city with tents, pop-up tables, booths, and mini-vans. During the months of January and February, Tucson undergoes just such a transformation. Roughly fifty shows, fairs and festivals spring up around the city, some featuring just a dozen exhibitors, others hosting hundreds of vendors. It is not just gems and minerals that are for sale. Tribal and ethnographic art, ancient artifacts, crafting tools and supplies, hand-blown glass beads, jewelry, clothing, baskets, purses, backpacks, fossils, giant sculptures—it really is easier to list what you will not find at the Tucson Shows. Which is to say you can find almost everything there.

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Patrick R. Benesh-Liu is Associate Editor of Ornament and continues to find time to enjoy craft in between writing, travel and tech support. This January he and Robert travel to Tucson to visit the Gem & Mineral Show, where they will see old friends, make new ones, and cover all the wonders of that worldly bazaar. In this issue he describes one small corner of the vast market, and encourages readers to indulge in their inner explorer and visit the show themselves. As Ornament’s reporter, he also provides a zesty compilation of the latest news in craft, where you can find out what is happening with art to wear in the global neighborhood.

Tucson Gem & Mineral Show Volume 38.4

The Tucson Shows
Meeting Ground for the World

 

GUESTS OF WALKER QIN at the Azian Restaurant, mainly vendors from The Ethnographic Group at the Grand Luxe Hotel: Chaouki Daou (from Lebanon), Patrick R. Benesh-Liu, David and Marilyn Ebbinghouse, Bassem Elias, Thomas Stricker, Walker Qin (from Beijing), Jamey Allen, Robert K. Liu, and Lise Mousel. Photographs by Robert K. Liu and Patrick R. Benesh-Liu/Ornament except this image.

Downturns in global economies and the aging of collectors have seriously impacted the Tucson gem shows, especially for those dealing primarily in ancient and ethnographic ornaments. There has always been a certain amount of selling by visitors, which has probably increased, along with the disposal of collections by owners who have left the marketplace or died. Given the decreasing number of collectors and the changing demographics of buyers, the market for ancient and ethnographic jewelry is in considerable flux.

VISITORS AND VENDOR AT THE BALLROOM: Peter van der Wijngaart and Floor Kaspers (from Holland), vendor Thomas Stricker of TASART, Karen King and Kate Fowle Meleney, well-known American glass artist.

      The market for certain types of beads has shifted to China. Beads of natural materials that can be worn, such as amber, coral, stones, especially those with some relationship to Tibetan Buddhism, are sought after—none more than patterned stones such as dZi, other etched agates and pumtek. With etched agates and pumtek, there has been market manipulation with books containing information which may not be historically accurate. The Pyu culture of Burma may be the next to see such treatment (Qin, pers. comm.). Due to the savviness of many dealers, Africans and others have brought these desired ornaments to China, and many have turned their attention to this potentially lucrative market, especially if the Chinese begin to expand the number of collectors and their currently relatively restricted interests are broadened.

The Tucson Gem & Mineral Show (its popular moniker) is somewhat of a misnomer. It is better to think of the event as an umbrella, under which flourishes dozens of markets and fairs with different specialties. Some are purely for gem and stone buyers, including high-end vendors who target only the richest clients. Others have nothing to do with gems and minerals but sell tribal and ethnographic art, ancient beads and artifacts. Some shows focus on contemporary makers, with vendors selling supplies, tools, beads, and handmade jewelry to hobbyists and fashionistas seeking a little something special for their wardrobe, along with craft workshops catering to popular media like polymer, glass, metal, and beads.

DANNY LOPACKI AND ART SEYMOUR, good friends and respectively noted stone carver and chevron glass bead artist. Lopacki’s booth shows both of their work, as well as other beads.

In the Grand Luxe Hotel ballroom during 2015, as part of the Gem and Jewelry Show on Grant, six vendors made up The Ethnographic Group, including The Lindstrom Collection (Lise Mousel/Jamey Allen), David Ebbinghouse Fine Jewelry, Ancient Beads and Artifacts (Bassem Elias), Tasart LLC (Thomas Stricker), YoneSF (Sandra Fish), and the Indra Collection. Already known for the breadth and excellence of their offerings, the Lindstrom and Ebbinghouse booths added fine assembled jewelry from decades of collecting. This one room now shows ancient and ethnographic jewelry that is world class, a category that could be called hidden treasures. These are cultural goods of quality and rarity, deserving of serious study and efforts at preservation, but now are being or will be dispersed due to the passing of their owners or lack of institutions for housing and display. Also showing at the Grand Luxe was the work of many interesting dealers, like Pacific Artefacts, and including contemporary glass artist Art Seymour and stone carver Danny Lopacki.

PAULA RADKE ART GLASS AT THE RADISSON. She has long been associated with dichroic glass and is the developer of Art Glass Clay, a revolutionary way of making glass ornaments without the need of a torch.

To Bead True Blue and the Tucson Bead Show takes place at the Doubletree Reid Park and Radisson Suites Tucson, with the latter in the eastern outskirts of the city. Both shows are run under the auspices of Anna Johnson and her family, and host a wonderful mosaic of tool and supply vendors, ethnographic dealers, gem, mineral, and bead sellers, handmade glass bead artists, polymer artists like Klew, Christi Friesen and Yellow House Designs, and many workshops, like those by Kieu Pham Gray of Urban Beader and Paula Radke. During our visit, Radke demonstrated her Art Clay Glass, which can be fired in a microwave oven if placed in a ceramic fiber container, to enable a high heat buildup. Doug Baldwin taught photography; he has had many pupils in three and a half years. Workshops for popular media have been one of the fastest-growing areas of craft and vendor shows in the past decade, with To Bead True Blue and the Tucson Bead Show being no exception.

MIKA NISHIYAMA OF JAPAN, among a group of skilled Japanese glass beadmakers at the Tucson Glass Art and Bead Festival.

The Tucson Glass Art and Bead Festival had its first year in 2015, organized by Doug Harroun of Greymatter Glass. Those in the know are aware that the Festival basically picks up the reigns from noted boro artist and early bead show entrepreneur Lewis Wilson’s groundwork. Held now at the Sonoran Glass School, the show’s goal is to provide a marketplace for handmade glass artists in Tucson, and a number of bead artists signed onto the endeavor, including Bronwen Heilman, JC Herrell, Terri Caspary Schmidt, Patty Lakinsmith, and Donna Conklin. A group from Japan, spearheaded by Akihiro Okama and composed of glass bead and marble artists such as Takahiro Muto, an excellent crafter of fine borosilicate beads, and talented young artist Mika Nishiyama, was a welcome presence.

The Sonoran Glass School was also the venue for the Flame Off, a live competition for glass artists; exciting and fun to watch, augmented by good food and drink from food trucks on their grounds. Wilson was one such participant in the contest.

The Festival was also home to the Linda Sweeney Collection, an ambitious effort to create a contemporary glass bead museum based in Glorieta, New Mexico. Sweeney herself was present with several cases of the collection, which presented rather delightful examples from across the spectrum of contemporary bead designers.

Being in Tucson during the Gem & Mineral Show is like being in a city-wide carnival. One may see everything from treasures to trash, although one person’s trash may be another person’s treasure. If you have never visited, you owe it to yourself once in your life to attend this vast spectacle.


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


Patrick R. Benesh-Liu is Associate Editor of Ornament and continues to find time to enjoy craft in between writing, travel and tech support. Last year he attended “Glittering World: Navajo Jewelry of the Yazzie Family” at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York, and found it an enchanting and thoughtfully produced experience. His coverage of the exhibition explores the work of the Yazzies, as well as expressing his appreciation for its presentation. In addition, he contributes his own perspective on the Tucson Gem & Mineral show. As Ornament’s resident reporter, he provides a zesty compilation of the latest craft News, where you can find out what is happening with art-to-wear in your local corner of the world.

International Folk Art Market Volume 38.2 Preview

International Folk Art Market

 
COTTON HUIPIL woven by Florentina Lopez de Jesus, Mexico. Photograph © by John Bigelow Taylor.

COTTON HUIPIL woven by Florentina Lopez de Jesus, Mexico. Photograph © by John Bigelow Taylor.

 

With breathtaking views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, for twelve years annually, Museum Hill in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has transformed itself into a colorful and lively outdoor world marketplace on Milner Plaza. For 2015, some one hundred fifty artists from fifty-seven countries present their handmade crafts to an audience of over twenty thousand visitors. For one weekend in July, the plaza is a vibrant, even overwhelming commingling of artists and an audience eager to partake of the cultural bounty that personal exchanges like this make possible. There are plenty of children’s events, dancing, a food bazaar, films, and music, but it is the handmade that is the seductive draw, and rightly so. People are still eager to appreciate and perchance to buy the works of individual craftspeople. The United States itself over the last decades has experienced an upswelling of just such an interest in craft made by its contemporary artists. So much so that American corporations have in the last years cannibalized the word ‘craft’ and it is used to define everything from beer to cars. Companies recognized and quickly seized on a powerful zeitgeist of value and authenticity the word communicates. There is a hunger out in the land for that which is real and genuine, and culturally and materially, it now drives for-profit decisions without true attachment to craft’s deeper meanings throughout human history.

 

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Carolyn L. E. Benesh is Coeditor of Ornament and the magazine’s resident expert on contemporary wearable art. This issue she presents to the Ornament readership the International Folk Art Market, now celebrating its twelfth year in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Market takes place on Santa Fe’s Museum Hill each July with one hundred fifty master artists from around the globe showcasing their handcrafted work. She also, as always, gives her own personal take on the issue in Postscript.