Smithsonian Craft Show 2019 Volume 41.1

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April is always a perfect time to visit our nation’s capital as the city shakes off the withering cold of winter and looks forward to the rest of the year; that is, if one skips over the blazing heat and humidity of a Washingtonian summer. March 20 may formally mark the first of spring, but it is April that everyone truly embraces as a year reborn. Aside from the blossoming of its magnificent cherry trees, originally a gift of three thousand specimens from Japan in 1912, and celebrated by the wildly popular National Cherry Blossom Festival, the month is filled with one wonderful event after another. Savor this small sample of intriguing museum exhibitions currently showing, like “Empresses of China’s Forbidden City, 1644-1912” at the Freer/Sackler Gallery, and “Good as Gold: Fashioning Senegalese Women” on The Mall, at the National Museum of African Art. Located steps from the White House, the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery hosts “Connections: Contemporary Craft at the Renwick Gallery.” This exhibition of particular interest to those who love craft contains eighty objects from the 1930s to the present, drawn from its own craft collection, and selected by Nora Atkinson its curator.

But the month of April especially shines with that annual celebration of American craft, the Smithsonian Craft Show, at the National Building Museum, a much lauded architectural beauty and elegant setting for displaying wonders. Each year three invited jurors hone applications of approximately a thousand craft artists from across the country to those considered to have excelled in the handwork of their particular medium. The public is not only afforded the opportunity to meet and talk with the talented artists but to purchase one-of-a-kind works, selecting from twelve craft categories in basketry, ceramics, decorative fiber, furniture, glass, jewelry, leather, metal, mixed media, paper, wearable art, and wood. Many of the one hundred twenty-one artists have participated in prior shows and are well known to serious collectors who look forward to their return, but there is also the precious chance to discover new work. For this year, there are forty-five first time exhibitors like Gregory Burgard (glass), Constance Collins (wearable art), John Guertin (wood), Bill Jones (ceramics), Katherine Maloney (ceramics), Jennifer Nunnelee (jewelry), Deborah Polonoff (wearable art), Tamra Thomas-Gentry (jewelry), Kent Townsend (furniture), Genevieve Yang (jewelry), and Jean Yao (basketry). These entrants reflect the host’s determination to keep the craft world energized with vibrant creations, emphasizing that it is a powerful and lasting artform, always renewing itself. 

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The Smithsonian Women’s Committee, which has sponsored the show for thirty-seven years as a very successful fund-raiser for the Smithsonian Institution, has in recent years established the Smithsonian Visionary Artist Award. Starting in 2014, among those recognized for their achievements have been Albert Paley, Wendell Castle, Dale Chihuly, Toots Zynsky, and Faith Ringgold. For 2019 the recipient is Joyce J. Scott who holds a 2016 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship as part of many points of recognition in her career. In announcing Scott’s award, the Fellowship stated that her jewelry and sculpture “repositioned beadwork into a potent platform for commentary on social and political injustices.” By taking in the “Connections” exhibition at the Renwick during the run of the craft show, Scott’s work can be experienced among other artists who have also helped give voice to American craft as an instrumental embodiment of this country’s complex soul.

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This year sees the return of jewelry luminaries Roberta and David Williamson from Ohio whose work portrays the organic world in its most graceful and blessed. Skillfully wrought sterling silver frames, found objects and antique prints enhance the body in statement neckpieces, in some instances recalling pectorals of former eras. Their iconography is a place of enchantment where the imagery best reflects humanity and other life forces. For those who know the Williamsons or are familiar with their work, it is clear they understand how the world harbors darkness, inequality and injustice, but the couple intends to leave their mark with jewelry that respects what is good and honorable about life.

Massachusetts artist Amy Nguyen is another  award-winning participant in the show. Noted for  her textile work, she employs the art of dyeing through the practice of Japanese shibori. Her handwork is  one of deliberative and careful process driven by a prayerful attitude brought to the cloth from genesis to fruition. Nguyen sets a high bar in her garments and this has been rewarded by her recognition as among the most accomplished in wearable art.

New Yorker Mary Jaeger is a wearable artist who layers cloth for warmth and comfort but also for a certain sensuality in her unconventional arrangement of shapes and cuts through interesting patterns and various textures. Her application of color does not follow the usual path but shows an intriguing sense for the possibilities they might bring to a finished piece.

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The Smithsonian Craft Show is a panoramic example, over its four days, of the diversity of craft in America today. Technical expertise and brilliant craftsmanship reside in the meticulously carved and glazed porcelain objects, in celadon, oxblood and imperial yellow, by Cliff Lee, from Pennsylvania, whose work is on permanent exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, shown on the PBS series of Craft in America or honored by the Renwick through its Master of the Medium award.

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Also a ceramist, Irina Okula, from Maine, produces more unconventional pieces. With fragments unified by clay transformed into statuesque vessels, she designs forms  that consist of piecing together broken clay shards, like quilts. “I decorate each shard,” she says. “I try to make interesting and compatible surfaces that dance and complement each other, making for a blend of expected and unexpected play upon the surface.”

There is a sophisticated yet warm and personal aspect to Judith Kinghorn’s jewelry in high karat gold, silver and precious stones. A lifelong Minnesotan, Kinghorn says that her work is mainly intuitive, but she has clearly been drawn to the aesthetic of the natural world and influenced by the beauty and singular characteristics to be found in the upper Midwest. Perfectly realized golden floral forms radiate from her brooches and neckpieces, and one thinks of untamed fields of wildflowers and of bouquets ready to present to a beloved.

Woodworker Peter Petrochko works in Connecticut and has studied architecture at the University of Cincinnati, and fine arts at Silvermine College of Art. While studying design, Petrochko says, “I became enthusiastic about making objects of wood, and chose wood as my craft.” He is challenged, as are most craft artists by the many possibilities that their medium might hold, and for him that is the vessel, one that many artists find themselves drawn to, whether in wood, clay, metal, and fiber.

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From Florida, Lucrezia Bieler astonishes by the brilliance of her papercuttings. Following a tradition from Europe, they are wholly her own. Mesmerizing in totality, one is compelled to enter her personal space, drawn to what seem to be thousands of intricate cuts emerging  in black and white. She has said that “I am intrigued to  create something really beautiful from a simple sheet of  plain paper. It is like turning paper into gold.” Bieler’s  work is another example of where meticulous process, concentration and precision are paramount to the successful realization of a handmade work.

Holly Anne Mitchell works paper in an entirely different manner from Bieler. And it is a fascinating exercise to see how one artist changes the quality of a medium compared to another. Now a resident of Indiana, in 1990 while  studying metalsmithing at the University of Michigan she  began exploring newspaper as a source of expression. Her assignment was to make a piece of jewelry which did not consist of any traditional jewelry materials—so, no metal and precious stones. Such began her journey into paper as a resource, and since those Michigan days Mitchell has been increasingly sought by collectors who want to see the latest in her wry, not cynical, but thoughtful observations on the social and political nature of the modern world.

Partaking of a show like the Smithsonian is to support artist contributions to the innovations that have always been integral to this country’s cultural evolution. During changing times, like the one in which we now live, it is helpful to take some moments to remember that artists help point the way to a more ennobling worldview. It is all about building up, not tearing down, always, but most especially, during the inevitable challenges that life presents to us all.

The Smithsonian Craft Show hosts  its thirty-seventh annual event at the National Building Museum, 401 F St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001, April 25-28, 2019. Visit their website at www.smithsoniancraftshow.org.

 
 

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Carolyn L. E. Benesh is Coeditor of Ornament and our in-house expert on contemporary wearable art. As Ornament’s resident itinerant, she moves to and fro across the USA in search of inspiring craft, great experiences and, of course, excellent food. The Smithsonian Craft Show in Washington, D.C., is a destination that she looks forward to every year. From the plethora of museums in the city to the inspiring diversity of craft at the show (and of course, the company of good friends), this visit is one of her highlights. Drawn from her personal experience, this year’s article takes the reader through the show, touching upon artists from every media. Benesh also ponders the recent exhibition, “Jewelry: The Body Transformed,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Beadwork Adorns the World Volume 41.1

Clockwise left: LAKOTA “CREATION NARRATIVE” SHIRT by Thomas “Red Owl” Haukaas (Sicangu Lakota/Creole) of wool cloth, antique glass beads, 2016. Courtesy of the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art. Photographer unattributed. OBA’S “BARRISTER’S WIG” CORONET, Yoruba peoples, southwest Nigeria, of cotton, glass beads, 21.0 x 17.0 x 15.0 centimeters, twentieth century. Sara and David Lieberman Collection. Photograph by Craig Smith. BABY CARRIER PANEL, Kenyah peoples, Orang Ulu group, Borneo island, Indonesia/Malaysia, of cotton, glass beads, pineapple leaf fiber, 31.0 x 33.0 centimeters, mid-twentieth century. WEDDING MOCCASINS FOR BRIDE’S IN-LAWS, Lakota peoples, North or South Dakota, of tanned hide, glass beads, 26.7 centimeters, circa 1930. MUKYEEM MASK, Kuba peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo, of hide, wood, glass beads, cowrie shells, plant fiber, 39.5 x 44.9 x 54.0 centimeters, pre-1935. Courtesy of the Field Museum. Photograph by John Weinstein.

Clockwise right:
LEOPARD HELMUT MASK, Bamileke peoples, Grasslands, Cameroon, of raffia, indigo-dyed cotton and trade cotton, glass beads, 53.0 x 79.0 centimeters, circa 1900. HORSE NECK COVER (ghughi), Kathi peoples, Saurashtra region, Gujarat state, India, of cotton, silk, glass beads, mirror, metal, 128.3 x 162.6 centimeters, circa 1930. David McLanahan Collection. OBA’S BRITISH CROWN-STYLE CORONET, Yoruba peoples, southwest Nigeria, of cotton, glass beads, diameter: 16.0 centimeters, mid-twentieth century. GROOM’S WEDDING BAG, Banjara peoples, Wadi, Gulbarga, Karnataka state, India, of cotton, cowrie shells, metal, 49.0 x 30.5 centimeters, circa 1986. CHINA POBLANA BLOUSE, Puebla, Mexico, of cotton, glass beads, 62.3 x 53.5 centimeters, circa 1935. COLLAR, Saraguro peoples, Ecuador, of glass beads, nylon thread, 11.7 x 37.0 centimeters, 1963. BRIDE’S APRON (ijogolo), Ndzundza Ndebele peoples, Transvaal region, South Africa, of goatskin, glass beads, 60.5 x 42.0 centimeters, circa 1970. All photographs courtesy of the Museum of International Folk Art and by Blair Clark, except where noted.

European glass beads, as author and curator Marsha C. Bol explains, are “the ultimate migrants.” In her exhibit “Beadwork Adorns the World,” which recently closed at Santa Fe’s Museum of International Folk Art, and her accompanying book, The Art & Tradition of Beadwork, she explored how, in the nineteenth century, these trade goods not only went to the far ends of the earth, but also were transformed into an astounding array of cultural and social artifacts. In the West, beadwork became mostly decorative, more so these days in couture and formal wear. But elsewhere, beadwork endowed clothing and objects with formidable power and rich, metaphysical meanings. It became the most profound expression of ritual, of majesty, of identity, and of the spirit world.

Dr. Bol generously agreed to sit down and talk about the years-long process leading to the exhibit. The extended search for superb examples consumed many air miles and many conversations with artists, since so much knowledge has only been passed down orally, from mother to daughter or from an elder to an archaeologist or historian. Intended to dazzle and impress, the beadwork in the exhibit did all that and more.

WEDDING OUTFIT (ulu rajang), Iban peoples, Sarawak state, Borneo island, Malaysia. HEADDRESS of wood, paper, glass beads, cotton, sequins, 38.1 x 61.0 centimeters. DRESS of stone, glass and shell beads, 77.5 centimeters long, twentieth century. David McLanahan Collection.

Q.  What was your inspiration for “Beadwork Adorns the World?”

Actually, it was a book project first. Back in 2011, a tall, stately, white-haired man named Gibbs Smith walked into my office. He was a magnificent man. He wanted to do this; he thought that Lois Sherr Dubin’s book, The History of Beads: From 30,000 B.C. to the Present, had been out for quite a long time and he wanted to publish something new; not about beads, but beadwork around the world. He came to me partly because of my background—I did a Ph.D. in Native American art history with a dissertation on Lakota [western Sioux] women’s and men’s arts, and I continue to do fieldwork. And he knew, because of this museum’s holdings, that it was the right place for the project. I was the museum’s director, so it was going to take a while to get it done. Bless his heart; he died about the time the book went to press.




Q.  What types of beadwork were shown in the exhibit?

The whole exhibit included two hundred sixty beaded objects. I used a very broad definition of beads: metal, shell, ceramic—all different kinds of beads, from fifty-two countries and one hundred four known cultural traditions. There were many examples of women and men’s clothing, several crowns, jewelry, and masks. There was also a beaded pillow, boxes, a royal stool, voodoo flags, bowls, and quite a few amulets. The pieces ranged from the nineteenth century to the present day, so it was not just about the past. When you first walked in there was a “Grab Me” piece. Exhibit designers emphasize the importance of that, to pique curiosity and interest. An extraordinary piece, it’s a wedding dress from the Iban people, who live in the Malaysian part of Borneo. Fully beaded, it weighs about thirty-eight pounds, with very large carnelian beads.


HEADHUNTER’S NECKLACES, Konyak Naga peoples, Nagaland, northeast India, of brass, glass beads, goat hair, conch shell, brass heads: 29.0 x 11.5 centimeters; blue beads: 58.0 centimeters; red beads: 26.5 centimeters, pre-1940.  Harry and Tiala M. Neufeld Collection.

HEADHUNTER’S NECKLACES, Konyak Naga peoples, Nagaland, northeast India, of brass, glass beads, goat hair, conch shell, brass heads: 29.0 x 11.5 centimeters; blue beads: 58.0 centimeters; red beads: 26.5 centimeters, pre-1940. Harry and Tiala M. Neufeld Collection.

Q.  Were there any surprises for you, while you were organizing the exhibit?

I always approach a project like this with two prongs. One is obviously that you need to work with the collections that you already have. But the other prong is to think about the themes and the content. The museum has an impressive collection, and I went through every drawer and every cabinet looking for beadwork. I ran through four part-time assistants during the project. The museum’s photographer, Blair Clark, and I would spend every Friday morning shooting pictures; we ended up taking about one thousand photographs.

As I was looking at objects, I started to realize that they fell into interesting groups of themes, beginning with life passages. It made me aware of something that I’m not sure that I had consciously understood, which is that beadwork is used for these peak moments in the lives of people in almost every culture. So if you start with childhood, from the cradle, then move on to puberty and adolescence, marriage and death, every beadworking society that I know of does it for an occasion, or to identify and set apart a king, a spiritual authority or someone of high status and position.

Then I got to thinking: beadwork is not a structure, like ceramics or textiles; it’s an adornment, an embellishment. It’s not something that can be used solely on its own—it’s almost always married with something else. That also pushed me towards thinking about how the embellishment, which did not stand alone, added to the effectiveness of the piece—maybe gave it more potency. The exhibit was arranged to follow those themes, which were developed in the book.

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BABY BONNET, Lakota nation, North or South Dakota, of native-tanned hide, glass beads, 9.1 x 2.7 x 4.6 centimeters, circa 1890. Bob and Lora Sandroni Collection. Photograph by LA High Noon, Inc. CHILD’S HAT, Nuristan province, Afghanistan, of cotton, silk, glass beads, buttons, metal, embroidered applied trim, 58.0 x 12.0 centimeters, circa 1950. BOY’S HAT, Bai peoples, Dali county, Yunnan province, People’s Republic of China, of silk, cotton, metal beads and objects, feathers, yarn, embroidered appliquéd applied trim, diameter: 14.0 centimeters, twentieth century. Photographs by Addison Doty.

Q.  What was the toughest part of the show to pull together?

Trying to be international! We were missing some areas and I couldn’t travel everywhere, which was frustrating. When I did get away for work, I searched for beadwork. I went to Uzbekistan, southwest China, Oman, and Saudi Arabia. I went to the Field Museum in Chicago to look at the African collection, which is absolutely mind-boggling. I found a wonderful private collection of Lakota beadwork that is in two homes, here and in San Diego.

What is also special to me about the exhibit and the book is giving more recognition to the beadwork of Borneo. The examples we included came from a private collection in Seattle. Pieces like those are considered treasures in Borneo. Before glass beads came in through the trade network, they were getting carnelian beads from Java. Their designs are very recognizable, especially for the Orang Ulu people. Among indigenous people in Borneo there’s a hierarchy; certain designs belonged to the aristocracy and certain ones to the middle class. The beadwork on baby cradles serves a double function, to reveal social position and for protection. Babies’ souls like to wander, so the beaded panels distract evil spirits and keep them away from harming the baby.

BOY’S VEST AND PANTS, Lakota nation, North or South Dakota, of native-tanned hide, glass beads, circa 1890. Bob and Lora Sandroni Collection. Photograph by LA High Noon, Inc.

Q.  No matter where you looked, Venetian and Czech glass beads seem to have gone all around the world. How did they become so widespread?

First it was the Venetian, and then the Czech glass beads. Beads were always expensive; they had a lot of value as prestige items. In fact in some places in Africa, like among the Zulu, the king controlled the rights to the bead trade; only the king and members of his court were allowed to wear beadwork on their headdresses and clothing. There are three desirable things about glass beads. First of all, they are quite durable, and last a long time even though they are glass; secondly, they have a luster and shine that is very attractive; and thirdly they come in many different colors, which is also extremely appealing.

On the Plains, seed beads arrived around 1850. You cannot say that, among the Lakota, there was nothing before then, because there was dyed quillwork, and many of the old geometric designs carried over into beadwork. Later on, during the reservation period for the Lakota and other Sioux tribes, there was a lot of pressure from the U.S. government to abandon traditional ways, including traditional clothing. There was a big florescence of beadwork then on the reservations, part of which I believe had to do with trying to preserve the identity of the children. That’s why you saw a little boy’s vest and pants, which are very Western in style, yet they are totally Lakota because they are not made out of cloth; they are made out of hide completely covered in beadwork. This kind of outfit would be more acceptable to the Indian agent and government people, yet it let everyone in the family feel a strong sense of their culture.






Q.  So wherever you go in the world, beadwork communicates shared cultural meaning.

There’s a fascinating example of that, which is well-recorded, from Zulu beadwork in South Africa. Zulu beadwork does the talking for the women when it’s involved in courtship. Young women would make beadwork bracelets, cuffs, ankle bands, or necklaces as gifts for the young man they had their eye on.

We call them “love letters,” though they were not quite that. The necklaces in the exhibit dated from the late nineteenth century and were loaned from the Field Museum. Scholars disagree about this, but from the colors and designs, proverbs could be discerned. It was not like a personal message, but let a young man know her intentions. A young Zulu man could pile on beadwork from many girls, all at the same time; a piece didn’t obligate him. And of course the more he wore, the more status he had.

One of the most exciting things about doing this project was that every piece has a story to tell, because they are all deeply imbedded in the cultures that make and use them. I tried to share those stories in the label texts, though of course you’re limited in the amount of space you have. But one day I was at the museum after the show had opened and I overhead a man—a man, no less—come out of the show and say to his friends, “That show! There’s a story about every piece!” He was very excited, and I was doubly thrilled because it was a man—often we think of beadwork as women’s work—and because he understood there was a story with everything.

“LOVE” LETTERS (ubala abuyise), Zulu (Xhosa?)-speaking peoples, South Africa, of cotton, glass beads, diameter: 19.8 centimeters, pre-1893. “LOVE” LETTERS (ubala abuyise), Zulu (Xhosa?)-speaking peoples, South Africa, of cotton, glass beads, diameter: 16.0-19.8 centimeters, pre-1893. Photographs by John Weinstein.

Q.  Let’s talk about Western attitudes towards beadwork as “women’s work.” There was a thought-provoking section of the exhibit and the book called “Gender in Beadwork.”

We underestimate beadwork’s importance in other cultures. The idea in the exhibit was to honor and acknowledge women’s artistry and creativity in beadwork. In traditional societies, there has always been a division of labor by gender. Women worked with materials for the home, like making pottery or baskets. The fineness and beauty of what women produced brought them respect and rank: it gave them status. Even in our culture doing beadwork was a practical skill; it demonstrated a woman’s housekeeping capabilities, how she could produce useful things. Certainly in fashion today beadwork is prized.


Q.  Some beadwork from Africa radiates drama and power and grandeur. There were examples from the Yoruba people in Nigeria, the Bamileke in Cameroon and the Kuba, from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Why is that beadwork so imposing?

Those are magnificent pieces, all intended for the king. Again, the right to wear trade beads belonged exclusively to royalty. It’s very powerful, gorgeous stuff. Only a professional male beadworker can make the king’s regalia, and he actually does it at court. In hierarchical societies, the kings usually have both political and spiritual leadership. The star of that section was the great Yoruba crown. It reinforces the king’s divinity, separating him from other people; when he wears that crown, he embodies the oba, who can communicate with ancestral spirits. The long beaded veil covers his face, and he holds an elaborately beaded flywhisk to hide his mouth as he’s speaking. His feet can’t touch the ground, so they rest on beaded cushions. The faces on the crown represent the first oba, Oduduwa. When someone consults the oba, he is not asking about his future. In their belief system, you know everything that is going to happen before you emerge into this life. As you are born, you touch the tree of forgetfulness. You are asking the oba to remind you of what you used to know.

The king only wears that crown for major ceremonial occasions. He has day-to-day crowns, which resemble the British crown; Nigeria was a British colony during the nineteenth century. There are even beaded British-style wigs for court. That’s a good example of how traditional beadwork merged into modern society.

OBA ADEMUWAGUN ADESIDA II, in the courtyard of his palace, Akure, Nigeria, 1959. Photograph by Eliot Elisofon, image courtesy of the National Museum of African Art. OBA’S GREAT CROWN (adenla), Yoruba peoples, southwest Nigeria, of palm ribs armature (pako), cornstarch (eko), cotton, glass beads, thread, 114.0 x 22.9 centimeters, 1920s. Photograph courtesy of Douglas Dawson Gallery.


Q.  The world is changing so fast. Does beadwork still have a cultural role to play?

Beadwork is still essential to reaffirm identity. For instance, after the Boer War in South Africa, the Ndzundza Ndebele people were indentured out to farms all over the country, scattered far from their homeland and each other. Ndzundza Ndebele women, even under those circumstances, began again to hold puberty ceremonies for boys and girls in these faraway places, which involved beaded aprons. Ndebele women are identified by their age-stage beaded aprons: for little girls, as unmarried adolescents, and as married women, when the apron has five distinct lobes. They held onto making and wearing these beaded aprons and are known for them today.

It’s always evolving. Nellie Star Boy Menard from Rosebud on the Rosebud Indian Reservation and I were judging at an arts fair in Bismarck, North Dakota. She saw a piece of beadwork and said, “Oh, that’s not Sioux enough.” I have talked to Florentine Blue Thunder and Tom Haukaas, who make their own pow-wow outfits, and they keep to the more historic traditions, but they complain that the judges now don’t know how to tell the old styles and designs. The pow-wow and social-dance competitions help beadwork to continue. If you don’t have a market for your arts, whether internal, among tribal members, or external, among outsiders, they are not going to survive.

ZULU RICKSHAW PULLERS ON THE BEACHFRONT, Durban, South Africa, early 1980s. Photograph by Jean Morris.


Q.  How can these older cultures stay resilient and sustain their beadwork traditions?

One way is through re-invention. In South Africa, Zulu rickshaw pullers became celebrated for their outfits. In the 1890s, somebody from Durban went to Singapore and brought back rickshaws (this is before there were cars). Only Zulu men were allowed to pull them, but then someone said they needed to wear a uniform so the police could identify who they were.

The Zulu men themselves created these wild, wonderful, imaginative costumes with the enormous, amazing headdresses. The oxen horns associated the strength of the ox with the man. They were a tourist attraction, and the men would stage their own competitions for who had the best costume. In the past they were famous warriors, so it became a source of real pride for the Zulu men.

Another way is through the marketplace. A purposeful part of the exhibit was to let visitors know that beadwork is still very much a living tradition. Within various sections I included profiles of contemporary artists, or of women’s co-ops who are working today. An example was the netted-beadwork necklaces made by indigenous Saraguro women in Ecuador. They’ve joined together five local associations into one big co-op, for marketing purposes and for buying materials. They can still make part of their traditional ethnic dress and bring in income to support their families. Oftentimes they are the main breadwinners in their communities.

CHILD’S BLOUSE PANEL, northern Afghanistan, of cotton, glass beads, 38.0 x 32.7 centimeters, twentieth century. Anne and Bill Frej Collection.

I should mention here that the International Folk Art Market was a great help to me, because a lot of beadwork artists come to the market and I was able to connect with them. The world is getting smaller all the time, and more beadwork traditions are crossing into global awareness. Artists are finding ways to adapt their beadwork and introduce innovations yet keep it meaningful. As I discuss in the book, beadwork has even moved into contemporary art. At the opening, Kiowa beadwork artist Teri Greeves told me she was so grateful to be included in an international show, and not strictly a Native American show. That made it all worthwhile.


Q.  As you were considering pieces for the exhibit and writing your book, you developed criteria for quality and excellence. Did you wind up with any personal favorites?

There were so many pieces I loved for different reasons, but some were standouts for me, because of the amount of incredible beadwork on them, the skill of the artists and the aesthetics. I’m thinking of Tom “Red Owl” Haukaas’s beaded Lakota cradles; the nineteenth-century double-headed elephant stool covered in red tube beads used by the king in Cameroon; the wonderful Brulé Lakota violin case; and a Ndebele married woman’s wearing blanket.

VIOLIN CASE, Brulé Lakota, Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota, of commercial wood case, native-tanned hide, metal trim, glass beads, 81.3 x 25.4 x 11.4 centimeters, 1891. Courtesy of Stars and Stripes Foundation.

“Beadwork Adorns the World” showed April 22, 2018 - February 3, 2019, at the Museum of International Folk Art, 706 Camino Lejo, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87505. Visit their website at internationalfolkart.org. The 16th Annual International Folk Art Market takes place July 12 - 14, 2019, Milner Plaza, on Museum Hill, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Visit their website at folkartmarket.org.


SUGGESTED READING
Bol, Marsha C.
The Art & Tradition of Beadwork. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith, 2018.
Dubin, Lois Sherr.
The History of Beads from 30,000 B.C. to the Present. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1987.
Liu, Robert K.
Collectible Beads: A Universal Aesthetic. Vista, CA: Ornament Inc, 1995.
Roach, Mary Ellen and Joanne Bubolz Eicher.
“The Language of Personal Adornment.” In The Fabrics of Culture: The Anthropology of Clothing and Adornment. The Hague: Mouton Publishers, 1979.
Sumberg, Bobbie.
Textiles: Collection of the Museum of International Folk Art. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith, 2010.

 

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FON’S ROYAL STOOL, Bamileke peoples, Grasslands, Cameroon, of wood, raffia cloth, glass beads, 41.0 x 45.0 x 50.0 centimeters, nineteenth century. Photograph by John Weinstein. MITAKUYE OYASIN CRADLE by Thomas “Red Owl” Haukaas (Sicangu Lakota/Creole) of brain-tanned elk hide, cotton, glass beads, thread, 68.5 x 23.5 x 30.5 centimeters, 2005. Marilyn Eber Collection. MARRIED WOMAN’S BLANKET (irari), Ndzundza Ndebele peoples, Transvaal region, South Africa, of wool, glass beads, 269.2 x 381.2 centimeters, circa 1970.


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Leslie Clark is a freelance writer and editor based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is endlessly fascinated by the variety, intricacy, technical prowess, and rich beauty of beadwork. “I kept going back to the recent exhibit ‘Beadwork Adorns the World’ just to feast my eyes and try to understand more,” she says. “Once you discover the complex meanings of beadwork in other cultures, you come away with a real sense of awe and wonder.” She has taken the Museum of International Folk Art exhibition to a more revealing level, with her Ornament interview with Marsha C. Bol, curator of the exhibit, as Bol discusses how throughout the world beadwork communicates shared cultural meaning.

Dressed with Distinction Volume 41.1

MAN’S CLOAK (abaya) of silk, cotton, metallic thread, weft-faced weave, slit tapestry technique, Ottoman Syria, early twentieth century. MAN’S CLOAK (abaya) of silk, cotton, metallic thread, weft-faced weave, slit tapestry technique, tablet weaving, Ottoman Syria, nineteenth century. WOMAN’S JACKET (salteh) of silk, cotton, metallic thread, weft-faced weave, slit tapestry technique, Ottoman Syria, late nineteenth to early twentieth century. MAN’S CLOAK (abaya) of silk, cotton, metallic thread, weft-faced weave, slit tapestry technique, early twentieth century. MAN’S COAT (damir) of wool, cotton, metallic thread, weft-faced weave, toothed tapestry technique, Bedouin peoples, Aleppo, Ottoman Syria, late nineteenth to early twentieth century. MAN’S CLOAK (abaya) of silk, cotton, metallic thread, weft-faced weave, slit tapestry technique, early twentieth century. MAN’S CLOAK (abaya) of silk, cotton, metallic thread, weft-faced weave, slit tapestry technique, early to mid-twentieth century. MAN’S CLOAK (abaya) of silk, cotton, metallic thread, weft-faced weave, slit tapestry technique, early twentieth century.

MAN’S COAT ( damir ) of wool, cotton, metallic thread, weft-faced weave, slit tapestry technique, handsewn, Bedouin peoples, Damascus, Ottoman Syria, late nineteenth to early twentieth century.  Photographs courtesy of the Fowler Museum at UCLA.

MAN’S COAT (damir) of wool, cotton, metallic thread, weft-faced weave, slit tapestry technique, handsewn, Bedouin peoples, Damascus, Ottoman Syria, late nineteenth to early twentieth century. Photographs courtesy of the Fowler Museum at UCLA.

How we dress tells a story that, in the case of traditional clothing, can stretch back thousands of years. The world’s culture has been built, layer upon layer, as pivotal moments of history effect changes on textiles like the rings of a tree’s trunk. For a certain country residing in the Levant, that history goes farther back than most. Currently at the Fowler Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles, “Dressed with Distinction: Garments from Ottoman Syria” is an awesome display of clothing predating the rise of the modern Syrian state.

One California day, cloaked in the clouds of an unseasonably wet winter, I had the chance to see the garments up close and prior to installation, courtesy of Joanna Barrkman, Senior Curator of Southeast Asian and Pacific Arts. Donated to the Fowler by Dr. David and Elizabeth Reisbord, both of whom live in Santa Monica, their collection came as something of a mystery. In the spirit of properly documenting and identifying the twenty-eight garments that were donated (twenty-three are exhibited), the museum partnered with Dr. Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood of the nonprofit Textile Research Centre in Leiden, the Netherlands, due to her expertise in Middle Eastern clothing and fabrics.

Syria’s long history and geographical position has served to enrich its textiles, lending an edge of refinement that can take one’s breath away. As the hub for multiple trading routes, Aleppo and Damascus received a bounty of raw materials and foreign influences. Two of the coats in the exhibition bear the vibrating patterns of ikat dyeing, where it is known by the Arabic term tarbit. Locally produced in both Aleppo and the city of Homs, these long, flowing clothes, with a narrow neck and a cut that tapers from a wide base to a narrowing beneath the arms, show the inclusion of lining cloth that originated from abroad. Barrkman mentions that a concurrent exhibition of Central Asian ikats at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, also based on a gift by the Reisbords, features Russian cotton prints on the interior. From Uzbekistan to Syria, global trade made its mark on local textiles.

MAN’S CLOAK (abaya) outer front and inside back, of wool, cotton, metallic thread, weft-faced weave, slit tapestry technique, hand embroidery, late nineteenth to early twentieth century. MAN’S CLOAK (abaya) of silk, cotton, metallic thread, weft-faced weave, slit tapestry technique, early twentieth century. WOMAN’S SILK HEADCOVERING (hatta) of silk, cotton, metallic thread, weft-faced weave, lance, Homs, Kasrawabiye/Homsiyye style, Ottoman Syria, mid-to-early twentieth century.

 

The silk itself was a foreign introduction. Silk production eventually was cultivated in Syria, but had been originally introduced through the Silk Road and Chinese trade. One of these ikat coats, a woman’s garment known as a qumbas, is an outlier among the collection. From post-Ottoman Syria, around the 1950s, an identifiable trait is its vibrant aniline dyes, which were in widespread use in the Middle East by the end of the nineteenth century. Unlike its sister garment, the piece sports delicate crimson cordwork along the cuff. The cordwork is associated with the Jordanian town of Ma’an, but it was possibly a response to the influence of being introduced to French exports, including lace.

Standup collars were a notable adoption into Syrian fashion, brought on by Arab admiration for the stiff collars of French military uniforms. A Bedouin woman’s jacket, one of two appearing in the exhibit, coquettishly sports this cultural adoption. These jackets differ from the largely silk garments of Syrian Arabs by being woven from sheep’s wool. Their cut, while still bearing a rectangular shape, possesses short sleeves, a nod perhaps to the more rugged life of these nomadic people. Bright pink flowers nestled in sea-green leaves chase each other up and down the lapels, flanked by detailed geometric designs. By this time aniline dyes from Europe largely replaced the natural dyes that had been used for hundreds of years. Most of the clothes in the Reisbords’ collection are thus aniline dyed.

The close aesthetic kinship between the Bedouins and urban Arabs is immediately apparent when one is introduced to the mainstay of the exhibition, the glorious silk abaya. These open-faced robes with voluminous sleeves appear in repose like a flat square, cryptically remote from the items of apparel that they actually are. Their construction is not unfamiliar, with long rectangles of cloth pieced together, bearing a close resemblance to the kimono. They, like the kimono, are overgarments, meant to be worn over a blouse or shirt, and in use by both sexes.

When not being worn, abayas appear inert, like carpets or tapestries rather than items of clothing; but when draped on the human form, they transform the wearer into a canvas upon which intricate designs, shimmering surfaces and bold colors dance. One can imagine how the streets of Damascus and Aleppo must have been filled with a bright parade of fashionable men and women.

WOMAN’S COAT (  qumbas, kumbas  ) of silk, cotton, ikat, warp-faced tabby, tabby weave, Ottoman Syria, Aleppo, before 1960.

WOMAN’S COAT (qumbas, kumbas) of silk, cotton, ikat, warp-faced tabby, tabby weave, Ottoman Syria, Aleppo, before 1960.

Many of the abayas are recipients of tapestry-weave, a technique so-called due to its traditional employment in tapestries. The weave is weft-faced, with no warp threads visible, and discontinuous, having different colored threads only in the areas of the surface design. This allows for complicated imagery and geometric patterns, rather than a repeated motif that extends end to end. With its application to a piece of clothing, the results are nothing short of magical. Sweeping triangles of the most subtle shades trail off into spiderweb thin strands of the same, with stylized flowers and shafts of grain spilling bright colors across the background. This is just the tip of the legacy of textile production in Syria. Aleppo was well known as a center of textile industry since the thirteenth century, an eight-hundred-year pedigree of excellence.

Beyond its fame for masterful tapestries, Syria was also known for its tabby-weave, or hermezi, a method where weft threads go over and under each individual warp thread. Laborious and time-consuming on a scale that is difficult to comprehend, Syrian artisans made their trade weaving these superlative textiles, which were also incorporated into their clothes.

One particular piece in the exhibition, a magnificent golden abaya with silvery columns enfilading in procession down the front and back of the garment, is an example of moiré and metallic threading. The otherworldly rippling surface of moiré is caused by pressing a wooden or metal plate or roller, incised with a pattern, to two layers of fabric under heat.

WOMAN’S BODY COVERING (çarshaf) of silk, cotton, metallic thread, weft-faced weave, interlocking tapestry technique, Ottoman Syria, early twentieth century.

While these garments are different in cut, color and styling to modern wear in the twenty-first century, it is good to remember how much they inspired European dress at the turn of the twentieth century. Fascination with the Orient, that loose construct that played in one’s imagination as catchall for exoticism, led to a relaxing of the shape of European apparel. Boutiques took note of the voluminousness of Middle Eastern sleeves, a different approach to structure that no doubt had a few tailors stroking their chins thoughtfully. This shift away from tight corsets and forms that built upon and restricted the body was due at least in part to the interplay between cultures.

The message behind the exhibition is a subtle but important one; fabric weaves all of humanity together. The clothing in the collection, beyond its brilliant workmanship and sumptuous aesthetics, represents a culmination of historical trade, exchange and knowledge. Syria’s textile tradition has gone back over a thousand years, with the ancient cities of Aleppo and Damascus having survived over different incarnations. Throughout this expanse of time they built and refined an industry measured in lifetimes of skill. In this way it is rather like a tree’s rings, but in a form so beautifully abstract that it tugs the heartstrings.

This historical legacy has an impact on the present, one which Barrkman and Vogelsang-Eastwood are anxious to share. The living tradition of textile production in Syria has suffered greatly due to the civil war that has engulfed that region since 2011. These marvelous items of clothing represent a thread that may yet be severed. To the Syrian community in the United States, Barrkman hopes this exhibition provides them with a connection to their past, their memories and to their culture.

“Dressed with Distinction: Garments from Ottoman Syria,” shows at the Fowler Museum at UCLA, 308 Charles E Young Dr. N., Los Angeles, California 90024, through August 18, 2019. Visit their website at www.fowler.ucla.edu. You can read more about the Textile Research Centre at their website, www.trc-leiden.nl/trc.


SUGGESTED READING
GILLOW, JOHN. Textiles of the Islamic World.
London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2010.
SULEMAN, FAHMIDA.
Textiles of the Middle East and Central Asia: The Fabric of Life. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2017.
VOGELSANG-EASTWOOD, GILLIAN. Dressed with Distinction: Garments from Ottoman Syria. Los Angeles: Fowler Museum at UCLA, 2019.

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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. His most recent journeys have taken him through two exhibitions, one in New York City, and the other in Los Angeles. The common thread? World history in personal adornment. At the Neue Galerie, a private museum dedicated to Austro-German art and craft, a small one-room exhibition laid out the major players and the evolution of jewelry produced by the Wiener Werkstätte. Building on the principles established by the Vienna Secession, the Wiener Werkstätte was instrumental in the development of contemporary art jewelry. A subsequent visit to the Fowler Museum at UCLA explored the influence of the Ottomans on Syrian clothing and textile production. From east to west, and west to east, he was impressed by the cross-section of human ingenuity and creativity.

Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show 2018 Volume 40.5

 
MARINA TERAUDS

MARINA TERAUDS

 

The five jurors for the 42nd annual Philadelphia Museum of Art Contemporary Craft Show had their work cut out for them, selecting 195 artists from a total of 876 applications. Per tradition, the show has a number of special add-ons, including the guest artist program, which this year features a cohort of twenty-six craft artists from Germany. As the show gets under way at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, a bounty of beauty and technical expertise awaits those who pass through its doors.

Once again the PMA Craft Show shines a light on some of the best and brightest in American art and craft in a dozen different categories. Fine art etcher Marina Terauds’s paper pieces stand out for their exquisite detail and precise lines, whether it’s a custom-made ex libris or a drawing of Queen Anne’s lace.

A Latvian by birth, Terauds studied graphic art at the Art Academy of Latvia and art pedagogy at the University of Latvia. After completing her studies she taught art and art history and worked as an artist-animator at the RIJA film studio in Riga. She currently lives in North Branch, Michigan.

LINDSAY LOCATELLI

Terauds uses original hand-cut copperplate intaglio prints and handmade paper as a basis for her three-dimensional compositions. She is a fantasist, a maker of inventive assemblages that sometimes bring to mind the work of Joseph Cornell. In one recent piece, a dress form is decorated with all manner of evocative imagery: a vintage clock, a mirror-holding bird-woman, an iguana, mushrooms, and butterflies.

Another newcomer is Lindsay Locatelli from Denver, one of fourteen “emerging” artists selected for the 2018 edition. The Philadelphia show has been at the top of her list for a while and she is excited to be going to the big dance to exhibit her contemporary art jewelry.

Locatelli works primarily in handcarved polymer clay and fabricated silver. She is drawn to creating organic and “intuitive textures” and applying bright colors, as witness a pair of spiky hoop earrings of polymer clay accented with eighteen karat lemon gold leaf. She loves the clay because she can sculpt it while it’s soft and carve it once it has hardened. She also likes the fact that it takes paint and other finishes well, “allowing,” in her words, “for the medium to mimic lots of other textures and materials.”

Diane Harty, a fiber artist from Frisco, Colorado, will be making her second trip to Philly, with some of her straw hats in various shapes and sizes ready for display, as well as chenille and felt headwear for colder weather. She employs about a dozen different kinds of braid in her hats, each one lending itself to a certain hat style. Harty recently obtained a few rolls of buntal, a fine white fiber produced in the Philippines from the leaves of the talipot palm. She has used the fiber to create cocktail hats. 

DIANE HARTY

Harty likes to approach each piece as sculpture; “I think it is a proper description,” she explains, “because I do not use any form or blocks to make the hats.” Instead, she shapes each hat as she is stitching it from the strand of braid. However, calling her pieces “sewn straw braid hats” is not quite accurate, she notes, although it suffices to describe functional work that “always has a touch of fun and interest.”

Another fiber artist, Deborah Cross from Freedom, California, has been to the Philadelphia show off and on over the past twenty years. She always looks forward to the enthusiastic reception given the artists and the high level of appreciation shown by the people who visit her booth. 

To achieve her complex designs Cross hand dyes and overlays pieces and appliqués silk fabrics. Her husband and partner, Gordon Heinel, helps with weaving and dyeing. The pair won the Ornament Magazine Prize for Excellence in Art to Wear at the 2013 show. 

This year Cross will be showing her newest limited edition wearables. She loves working in silk and wool, with houndstooth among her favorite fabrics. Indeed, she considers black and white to be “the most flattering fabric to wear.” On each of her new pieces she has airbrushed a gradation of black to striking effect. Some of the pieces also feature a stenciled discharge paste design. 

DEBORAH CROSS

Another couple in artistic cahoots, Nancy McCormick and Paul Monfredo have made around seven trips to Philadelphia over the years, bearing with them the fruits of their studio on Mount Desert Island on the coast of Maine. McCormick looks forward to seeing the work of fellow artists and admires the way the museum’s Women’s Committee organizes the show.

McCormick and Monfredo have been collaborating on decorative mirrors going on thirty years, inspired by images from the natural world, illuminated books, art history, and architecture. Their joint practice entails many steps, from building the frame to applying tempera paint. Monfredo handcrafts the panels from basswood, poplar and other woods, then applies several layers of hand-mixed clay, called “bole,” which he sands and polishes before applying gold leaf. McCormick creates the ornamental designs and paints them using tiny brushes. Elegant trees and stylized fish appear in several new pieces.   

Ani Kasten, a ceramist from Shafer, Minnesota, has been a prize-winner in previous PMA Craft Shows, including Best in Contemporary Clay in 2009 and Best in Show in 2016. Using wheel-throwing and hand-building techniques, she creates one-of-a-kind and small gatherings of sculptural vessels that, in her words, “explore the meeting point between natural and man-made worlds.”

PAUL MONFREDO & NANCY MCCORMICK

40_5_PMA-Craft-Show-Info.jpg

ANI KASTEN

Kasten’s pieces often have a weathered look as if they had been discovered at an archaeological site. This appearance of what she calls “organic deterioration” evokes “the cycle of life, death, decay.” She embraces a minimal aesthetic she first encountered as a student of British ceramist Rupert Spira in 2000. The Nantucket-born artist has never lost her sense of the inherent earthiness of her medium, from her years in Nepal developing a stoneware production facility to the studios she established in Oakland, California, Mount Rainier, Maryland, and the St. Croix River Valley northeast of Minneapolis, where she works today.

Another jeweler, Seung Jeon Paik from Annandale, Virginia, will be returning for his second showing in Philadelphia. He has fond memories of meeting collectors and gallerists and receiving helpful feedback from them. 

SEUNG JEON PAIK

Among Paik’s offerings are brooches and pendants made from eighteen karat gold and sterling silver. He has turned to the cosmos for inspiration, creating “naturally occurring galaxy and swarming forms” through the representation of “small particles.” And as with Lyons, technology and tried-and-true techniques go hand in hand: Paik uses traditional granulation, Rhino 3D CAD and laser welding to produce his ornaments.  

In the mixed media category, Amy Roper Lyons from Summit, New Jersey, is returning for her sixth show, honored to be juried in again. She combines precious metals and enamel, seeking, she says, “to capture a tension and balance: the transparent fragility of glass, the strength and subtlety of the matte surface of the metal.” 

Roper Lyons is showing jewelry and larger objects: goblets, cups and bowls. Of note are several examples from her current series of Women’s Work goblets, “reimaginings” of what she calls the “historical trope of decorative female figures used ornamentally in sterling hollowware.” She turned to a mix of digital technologies and traditional methods to create these pieces. She used CAD to model the figures and cup frameworks, which were printed in resin on a 3D printer. She then made molds and cast the parts in sterling silver. The final step entailed enameling them by hand, employing plique-à-jour, a vintage method for creating a glowing surface. 

AMY ROPER LYONS

Meanwhile, Roper Lyons’s recent jewelry, in eighteen karat gold and enamel combined with gemstones, is inspired by outer space. Her cloisonné technique allows for subtle layering of colors over a textured base while creating areas that flash and glint.

William Alburger from Barto, Pennsylvania, won the Best New Artist award at last year’s craft show, earning him an automatic invite to the 2018 gathering. He calls himself a “repurposing eco-artist,” creating art from wood rescued and reclaimed in his part of the Delaware Valley. Most of his pieces are “eco-art” sculptures that can be displayed on the wall, but can also serve as shelf or mantel. He makes console and coffee tables too.

Alburger likes to imagine the life of the wood he works with, “the endless stories that lie buried in its rings and chiseled in its bark.” He also rescues barn boards. “To me, the deep texture and markings of decay are pure art.” The wood itself seems to direct him as he follows “the flow of the wood and tries to place in the spotlight the interesting grain or markings.”

Like many of the artists in the Philadelphia show Alburger is passionate about his materials and has made a personal connection to them. In this regard, Alburger and company fulfill one of the main criteria of the jurors, as noted by one of them, Perry Price, executive director of the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, in an interview for the show. “At this level,” Price states, “the mastery and accomplishments of the individual artists is almost a given, but makers who I tend to recognize with higher scores are the ones who draw me into their work by virtue of the originality and authenticity of their voice as artists.” That’s the common thread here: the original and authentic voices of these remarkable people.

WILLIAM ALBURGER

 
The five jurors for the 42nd annual Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show had their work cut out for them, selecting 195 artists from a total of 876 applications. As the show gets under way at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, a bounty of beauty and technical expertise awaits those who pass through its doors.
 

Get Inspired!


Carl-Little_Contributor.jpg

Carl Little has previewed the Philadelphia Museum of Art Contemporary Craft Show for Ornament before and loves the opportunity. “The show’s remarkable variety and the stellar quality of the work makes it a daunting task to select a few craft artists to highlight,” he notes. Upcoming for Ornament is his review of “Uneasy Beauty: Discomfort in Contemporary Adornment” at the Fuller Craft Museum. His third collaboration with his brother David, Paintings of Portland, came out in June. He also contributed an essay to Nature Observed: The Landscapes of Joseph Fiore. Little lives and writes on Mount Desert Island in Maine.

Vanishing Traditions: Miao Textiles Volume 40.4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 
 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

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

Smithsonian Craft Show 2018 Volume 40.3

JIYOUNG CHUNG

Smithsonian-Craft-Show-Cover.jpg

National Building Museum
April 26-29, Preview Night April 25
www.SmithsonianCraftShow.org

In the Navajo tradition, master weavers would often weave a thin thread of a contrasting color in the outer corner. Called the ch’ihónít’i, this “spirit line” extended out to the edge of the piece. The Navajo believed that the weaver’s being became part of the woven cloth in the process of making, their soul forever entwined with the piece itself. The spirit line allowed a path for the artist to disentangle herself and move on to create even more works of beauty.

IRINA OKULA

      This notion of a maker’s spirit being encapsulated in their work lies at the heart of the contemporary craft movement. For those who dedicate their lives to craft, making is about more than the practice itself, more than selling work for a living. It is an act of divine creation, linking heart, hand and spirit. It is also an act of vulnerability. Sharing your work opens you to criticism, extending the conversation beyond you and your materials to an outside audience. For makers, there’s arguably nothing better than when viewers appreciate and are moved by your work.

The artists participating in the 2018 Smithsonian Craft Show are well poised for this kind of exchange between maker, object and viewer. Now in its thirty-sixth year, the annual show presents one hundred twenty of the country’s premier craftspeople, and welcomes an educated and seasoned audience of craft lovers each year. Presented by the Smithsonian Women’s Committee, jurors make careful selections, choosing from some one thousand artists working in twelve different media—basketry, ceramics, decorative fiber, furniture, glass, jewelry, leather, metal, mixed media, paper, wearable art, and wood—making this one of the most influential craft events in the nation. For many artists, acceptance in the show is a big moment in their career. Having the chance to exhibit here inspires them to push boundaries, to explore new bodies of work, and to bring their very best to show.

Paper artist Jiyoung Chung relies on tradition, making her painterly, deconstructed paper works using the joomchi method—a Korean artform mixing hanji, or mulberry paper, with water and agitating it to break down and combine layers into one strong, fabric-like entity. It is akin to felting, and over time it ages to an almost leather-like texture. In Chung’s floating sculptures, the paper is layered, with holes like portals to the worlds below, and loose strands, frayed edges and furrowed surfaces. It draws the viewer in and feels both natural and otherworldly. Each piece is one of a kind, and some are large in scale. “It gives me more ground to explore and develop my ideas, as well as challenging my physical limitations,” Chung says of her play with size. “It opens new doors and possibilities for me to discover more about joomchi—what it can do and how far I can push it.”

LAUREN MARKLEY

      In Chung’s eyes her work is driven as much from her own creativity as it is from joomchi itself. She credits much of her design sensibility to a sort of collaboration with it. “I usually have a concept to start with. However, the process has surprising characteristics. It wants to be certain ways. I don’t feel like I am dealing with material, but with a person. So I often negotiate between my original thought and what joomchi wants to do.”

For ceramist Irina Okula, acceptance to her first Smithsonian Craft Show in 2015 was “almost like a dream.” Okula’s fragmented vessels have a quiet, emotive quality, with landscape imagery, text and abstract markings pieced together in simple, pleasing forms. Black bird silhouettes soar alongside snowy hillsides, repeating patterns, excerpts of text and a soft color palette. Her signature technique of piecing together broken clay shards came about by accident, after a pot she was working on broke into several pieces. Rather than mourn the piece, Okula fired the fragments separately and later epoxied them together to reform the original shape. Intrigued by the results, Okula began to break her work on purpose. Each shard is decorated with different surface treatments—using slip, stamps, copper tape, wire, and words—then packed into saggars, or covered clay containers, and fired with combustible materials soaked in solutions of salt, iron, cobalt, or copper oxides. 

The element of chaos brings a narrative quality to the vessels, fragmented like the memories and stories that make up one’s life. “My work emphasizes the relationships of the pieces to each other and to the whole,” Okula says. She welcomes the randomness of her process, each result pushing her to explore further. “There is an unpredictable quality to the breaks and the firing, which play a critical role in the outcome. I like the surprises. After I break the pieces, I tape them back together in the original form and do a drawing, front and back. I love how the pieces contrast and complement each other. They help me tell a story, often my story.”

MEGHAN PATRICE RILEY

      Impulsivity and disassembly are also central to jeweler Lauren Markley’s creative practice. In addition to sterling silver and brass, Markley works with reclaimed wood, textiles and enamel, constructing jewelry inspired by architecture, plans and schematics, spaces and structures. A pair of earrings is made from intersecting bits of sterling silver, reminiscent of angled steel. A brooch of layered wood has metal bars extending out like askew scaffolding. Segments of blackened silver overlap like roof tiles, an accent of golden yellow silk thread adding a touch of softness. “I get asked a lot if I’m a frustrated architect—I’m not!” Markley jokes. “Someone once looked at one of my big, chunky, geometric rings and said ‘Oh! I want to live in there!’ It’s still one of my favorite comments.”

Markley’s jewelry starts in sketch form. “Very loose and gestural, just getting an idea of an appealing shape,” she explains. “From there, I cut the material into smaller pieces and spend time figuring out how to reassemble it to achieve the shape I’m aiming for. It’s fairly improvisational, and I don’t have a clear plan or pattern for how I’m going to solder the metal or glue the wood back together.” Like sculpture or architecture, the “site” of her pieces is just as important. “I want my clients to be comfortable with their pieces. There is always a negotiation with weight, proportion, depth, scale, when figuring this out.”

Jeweler Meghan Patrice Riley also enjoys this relation of jewelry to the body. “I love the idea of the body as site—meaning that jewelry is fashion, art, design, and everything in between. A piece that looks like non-wearable art that belongs on the wall comes to life on the body. And I love the idea of people taking a personal approach; they can play with wearing my pieces in traditional ways or push their own ideas.” Her Blanc and Noir lines are made from steel cable cord and aluminum connectors or crimp beads—typically used in beaded necklaces to secure the stringing material to the clasp. But in Riley’s work, the cord, connectors and crimps take center stage; the stones, when used, are secondary, almost like jewelry turned inside out.

 
This notion of a maker’s spirit being encapsulated in their work lies at the heart of the contemporary craft movement. For those who dedicate their lives to craft, making is about more than the practice itself, more than selling work for a living.

The two-dimensional, line drawing feel to her work is not accidental. Some of her pieces almost read as blueprints for other complex structures. “It’s definitely jewelry about jewelry, which can be pretty meta,” Riley explains. “I have always loved all of the mechanisms, small parts, connectors that go into the making of jewelry. I love what I can create with this paired down process. I think of all of the crimps as stars in a larger constellation, creating order amidst chaos.”

CHIE HITCHNER

      Riley often starts with sketches derived from physics and mathematical concepts. She then translates them into her materials, often incorporating new items like the industrial ball chain interwoven with stones and pearls in her Gris line. A result of her obsession with ball chain and safety pins in her “grungy-goth-punk” teenage years, the series demonstrates Riley’s ability to turn traditional jewelry concepts on their head. The line was featured in a runway collaboration with Mariana Valentina, and caught the eye of large retailer Free People, who picked up Riley’s work. Riley designed epaulettes, arm and hand chains for the collection. 

Color is an important factor for Chie Hitchner, who uses natural dyes in her loom-woven fabrics. Working with raw fibers such as silk, wool and linen, Hitchner dyes the threads in small batches in her studio, often using materials she finds nearby. “There is something special about discovering the dyeing properties of plants that are right around you,” says Hitchner. “Fig leaves make a brilliant yellow. Camellia blossoms become a steely gray. Japanese maple leaves usually give me a beautiful gray, but last fall they gave me a beautiful green. Depending on the time of year and location, the color can be different.”

While part of the show’s Decorative Fiber category, Hitchner also creates wearables. This lends versatility to her design process. She imagines the pieces displayed cleanly and flat on the wall or a table, and also considers how they will bunch and flow with the curves of the body. Worn or flat, Hitchner’s firm grasp on design and technique and her debt to Japanese traditions is evident. Her patterns are crisp and exact, in calming neutral tones and soothing repetitive patterns one can get lost in.

Hitchner learned to weave at eighteen and attended a Japanese university that placed a heavy emphasis on technique and methodology. “My work is deeply influenced by Japanese craft techniques,” Hitchner explains. “I like to use kasuri, the Japanese form of ikat, in both warp and weft. I also use sukui-ori, which is a technique of pick-and-weave, where I use manual techniques to insert additional colors and threads into the weft. These techniques broaden the range of the designs that I can produce using a simple four-harness floor loom.” 

MARY JAEGER

      Understanding one’s work in the larger picture of the fashion and commercial market is an important part of survival as a craft artist. Clothing designer Mary Jaeger has been sewing since just four years old, and recognizes the complexities of the fashion, craft and couture worlds. In her NYC atelier, she creates everything from dramatic scarves, shawls and jackets that play with proportion, pattern and shape, to classic cut, shibori-dyed indigo tank tops, hoodies and tees that are perfect for everyday wear. The latter are made to touch a broader client base, but the goal of Jaeger’s garments is the same: to empower the wearer. “My couture garments address the need for thoughtfully designed and beautifully constructed clothing to communicate individuality in our culture currently exploding with fast fashion,” Jaeger reflects. “Fashion design incorporates multiple aspects of today’s culture and can foreshadow the future through the use of colors, shapes, materials, make, fit, and styles. In turn, fashion communicates messages we individually interpret and consciously or unconsciously adapt to make our own style of dress.”

Jaeger’s Accordion Bonbons do feel a bit like a glimpse into the future. Part of her Unfolding series, multiple colors of silk dupioni are pieced, pleated, dyed, and edge-stitched to drape around the neck and shoulders. Their smart construction folds compactly like a fan for traveling, like something out of The Jetsons. Made from repurposed silks, they combine her love for the visual transformation between flat patterns that become three-dimensional when worn, reducing waste, and using color as an accent to her neutral black, gray, white, and indigo palette.  

TREFNY DIX AND BENGT HOKANSON

      Collaboration is key to Trefny Dix and Bengt Hokanson’s blown glass vessels. Working together since 1996, the duo is inspired by everything from 1920s purses, to graffiti and computer circuits. Their work is varied, calling on Italian methods like the use of murrine and canes for pattern, and Swedish influences in their employment of thick, clear glass and large spots of color to frame and offset their colorful murrine.

Their designing works in stages—often starting with discussion of a new murrine or surface texture they want to explore; then moving on to color choice; what form expresses the pattern best; and finally how to achieve the design in mind. “We work out issues with the size, form, surface application, blowing, and shaping techniques, trying to achieve the concept behind the piece,” Dix explains. “Sometimes the piece goes through such a transformation from the idea one of us started with that it becomes a true collaborative effort.” Skilled colorists, their glass has an energetic movement and fluidity, and the heavy use of color demonstrates their skill in the glassblowing. Like all the artists in the show, Dix and Hokanson are thrilled to be returning this year. “We consider exhibiting in the Smithsonian Craft Show to be a high career achievement. The artists have been selected because their work represents a high standard of creativity and technical mastery within their mediums. It is an honor to show our work with the other artists.”

 

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Jill DeDominicis is a former Ornament staff writer and editor whose love for wearable art and all things craft remains strong. She works at Mingei International Museum, a craft, folk art and design museum in lovely Balboa Park in San Diego, California. DeDominicis is delighted to be covering this year’s Smithsonian Craft Show held in the nation’s capital at the National Building Museum. With its one hundred twenty artists in all craft media, the show provided an ample opportunity to write and learn more about some of her favorite contemporary artists who are showing their work.

Stepping Out Volume 40.3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Iris van Herpen Volume 40.3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

Aileen Ribeiro Volume 40.2

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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!

 
 

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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. 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.

Beads: A Universe of Meaning Volume 40.2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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      Get Inspired!

 
 

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

Veiled Meanings Volume 40.2

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show Volume 40.1

Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show 2017

THOMAS MANN

The craft world does not define itself through a particular medium but through the connection between the hand, the heart and the mind. For those in craft, it is vital to receive satisfaction from its pursuit and to appreciate, even revere, the materials, tools and techniques that give rise to finished work. The stimulus, the drive to create, is based on exploration of the unknown and what can be revealed from each singular search. A direct response to the desire for making life more meaningful, it is for an artist an anchor to the ever-surging flow of existence, perhaps most especially in troubling and chaotic times. The Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, now in its forty-first year, is an important conduit where the best in craft is once more reaffirmed and validated by the uniquely talented artists who showcase their works. Here, the handmade in thirteen different media can be seen, appreciated and taken home to live again within one’s own personal experience.

      The craft categories—basketry, ceramics, emerging artist, fiber decorative, fiber wearable, furniture, glass, jewelry, leather, metal, mixed media, paper, and wood—are represented by almost two hundred experienced and talented American artists selected through a rigorous, annual jurying process based on originality, innovation and technical expertise in a medium. To support them is to encourage and promote the value and importance of art by hand as it is passed on, nourishing the planet with the limitless possibilities of human creativity, linking us over the millennia from generation to generation.

Long a major player in the contemporary jewelry movement, New Orleans-based Thomas Mann established his “Techno Romantic” branding in the 1970s as a means of both merging and diverging the material world with that of the human spirit. With a fondness for the found object, and the propinquity it can bring to jewelry, he was freed to improvise his constructions and to make compositions in unlikely and surprising juxtapositions. He eschews precious metals and gemstones, and his jewelry ingredients have been drawn from surplus stores and supply houses, from electronic instruments and costume jewelry parts, whatever might catch his eye. His preferred metals are aluminum, brass, copper, nickel, silver, and stainless steel; and he utilizes acrylic, fiberglass, micarta, and nylon, often carving them.

Mann’s jewelry has been influenced by his peers in the close community of fellow artisans, but is also inspired by other assemblists and collagists—Joseph Cornell, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, and Georges Braque, whose visual similarities are redefined into personal adornment. There is a great deal of humor and irony to be found, but, make no mistake, pay close attention to Mann’s craftsmanship; it is the platform from which his idiosyncratic voice carries a very personal and wondrous message. His jewelry lacks the existential angst of some other metalsmiths and embraces the more positive aspects of being human, echoing a purity and naturalness that come to mind when we think of Adam and Eve before their and consequently our fall. His evocative tributes to our hearts and hands show a tenderness and belief in the ultimate power and goodness of the human spirit.

LISA BELSKY

      The malleability of ceramics, among its more notable characteristic to alter, change and modify, makes the medium an especially fascinating one to explore. Ceramist Lisa Belsky is on a personal quest to test clay to its fullest capabilities. Belsky, a Philadelphia transplant to Columbus, Ohio, received her MFA from Ohio State University and stayed to set down personal and professional roots. These roots have taken hold and grown under Belsky’s artistic hand, maturing in her distinctive, sculptural ceramic forms.

For Belsky working with clay is also intertwined with her appreciation of fiber, especially knitting and crocheting. The threads of these practices are tied to her love of family; and her emotional connection to them stems from her childhood, watching her female relatives knit and crochet, passing the craft from one to another, and then following in their footsteps herself. 

Her pieces begin as handknit or crocheted fabric that are then manipulated, shaped and dipped into porcelain slip; the firing process burns away the material leaving the ceramic. What remains are basket-like vessels, leaving an abstracted sense of its inspiration, yet singular, no longer connected to its former fibrous state. “I view this body of work,” she says, “as a metaphor for embracing change while preserving memories.” As with many artisans, the result is a success when it elicits a deeper appreciation for the handmade object and the internal motivation that brought it forth.

 

STEPHEN ZEH

 

      Stephen Zeh, from Temple, Maine, plies his craft from the subtle tones born of the brown ash tree, following the traditions of Maine Woodsmen, Shakers and Native Americans. His finely woven baskets are made for use, whether to carry apples from the fall season, eggs from the hen or storing yarn for wintertime knitting. The brown ash has to be carefully selected for the right grain and flexibility to start the process for the hand scraping, other methods and tool use that takes place. A drawknife, shaving horse, ax, froe, and hornbeam maul will shape and release the wood’s natural sheen that over the years will grow a lustrous patina lasting into the future. 

Zeh also makes sweetgrass trays that turn a blond straw color over time and perfume the air with its natural scent. Also part of the repertoire are tea, cracker, bread, muffin, Italian breadstick, and French bread baskets, each with their own unique shape. Working with his partner and wife jewelry designer Tamberlaine, Zeh also designs exquisite diminutive jewelry; pendants inspired by the oak acorn, vegetable and fruit basket shapes, handwoven in eighteen and twenty-two karat gold. Their delicate forms, discrete visually, are so beautifully executed that they catch and arrest the admiring eye.

MEG LITTLE

      Meg Little, from Newport, Rhode Island, says it is up to you: walk on her one-of-a-kind rugs or hang them on the wall as an art object. Little specializes in hand-tufting, a process of punching strands of wool with an electric tufting gun into a backing stretched on a frame that she works, from the rear, in an upright position so that she can reach across the canvas into its design more easily. Her extraordinary color palette, sophisticated and elegant, is based on an expressive amalgam of geometrical shapes: triangles, squares, lines, circles.

 Little is a proponent of more is more, mixing colors that can go up to twenty-five different combinations in the tufter. All the yarn is commercially spun and dyed for the carpet industry and she uses two and three ply wools made for carpets and rugs. She says hand-tufting is an industrial process and she follows its guidelines in making her work, but the design and embellishment is due to her own creative sensibility. 

Her passion for hand-tufted rugs dates from 1984 when she moved to Cornwall, England, after earning her Master’s Degree from the Rhode Island School of Design. During the six years she lived in Cornwall, she met Grace Eckhert, a tapestry weaver who was beginning to experiment with the process, and introduced Little to the medium. Life was never the same and the designing and production of hand-tufted rugs became Little’s craft. She succeeds in making something extraordinary from the ordinary—that of the art of walking on rugs.

New York City-based Mina Norton was originally trained as a painter in her native Iran and studied commercial textile design in England before moving to the United States. From a family of doctors and lawyers, Norton was expected to proceed into one of these professions, but she had other ideas and moved instead in the direction of the arts. It is here that she has received her fulfillment and satisfaction, earning, in over thirty years of dedication and hard work, a widely-appreciated reputation. Her coats and jackets accomplish the feat of being both dramatic and refined. With her exacting nature, Norton fashions garments that are carefully and precisely structured. In her studio, they are hand-loomed with high quality merino wool, dyed and felted by hand. Improvisation occupies an important position in her vision, and she trusts her instincts when she introduces touches of color against an understated palette of grays and black. 

MINA NORTON

      Refining and re-defining, the clothing reaches a level of rich minimalism, in addition to a classicism transcending this modern age, but also most certainly acknowledging it. Her work is an infusion of world cultures, Iran, to be sure, but also Africa and India. It is not only the design but the comfort and wearability of her apparel that are exceedingly important to the success of a piece. Norton is determined to ensure that her clients receive a lifetime of beauty and practicality.

In a career that has led from teaching art to creating her own clothing and accessories, Andrea Geer, from Rochester, New York, does what it takes to achieve consistent results within her creative control. But it is experimentation with texture, form, color, and movement that ultimately propels her love of the process; she says, “As I learn more about my craft, my ideas evolve. I am most interested in how fabric moves around the body and how architectural form can be created using yarn.”

A combination of informed skills and physical tools, some unusual to clothing, are the manifestations of her pushing the standard, recognized boundaries of designing knitted garments for the female form. The goal is to enhance the body and to imbue the fabric and its ultimate shape with a seeming spontaneity and playfulness. While some of her clothing is hand-loomed on vintage punch card knitting machines and sewing machines, she also uses paintbrushes, digital styluses and Photoshop. For Geer, it is all about finding what will best express an idea she is formulating. 

The visual impact is a strong element in Geer’s work and it presents a commanding, vibrant presence. She received both a Bachelor of Fine Arts in graphic design and a Master of Fine Arts from the Rochester Institute of Technology. Perhaps due to the influence of both degrees in graphic design and painting, her designs reside in a more abstracted yet highly structured realm. As an additional flourish, she handmakes her buttons and pin closures, further customizing her mostly one-of-a-kind clothing, with a bit of limited production.

ANDREA HANDY

      Do not ask furniture artisan Bradford Smith whether he works in familiar styles, like Shaker or Arts and Crafts, because he will tell you that in the over thirty years he has been designing, the driving force has been to develop his own voice and not to be “pigeonholed” by any traditional style, or contemporary variations for that matter. His comfort level is to be found in combining the old with the new, intertwining craftsmanship and practicality with aesthetic expression.

From Worcester, Pennsylvania, Smith was raised on a farm where he helped his family by fixing and building things on the land. After high school graduation, for four years he worked in area woodworking shops and in them learned the basics of woodworking. And, he says, a strong work ethic. He went off to the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School for American Craftsmen and graduated with a BFA in woodworking and furniture design. That same year, 1980, he started Bradford Woodworking with his wife Sandy, who also graduated from the school.

A special touch of Smith’s is his use of recycled and salvaged lumber and old farm equipment in his furnishings which encompass a full range of beds, benches, bookcases, cabinets, tables, stools, whatever will enhance the domestic environment in a distinctive way. He will use ax handles for chair legs, taking advantage of their S-curve and knobby foot. Pitchforks, he describes, “make ideal supports for chair backs and have some spring when you lean back.” With their generally farm-related themes, the pieces attract with an authentic rustic charm and warm presence.

 

BRADFORD SMITH

 

      Nick Leonoff’s glass works are luminescent and magical as they respond beautifully to light, a platform varying from opaque to translucent in a dazzling array of colors and gradations. In 2011 he established his glass studio in Brooklyn, New York. But a range of experiences have led him from his native California, where he was first introduced to the medium by apprenticing to renowned stained glass artist Alan Masaoka on the Monterey Peninsula, with whom his passion for glass began, to the east coast where he attended the Corning Museum of Glass and Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. His fervor for glass began with Masaoka as mentor and deepened over the years as he has worked with other notable artists like Kait Rhoads, Greg Dietrich, Davide Salvadore, and Martin Janecky.

NICK LEONOFF

      Leonoff has been attracted to glassblowing since the day his first gather of glass emerged from the furnace and he experienced the breathtaking change of a molten form transition into a solid state. He specializes in Swedish overlay techniques to create layers of colored glass in the walls and on the surface of his glass forms. After annealing and cooling, he carves the pieces with diamond wheels to remove layers of glass, exposing colors within. This is where he designs and creates the patterns and textures that distinguish his work—the focus of his artistic concentration. 

Jeweler Tara Locklear finds her materials in the everyday, from concrete shards to skateboard fragments, reinforcing the particularly contemporary concept that jewelry can be made from anything, not just from the realm of precious metals and gemstones. A student of noted jeweler experimentalist Robert Ebendorf, she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Metal Design from East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, and continues to reside in North Carolina, making Raleigh her hub. Not long ago, considered to be part of the category called Emerging Artist, Locklear has quickly established an active presence in the show, gallery and museum worlds. Her exhibition and workshop schedule, aside from the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show, includes the American Craft Council shows, Smithsonian Craft2Wear, and galleries J. Cotter Gallery in Vail, Colorado, and the former Velvet da Vinci in San Francisco, as well as instructor at the Brooklyn Metal Works and Society of Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh. Already in her relatively young career, Locklear is so well considered that her jewelry is now part of Racine Art Museum’s permanent collection.

 

TARA LOCKLEAR

 

      With a sharp visionary sense of the unusual, Locklear explores the nature of beauty beyond the primary purpose of her materials, refashioning them into unexpected statements. She peels away, for example, the personal, autobiographical references an old skateboard might have meant to its skater and uses its wood to make a necklace. The same is true of hand-plucked cement found on roadways, detritus to most, trod on by the unknown, innumerable passings of people and traffic, but translated into a ring and clever kind of jewel. These seemingly insignificant substances are not only cost effective for Locklear to refashion, but by specifically choosing them for her bold and imaginative jewelry, she still values their original intent and also raised them to a new level of definition and meaning.

Some passions begin early in life and Michael Shuler’s goes back to that of a six year old, when he discovered that wood held his curious attention. That youthful focus never wavered as he progressed through his teenage years, figuring out how something, like a family heirloom chair had been built, then exploring, learning, making. The Santa Cruz, California, artist has maintained his studio since 1973 and since that time earned a highly respected reputation in wood turning.

With his record for superb craftsmanship dating to the 1980s, his resume is fulsome, including, to name a few, excellence in wood awards from the Smithsonian Craft Show, American Craft Exposition, Washington Craft Show. His works are in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the White House Collection of American Crafts, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Museum of Arts and Design, and Yale University Art Gallery. This year marks Shuler’s sixth appearance as an exhibitor at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show.

Creating lathe-turned vessels have become his life’s work. His “segmented” vessels are exactingly cut from exotic hardwoods, like zebrawood, pink ivorywood, birdseye maple, gabon ebony. The result is an amazing patterning of colors and grain native to the wood itself, with perhaps up to five thousand segments of wood utilized in a large bowl and two thousand pieces in smaller ones. His second body of work, also drawn from nature’s bounty, “organicas”, is drawn from pinecones, Banksia protea, thistles, and artichokes. In both types of vessels he reveals an awe-inspiring beauty originating in the natural world; and, in the hands of this wood master, manifested by the power of imagination and infinite possibilities emanating from the human spirit.

 

MICHAEL SHULER

 
 

See Our Participating Artists at the Show

 
 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

CLEB_Contributor.jpg

Carolyn L. E. Benesh is Coeditor of Ornament and the magazine’s in-house expert on contemporary wearable art. As Ornament’s resident itinerant, she moves to and fro across the United States in search of inspiring craft, great experiences and, of course, excellent food. As her travels take her throughout the United States, there are many places which are dear to her heart, one in particular being the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show that provides a venue for beautiful handmade art every November. Her delving into the work and philosophy of the craftspeople who exhibit is another testament to the creativity of the spirit.

Wayne Wichern Volume 40.1

PAGLINA STRAW BRAID SKEINS, imported from Switzerland,   and parisisal straw cartwheels ,  imported from China.

PAGLINA STRAW BRAID SKEINS, imported from Switzerland, and parisisal straw cartwheels, imported from China.

Wayne Wichern has a lot of heads. He does not know the exact number, but it is more than a thousand, he estimates, divided between three studios. The cozy tribe greeting visitors to his suburban Seattle studio is comprised of four to five hundred of the sleek wooden forms, all about the size of a human head and all suggesting anthropomorphic sculptures, as though Constantin Brancusi decided to carve a village of people, leaving the details of bodies and faces to your imagination.

WICHERN using the Singer cylinder arm sewing machine to sew a head-size ribbon into the hat. Photograph by Jason Wells.

      Wichern is a hatmaker and the heads are hat blocks, the essential building units of traditional hatmaking. To make classic shapes, such as fedoras, using couture quality hat materials, like wool felt or parisisal straw, you need hat blocks. Wichern has spent thirty-two years collecting the blocks and they have been his constant companions as he has built a career as an artisanal hatmaker. A former ballet dancer whose interest in costuming led him to hatmaking for theater before leaping into couture millinery, he is happy to report that today hats are very much in style.

“The interest in hats has grown,” says Wichern. “There have been very interesting and popular costume shows, like the big fashion shows at The Met. And then there was Downton Abbey and other TV shows like Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, where everyone wears hats. And there are the young royals,” he adds, referring to Queen Elizabeth’s grandsons and their photogenic wives, often photographed wearing eye-catching chapeaux. “I think one thing the young royals have done is to give young people permission to wear hats. It’s not just something that your grandmother did.” Hat shops carrying commercially manufactured hats are doing well, especially with young customers, Wichern notes, and the broader vogue for hats is reflected in his own business. “For the boutique milliner, working in a smaller, artisanal way, it’s never been better.” 

Click on Photos for Captions

 
 

      Wichern makes individual hats, by which he means handmade hats that are an elegant mix of traditional craftsmanship and contemporary attitude, often made for a specific customer. He makes such classic shapes as cloches, which are bell-shaped and suggest the 1920s or 1930s, and skimmers, which have crisp, flat-topped crowns and flat brims. He makes toques, turbans, fedoras, toppers, and hats whose large, outrageously swirling brims resemble crashing waves. He makes evening hats with names such as Wicked, Dahlia and Evening Rose. Any one of his black evening hats would transform the shyest wallflower into a femme fatale. Not long ago he created a skull-hugging black velvet cloche trimmed with fringes of dangling beadwork for a client with a taste for dramatic fashion. More beadwork rises like an opened fan at the front. Cleopatra could have worn such a headpiece to seduce any of her Roman paramours.

ANASTASIA of sage parisisal straw, dupioni silk, silk and velvet magnolia, and vintage silk veiling, 2010.

      Wichern makes hats on a speculative basis, hoping someone who drops by his Burlingame, California, studio will find one they like. He also holds trunk shows and participates in millinery and craft shows. Early in his career he made hats on a wholesale basis for small manufacturers, and he has made hats for millinery boutiques. But his favorite projects come from regular customers, some of whom commission him on a seasonal basis and for special events. “I have clients I just love. One is prone to bringing me bags of goodies. It could be a bit of fabric salvaged from the hem of a favorite dress. She wants to collaborate. It’s great. She presented me with a particular challenge when she brought me some beadwork that was white with a gold border, two pieces about eight inches each in length and triangular. They had been a neckpiece on something, and she wanted me to use them in a hat. She’s very much about telling me to do what I need to do. I thought and thought, couldn’t come up with anything, and was going to give the beaded pieces back. But then I started playing around with them, and sometimes something magical does happen.” The resulting chapeau is a cream wool felt cloche nearly hidden by the two beaded collars, which Wichern draped over the felt to make a turban shape. As a final touch he added a six-inch gold tassel from his vast trim collection. 

“My customers are people who have a sense of style,” Wichern says. “They are mature enough to know what to wear. People who buy my hats are people with experience. Most people who come to me are dedicated to hats, whether it’s for a special occasion or just to wear.” People who buy his hats are also women. The men’s hat market is entirely different, Wichern says, and would require different hat blocks and different types of felts. “When a man asks me if I would make a man’s hat, I usually tell him that if there’s something you really can’t buy commercially, maybe a bicorne, I’d be happy to work with you. But men’s hats are different, and you can’t be everything to everyone.” Wichern himself wears what he calls “low-key men’s shapes and berets,” none of which he makes.

Wichern creates hats the way professional milliners always have. He buys felt or straw basic hat shapes, called “cartwheels”, from commercial millinery suppliers, then molds them over hat blocks into an infinite number of sizes and styles. Because the brims and crowns of the blocks separate, he can create unique silhouettes by mixing and matching crowns and brims. The felt is wool or rabbit. The parisisal straw is from the sisal plant, and is the standard material for couture straw hats because it is finer than other straws and can be molded into more complicated shapes. 

WICHERN blocking a felt body over a wood hat block; the final task is using the compress tool to press the felt into the recess detail carved into the block.

      Making a hat is surprisingly physical. Millinery ateliers conjure images of artisans adjusting silk flowers on romantic, feminine styles. But hatmaking requires physical strength and an ability to work with high heat. To mold either felt or straw Wichern applies moisture to the material. For felt, he also needs the extreme heat produced by an industrial steamer. The moist hat forms then are tied down tautly with cord at the crown and the brim to create the basic silhouette. When Wichern demonstrates this he throws his shoulders, arms and hands into knotting the cord. Depending on the style, the hats also must be sculpted by hand, in the manner of a ceramist shaping a hunk of clay. If styles have areas that curve in and out on the crown, creating those shapes requires pressing removable parts of the block back into the felt, and tying or tacking that down as well. By happy coincidence, Wichern’s youth as a Wyoming farm boy followed by years of ballet training appear to have prepared him for the physical rigors of hatmaking.

When the hats are dry the next day, they are removed from the blocks, a process that can require a little wrestling. Wichern cuts excess straw or felt from the brim, finishes the brim edge on one of his several sewing machines, and sews a sizing ribbon into the inside crown. He then trims the hat, which could mean anything from sewing silk flowers to the brim to creating leaves and feathers out of salvaged bits of trimmed felt or straw. He saves every scrap of excess material to be repurposed into trim. He also collects beads, feathers, braid, ribbons, scraps of luxe fabric, silk flowers, bits of costume jewelry, and just about anything that might someday be useful as trim. In his Seattle studio he has turned a small bathroom into his trim room, and even the shower stall is stuffed floor to ceiling with plastic storage boxes filled with trims—an Ali Baba’s cave of adornments.

Wichern has always been motivated by aesthetics and artistry. After high school in Cody, Wyoming, he moved to Seattle to study floral design at a community college known for horticultural programs. His degree landed him a job at a floral shop in Bellingham, north of Seattle, where he worked happily for several years. “Then I discovered dance in about ‘78 or ‘79. Movies like The Turning Point and Chorus Line really made an impression on me, and though I was old to be taking up dance, I enrolled in ballet school in Bellingham. After a while my teacher told me I should move to New York to keep studying, so I did. Eventually I was in some regional companies. At those companies I would put in extra time in the costume shop. I had great hands, thanks to my work at the floral shop, and I enjoyed it. In retrospect, I think the extreme aesthetic of ballet comes through in my millinery; the attention to line and gesture that goes into hatmaking is related to ballet.”  

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      By 1985 the life of a professional dancer with its constant travel had lost its allure, and he moved back to Seattle, where he made hats for professional theater companies and worked in visual merchandising for what was then Seattle’s most prestigious department store. He found studio space and decided to learn all he could about couture millinery. He began taking classes from John Eaton, a milliner who had been one of Seattle’s most successful hatmakers in the mid-twentieth century, a time when no well-dressed man or woman attended a formal event without a hat. “John was retired by then and was giving classes casually in his basement. Then, at the point where he could no longer teach, he suggested I buy his stuff, so I did, and dragged it all over to my studio.” Eaton’s blocks were the beginning of Wichern’s collection, though he has added many hundreds since then via eBay and other internet sales sites. “Blocks have a way of finding me. People will be cleaning out grandma’s attic and find a few, and they find me on eBay. Over the years I’ve also purchased hundreds at a time when hat factories close or go offshore. I’ve sold off a lot, since I end up with duplicates.” His oldest blocks are from the 1930s, though many are newer. They have all become more precious as hat block production in the United States has nearly vanished. Most hat blocks today are manufactured in England or Australia.  

 

WICHERN Studio and classroom in Burlingame, California, Museum Studios, Peninsula Museum of Art.

 

      When his husband’s career took the couple from Seattle to the Bay Area in 2001, Wichern found a studio near San Francisco Airport. The location is ideal for the frequent workshops he teaches, which attract students from around the country. He also teaches at a shared studio he maintains in metropolitan Seattle, and at craft schools, including the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. “I enjoy teaching, and I think it’s partly because I didn’t have an official academic base myself when I started out. And teaching always helps me learn.” He notes that there are very few full-time programs in the U.S. where students can learn couture millinery, so he likes the idea that his teaching passes on the legacy of millinery craftsmanship. He also tries to give his students tips about the business side of boutique millinery. “When students ask me about pricing, it’s always a little awkward, but I understand the question. You can go with time and material, but that doesn’t always work. I tell them I’ve created a range of work for a range of prices. When people duck into my Burlingame studio and ask how much my hats are, I always smile and say they are one hundred twenty-five to four hundred eighty-five dollars, but that I can certainly make a more expensive hat if they like. That usually breaks the ice and if they like hats, they come in.”

LOREDANA SWIRL STRAW of raspberry parisisal straw, silk and rayon brocade fabric, 2006.

      For now Wichern’s career is at full throttle. But he is in his sixties, and looking ahead to what might eventually become of his block collection and his antique tools, such as his very old Willcox & Gibbs machine for sewing hemp straw braid into spirals for certain types of straw hats. His hats are included in the collections at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and in the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle.

“I’ve worked long and hard to create something. I rounded up the equipment, created an artisanal market, been successful, and enjoyed it all these years. I don’t want it go poof someday and be gone.” And because he is always surrounded by his old friends the hat blocks, he finds himself thinking of their future. “I often find inspiration from the blocks. I just love them, even though I haven’t had the occasion to use all of them. But it is time to start thinking about where they will all go. Maybe they can go to several people, or a museum. The legacy doesn’t have to be personal, but I do want it to be about the craft.”

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

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Robin Updike is an independent, Seattle-based writer. She has been following Wayne Wichern’s remarkable career as a custom hatmaker for more than twenty years. In those days she covered fashion and style for The Seattle Times and Wichern was part of a robust artisanal Seattle hatmaking community. “I remember Wayne as one of the highlights of a show of independent fashion being held in a cavernous former railroad station in front of a very large crowd. Theatrically dressed and wearing some of his own more dramatic hats, he kept the show entertained by swiftly fitting hats onto the models as they stalked down the runway. He has always had great flair.”

Chagall: Fantasies For the Stage Volume 40.1

SELF-PORTRAIT WITH SEVEN FINGERS of oil on canvas, 126.0 × 107.4 centimeters, 1912. Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. All images © 2017 Artists Rights Society, courtesy of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Modernist painter Marc Chagall frequently drew on the performing arts for inspiration; many of his paintings depict musicians and dancers, and he famously created murals for the Moscow State Jewish Theater, the Opera Garnier in Paris and the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. Born in Russia, in modern-day Belarus, in 1887, he was a student of Léon Bakst, who designed the opulent sets and exotic costumes for Sergei Diaghilev’s groundbreaking Ballets Russes. Chagall moved to Paris in 1910, just after the Ballets Russes had become the toast of the town.

      But Chagall’s own four productions for the stage are relatively unknown: the ballets “Aleko”  (1942),“The Firebird” (1945) and “Daphnis and Chloé” (1958), and one opera, Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” (1967). “Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art—a more focused version of a larger exhibition on Chagall and music seen in Paris and Montreal—puts Chagall’s theatrical costumes and scenic designs in the spotlight.

 

COSTUME DESIGN FOR “THE FIREBIRD”: Blue-And-Yellow Monster from Koschei’s Palace Guard of watercolor, gouache, graphite, and india ink on paper, 46.5 × 29.1 centimeters, 1945. Private collection.

 

COSTUME FOR “THE FIREBIRD”: Blue-And-Yellow Monster from Koschei’s Palace Guard of wool/synthetic knit with polyurethane, wool/synthetic knit appliqués, wood beads, silk plain weave (chiffon), and animal hair, 1945. New York City Ballet. 

      Rather than revealing a new side of Chagall, the theater amplified and, one senses, fully realized his vision, transforming the stage into a Chagall painting come to life. A lyrical blend of Cubism, Fauvism and Symbolism, his artwork is dreamlike without ever being cloying or creepy—a description equally applicable to his theatrical endeavors. As one early reviewer wrote, “He creates a naive and irresponsible world without gravity or function, in which the subconscious reigns with such unquestioning authority as to achieve an appearance of sweet reasonableness.” 

All four productions used very few props, relying on the costumes and painted backdrops to tell the story. Like Chagall’s canvases, they were populated with anthropomorphized animals and whimsically distorted human figures, rendered in faceted planes and vibrant rainbow hues. Instead of luxurious materials, Chagall’s costumes employed a Pinterest-worthy plethora of superficial decorative techniques: paint, beadwork, appliqué, faux fur, feathers, collage, and patchwork. 

It is tempting to call these pieces sculpture, but you cannot dance in a piece of sculpture, and you cannot wear it over and over again, performance after performance. Chagall’s shabby-chic approach to stage spectacle was not only consistent with his aesthetic—he often used collage in his artwork—but camouflaged natural wear and tear, as well as facilitating repairs. His attention to wearability is evident even in his larger-than-life costumes, with masks made of lightweight papier-mâché and anchored to the body by visible suspenders.

COSTUMES FOR “THE MAGIC FLUTE”, 1967. Metropolitan Opera Archives, New York. SARASTRO of silk plain weave, painted, with silk plaieave and metallic appliqués. GREEN-FACED MONSTER (WITH REPRODUCTION MASK) of cotton knit, painted, with synthetic/lurex plain weave appliqués, silk plain weave (chiffon) appliqués, synthetic knit, painted, and papier-mâché. QUEEN OF THE NIGHT (WITH REPRODUCTION HEADDRESS) of silk/synthetic plain weave with silk plain weave (chiffon) appliqué.

      In 1941, Chagall—who was Jewish—fled Nazi-occupied France with his family, settling in the United States. It was there that the Ballet Theater of New York commissioned him to design a new ballet, “Aleko”, set to the music of Tchaikovsky and based on a Pushkin poem. Chagall’s paintings often drew upon the Russian fairy tales and Yiddish folklore he had known since childhood, making him a natural choice for the production. Much of his scenic work was inspired by lubki, the Russian woodblock prints that often illustrated such stories.

COSTUME FOR “THE FIREBIRD”: Monster with Donkey’s Head of wool/synthetic knit, painted, with polyurethane and wool/synthetic knit appliqués, 1945. New York City Ballet.

      Amazingly, “Aleko” was almost derailed because American stage union regulations would have prevented Chagall from painting the backdrops himself; instead, he finished it in Mexico City, where it premiered before traveling to New York. As a result, the costumes reflect Mexican dress and textile traditions as much as Russian ones, complete with circle skirts and puffed sleeves. (Only eleven of the original sixty costumes survive.)

Perhaps because he was unused to working in three dimensions, Chagall painted both the costumes and the backdrops, using fabric that looks like raw canvas. The New York Times was duly impressed: “It is Chagall who emerges as the hero of the occasion. He has designed and painted with his own hand four superb backdrops, which are not actually good stage settings at all, but are wonderful works of art… So exciting are they in their own right that more than once one wishes all those people would quit getting in front of them.” Another critic agreed that “no ballet can stand up to his designs.”

Thanks to the success of “Aleko”, the Ballet Theater commissioned Chagall to create a new production of “The Firebird” in 1945. Igor Stravinsky had written the ballet—based on a Russian fairy tale—for the Ballets Russes in 1910. Chagall had given up on painting after the death of his wife, Bella, the previous year, but the ballet lured him back. His famous stage curtain depicts the titular half-bird, half-woman; her face bears a striking resemblance to Bella’s. The production was so successful that it remains in the New York City Ballet’s repertoire today, the sets and costumes re-created from Chagall’s designs.

COSTUMES FOR “DAPHNIS AND CHLOÉ”: Shepherdesses, 1959. Opéra National de Paris.

At the end of World War II, Chagall returned to France, where he would live until his death in 1985. For his next production—Maurice Ravel’s ballet “Daphnis and Chloé” at the Paris Opera—Chagall worked with the choreographer George Skibine to ensure harmony of scene and movement, even going so far as to paint the costumes while the dancers were wearing them in order to guarantee that they complemented their bodies and gestures. The results may look fantastical—Pan is seven and a half feet tall and a trio of shepherdesses wear candy-colored dresses—but Chagall’s palette and motifs were, in fact, inspired by his recent travels in Greece.

Chagall once said: “I believe in God, Mozart and color. Without them I could not live.”

Naturally, he jumped at the chance to design a new production of “The Magic Flute” for the Metropolitan Opera. The production required three years of work for fourteen sets and two hundred and twelve costumes. The Met kept Chagall’s designs in a purpose-built safe while the production crew worked. The massive undertaking displays the full range of Chagall’s powers; his Papagena is impossibly chic in a feathered dress that would make Balenciaga proud, but her animal companions look like battered stuffed toys, patched and leaking their filling. 

 

LOS ANGELES COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART INSTALLATION for “Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage.” Photograph by Fredrik Nilsen. 

 

      As beguiling as the forty-one costumes assembled here might be, the highlight of the LACMA show is an array of one hundred of Chagall’s gouache costume sketches and backdrop designs, almost all drawn from private collections. They are not static maquettes but highly finished, fresh and dynamic depictions of bodies in motion, an effect the installation attempts to capture by placing some mannequins on rotating platforms and others posed in theatrical attitudes. Music from the four shows plays in the background, and Chagall’s backdrops are digitally recreated within proscenium arches. 

Chagall’s work paved the way for future collaborations between visual artists and the performing arts. The show brings to mind the subsequent stagecraft of Salvador Dalí, David Hockney and, especially, Maurice Sendak, who shares Chagall’s playful yet slightly sinister imagination. This is where the wild things are.

“Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage” is on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
through January 7, 2018.

 

      Get Inspired!

 
 

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Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell is an art historian specializing in fashion and textiles, and a frequent contributor to Ornament. She has worked as a curator, consultant and educator for museums and universities around the world. Chrisman-Campbell is the author of Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. In this issue, she explores modernist artist Marc Chagall’s costumes for the stage. His fantastical designs, on display in an exhibition currently showing at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, evoke a wild dream-like realm of imagination. Chrisman-Campbell sums it up: “This is where the wild things are.”

Black Fashion Designers Volume 39.5

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Click on Photos for Captions

 

      Get Inspired!


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

Counter-Couture Volume 39.5

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

      Get Inspired!


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

Smithsonian Craft Show 2017 Volume 39.4

 
When we all arrived on these shores, we brought with us the knowledge and skills to make domestic goods by hand, and the folkways of the countries we came from: If you needed a basket to carry produce, somebody had to make one. We treasure these heirlooms as a way of belonging, to family and community and the past. Though utilitarian, they were never really humble: fine workmanship has always been prized.
 

The Smithsonian Craft Show, now in its thirty-fifth year, is in a league by itself. With stringent standards for artistry, creativity and technical expertise, the four-day event presents one hundred and twenty artists from thirty-four states at the handsome National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian’s show celebrates a far-reaching vision of craft as art that unites heritage, continuity and change, looking back to the cultural wellsprings of our oldest and most cherished traditions in America. When our immigrant ancestors arrived on these shores, they brought the skills of their hands, and the folkways of the countries they came from. Craft created a country: if you needed a basket to carry produce, somebody had to make one. These handmade, utilitarian things became our heirlooms, a way of belonging to family and community and the past. But they were never really humble: fine workmanship has always been prized. The Smithsonian Craft Show takes pride in that history and its inheritors, the artisans today who find new inspiration in wood, leather, glass, grasses, cloth, ceramics, and metal. Some of them studied in classrooms or trained as apprentices in workshops; some learned from their father or grandmother; some are self-taught. All of them use their hands.

      If you see pewter, you are liable to think colonial America. Her favorite comment that pewtersmith Rebecca Hungerford hears is “I always thought pewter was gray and clunky. You’ve really changed my mind.” Hungerford, from Michigan, is a shining example of an artist who bridges old and new in craft. After earning a fine-arts degree from Miami University, she studied pewtersmithing in New Brunswick, Canada, with a teacher who trained in England and taught her how to make her own molds. She has handmade classic pewter bowls, mugs, plates, and candlesticks ever since.

She still sounds amazed at the “huge leap” she took, around 1995, to contemporary design. She hankered after using her fine-arts training: “There’s great joy in creating something new that’s original and personal.” Hungerford describes how her contemporary work “reflects a feminine hand; it’s more fluid and sensual. Sometimes I acid-etch or color with Prismacolor pencils, paints and foil, then burnish for a translucent surface. I love pewter’s warm color, its softness and great tactile quality, and its affordability.” A whimsical appeal makes her pewter look lighthearted: tinted goblets seem to sway on their stems to a private samba rhythm.

Ceramics breathe of house and home, of the life-affirming communion of eating together. First-time exhibitor Adam Paulek’s spare, engaging ceramics are functional art: plates, mugs, teapots, serving pieces. He describes his ceramics as a canvas, on which he assembles enigmatic narratives from photographic images. During a recent artist-in-residency, in Denmark, he switched to porcelain clays, creating pools of limpid white, blue celadon and a pale yellow for more background clarity. 

ADAM PAULEK

The Iowa-born studio artist trained as an apprentice potter in Asheville, North Carolina, and earned an M.F.A. at the University of Tennessee in 2003. He lives in Virginia, where he teaches ceramics and design at Longwood University. Wherever he goes, he takes his digital camera to record anything that catches his attention. Later he revisits his photographs, looking at forms. He strips out everything surrounding an object—for example, a bare twig—or may zero in on part of it. Once he makes the images “through the process of laser transfer decals, in either sepia tones or color, I move them around and apply them, like a collage.” Paulek lets things unfold; he tells his students that “It’s not the ideas that differentiate you; it’s your curiosity, your engagement. It’s how you pay attention.” His photo-realist images arrest your eye; their juxtaposition draws you in. Maybe they tell a story, maybe not; it depends on your interpretation. But tossing those possibilities around is entrancing.

REBECCA HUNGERFORD

      Of all the hand tools in human history, nothing has come laden with more status than the knife. Across cultures, across centuries, it is one of humanity’s most prized possessions. Zachary Jonas, a member of the respected American Bladesmith Society, is an eloquent and knowledgeable spokesman for the art and practice of his craft. His knives are beautiful to behold, handforged from high-carbon steel, and relentlessly fabricated to fit like a dream in your hand. Essential to a state-of-the-art knife, Jonas says, is “its balance. A handforged knife actually has a thicker blade than a factory-made one, but it feels lighter because it’s balanced, which means you’re not fighting it while you’re trying to use it.”

A native of Massachusetts, Jonas graduated from Connecticut College in 2005. He found his calling in an evening class in bladesmithing at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. An apprenticeship takes years. “The heat and forging are only about ten to twenty percent of making a blade,” Jonas explains. “Most of it is grinding, filing, shaping, and polishing, polishing, polishing.” Unique to Jonas’s knives is his revival of Damascus steel. An ancient art originating in Middle Eastern metallurgy, Damascus is an intricately patterned, forged steel, in which each blade’s pattern is distinctive to both the skill and techniques of the individual artist.

Jonas is equally passionate about his handcrafted wooden handles, selecting the colors and orienting the wood grain to complement the blade. This is where function defines beauty; there cannot exist anything more satisfying, for anyone who uses their hands, than to wield a perfect knife.

ZACHARY JONAS

      Colorado-born Ben Strear, making his debut at the Smithsonian Craft Show, handcarves shallow-relief wood vessels and sculptures that feel almost alive in the play of light and shadow across their patterned surfaces. It took him some time to follow his passion for carving. Strear graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2006 with a degree in furniture design, and then spent close to a decade in New York, working in high-end commercial millwork, art fabrication and complex 3D modeling. A move to North Carolina let him set up a home workshop as a studio artist. He is attracted to organic, repetitive forms: the whorls of a mollusk shell, or the feathers carved in a bird’s wing from an Assyrian stone bas-relief.

BEN STREAR

      Strear turns his pieces on a lathe to create contours suggesting vegetal growth; almost, he says, they resemble “petrified fruits.” He employs domestic hardwoods and traditional handtools, then lightly wire-brushes a piece at the end to bring out the fine grain. “If the wood characteristics are not so pretty, I’ll cover them with milk paint for a matte surface,” Strear says. “The main theme is that everything is monochromatic, in shades of white, gray or black, to show the layers of pattern.” Before he touches a tool, Strear rigorously draws out every detail on paper, “to see the aesthetic I want.” His carving reflects a boundless appreciation for the warmth and innate beauty of wood.

Go back three hundred years—a long time ago, in America—when the ancestors of MacArthur Foundation award-winning artist Mary Jackson arrived on slave ships. Their descendants made their home in the marshes of coastal South Carolina, where Jackson grew up and learned as a child to make her legendary sweetgrass baskets, weaving them with virtually the identical techniques found today in West Africa. “There’s a similarity in the coiling and the stitching pattern,” Jackson explained in the PBS documentary Craft in America. For Jackson, respecting an unbroken tradition is as important as the craft itself: “For my ancestors, it was evidence of where they came from,” she explains. In more than forty years of basketmaking, she has always been conscious of “how proud they would feel to see it’s been passed down.”

MARY JACKSON

      During a ten-year interlude working in New York, Jackson became deeply interested in contemporary art and ideas. When she returned to basketry, she emerged as an innovator, with breakthrough ideas like “sweeping handles and flat shapes with [a spray of unbound] grasses flowing from it,” that caused a sensation. She adapted old forms, like extending in the edges of a rice-winnowing “fanner” basket to make a more enclosed, shallow shape displaying intricate designs woven from bulrushes and long-leaf pine needles. A basket can look deceptively simple. “You need strong hands,” Jackson says, to keep the tension while lacing together the pliable sweetgrass with strips of tough palmetto leaves native to South Carolina. Her impeccable construction and finely woven detail reveal an unsurpassed mastery of her medium, and her inventive forms, no matter how sculptural, still remember they are baskets.

LINDA KINDLER PRIEST

      What you are really seeing, when you look at a piece of Linda Kindler Priest’s jewelry, is a storyscape. The minutely sculpted wildlife and flowers, in fourteen karat gold repoussé, are caught in motion: the bullfinch, its tail tilted to fly away; the polar bear, in mid-stride; the swaying lily. Each small animal, bird, insect, fish, or bloom finds its natural home in the gemstone or mineral framed below it, inferring a context and meaning: ice, air, water, the green earth. A delicate pearl, tucked at an angle by a pelican, represents a small egg; the scatter of green sapphires cresting the aquamarine crystal beneath the pelican evokes the sea, sparkling in daylight. “I wanted a contrast to the gold metal,” Priest says. “The gemstones add more emotion; they allow more color and expression.” The poetic economy of her compositions lets you gaze into the depths of each stone, suggesting more to the story: a veining of pink agate becomes plant roots. Her brooches are made in pairs, as a top and bottom that can be worn together or separately.

A meditation on inner strength runs through her work, in the materials she uses, in her demanding techniques, and in the life force of the world around us. Priest, from Massachusetts, trained as an artist at The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston, where she also teaches. Maybe it is Yankee self-reliance that led her to take up the arduous process of repoussé, which dates back thousands of years and takes almost as long to do; at its best its finesse and execution makes you intensely aware of the artist’s hand. Priest reworks the metal “so many times that there’s a softness to it. And I must anneal it at least twenty to fifty times. There’s only me, my tools—an extension of my hand—and the metal. You’re apt to get a bit more of me than you would with other processes.” In essence, Priest has revitalized a formal, old-world technique with superb results.

JUDITH KAUFMAN

“I don’t like gold that’s too shiny,” says jewelry artist Judith Kaufman. “I like it to look organic and ancient.” Kaufman, enticed by gold into a mutual seduction over twenty years ago, works with a palette of fourteen karat rose gold, eighteen karat green gold, and a twenty two karat gold that she uses interchangeably to create luminous, painterly effects. “You can pour your creative energy into something when you love and respect the material,” she explains. Over decades of handmaking jewelry, the artist has come to trust the same visceral affinity when choosing gems or stones; “They speak to me,” she says. Aesthetically, there is an intangible consciousness of imperfection. “I like to see the hand in a piece,” she says, referring to her techniques; almost invisible irregularities “give a piece soul.”

      Kaufman took jewelrymaking lessons as a teenager and has lived and worked in her Connecticut hometown all her life. Her jewelry has evolved over her career, but still harbors an unpredictable quality; there are no traces of any school or style except what she gleans, subliminally, from nature. On her daily walks she may see a detail that percolates in that mysterious place where inspiration dwells, like the sight of some cognac-colored pine needles drifted together at the edge of a pond. Once at her studio bench, she gathers components, waiting for colors and forms to converge. “You have to show up for yourself,” Kaufman says, “I’m particular, and it may take all day.” Her jewelry evokes the random beauty and logic of nature. Asymmetry is her visual keystone: a balance between too much and just enough, like the gusts of bubbles skidding across a broad cuff. Kaufman explores the idea of something “trapped by nature;” for instance, in a new brooch, two halves of rutilated quartz enclose wind-tossed gold leaves and diamond berries. “It’s leaves and needles,” she says, “their X-shapes talk to each other.” Kaufman’s jewelry is both lyrical and majestic; Hillary Clinton owns one of her necklaces, which seems appropriate for someone who has moved on the world stage.

Marian “Mau” Schoettle’s instantly compelling wearable art references the twentieth century on multiple levels: urban streets; work uniforms; the space age; abstract art; shipping and advertising; the mobility of modern life. She calls her coats and jackets “post industrial folk wear. I’m interested in working with materials and images from the world we live in now.” Her material is Tyvek®, a featherweight, durable synthetic plastic as common as paper in our culture: in FedEx mailing envelopes; to wrap houses under construction; and in the orange cover-alls worn by prisoners working along state highways. Commercial-grade Tyvek comes in stiff sheets, which Schoettle washes to make more pliable; in time it becomes softer (she does not use a grade of Tyvek made for clothing).

MARIAN SCHOETTLE

      Originally from Pennsylvania, Schoettle lived in Europe before moving to New York’s Hudson Valley. Though she has made and sewn clothes all her life, her interests in conceptual art and photography led her into design. She describes the stencil lettering, half-erased numbers, and word fragments that she draws with surplus hardware and paint as “culture-jamming. Every typeface has further cultural information.” Sometimes she includes photo-transfer images of distorted buildings. The artist deliberately defies composition, letting anarchy rule a layout. “I’m influenced by Dada,” she explains. Her visual language exploits distinctively conflicting ideas: protective versus perishable, for instance, in a new two-tone brown Tyvek that plays with the notion of paper. A sense of irreverence opens up engagement: one customer on her way to Egypt wrote a travelogue about her trip on the inside of one of Schoettle’s coats.

Beloved New York Times street-fashion photographer Bill Cunningham once said his favorite decade was the sixties. The era’s anthem of freedom of expression lives on in the exhilarating confections of New Orleans-based designer Starr Hagenbring, whose kaleidoscopically colorful luxe-silk coatdresses and jackets manifest an air of contagious revelry and joie-de-vivre. Her wearable art, painstakingly embellished with handpainted lace, handpainted imagery, free-form machine stitching, piecing and layering, is lush and cumulative, making not so much a statement as a pirouette.

STARR HAGENBRING

      “Martha Stewart taught us to glitter a pumpkin,” Hagenbring says. “I like to make people feel happy wearing something beautiful. In my family, it was a real event to get dressed up and go out.” Raised in Illinois, Hagenbring graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in theater design, and had her own boutique in New York’s SoHo, while developing the dramatic blaze of stained-glass colors integral to her designs. “People respond to color, especially to shades in the orange/magenta/red range, which complement every skin tone.” The opulence of her work belies her restraint, for example in applying gold. “Gold implies splendor, rather than glitz,” Hagenbring explains. “For the best teachers, look at the Egyptians or the Byzantines. Don’t look at Las Vegas.”

Her couture tailoring defines a feminine shape; hints at a waistline suggest a sexier attitude than shrink-wrapped knitwear that leaves nothing to the imagination. A jacket may have up to nine gores; “Gores don’t cut off your waist from your hips; they keep a long line.” Everything is fully lined, and sleeves are opened to allow more movement. At the same time Hagenbring injects a bit of provocation: a painted series of religious symbols, or recently, over-scaled dung beetles. “I like to take the misunderstood and invite people to really look at it and see its beauty,” the artist says. Her clothing exults in living life to the hilt.

ROB & BARBARA MATHEWS

      When a jazz ensemble musician came to Rob and Barbara Mathews for a pair of awesome shoes with a retro vibe to wear performing, the Mathews obliged, crafting stellar red-and-ivory leather brogues. A third-generation shoemaker, Rob Mathews met his wife, Barbara, as students at Middlebury College. They established a custom shoemaking business in New Hampshire while also restoring an eighteenth-century farmstead. “Small shoemaking shops dotted the New England countryside in earlier times,” Barbara Mathews says. “We’ve found bits of antique shoes and shoe tools in the old buildings on our property. We feel like we’re working in the spirit of New England shoemakers, often with their old tools right in our hands.” The Mathews team up on design and construction, bringing science—Rob Mathews’ certification in pedorthics—as well as art to their craft.

Custom shoemaking is a collaboration; it involves your wishes and your feet in measurements and fitting, cushioning preferences, and picking colors and style. The Mathews act as interpreters and consultants as well as artisans, often forming lifelong bonds with their clients. “We love showing the possibilities to make something individual and expressive,” says Barbara, which are epic considering the variety of ethically sourced leathers from around the world that they have available. Their shoes are handsewn and all leather-lined. “People are always surprised at how light the shoes are at first,” Barbara explains. “Custom shoes are made to feel like you’re going barefoot.” Probably nothing seems as personal or as memorable as a pair of bespoke shoes; visitors to Monticello speak of Thomas Jefferson’s tall riding boots as one of their favorite sights.

It takes time to create timelessness. “Creating by hand involves a lot of problem solving, prioritizing and organizing. It isn’t serendipity: it’s very thoughtful and meticulous work,” as Rebecca Hungerford puts it. The handmade connects us: in the age of the internet and mass-production, it speaks to something as indefinable as a sense of human touch. Linda Kindler Priest recalls an old table she saw in an antiques store. “It was handfinished,” she remembers; “it glowed.” Adam Paulek reflects that the handmade is “comforting, because it makes you part of a continuum.” Making something by hand is the essence of our humanity, Starr Hagenbring believes: “Creativity is the spice of life. You get a wonderful thrill from finishing a piece, or a room, or a dish of food, and it’s turned out fantastically. That thrill—it’s better than anything.”

Smithsonian Craft Show. National Building Museum
Preview Night April 26. April 27 – 30, 2017

www.smithsoniancraftshow.org

      Get Inspired!

 
 

Leslie Clark is a freelance writer and editor in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “Around town here you see a bumper sticker that reads Art Saves Lives,” Clark comments. “In these horrendous times, it felt life-saving to speak with some of the incredible artisans at the 2017 Smithsonian Craft Show. Not only were they generous and thoughtful talking about their work, but also they helped remind me of brighter vistas, of what is possible when people put their hearts and minds to what they care about. A big thank you to each and every one, and to Ornament magazine.” 

Comment

Leslie Clark

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

Andrea Geer Volume 39.4

KNIT TUNIC WITH SCARF of merino wool/rayon blend yarn; scarf is knit and leather, handloomed, 2015.  Background:  ACRYLIC PAINTING on stretched canvas, 91.4 x 183 centimeters, 2016.  Photograph by Tim Fuss.

KNIT TUNIC WITH SCARF of merino wool/rayon blend yarn; scarf is knit and leather, handloomed, 2015. Background: ACRYLIC PAINTING on stretched canvas, 91.4 x 183 centimeters, 2016. Photograph by Tim Fuss.

Art is a mirror to life. It takes all the visual humdrum of reality, and adds in the emotional tones (over and under), the sounds, the smells, the memories, the thoughts, and the imaginings that compose our complicated and at times remarkably simple existence. What comes out is a refracted prism, a carnival reflection that represents our state of being better than the “real” world itself.

      It is in that service Andrea Geer dedicates herself, working through processes within processes to turn the ideas that dwell inside into physical objects. From knitwear to digitally-printed fabric and leather cut and sewn into garments, Geer manages a balance between her repertoire of skills and tools, and her capacity to bring forth her thoughts as coherent and functional wearables.

Her background in the arts comes from learning on her own and the structure provided by her fine arts education, showing how important the tension intertwining different realms of experience is to the creative process. Geer earned a BFA in graphics design at the Rochester Institute of Technology, as well as an MFA in painting. The latter deeply informed her ability to see things from a big picture perspective. Rather than viewing clothing purely as an object, she learned to see it abstractly, conceptually as an empowering vehicle that could change how the wearer is perceived, and perceives themselves. This is the guiding principle behind Geer’s designs. How that transformation happens, from a drab covering to becoming an article of power, beauty and grace is a process involving numerous steps and a variety of techniques and disciplines.

“As I have moved forward in my life, I have collected many tools and materials that have aided me in creating,” she explains. “I have ultimately moved in a direction that did not require me to focus on one tool or set of tools.” This multimedia approach has led to Geer embracing everything from sewing machines and paintbrushes to scissors, digital styluses and Photoshop. While learning how to utilize a new material or piece of equipment takes time, listening to her speak reveals an open mind that is continually searching for the best avenue for expressing an idea.

In the past few years, Geer has taken her interest in painting and made use of the miracle of digital printing to produce textiles which feature her own fine art. A chance encounter at a New York City fabric show introduced her to a small company that was able to print on leather, and more important, willing to do small batch orders. It was a marvelous serendipity, and Geer leapt at the chance to incorporate her two-dimensional art into a wearable form. With careful meticulosity, she describes, “I started by having paintings I had previously created printed on to the leather. The paintings were large, around three-and-a-half by six feet. Then, I began to create the artwork to the size of the fabric. I created new large paintings that were close to the width of the fabric.”

 

SWEATER AND SKIRT of merino wool/rayon; sweater is handloomed, skirt is ponte knit and hand manipulated, 2014. DIGITALLY PRINTED TOP of polyester crepe de chine, 2016. DIGITALLY PRINTED LEATHER SKIRT with removable panel, 2016. Model: Allison Ridgley. Photographs by Tom McInvaille except where noted.

      Eventually, she began incorporating digital art into her repertoire. A Wacom tablet, essentially a canvas, brush and palette all rolled into one, is the first tool employed in this alchemy. By using the tablet’s stylus, she can paint, pen or sketch a digital file that can then be printed on various fabrics. As she reminisces about her childhood, a deeper thread is exposed. “The most direct route to expressing an idea visually was with a pencil. Typically, now when I use a pencil, it is to quickly record an idea for future use or to map out an idea that is important to my work. The pencil in time became a tool that records something that will be executed in a different medium.

ANDREA GEER.  Photograph by Tim Fuss.

ANDREA GEER. Photograph by Tim Fuss.

      “I remember the awe and love of a process that allowed me to create. It was with a sense of wonder and excitement that I first drew as a child. The stylus is an electronic pencil that allows you to draw on a Wacom tablet. The tablet allows you to draw directly onto a surface. The drawing takes place in Photoshop where you can manipulate the type of line, the texture, the color, and many other things. The stylus has become what the pencil once was. The most direct way to communicate my ideas.”

Once she receives the printed textiles, spontaneity and a willingness to be flexible helps guide the process from taking a piece of cloth and transforming it into clothing. A look is arrived at by visualizing how the fabric will best flatter the body, with a particular cut and drape determining how the garment will fall and tuck on the wearer. Then a pattern is devised. Every step of the way, Geer is willing to consider new possibilities, particularly being attentive to when it is necessary to let go of an old idea in order to move in a fresh direction.

This simple truth grows from the unmitigated, primal spirit which lies within, that initial spark which grows into a flame as it is fed and nourished. All it needs is an outlet, a tool that releases that energy into something that transcends the metaphysical into the physical. For Geer, that was the pencil.

DIGITALLY PRINTED CAPE in polyester crepe de chine, 2016.  Background:  WHITE GRAY LINEAR PATTERN digital artwork created using Wacom tablet, 2017.

DIGITALLY PRINTED CAPE in polyester crepe de chine, 2016. Background: WHITE GRAY LINEAR PATTERN digital artwork created using Wacom
tablet, 2017.

      This sense of wonder in creating is the essence of Geer’s work. It is the exploration of mystery, the charting of unknown territory, the grand adventure which uncovers surprising new ground. “I certainly don’t feel bound to one way of creating clothing,” she explains. “The spontaneity along each step is important to the process. Often, I order the fabric not knowing what I will make from it. In the case of the leather skirts, the leather arrived and I knew right away after seeing it that it had to be a skirt.”

The delight of Geer’s clothing is earthed in its spontaneity and playfulness. The basis of her knitwear is creating wearable sculpture, with the key word being wearable. Lightweight, unencumbered, yet as dynamic as she can push it, each piece seeks to redefine the shape of the body, either with circles, squares and other geometric shapes, or by creating voluminous pantaloons that stretch from breast to ankle. Striated with black and white ribbing, and running down the outside of each leg, this particular piece is a redefining of the outer garment, although a particularly daring individual could likely find a combination of clothes to make it part of one’s foundational ensemble.

In a very different manner, Geer’s skirts and t-shirts featuring her digital prints push boundaries by breaking up the standard assumption that casually worn clothing must be either in a single, flat color, or adorned with a recognizable pattern. Abstract paintings leave the wearer awash in gradients, broad, thick brushstrokes, and interposed panels of geometric shapes. Asymmetry is the name of the game here, with colors and black lines channeling the attention of the viewer so either your eye is constantly in motion, or specific highlights cause your gaze to become arrested by a spot of intrigue.

Geer ran a storefront in Rochester, New York, for two years before she decided it was not having a beneficial impact on her imagination. She has since transformed it into a showroom and workspace, where she can talk with customers and demonstrate the stages the fabric goes through before it becomes clothing. “I think people of all ages are interested in process and sharing the actual work is a key step in enticing new younger customers as well as previous buyers,” Geer remarks. “I think people are happy to know that it is not a magical process but a series of steps.”

What lies at the heart of Geer’s work is the act of letting go, of having that space to try new things and revel in the excitement of that outcome. “Sometimes the process of experimentation feels effortless because I am not always trying to get to an end result, I just want to see how things might go together. There are so many moments of uncertainty in working this way, but behind this uncertainty lies a feeling that is exactly the opposite. It’s a feeling of conviction and trust.”

 
GEER’S STUDIO in Rochester, New York.  Photograph by Kyle Schwab. DRESS of hand-manipulated folds of merino wool/rayon blend yarn, 2014.

GEER’S STUDIO in Rochester, New York. Photograph by Kyle Schwab.DRESS of hand-manipulated folds of merino wool/rayon blend yarn, 2014.

 
 

     Get Inspired!


Patrick R. Benesh-Liu is Associate Editor of Ornament and continues to find time to enjoy craft in between writing, travel and tech support. For his contribution to the latest issue, Benesh-Liu explores the art to wear of Andrea Geer, whom he met last November at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show. After talking with Geer about her creative process through a series of emails, he found a multimedia artisan whose holistic approach puts together digital and traditional handwork. 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.

Tufted Tales: Chenille Garments Volume 39.3

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

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

CATHERINE EVANS WHITENER AND CANDLEWICK KIMONOS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A PINK CANDLEWICK DRESS

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

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

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

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

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

EMILY BENNETT AND U.S. 41

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

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

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

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

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

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

ARTHUR RICHMAN AND THE ART-RICH MANUFACTURING COMPANY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MARILYN WOLF AND THE CHENILLE REVIVAL

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

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

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

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

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

 

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



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

 

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

Yves Saint Laurent Volume 39.3

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

 

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