the ornament bookshelf
Joanne Pillsbury, Timothy Potts and Kim N. Richter. (Editors) 2017. Golden Kingdoms: Luxury Arts in the Ancient Americas. J. Paul Getty Museum and Getty Research Institute: 311 pp., hardbound $59.95.
“Golden Kingdoms,” the catalog for a collaborative exhibition by the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Research Institute and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is an excellent book that engages the efforts of almost forty Meso- and South American precolumbian specialists. Luxury goods described and illustrated include textiles, vessels, statues, and personal adornment, which comprise the majority of the artifacts. For those who study precolumbian cultures, many of the items are familiar, others not. The excellent photography is supported by good maps, charts, many codices, insightful and informative text, and an extensive bibliography of English and Spanish references. Students of jewelry, both wearable and ritual, will find this book especially rewarding.
The reader cannot help noticing the visual prominence of the gold artifacts, but the much rarer Peruvian bimetallic composition jewelry and vessels, of gold and silver, were especially of interest, as these are not often published. The highly developed metallurgy of Meso- and South America has been well known, but metalsmithing that is almost all done by stone tools is something that most museum visitors are likely not aware of. Stone, especially jade, and shell personal adornment receive much attention. For example, the Toltec spondylus shell tabard or vest-like garment (catalog no. 181), is described in greater detail than when it was previously on exhibit in Los Angeles some years ago. This is the type of information which makes this publication so valued to those who strive to understand precolumbian cultures.
With twelve major articles and over two hundred detailed catalog descriptions/illustrations, this book will obviously be a necessity in any library that caters to an informed public. Not inexpensive but reasonably priced in today’s publishing climate, individual researchers and serious collectors will also want this comprehensive volume. Perhaps my only regret is that ritually important artifacts of the prehistoric American Southwest, like overlay shell pendants, or the recent controversy regarding indigenous sources of turquoise in Mesoamerica, versus imports from the American Southwest, were left unaddressed.
Robert K. Liu
Kogure Norikazu. 2006. Tonbo-Dama—Japanese Glass Beads. Holp Shuppan Publishers: 112 pp., hardbound, out-of-print.
When I bought this volume from the author, a noted Japanese glass artist, at the 2008 Gathering, it somehow got lost among the thousands of books in our research library. Recently, I found and read it again; it is an excellent instruction book on Japanese glass beadmaking, which is usually of a very high level of craft. Although there are only minimal English captions, it is much more than in most Japanese books. The macro photography is so good that anyone with some glassworking skills will be able to use the visual information to good effect. While this edition is out-of-print, a companion DVD is still available, from A.R.T.C.O. or Artist’s Reliable Tool Company in Japan. It is not clear, but there may also be a second edition of Tonbo-Dama.
During the 1980s, Japanese glass beadmaking was already well developed, as shown by Ornament articles on Kyoyu Asao, while this craft wave did not reach Western artists until the 1990s. The twentieth-century Japanese revival of torch-made glass beads was most likely inspired by Edo Period glass beads, which were of a high level of aesthetics and skill, using small vertical, volcano-like kilns and much sought after by collectors.
Tonbo-Dama consists of four chapters: tools and supplies, showing Japanese torches, which are almost all vertical, and the large selection of Satake glasses, softer than that used in the West; basic techniques, with three lessons; advanced techniques: lace technique, dotting technique, raking technique, and constructing technique; and finally core vessels. Among the constructing techniques is a lesson on how to make Norikazu’s version of an early Roman mosaic face bead. Besides its usefulness to contemporary glass beadmakers, it also provides researchers working on ancient examples of this type of bead a good understanding of the fabrication process. The process imagery in this book is so good that it approaches real-time, and certainly allows easy understanding.
I hope that the DVD is easily obtainable and will be a good substitute for Norikazu’s book. It is one that will benefit both makers and glass scholars who want to learn the fundamentals of glass beadmaking.
Robert K. Liu
Nancy Deihl. (editor) 2018. The Hidden History of American Fashion: Rediscovering 20th-Century Women Designers. Bloomsbury Academic: 272 pp., softbound $26.95.
New York University professor of Costume Studies Nancy Deihl has tapped an impressive team of US-based scholars (including Jan Glier Reeder, Lourdes Font, Jean L. Parsons, Sara B. Marketti, and Susan Strawn) to tell the stories of forgotten twentieth-century American women designers, significantly expanding a short list that often peters out after Claire McCardell, Bonnie Cashin and Donna Karan. The book is organized thematically, roughly grouped by design innovators, industry powerhouses, and celebrity-focused designers. The chronologies overlap, as do recurring themes and figures such as the rise of fashion schools, wartime fabric restrictions, and pioneering fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert. Some of the designers are more forgotten than others; at least two, Sandra Garratt and Vicky Tiel, are still active. In most cases, however, this book represents the first published work on them.
One of the reasons these women’s histories have stayed hidden is that their paths to the fashion industry were rarely straightforward or traditional. Fira Benenson had been a countess in her native Russia before escaping to New York after the Russian Revolution and entering the workforce. After eight years as a housewife, Nicki Ladany—wife of the Vienna Sausage Manufacturing Company heir—started designing to create polished day-to-night looks that would fill in the gaps between “too casual” and “too dressy” in her own wardrobe, and, it turned out, the wardrobes of a growing market of affluent suburban women in the 1950s and early 60s. Tina Leser was a well-heeled Philadelphia debutante when she married a marine biologist and relocated to Honolulu in the early 1930s. “She quickly realized her East Coast wardrobe did not fit her new lifestyle and recognized a ripe market in Honolulu for chic sportswear and gossamer evening gowns befitting warm weather,” April Calahan writes.
Indeed, in common with many male designers before the late 1960s, women rarely worked under their own names. Ladany’s label read “Catherine Scott”; Benenson’s read “Verben.” Lilli Ann was actually Jean Wright. Elizabeth “Libby” Payne designed for “Mrs. Main Street America” under several different labels.
Given their achievements, it’s surprising that history has not been kinder to these women. Leser expanded her business to the mainland, where her globally-inspired sportswear rivalled McCardell’s in popularity. Mollie Parnis dressed no fewer than six First Ladies. Yeda Kiviette designed for the Broadway stage as well as doing high-end custom work. The versatile Viola Dimmit designed film costumes, bridal wear and evening gowns as well as her popular, practical “raincoat dress.” Virginia Woods Bellamy was a poet as well as an innovative knitwear designer; African-American designer Zelda Wynn Valdes was active in the Civil Rights movement.
The book’s geographic diversity is impressive: these are not just Seventh Avenue stories but Chicago, Los Angeles, St. Louis, San Francisco, and Hawaii stories. Maryland-born Tiel moved to Paris in 1964 and never really left. But the subject matter is uneven. There is only one essay on childrenswear, an important and respected market for women designers. Ruth Finley was not a designer but the keeper of the pink-paged “Fashion Calendar” that served as the official timetable for New York Fashion Week for seventy years. Many of the designers represented in the book could be found in it, and it is equally useful today, documenting name changes, showroom addresses, hirings, and firings. It also tracked European fashion weeks and various industry and promotional events. Notably, Finley was careful to build in “writing periods” for journalists covering the shows—an unheard-of luxury in today’s internet-driven 24-hour news cycle.
Though the book is generously illustrated, it would have benefited from color images as well as black and white. And, while there are more than enough forgotten women designers here to fill a meaty book, several others are missing, and many male designers remain under-researched, as well as nineteenth-century designers. Is it too soon to suggest a sequel?