ORNAMENT Volume 30 No. 2

Mina Norton. A Playful Classicism
Laura Mccabe. Beadwork Fusions
Devta Doolan. An Aesthetic of Simplicity
Breaking The Mode
Prehistoric Mosaic Jewelry of the American Southwest
Kee-ho Yuen. Orchestration of Contraries


On an autumn afternoon in her studio Mina Norton is seated behind an industrial sewing machine, head bent over her work as she guides one of her nearly finished knit jackets under the machine’s needle. The machine stitches a delicate arabesque of golden chain stitches onto the front placket. It is the final decorative touch. At Norton’s feet is one of her two beloved dogs, an extrovertish Corgi that likes to keep one ear cocked for the delivery guy. The other dog watches from its perch on a nearby sofa. A radio is tuned to a classical music station and the plangent strains of a piano concerto waft through the room.


With recent discoveries of perforated shell beads, the history of personal adornment with beads is now thought to extend back one hundred thousand years. Beads have crossed cultural lines, geographical boundaries and spiritual divisions to become a tradition embedded in modern times. Beadweaving artist Laura McCabe feels strongly about history and traditions in general, and especially those concerning beadwork. In fast-paced modern times geared more toward computers, manufacturing and instant gratification, beadweaving may strike some as too time-consuming and too exacting. But this enthusiastic artist works hard to keep the traditions, techniques and appreciation of the ancient craft alive.


Quite unlike the nigh perpetual summer of, say, Southern California, in Philadelphia one gets immersed in these vividly seasonal progressions. Taking place from November 11 to November 15, in the warmly decorated compound of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the thirty-third annual Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show seems to be perfectly placed for its theme and purpose, an enjoyable and satisfying five-day respite of exceptional art and craft amidst late fall and the onset of winter.


Over two decades ago, archaeologist Grahame Clark (1986) incisively examined why precious materials were regarded as expressions of status. Since the Upper Paleolithic, ivory and shell have been accorded such status; for instance, the Aegean mussel, Spondylus gaederopus, was widely used some five thousand years ago for personal adornments in Neolithic Europe, the Balkans and in the Aegean, especially by those living along the Rhine and the Danube basins, providing evidence of both their value and long distance trade of some twenty-five hundred kilometers. This mirrors to some extent the use of Spondylus shells and jewelry made from their shells in the prehistoric American Southwest, West Mexico, Mesoamerica, and many cultures along the Pacific coast, from Mexico to Peru.


In a thought-provoking assemblage of fashion drawn from its vast permanent collection, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art pushes the boundaries, as well as delightfully, but more often forcefully knocking them down, in the assertively titled Breaking the Mode. This recent exhibition (September 17, 2006 to January 7, 2007) joins other books or exhibitions contemplating interesting subversive elements (today often, dare we say, an ironically conventional component of current couture). It examines the formerly entrenched conventions alongside the newest designers with their ever-changing rules about what is aesthetically pleasing and fashionable.