Back to the Future| Fiber, Future, & Fusion hits Fashion in Boston| Observations from the seARTS Wearable Art Salon 2018 & Mass Fashion Symposium, by Jacqueline Ganim-DeFalco
For those of us hanging out in the fashion and wearable art space, it’s been a mashup of happenings along the north shore “Fashion Trail.” It began with our seARTS Wearable Art Salon on Thursday evening at the Cape Ann Museum, followed closely the next day by the Mass Fashion Symposium at the MFA and then wrapping up with three days of visitors in my own studio for the Cape Ann Artisans fall tour. Since I only have time to write one blog post, I will try to cover my impressions and observations broadly.
Our seARTS Salon 2018 showcased a powerhouse panel that addressed wearable art from the perspectives of the wearer, the maker, the curator, the writer, and the educator. The Salon kicked off softly with each artist describing their own backgrounds and arrival at the wearable art doorstep and ended with a call to action to Museums and collectors to treat wearable art as works to be curated, showcased, and purchased in the same way we collect “fine art.” Suzanne expressed that “wearables” were completely left out of her training as an Art Historian. This was her “call to action” to catalogue jewelry collections including the contemporary collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She describes jewelry as her “gateway” to the world of wearable art but see jewelry as performing many roles from “protecting” the wearer to making them feel confident and empowered. Other perspectives included reshaping, contouring, and making other impacts on the body of the wearer and the viewer. Christine Kelley describes the connection of the “maker” and “wearer” as “soul to soul.”
Another important theme for the weekend’s events- artists making wearable art use a diverse set of materials and methods – often pushing the envelope. Certainly we have seen that at our Celebrate Wearable Art events and several key pieces were on exhibit at the event. Donna Caselden’s piece made from pennies “Obselence” an example of unusual materials. Panelist, Barbara Broudo discussed her array of interests from pottery to weaving, to macramé to arrive at her current works. Anne Lee spoke about the artists she met writing the book – in particular the male creators who had to pick up a needle for the first time to create the piece they wanted.
At the Mass Fashion Symposium, I was simply astonished by the textile Renaissance under way in Boston. Tricia Wilson Nguyen from Thistle, Threads, and Fabric Works and Tosha Hays from Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA) are leading a new chapter in the “best of” New England’s history and love of textiles and its immense technology resources. They are effectively deconstructing and reconstituting old techniques using new technologies that will create new generations of fabrics that are sustainable, functional, and strategically critical for key industries such as professional sports and the military. They are balancing the functionality with style and color and illumination in completely innovative ways – spawning an entirely new generation of fashion possibilities. “Fabric-as-a-service” “eTextiles,” “smart textiles,” and the reinvention of the production of metal threads among the many exciting developments in this movement. Among the most powerful visuals was the Ecosystem that is providing fuel for this movement. The map encompassed these critical components: History (textiles in particular), the Crafts movement (which had strong roots in Boston – see Boston Made Exhibit at MFA), Museums (to house works), Technologists/Inventors, Industries and Marketing, and Collaborative opportunities/symposia – fostered by the educational community. I had to miss Day 2 of the Symposium to do my participation as an artist in the Cape Ann Artisan’s Tour, but I know we will be hearing more from this powerful collaborative.
From my perspective as a founder of the seARTS Wearable Art Group, this is all incredible news. Wearable Art is a natural outcome of the melding of the old and the new – materials, techniques, and functions. Wearable Art also attracts a wide range of creative types and makers and challenges them to mold their work to the human form. Each piece tells a powerful story, connects to maker to the wearer, and makes every human being a potential “collector” of art in their everyday life. I look forward to connecting the dots between these phenomenal entrepreneurs and our Wearable Art community. Many thanks to our hosts at the Cape Ann Museum and panelists – Petra Slinkard, Anne Lee, Barbara Broudo, Suzanne Ramjlak, and Christine Kelley for leading us in Salon|2018.
Since 2011 the seARTS has embarked on a fabulous journey, challenging the larger arts community to design and raise the bar for wearable art. Through the Celebrate Wearable Art program, we have enjoyed runway looks from seasoned fashion designers, sculptors, fiber artists, floral designers, interior designers, jewelers, painters, photographers, and woodworkers, among others. The wearable works created by CWA artists have served to inspire numerous viewers and fellow artists.
Our annual “Salon” panel discussions present an opportunity to explore various aspects of wearable art from the perspective of makers, curators, educators, and wearers. Past Salon themes include “Exploring Expressions on the Human Form,” and “From the Understated to the Outrageous.” The 2018 Salon will focus on the “Transformative Power of Wearable Art,” and will probe wearable art’s impact in relation to education, fashion, exhibitions, and the artist’s own creative experience. We have asked artists in the community to send us stories about their journey, challenges, and inspirational moments in the process of making wearable art. Along with these stories of creative transformation, there will be a discussion about the power of wearable art works for wearers, and within the broader cultural arena.
This panel will be hosted on the evening of October 4th at the Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester, MA. It has been timed to coincide with Mass Fashion Symposium. The keynote moderator will Petra Slinkard, The Nancy B. Putnam Curator of Fashion and Textiles at the Peabody-Essex Museum. Petra will be joined by Barbara Broudo, former Director Archives & Museum at Endicott College;
Suzanne Ramljak, longtime editor of Metalsmith magazine and curator of the Fuller Craft Museum’s exhibition, Uneasy Beauty: Discomfort in
Contemporary Adornment opening October 6th; and Anne Lee, author of Artistry in Fiber, Wearable Art. According to the book description, “We have always decorated our bodies – both permanently and temporarily. Art to wear explores the intersection of fashion and art, in a creative space in which the wearer interacts with art, breathing life, shape, and individual expression into it. In our mass-produced world, wearable art offers a place for individuality. The third volume in this acclaimed series exhibits the work of over 50 international artists who create unusual wearable art with both traditional and uncommon materials combined with modern technology.” The book will be available for sale and to be signed by the author at the Salon.
Anne Lee co-authored Encaustic Art in the Twenty-First Century (2016) and a three-volume series, Artistry in Fiber (July 2017) covering Wall Art, Sculpture, and Wearable Art (all from Schiffer Publishing). In addition, Anne has written articles for Fiber Arts Now, Art Quilt Collector, and the NBO Quarterly Review. Prior to her writing career, she researched, curated, and wrote about exhibitions at Vose Galleries in Boston.
Our final panelist is Christine Gauthier-Kelley, a silk painter and wearable artist who was an early member of the seARTS Wearable Art group and participant in Celebrate Wearable Art starting in 2011. Christine creates her works at Ten Pound Studio in Gloucester and has recently presented a solo show at the Manchester Historical Museum. The event will also include select looks from Celebrate Wearable Art IV.
Wearable Art Journey | An Interview with Donna Caselden by Jacqueline Ganim-DeFalco
Donna Caselden moved to Cape Ann from Andover and in five short years has exploded in her artistic endeavors. We now see her works on the runway, on the walls, and on tables. Enjoy a deep-dive with Donna on her exciting journey.
What was your artistic/creative journey before doing wearable art?
I’ve always been interested in art and design. Growing up, my most memorable project in middle school was my science fair animation project. In college, though my major was Economics, what I really loved was my animation class. In hindsight, I should have majored in art! After my formal education, I took many design and art classes at local universities and schools. When my kids were older, I started a home staging business, where I could use my design skills.
How did you first learn about the opportunity to create and show wearable art?
I first read about the 2011 Celebrate Wearable Art runway show and thought it looked amazing. Then, when I saw the article a few years later asking for submissions, I thought it sounded challenging but would be fun and was also encouraged by my neighbors in Annisquam who had been involved.
What did you make for the show and what challenges did you encounter?
My first design, the Metal Mermaid, went through a ton of transformations (as does all of my artwork – whether it be wearable art, paintings, or decorating). I had to figure out a way to cut soda cans into uniform pieces. Researching the web, I found a punch that worked perfectly. While making the dress, my biggest disasters were getting cut, getting burned (adhering the metal with the hot glue gun!), and figuring out a way for the model to be able to move in the dress!
How did your art pieces evolve and lead you into other artistic directions or opportunities?
Since my first wearable art piece, I’ve made three other dresses (Biker Chic I and II, out of bicycle gears, chains and tires and The Penny Dress, out of hundreds of pennies), many pieces of jewelry, some sculpture and many paintings. I’ve joined a few art organizations (Cape Ann’s Experimental Art Group
at Rockport Art Association, Society for Encouragement of Arts (seARTS), the Rocky Neck Art Colony, and the National Association of Women Artists (NAWA), been accepted into art shows, and was even invited to help decorate the White House for Christmas. I’ve also submitted my wearable art pieces to other runway events (ManneqArt, a show
incorporating sculpture on the human form, and The Day Art Met Fashion at Newburyport Art Association, where the image of one of my paintings was selected to be transferred onto clothing and is available
for purchase at a Newburyport boutique, The Elephant’s trunk.
Looking ahead, one of my paintings, Psychosis, was selected to be a part of Artcetera 2018, an art auction to benefit AIDS Action Committee, this October at The Castle at Park Plaza in Boston.
“The House Dress Project” by Kimberly Becker
Women have stories. We can each site examples of how we have been diminished, held down or overlooked in our lives simply because of our gender. With “The House Dress Project”, I am providing a way to tell those stories.
I have chosen to make wearable art pieces in the form of dresses to convey the stories because we use our clothing to show the world who we are. We get dressed each day and choose how to present the person we are on the inside, on the outside. What better way to tell our stories than with dresses. In past work, I have referenced clothing- bustles on painted panels, images of ball gowns, references to brides. This is the first series where I embraced the garment, learned how to sew clothing, and took it all the way to “wearable art”. Along with the House Dresses, I am currently creating delicate vests inspired by an antique lace vest that I found in the bottom of a pile of handkerchiefs in a junk shop in Paris. The vest was hand sewn with delicate stitches by someone over 100 years ago. I am also creating collars (a nod to RBG). The collars tell stories too. They have words embroidered on them and are made of fake fur, velvet and organdy.
To prepare to make the House Dresses, I collect stories along with the address of the house the storyteller lived in when the story occurred. I sew each dress using cotton organdy and silk organza, paint an image of her house on the front, and then embroider the story on the back.
The stories are sometimes painful, sometimes maddening, and often times shifted a person’s whole life. One woman told me about her grandmother, and how she wanted to be a scientist, but once married, was expected to “keep house and throw cocktail parties”. Another woman tells of her inability to attend law school because her father would only pay for the boys to go. Another explains how she always felt more like an object than a person in her family.
The dresses have a diaphanous quality. They are lovely and draw you in, only to confront you with the uncomfortable stories they carry. The delicate quality of the fabric mimics lingerie and discusses the exploitation of our women’s by society.
I started this project months before the #metoo movement. I honestly believe that it is being received by the public with more open minds. People want to understand. Many visitors to the galleries they have been shown in have told me that they had to step away for a moment because the dresses stirred up many emotions for them. Several have come away in tears. The stories are personal, but in a way, universal. The overwhelming comments I receive are appreciation for giving voice to these women, and in doing so, beginning to write our full history, including women.
The next phase of the “House Dress Project” is called “Roe House Dresses”. These stories discuss both the difficult decision to have an abortion, and also the great benefit that having access to a legal abortion provides. Planned Parenthood is one such example. Many of us received our first OBGYN care at a Planned Parenthood and those stories matter. Women’s rights are slowly disappearing under the current administration and we must keep sharing our experiences.
Wearable Art provides me with a vehicle for giving women a voice. I have always believed we can be feminists and still enjoy high heels or a gorgeous cocktail dress. By creating art that is carried by the body, we are delivering a message that we are powerful, we have stories to tell and we are women.
All of my dresses are for sale. However, often people commission me to create a dress for their personal story.
Kimberly kindly wrote and contributed this piece to WearableArt.org as part of our annual theme “The Tranformative Power of Wearable Art.” seARTS and the Wearable Art Group are most grateful for this contribution. Kimberly is a Waltham resident and a 1990 graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. She was recently featured in the RISD alumni magazine and also in the Boston Globe. She is a painter and embroiderer with a rich educational background complemented by innovative exhibitions throughout New England. Follow her on Instagram.
Here we go again…..up the learning curve, or shall I say up the growing curve! My first solo full-museum exhibition of my hand-painted silks is about to launch – but this time it’s all my paintings and wall décor and all my wearable designs, hundred plus pieces! I’ve done lots and lots of shows and sent work to far-away places for exhibits and runway shows, but this is a full museum, solo art exhibition challenge. It’s my first big solo show. It’s at this time that I reflect on the forces that came before in my life that make me embrace the challenge and “Go, Dog, Go” with full confidence that I can pull it off. I’m thinking that artists have an unrecognized and difficult journey; our work has to develops artistically and change as our lives change, and we also have to keep that other side of the brain sharp and honed and ready to meet the challenges of getting our work into the world for others to share. It’s a two-fold journey with many twists, turns and obstacles to overcome.
Developing as an artist, my journey began when I was a child and one of my favorite games was to lay in the grass and cloud gaze to see what I could see. When I look back I might have predicted I would love painting images of our universe and designing wearable art; I used to raid the cedar closet (and upset many) to see what finds were there to cut up and re-configure to a new design of my own! Through the many years and other careers, I never stopped creating because of the sense of connection and wholeness it provides. My drive to work as an artist was always to arrive to a place of depth and transcendence that I could reach through my art experience. But there were always the tedious “thinking” details of medium and technique, subject, executing skills, and thinking about the outcome. And then I met Silk, the ultimate artistic experience for me. I became as free as the dye’s liquidity as it meanders where it will, flowing across the silk, and becoming one with the silk. It is ….In-the-moment…….Accepting what is…….Allowing the flow…….Go where it goes…….Freeing up from the outcome. I love this most unpredictable art form. Every piece is an experience that only gets better by letting the piece lead me as it creates itself. I see now that all the years and many mediums of the past were my “practice”. The art form itself centered me, challenged me, then freed and moved me forward artistically.
Moving my work out into the world, I’m thinking of my “other career” professional education at Northeastern University that kept throwing me into safe but pretty uncomfortable new medical practice areas, preparing me so well that I carried the Code Call Beeper a year out of nursing school. And I thank my boss David for standing me up in front of a national NIH Research Steering Committee in Bethesda MD to give a lecture to seasoned and world-renowned M.D.s, building my confidence with an audience. I’m thanking Steve who stood me in front of major pharmaceutical industry executives and told me I could best sell them our clinical research services. And Joe who sent me around the world to new corporate offices to fix and unify his company operations so it could grow as one, not 10 companies.
Yes, all that came before my silk art career, but it was seARTS and the Wearable Art Group that gave me the opportunity to bare my soul and display my entire artistic self that I’d kept on the side, in the closet, my little secret all those other years. Here I stand, a full-time artist, with this new big personal Mount Everest in front of me. But this one is so very different, because when we are Artists, our product is a bit of our innermost being and soul that we manifest, bringing it to others to share. For me my art was never about a product….it is about creation, manifestation, inspiration, the feeling of touching the very spirit of myself and others.
So I’m about to bare it all, telling my art story through my work from the time of my teen years until now. I would not have done more work to prepare even if I’d been at the MFA, because all those people in my past taught me to do it to world class perfection. In this moment when I’m pretty much “ready” to install in 2 days I want to acknowledge and thank seARTS & the Wearable Art group. I can still remember the first time I sought to be an exhibitor and runway artist for the CWA II Fashion Show. Chair Jacqueline Ganim-DeFalco said “Chris if you are going to do this you really need to work on a good display and have inventory. You’ll be beside the best”. I worked day and night to create to fill my display. With success under my belt I started applying for and submitting to venues, challenge after challenge, it’s gone well and my work is now international. I could just say, “good for me”, but I’m putting the Cape Ann Wearable Art initiative and seARTS on my thank you list, because they did for me just what the Mission says, encouraged me and gave me opportunities to put myself out there, to up my game, to broaden my audience, and now to stand here, unafraid to bare my soul and show it all to the world. Thank you! More info here: Silk Journey