Climate change and silk batiks in North Carolina

Moulin, batik on silk, 54″ x 36″ By Mary Edna Fraser

One sometimes finds art and fashion in strange places. A few days ago, I discovered this unique collaboration between a scientist and a silk batik artist. It plays into my personal interest in both hand-crafted objects and the environment. The exhibit opens tomorrow with a special reception, remarks by the artists and a book signing:

“Our Expanding Oceans: The Blending of Art and Science”

Thursday, June 23, 6 pm – 9:30 pm

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

This unique exhibit features more than 50 hand-dyed silk batiks, each inspired by aerial and satellite imagery as well as conceptual perspectives of our environment, and permeated with color to produce stunning visual effects. Developed as a comprehensive exhibit by artist Mary Edna Fraser and scientist Orrin Pilkey,* the collection explores major elements of global climate change, from melting ice sheets to rising seas.

More information on this unique collaboration between science and art can be found at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

For more of Mary Edna Fraser's Expanding Oceans series, click this image.

*Full Disclosure: Please note that Orrin Pilkey is the author of The World’s Beaches from UC Press, my employer.

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Worn Through Wednesdays: Seventeenth Century Women’s Dress Patterns

Today’s book review over on Worn Through is from Mark Hutter, a hugely important scholar in his field. He is the Senior Tailor in the Department of Historic Trades at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, and currently serves as a Vice President for the Costume Society of America.

Please enjoy his review of the just released, Seventeenth-Century Women’s Dress Patterns edited by Susan North and Jenny Tiramani.

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Week in Review: Fashion History on Twitter

This week went by in a flurry of activity, and so far my little blog experiment seems to be going well. A good deal of that activity came through via Twitter: Exhibitions were discussed, there was a particularly enjoyable (and well organized) Tweet chat amongst fashion bloggers, and I met some rather interesting people. It seems seems a round-up of sorts is in order:

Roberto Capucci's Nove gonne (Nine Dresses) Dress, 1956, silk taffeta (N.39) Photography by Claudia Primangeli / L.e C. Service (Via C'est La Mode)

Yesterday, the new Roberto Capucci exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art started making the rounds – if you’re not familiar with his work, get ready to be amazed. I feel like Capucci might be one of those amazing designers who’s unappreciated (not for long!).

The Museum at F.I.T.’s new exhibit on sportswear titled Sporting Life, started popping on my radar as well – looks good but I wonder how much this exhibition will differ from their previous sportswear exhibit, All-American: A Sportswear Tradition (1985) curated by Richard Martin. Not surprisingly, Museum of FIT also hosted a special celebration of Claire McCardell’s birthday last week (She’s so my girl).

A number of other large-scale fashion exhibits continue to gather steam via twitter and other social media sites, especially Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty. (Side note: how does the New York Review of Books print a review of the exhibition, and leave out mentioning the exhibition catalog or its essays? What’s wrong with this picture?)

From Beauty Culture (Via Annenberg Space for Photography)

But I digress. Happily, I also learned of a new ‘under the radar’ exhibit happening here in California. Beauty Culture, on now through November at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City includes 100+ artists and 170 photographs by fashion, beauty and fine art photographers who explore “the links between beauty and violence, glamour and sexuality and the cost (in its multiple meanings) of beauty.”

But new exhibitions aren’t the only things I learned about on Twitter this week. On Wednesday the Independent Fashion Bloggers group held a group chat, which was fascinating to read/watch. It fostered a good deal of discussion about how to promote a blog, but it also fostered some good relationship building among bloggers.  It looks like that’s to be a weekly occurrence (follow the hash tag #IFBChat and follow them @_IFB for next weeks discussion).

Twitter also brought to my attention a fellow blogger and historian, Melissa Donne (@melissa_donne), a PhD student at the University of Southampton researching fashion in film. She’s working on a thesis studying the interactions between these two, vastly different worlds, and is also blogging at Fashion in Films. Definitely one to watch.

That’s just a small snippet of the things flying across the screen this past week. I’m looking forward to seeing what next week will bring – hopefully some goodies. Come join the conversation and see what’s going on: follow along with me @FashionHistoria.


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Venice Incognito: Masks in the Serene Republic

Venice Incognito: Masks in the Serene Republic* By James H. Johnson details the practice of masking in Venice and explores how this practice led to the mixing of all social ranks including nobles, clergy and con men. It is full of stories of the role that masking played in everyday life, but also focuses it’s attention on Carnival and commedia dell’arte. It’s a fascinating look at identity, truth-telling, and appearance.

Throughout his affair with M.M., Casanova relied on the simple half-mask common in eighteenth-century Venice. During his trips to Murano, there was plenty to arouse suspicion–his unlikely devotion to the little chapel, his faithful presence in the convent’s visiting room, his regular visits to a certain green door at the top of the staris. But there was one thing that would not have raised an eyebrow: his mask.

In Casanova’s day, virtually the whole of Venetian society wore masks as daily dress, and not just during carnival. For six months of the year, beginning in the early autumn and ending with Lent, masks dominated the city. They reappeared periodically throughout the summer for civic festivals and ceremonies. Nobles greeted foreign emissaries masked. Venetians entered private receptions and public theaters masked. They heard concerts, watched plays, and danced at formal balls masked. Husbands and wives met for meals masked at inns and hotels. Masked patrons sat in cafes sipping chocolate and reading the gazette, or at lower-class establishments, eyeing other patrons to rob, swindle, or proposition… (47)

In my talking with the author, Johnson points out that “sometimes what we think are ornaments or accessories in dress actually got their start as a response to social needs or situations–in this case, the mask served first and foremost as a way that people in a very segregated society could share close spaces (cafes, the theater, the gambling hall) without going through all the rigamarole of bowing and scraping.” Fascinating to say the least – and I hope to learn more once I’ve finished reading the book.

On a related note, Tricia Roush, the milliner behind House of Nine’s Design, recently attended Carnival in Venice (March 2011) and provided some marvelous photos of how it is celebrated today. Many more are available here.

Autumn,  masked and in a gorgeous 18th century gown at the Hotel Danieli on the Grand Canal. Via House of Nines

*Full Disclosure: I am a publicist for the University of California Press – the publisher of Venice Incognito

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Tuesday Teaser: Kelley House Museum

(Via Kelley House Museum in Mendocino, CA)

[1890, by Madame J. Baer] Black silk bodice elaborately ruffled and trimmed, owned by Amanda Sjolund Warnell. Bodice very elaborate, center front opening ”double front ” black silk over net over silk inner lining (center front opening edged with black cotton trim repeated at sleeve cuffs and neckline; sleeves are elaborate gathered leg-o-mutton 3/4 length with pleated ruching at mid-arm. Cummerbund waist, mandarin collar with same trim as center bodice and cuffs; inner half-lining of ivory silk. Embroidered gold label inside reads ” G. Baer, 1200 Geary St. San Francisco” A hand-sewn inked label that reads ”Robertson.”

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Historic Costume in California State Parks: Charmian London

Charmian London, ca 1910 (Via California State Parks)

This weekend, I was lucky enough to attend a lecture and tour of Charmian London’s clothing collection at the Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, CA – organized through the Western Region of the Costume Society of America.

Those in attendance were treated to a lecture by Jo Ann Stabb, who conducted an assessment of this collection of over 100 artifacts in 2002-3 for the California State Parks. Several pieces from the collection were on display at the Sonoma Developmental Center, including some lovely theater coats, evening shoes, a lace blouse and an evening dress. The lecture highlighted Charmian’s independent spirit and outgoing nature, and drew links between her wardrobe and the larger fashion world of each era.

Many of the garments in her collection draw strong correlations with the House of Lucille and with Paul Poiret- though it’s not likely that she purchased items from these makers. Jack London’s mother was an accomplished seamstress, as was Charmian herself.

At various times Charmian’s style was inspired by the Aesthetic Movement and Art Nouveau (especially during her bohemian days in Berkeley and Oakland), and often by her travels abroad with Jack (including trips to Hawaii and the tropics, where she would don Mother Hubbard style dresses and Kimono’s). Japanese, African and other ethnic influences can certainly be found in extant photos and clothing pieces in the collection. Not surprisingly, she had a love of fur – especially trimming hats and garments (reminiscent of Lucille).

The incredibly informative and well attended lecture was followed by lunch and a visit to the Jack London State Historic Park to see the House of Happy Walls (where Charmian’s closets were on view). Park Rangers were on hand to answer our questions, and a park volunteer played music on Charmian London’s piano – much to the delight of the visitors. (For more of my photos from this event, see the gallery at the end)

Charmian London in Berkeley Bohemian attire circa 1909.

What made this event all the more bittersweet was the news that came out last Friday: that the Jack London State Historic Park is one of many on a proposed list of park closures due to a $22 million California general fund budget cut. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, those closures are expected to begin in September and have already been approved by the California Legislature.

It will be the first time in California’s history, including during the Great Depression, that state parks have closed because of budget cuts and parks that remain open also will have reduced services.”

What isn’t obvious to many, is that some of these parks also house historic collections of costumes and textiles (as well as other artifacts) – and access to these collections would also be diminished.  Along with Jack London SP, and close to my heart, the Fisher Hanlon House (a historic home in Benicia Capitol State Historic Park) has a costume collection and would also be closed.

Benicia is my hometown, and my first experience with a historic costume collection was at the Fisher Hanlon House. According to one parks employee “Parks that do end up being closed will be in a caretaker status, and the collections will still be preserved.”  While officials weren’t able to confirm which parks had historic costume and textile collections, they indicated that the Governor’s Mansion and Leland Stanford Mansion both include displays of historic dress. Upon further research, it seems that the Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park also has historic costume, and is scheduled to close in September (For a complete list of California collections housing historic costumes and textiles, see Clothing And Textile Collections in the United States: A Csa Guide).

Now if you want to do something to help preserve these collections that are important to California’s History, I’d advise a donation:

Gallery of Photos:

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Gertrude Stein: Identities, Words and Art

It’s not often that I get to work on fashion related books at my day job,* though it does happen occasionally. I have several coming down the line, so you might hear about them from time to time.

Accompanying an exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco (opening today), Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories by Wanda M. Corn and Tirza True Latimer includes a detailed look on Steins creation of her public persona and the role fashion played in her identity.

According to the authors, “Stein and Toklas had perfected their late-life look by the time they met [Cecil] Beaton in the mid-thirties. From the very beginning of their friendship, the two women shared an interest in dressing distinctively.”

Gertrude Stein at Balmain Fashion Show , 1946, Horst P. Horst, Gelatin silver print, Courtesy of the Horst P. Horst Estate (Via the Contemporary Jewish Museum)

The New York Times Style Magazine recently provided an excerpt of the chapter titled “Dress” which chronicles both Gertrude Stein’s and Alice B. Tklas relationships with their appearance and with ‘fashion’ in general.

As girls they spent time at dressmakers, shoemakers, and milliners, where they acquired day dresses and casual shoes for home life; heels, suits, hats, and gloves for the public sphere; and gowns for special evening events. . . . Alice’s hats, a friend wrote, “were all in perfect condition, kept in their original pretty boxes from the most famous milliners. She had superb examples of inlaid feather work by Paul Poiret, huge black-and-gold birds of paradise. . . .

Happily, the exhibition includes vests, pins and other articles worn by Stein, and the book includes photographs and famous artwork featuring Stein’s image. I’ll be attending the opening this evening, and if I can, will post some additional photos.

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Aix-les-Bains, France, c.1927, Photograph, Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (Via CJM)

A whole host of museum and literary events are planned in collaboration with this exhibit, including a UC Extension Course, lectures on Stein’s ties to queer and artist cultures, among many others. Full details can be found here. After the exhibition closes at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, on Sept 6, it will travel to the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. where it will run from Oct 14 through Jan 22, 2012.

Volunteer Kathleen Dowling handles a vest from the Gertrude Stein personal effects collection, working to create custom interior supports for the vest for display. (Photo by Anthony Maddaloni. Via Cultural Compass)
Cecil Beaton, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in wallpapered room, 1938, Gelatin silver print, Courtesy of the Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby's (Via CJM)
Gertrude Stein Wearing Balmain Suit, 1946, Horst P. Horst, Gelatin silver print, Courtesy of the Horst P. Horst Estate (via CJM)


Photo Sources:

Contemporary Jewish Museum

Cultural Compass

*Full Disclosure: My ‘day job’ is a publicist for the University of California Press.

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