Tag Archives: Art

ALABAMA-CHANIN-ST-EOM-INSTITUTE-193-1B-1

INSTITUTE 193 (1B) + ARTIST ST. EOM

If you are a long-time reader of our Journal, you might be familiar with Phillip March Jones and Institute 193. Phillip is a friend and collaborator who founded the non-profit gallery, venue, and publishing house, Institute193 located in Lexington, Kentucky. He is also an artist, photographer, and author—and most recently opened a collaborative project space in New York’s East Village called Institute 193 (1B).

The space debuts with an inaugural exhibition featuring the work of Eddie Owens Martin, curated by Annie Moye and Michael McFalls. If you are in the New York area, visit Institute 193 (1B) until November 3rd to see this show in person. We share curator Annie Moye’s write up about the life and work of Eddie Martin aka “St. EOM” below.

ALABAMA-CHANIN-ST-EOM-INSTITUTE-193-1B-3

Eddie Owens Martin Untitled, n.d., Watercolor and pen on paper, 14 x 11.25 inches

Eddie Owens Martin, who later in life referred to himself as St. EOM, once told his friend Fred Fussell that when he lay down to go to bed at night, “the back of my head is like a cinemascope screen.” “When I get up,” he continued, “that’s what I [paint].” In fact, a lot of St. EOM’s works are like Hollywood dreams remembered, recalled, and reimagined. He received his first vision in 1935 during an illness while visiting his mother’s farm, and it was of a man “like some kind of god, with arms big around as watermelons.” The giant Pasaquoyan, as St. EOM called him, asked him to follow his spirit, which the new saint agreed to do, and from then on, St. EOM’s dancing and posing figures were all given a Pasaquoyan “twist.”

After hitchhiking his way from the rural southwest Georgia town of Buena Vista to New York City at the age of 14 in 1922, St. EOM had his eyes open for opportunities to learn about people and cultures. He spent much of his time in museums and institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the New York Public Library. Of course, during the thirty years he lived in the city, he was also looking to learn about himself. He told his biographer Tom Patterson, “For a while after I first got to New York, I was confused in my mind ‘bout whether I should be on the gay side or on the other side, and I had that complex about this manliness stuff that they try to lay on you in this society.” EOM’s struggle with his own identity is clearly reflected in his works of the time. Much like Henry Darger’s Vivian Girls, St. EOM’s city-slicker Pasaquoyans are non-binary, constantly blurring the line between masculine and feminine.

ALABAMA-CHANIN-ST-EOM-INSTITUTE-193-1B-2

Eddie Owens Martin, Untitled, n.d., Watercolor and graphite on paper, 14 x 11.25 inches

Pasaquan’s director, Michael McFalls, sees this sexual ambiguity as a reflection of St. EOM’s interest in the visual culture of the roaring ‘20s and the jazz age of the ‘40s and ‘50s. Indeed, St. EOM often visited (or worked in) the bars that were frequented by movie stars and jazz legends of New York, and he re-imagined the people he met in those spaces as Pasaquoyans. As Fussell notes, too, not only was St. EOM studying works in museums, but he was also looking at fashion magazines, movies of the time, and books about Hollywood’s stars. The Pasaquoyans have broad, sharp shoulders, presumably from the popular shoulder pads of the time, and their outfits are angular and brightly colored, their shapes idealized and heroic. In true Pasaquoyan style, however, female bodies in these works may be given masculine facial features—and vice versa. Again, as Darger’s Vivian Girls look almost like dolls, so do Pasaquoyans look like mannequins whose faces are replicated on an assembly line.

As a male prostitute and hustler, St. EOM also created images that reflect his complicated fantasies about class. As interested as St. EOM was in the glam and movie stars of the period, he was also reflecting on his own relationship with that distant, idealized world in both his art and his life. Drag queens he met in Union Square and on 42nd Street — performers like Tillie the Toiler, “Gloria Swanson,” and “Greta Garbo”— are depicted in his drawings as high-fashion individuals of the late-night scene, and EOM himself worked his “Cream and Peach” powder and bleached-blonde hair in an attempt to attract the “Maltese husbands” who would fund his city shenanigans.

While most people are familiar with St. EOM’s largest work of art, the seven-acre visionary art environment outside of Buena Vista, Georgia, called Pasaquan, lesser known are his brilliant — and almost compulsively drawn and painted — works on paper. The inaugural show at (1B), Institute 193’s brand new New York space on the Lower East Side, features a collection of these never-before-exhibited works that depict figures who are a mixture of both the real characters St. EOM met during his time in New York City and the futuristic, utopian, and gender-fluid Pasaquoyans he encountered in visions and in dreams. They are post-vision and pre-Pasaquan — Pasaquoyans in the city, as the show title has it — crafted during a time when St. EOM’s own identity was in flux. Primarily created between 1935 and 1957, these works showcase St. EOM’s talents as a fashion designer and represent his ambitions as an artist.

Eddie Owens Martin
Pasaquoyan in the City: Fashioning a Southern Saint

Curated by Annie Moye and Michael McFalls
September 26 – November 3, 2018

Institute 193 (1B)
292 East Third Street, 1B New York, New York 10009

About the author:
A native of Lumpkin, GA, Annie Moye received her Master’s degree in American Studies in 2012 from Kennesaw State University and is currently enrolled in Georgia State University’s Public History PhD program. In 2016, she was elected the chair of the Pasaquan Preservation Society and has since overseen the art environment’s grand re-opening after a two-year restoration project by the Kohler Foundation Inc., the successful debut of a Pasaquoyan opera, and the planning of an arts and music festival to be held on site at Pasaquan this November 10. Moye lives in Smyrna, GA, with her husband, Craig Watson, and three cats: Fiona Apple Maggart, Joan Mitchell, and Elizabeth Bishop.

Lead image: 
Left: Installation view of Pasaquoyan in the City: Fashioning a Southern Saint at Institute 193 (1B), New York; right: Eddie Owens Martin Untitled, n.d., Watercolor and pen on paper, 14 x 11.25 inches

All images courtesy of Institute 193 and the Columbus State University
Foundation.

ALABAMA CHANIN - WOMEN ARTISTS - SWOON - PHOTO CREDIT ART REPORT - 1

#WOMENARTISTS: SWOON

When she began her art career, Swoon (born Caledonia Dance Curry) never tagged her art, opting to leave her pieces anonymous. She came up with the “street” name in a dream and began to use the tag which, because it is not gender-specific, led many observers to think the artist was a man—an unexpected advantage in the male-dominated graffiti world; she often went unnoticed by police.

Swoon does not limit herself to graffiti, though she does a great deal of street art. She can be described more as a mixed media artist who specializes in portraits and large-scale installations. Swoon earned a BA in fine arts from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and began her street art at that time as a way to express the artistic instincts she felt were untapped in class. She began wheat pasting art on buildings and walls, which started small and gradually grew into large-scale images, most printed on recycled paper and meant to disintegrate in place. When speaking about her early days, she told Forbes, “I loved being a part of that process. For me, it was taking this classical background in portraiture and taking it outside, maintaining my identity as a classic portrait artist. And bringing that into this other tradition of working outside.”

She often depicts people, including friends and family. According to WIDEWALLS, the reasoning behind this is that she believes we “store things in our body and that a portrait can become an x-ray of those experiences. She wants to capture something essential in the subject.” By placing these images on public buildings, she challenges viewers to connect with the person and make their own personal connection with the image.

ALABAMA CHANIN - WOMEN ARTISTS - SWOON - PHOTO CREDIT GALERIE LJ - 2

Image credit: Galerie LJ

In 2005, she began considering larger pieces in the form of installations but, as a bit of an outsider, was hesitant to become part of the gallery scene. She found a home with gallerist Jeffrey Deitch, who often champions offbeat artists. Under Swoon, his gallery became a massive urban skyline. With some larger-scale offerings under her belt, she began to expand into more political and humanitarian works.

ALABAMA CHANIN - WOMEN ARTISTS - SWOON - PHOTO CREDIT CONSTANCE HOCKADAY STUDIO - 3

Image credit: Constance Hockaday Studio

Swoon and a group of about 30 other artists, activists, and musicians, famously crashed Venice’s 2009 Biennale with a performance project she called “Swimming Cities of Serenissima.” The group sailed in rafts made of New York City garbage and Slovenian scrap materials, stopping along the way to collect pieces from locals for what they called their “cabinet of curiosities.” The rafts served as sleeping, cooking, and eating quarters along the journey, eventually docking in the Venice Lagoon, where they performed nightly.

ALABAMA CHANIN - WOMEN ARTISTS - SWOON - PHOTO CREDIT HELIOTROPE FOUNDATION - 4

Image credit: Heliotrope Foundation

ALABAMA CHANIN - WOMEN ARTISTS - SWOON - PHOTO CREDIT HELIOTROPE FOUNDATION - 5

Image credit: Heliotrope Foundation

Konbit Shelter” is a sustainable building project Swoon began in 2010, with the goal of creating homes and community spaces in post-earthquake Haiti. She brought with her a team of artists, engineers, and architects to build structures that were made to last. The buildings were made primarily from something called super adobe, earthbags that use long bags filled with adobe and form a beehive-like structure.

ALABAMA CHANIN - WOMEN ARTISTS - SWOON - PHOTO CREDIT BROOKLYN STREET ART - 6

Image credit: Brooklyn Street Art

She has kept busy with her humanitarian art and installations. In 2011, she created “Anthropocene Extinction” using her signature paper forms. The piece presented a giant Chinese temple made of bamboo and animals leading to a giant figure of an old woman (known as Ms. Bennett), who represented the last Aborigine that existed as a nomad—a lifestyle no longer possible to sustain. The installation is a supposed reflection on how humans can irreversibly impact Earth and the environment. Underneath the woman were demons representing humans’ consumption of the natural world.

ALABAMA CHANIN - WOMEN ARTISTS - SWOON - PHOTO CREDIT INHABITAT - 7

Image credit: Inhabitat

That same year, she began building an interactive community-based installation in a New Orleans neighborhood, which she calls “Dithyrambalina.” Several houses were utilized and artists salvaged materials to make what became a giant music box, with each house acting as a musical instrument. Visitors to the buildings produce music by walking through the structure and touching parts of the home.

The New Orleans project caught the attention of several galleries and she created installations for the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum. Her Brooklyn-based piece, called “Submerged Motherlands” received much attention because it featured a life-sized sculpture of a tree, surrounded by people and natural elements—a celebration of life and renewal. (You can find a listing of her massive collection of installations here.)

Swoon’s artwork has been collected by the Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and the Tate Modern, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and a number of others. Her work has been shown at numerous locations in the United States and abroad. She continues her commitment to exploring relationships between people and their built environments.

As our graffiti theme continues, we look to Swoon as a #womanartist who inspires.

Lead image credit: Art Report

ALABAMA CHANIN - JESSIE DUNAHOO - 1

JESSIE DUNAHOO, INSTITUTE 193, AND THE ELAINE DE KOONING HOUSE

It’s been a while since we’ve heard from contributing Journal writer, artist, and founder of Institute 193, Phillip March Jones. He’s taking a hiatus from the New York heat this summer to spend time on his family farm in Kentucky. He’s used the summer to grow vegetables, make photographs, and organize exhibitions. Follow his Instagram to be inspired. In the fall, he will open a small Institute 193 project space in NYC’s East Village. In the meantime, Institute 193 has organized an exhibition in the Elaine de Kooning House in East Hampton and will be featuring a large installation of “quilts” by Jessie Dunahoo. If you are in the New York City area this summer, we encourage you to make a trip to see the exhibition in person. If you are new to the Journal, read back to learn about Institute 193 and the incredible artists’ work they share. From Phillip:

Jessie Dunahoo was born August 6, 1936 in St. Helen’s, Kentucky – roughly eighty miles southeast of Lexington. Deaf since birth, Dunahoo additionally lost his vision at a young age but that didn’t prevent him from the normal preoccupations of boyhood: exploring, fort-building, and other creative pursuits.

ALABAMA CHANIN - JESSIE DUNAHOO - 2

Jessie Dunahoo at Latitude Artist Community, 2006. Photo: PMJ

The support structures for people considered to have a disability in the 1940s (particularly in the rural South) were even more limited than they are today. As a result, Dunahoo was mostly left to his own devices but afforded the artistic freedom to explore and create within the boundaries of the family’s home and land. Using various fences and trees, he would hang intersecting lines, ropes, and wires that could be grasped and threaded, creating a 3-D map he used to navigate outdoor space. Some of these paths led him through the woods and into a space his nephew refers to as “Jessie’s place,” an area once covered with his sewn awnings and decorated with handmade furniture built using things scavenged around the farm.

ALABAMA CHANIN - JESSIE DUNAHOO - 3

Jessie Dunahoo at Latitude Artist Community, 2008. Photo: PMJ

Dunahoo eventually moved into a state-operated group home in Lexington. As before, the artist continued to construct his environmental sculptures which evolved into complex sewn structures made of found materials, including grocery bags, fabric samples, pieces of old clothing, and twine. Through an interpreter, Jessie described his works as shelters, and they were strung about his home and yard, covering the walls, floor, and ceiling. Dunahoo was keenly aware that others viewed and evaluated his constructions and was always delighted to play the docent, escorting interested viewers in and around his creations. Until his death in May 2017, Dunahoo worked five days a week at studio space called the Latitude Artist Community in Lexington, Kentucky.

ALABAMA CHANIN - JESSIE DUNAHOO - 4

Jessie Dunahoo installation at the Elaine de Kooning House (East Hampton, NY). Photo: Katherine McMahon.

Jessie Dunahoo’s works are currently on view at the Elaine de Kooning House in East Hampton, New York as part of Summer Studio, an exhibition organized by Maïa Ferrari of Institute 193. The exhibition explores both local and universal notions of community and demonstrates the profound effects that a modest space dedicated to the exchange of ideas can instill upon a group of individual talents. While living, Dunahoo was an integral part of the Institute 193 extended family who combined his artistic efforts with musicians, dancers, and other visual artists to great effect. Most notably, he created a spectacular stage set for Jim James, Daniel Martin Moore, and Ben Sollee’s concert at the Lexington Opera House in 2010.

ALABAMA CHANIN - JESSIE DUNAHOO - 5

Ben Sollee, Daniel Martin Moore, and Jim James with Dunahoo stage installation, 2010. Photo: PMJ

Summer Studio: Institute 193 at the Elaine de Kooning House is on view through the end of August.

Lead image: Jessie Dunahoo installation at the Elaine de Kooning House (East Hampton, NY). Photo: Katherine McMahon.

ALABAMA CHANIN - GRAFFITI + HISTORY - PHOTO CREDIT NEW YORK AMSTERDAM NEWS - 1

GRAFFITI: INSPIRATION + HISTORY

Graffiti has probably been around since the earliest days of man. Seriously. Paintings inside the Lascaux Caves in France date to prehistoric times—and graffiti was actually found in the Italian archaeological site of Pompeii, where some man proudly scribbled, “Gaius Pumidius Diphilus was here.”

While those might have been the original graffiti artists, graffiti as street art largely began in the 1960s and is generally traced to high school student Darryl McCray, better known as Cornbread. Cornbread lived in North Philadelphia and took to painting tributes to his crush, in the form of “Cornbread Loves Cynthia,” all over North Philly. Eventually, he took to just painting his name (aka his “tag”) across the city. Philadelphia birthed several other well-known graffiti and tag artists like Cool Earl and Top Cat 126.

ALABAMA CHANIN - GRAFFITI INSPIRATION + HISTORY - 2

Image credit: Dazed

Toward the end of the 1960s, graffiti was emerging in New York and tags were usually just an alias and a number, like JULIO204, CAY161, and the infamous TAKI183. The New York Times printed an article on TAKI183, resulting in a street game, of sorts. Artists were constantly trying to get their tags noticed the most. Subway trains were perfect backdrops for graffiti and spray-painted trains became part of the city’s underground landscape. The artwork became more complex and the artists became more notorious. Toward the end of the 1970s, graffiti was gradually being viewed as a legitimate form of artwork and, most notably, artists Fab 5 Freddy and Lee Quinones (both from Brooklyn graffiti collective The Fabulous Five) had an art dealer and were given a prominent exhibition in Rome, Italy.

ALABAMA CHANIN - GRAFFITI INSPIRATION + HISTORY - 3

In the 1980s, street art and hip-hop culture were becoming inextricably linked. News stories often linked graffiti and crime, but it was also being associated with music of all sorts. Fab 5 Freddy’s friendship with Blondie singer Debbie Harry got him name-checked in their 1981 hit “Rapture” – and Freddy appeared in the song’s music video alongside up-and-coming artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Richard Hambleton were key in moving graffiti into a conceptual, rather than literal approach. Punk culture was also adopting graffiti into their ethos. Stencil use became more prevalent and soon you could see feminist and anarchist messages alongside punk rock band names.

ALABAMA CHANIN - GRAFFITI INSPIRATION + HISTORY - 4

Image credit: The Daily Edge

ALABAMA CHANIN - GRAFFITI INSPIRATION + HISTORY - 5

Image credit: My Modern Met

As time passed, the 1990s brought graffiti art a newfound legitimacy with artists like Shepard Fairey and Banksy. Fairey’s art emerged from skateboard culture was more known for sticker campaigns (most notably, OBEY: Andre the Giant Has a Posse), and he would eventually become known for creating a series of posters supporting Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential run, particularly the iconic “HOPE” image. Banksy is perhaps the most famous street artist of today and was influenced by 80s French stencil artist Blek le Rat. Banksy produced a documentary, “Exit Through the Gift Shop”, which was nominated for an Oscar.

ALABAMA CHANIN - GRAFFITI INSPIRATION + HISTORY - 6

By definition, graffiti is public art and there has always been a hierarchy and culture of earned respect among artists. It also has an element of subversion and pure creativity. Our Graffiti Capsule collection is meant to capture a bit of that subversive feeling and challenge the norm.

Lead image credit: New York Amsterdam News

ALABAMA CHANIN - THE HAMBIDGE CENTER - 1

RESIDENCY: THE HAMBIDGE CENTER

During June 2018, Natalie took month-long respite and creative journey during her residency at The Hambidge Center in the woods of north Georgia. She reflects on her time there and shares her experience for which she is eternally grateful:

In the summer of 2017, I was going through what will always be known to me as “The Summer of Onslaught.” It was, in other words, a brutal period of my life. Diverse and disparate events and actions, all outside of my control, barreled down on me like a fireball; I had no moment of respite. As soon as one event—personal and/or professional—seemed even mildly resolved, more turmoil arrived. My life felt like a beautiful birthday cake with trick candles: you blow and hope for your heart’s deepest wish but, to your horror, the flame reappears. You blow and blow until you realize that no amount of breath or effort can stop the onslaught.

I think of myself as a wildly positive person—the eternal optimist. How else could Alabama Chanin, The Factory, Building 14, and The School of Making even exist? But even the most optimistic human can burn out, burn up, fold in on herself, and shut down. Last summer—in the midst of chaos, I was sitting on my back porch with a friend and said, “I don’t see an end. I don’t see a break from the little fires erupting around me on all sides. I wish that I could have one moment to clear my mind; I need time to understand this. I want something like a residency.” And although I didn’t really even know what that meant and had never done a residency, I knew that it was something that might save me.

In a matter of days, I received a call from my dear friend Angie Mosier telling me that The Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts and Sciences was trying to get in touch with me about… a residency. She put us in touch and, indeed, I was awarded a monthlong residency program thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Sometimes it is important to speak something out loud, if only to one other person, and the universe will go about making it happen.

The view through the dogtrot of Mary’s Cabin, looking out to her porch. –Photo: Rinne Allen

The Hambidge Center, the legacy of famed weaver Mary Hambidge, is a creative residency program nestled on 600 acres of forested mountain terrain in the North Georgia mountains, near Rabun Gap. The sanctuary belonged to Mary and her partner Jay Hambidge—who both worked to develop and promote the theory of Dynamic Symmetry. The residency program is open to any creative person in the fields of visual arts, writing, music, dance, culinary, textiles, and/or the sciences. The Center believes in a classic, self-directed residency where they provide a simple place for creative development and production, based on an individual’s wants and needs. Included in the residency are living quarters and a studio space, along with a support system for artists and scientists to provide room for creative encounter. There is no internet access in the studio, no cell service, four evening meals a week are provided—and lots of leftovers for lunch the next day. That’s it. In essence, they protect and nurture your time so that the little fires from the outside world are removed from the resident’s life and there is space for exploration.

It’s now almost exactly a year since I received that call from Angie. I’m sitting in the Brena Studio—my studio—at The Hambidge Center as I write this. I’ve been here for three weeks. I look out my window and see only trees and sky. The lush, temperate rainforest beckons morning and afternoon walks, waterfall swims, and deep breathing. I hear water running in the distance, leaves blowing in the trees, and the occasional call of a bird. My workspace is clean and orderly and perfectly arranged in a manner most conducive to my personal creativity. And I’m working.

In my residency, I follow an impressive array of writers, photographers, chefs, and creative thinkers from all genres. My beloved friend Scott Peacock worked on The Gift of Southern Cooking with his friend and mentor Edna Lewis in Mary Hambidge’s original cabin. My heroine Natasha Trethewey, former U.S. Poet Laureate (when such things were appreciated), worked here before me. My friend Angie Mosier was here in residency in 2016. She started a project which attempts to connect individuals in today’s changing social climate in the mountain south through food. Angie’s family is from the Smoky Mountains and she is exploring the relationship that links together that history and culture with those recipes and materials. It is a fascinating story that is unfolding and today, as I write this, she is at the nearby Walnut Hill Studio—on her second residency—continuing this important piece of work. In the same studio, Lisa Donovan, acclaimed pastry chef, author, and recent recipient of the James Beard Award for Journalism is working on her memoir, to be published by Penguin Press. Two days ago, these two brilliant women taught a workshop called Elemental Pie that connected flour and butter with the trajectory of making, women, and humanity. It was thrilling. These are the types of unexpected, yet artistically stimulating projects happening around me and inspiring me to continue my own work.

From the class description:

Lisa will speak to the emotional elements that take over when she is baking and how that makes its way into her writing. Angie will talk about how she uses her photography to capture the techniques but also the beauty of working hands, ingredients and the joy of cooking.

“All art is a mixture of science and emotion, no matter what the medium.” —from The Hambidge Center description of Elemental Pie

Boiled peanut, gruyere, and onion hand-pies from Lisa Donovan and Angie Mosier at The Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences.

Lisa Donovan teaches pie crust. “Work the flour into the cold butter by smearing,” she tells us. “You want these flakes to create this beautiful marbled effect.” Photo: Rinne Allen

Lisa Donovan pushes the completed pie shell into the “corners” of the pan. “This is how you make sure that your walls don’t collapse.” Photo: Rinne Allen

Angie Mosier teaches us about light and camera interaction. “See this beautiful light?” she says. “It creates shape and texture for your photo. You don’t need fancy equipment, just look for the light.” Photo: Rinne Allen

Angie Mosier shows us how to vary height and angle to interact with light. “See this beautiful stack of pies?” she asks. “I’m going get down on the same level and make this stack my hero.” Photo: Rinne Allen

Carley, from Literature of Food, in Charleston, and a guest at the Pie workshop doubles as our model with the beautiful pie shells. Photo: Rinne Allen

Although I also taught two lovely workshops during my residency, it was such a treat to sit and listen to this group who had gathered for this workshop and talk about creative inspiration for making pie, for making dough, even how creative impulse lead Angie and Lisa to substitute boiled peanuts they bought on the side of the road for the originally planned, but unsalvageable, mushrooms for the hand-pies. (They were delicious.) Conversations wandered to how women and men have had to physically and metaphorically untie apron strings and put tools away and choose between making, work, and family because there are just too many of those fires to put out—and it all takes time.

I don’t know if your experience is the same, but my truth is that creative endeavor needs space and time to breathe. It requires this moment of silence for what ancient Greeks called eudaimonia (inspiration or creative flow) to arrive, be heard, and find its way out into the world. Whether it is designing fabric, developing silhouettes, writing a story, or planning a space, inspiration isn’t dropped from the big, blue sky; it needs to be tended and listened to and coaxed into reality. It needs to be tested and evolved and shared in a safe space. It is something that is ephemeral and solid at the same time. Last summer, living in chaos and constantly putting out fires dulled my senses; residency cleared a space for ideas to form and shapes to emerge.

I believe that to be human means to be creative. Elizabeth Gilbert writes in her lovely book Big Magic, “We are all makers by design.” It is in our very DNA to make, because when you look back in time and the trajectory of your own family, you most often find, as Gilbert puts it, “…people who were not consumers, people who were not sitting around passively waiting for stuff to happen to them. You will find people who spent their lives making things. This is where you come from. This is where we all come from.” And I understand deeply that this is where I come from and that to be a full and well-rounded human, for our society to be well-rounded, we have to make and we have to create space for creative thought and endeavor to emerge. And that takes time—and courage.

View of Rachel K. Garceau’s work and exhibition at the Antinori Ruins on The Hambidge Center property. Photo: Rinne Allen

Rachel K. Garceau, ceramicist and sculptor who is also in residency this month, pointed me towards Rollo May’s book titled The Courage to Create. On page 21 May writes, “Whereas moral courage is the righting of wrongs, creative courage, in contrast, is the discovering of new forms, new symbols, new patterns on which a new society can be built.” This is what residency is for me: the opportunity to discover new forms, new symbols, and new patterns in my own work.

Joan Didion once said, “I don’t know what I think until I write about it.” I feel the same way. Until I was able to sit and write about the last year of my life—solely for myself—I wasn’t able to know what I thought about it. And until I understood that year, I was unable to think of creative undertakings or have true creative courage.

My work table is orderly, I feel filled with courage and I‘m ready for creative endeavor.

I’m eternally grateful to The Hambidge Center and the National Endowment for the Arts for a Community Engagement Grant. As part of my residency, I was lucky to curate a show in collaboration with Rachel K. Garceau. Titled Process in Works, the show is open to the community through September 8th, 2018. Rachel’s work is site-specific to Hambidge and will be on display for approximately a two-year period. It is well worth the trip to visit Hambidge, the North Georgia Mountains, and, of course, our collaboration.

View of the gallery in Mary’s Weave Shed highlighting “Process in Work” by Alabama Chanin and Rachel K. Garceau. Photo: Rinne Allen

From The Hambidge Center:

Process in Works is a growing, evolving show of work by Natalie Chanin and Rachel K. Garceau about the purposeful setting of intentions, approaching the world with curiosity, exploring the meaning of value, and creating cumulative beauty with small, everyday acts and objects. This exhibit is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Painted stencil as an artifact of process as part of the show “Process in Work” at The Hambidge Center. Photo: Rinne Allen

The gallery show offers imaginative and interactive experiences inside and out through textiles, ceramics, making stations, an inspiration library and so much more. We are so proud to bring these two truly amazing women together for a show like no other.

Address: The Hambidge Center, 105 Hambidge Court, Rabun Gap, Georgia

Gallery Hours: Tuesday – Friday, 9am-4pm; Saturday, 10am-5pm

Gallery Phone: 706-746-5718

Detail of Rachel K. Garceau’s installation in the homestead ruin at The Hambidge Center. Photo: Rinne Allen

There are different types of creative residencies and you can gather more information here.

Apply for a creative residency here.

Support The Hambidge Center here.

And even if you can’t make a visit to this magical place, make space in your life for your own personal residency—ten minutes at a time.

Rachel K. Garceau’s installation in the homestead ruin at The Hambidge Center. Photo: Rinne Allen

P.S.: I’d like to thank The Hambidge Center and the Rabun County Public Library for hosting workshops during my residency. Inspiring one and all.

ALABAMA CHANIN - THE HAMBIDGE CENTER + A RECEPTION - 1

HAMBIDGE + PROCESS IN WORKS WITH NATALIE

Created in 1934 by Mary Hambidge, the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts & Sciences is an artist community and sustainable farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia, founded in memory of artist Jay Hambidge—Mary’s partner who introduced her to her life’s work, weaving. After retiring from work as a popular vaudeville whistler (with her pet mockingbird, Jimmy), Mary met Jay, discovered weaving, and began employing local women to create textiles that would one day be featured in exhibits in the Smithsonian and MOMA. Later, Mary began inviting artists for extended stays on her property in the mountains and those evolved into an official residency program after her death in 1973.

This summer, Natalie was invited to stay at Hambidge for a month-long artist residency and her art will be featured in conjunction with artist Rachel Garceau in an exhibition called Process in Works. Process in Works explores the purposeful setting of intentions, ways to approach the world with curiosity, the meaning of value, and it creates cumulative beauty with small, everyday actions and objects.

ALABAMA CHANIN - THE HAMBIDGE CENTER + A RECEPTION - 2

Stop by the Weave Shed Gallery at Hambidge on June 30th for the opening of the exhibition and a leisurely summer afternoon filled with stories, homemade ice cream and small bites, and woodland walks with Natalie and her dear friends Angie Mosier, Lisa Donovan, and Rinne Allen. The reception, from 4:00pm ­– 7:00pm, is free and open to the public.

The exhibition will run until September 8th and is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The Hambidge Center is carrying out important work, and we thank them for the opportunity.

P.S.: Look for more from Natalie about Hambidge later this summer on the Journal.

ALABAMA CHANIN - WOMEN ARTISTS - LORINA BULWER - IMAGES COURTESY OF MADE IN SLANT - 1

#WOMENARTISTS: LORINA BULWER

In Norwich Castle Museum in England, you can find several textiles made by a woman named Lorina Bulwer—embroideries that might be seen as messages of protest or anger. Of the three wool and cotton-scrap pieces, two are square images of arguing men, and the others are scrolls made of scraps, heavily embroidered with stream-of-consciousness-like text. Lorina sewed these messages from inside the Great Yarmouth Workhouse—an asylum.

Lorina Bulwer was born in the mid 1800s to parents who owned a chain of grocery stores. She appears to have been middle class, educated, and never married, living with her parents until their deaths. In the early 1900s, she was committed to the Great Yarmouth Workhouse by her brother, who decided that Lorina was “incapable of running her own affairs.” At that time, the workhouse was home to about 500 inmates, 60 of them (like Lorina) determined to be mentally ill and classified as “lunatics.” It was there that she created the embroidered scrolls and textiles expressing rage and frustration at her circumstances.

Her stitched messages were long tirades, all in upper case and without punctuation. Some of the things she writes appear to be fantasy, like her hopes of being related to the Royal Family. Other parts of the text refer to fellow inmates, their predicaments, and their deaths. She also suggests that she may have been sexually assaulted by a physician. Some of these events are verifiable or at least likely, as dates and names can be backed up by ledgers or legal records. Over 70 people are identified in the three tapestries, all apparently real, with her sister Anna Maria a frequent focus of Lorina’s ire.

It is unknown as to why Lorina was confined at Great Yarmouth. It is possible that she was indeed mentally ill and there was no one to care for her after her parents’ deaths; it is also possible that her siblings saw her as challenging or did not have the money or desire to take her into their homes. Asylums were also places that the destitute could go for health care if they had no financial support. Lorina had no problem expressing her disgust and sense of abandonment and held a specific belief that she had been cheated out of money.

ALABAMA CHANIN - WOMEN ARTISTS - LORINA BULWER - IMAGE COURTESY OF MADE IN SLANT - 2

No one has a clear understanding as to how or why these tapestries survived. Museum staff have theorized that a nurse may have kept them, but no one knows for sure. Two embroidered panels were found in an attic by incoming tenants, and they are now also housed at Great Yarmouth. Lorina Bulwer remained in the asylum until her death of influenza at age 79. Her body was not collected by family and she was interred at the Great Yarmouth Workhouse grounds. Details of her life and the asylum conditions are emerging over time and historians will undoubtedly continue to be fascinated by her story—told through needle and thread.

#womenartists

Images from Made in Slant

#WOMENARTISTS: XENOBIA BAILEY

Paradise Under Reconstruction in the Aesthetic of Funk—that is the name of fiber artist Xenobia Bailey’s ongoing cultural art project. It’s colorful, challenging, multi-disciplinary, and incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to categorize. Bailey’s primary media are yarn and fabric and most of her pieces are crochet or knitted. She often uses concentric circles or repeating pattern motifs and her work takes many forms: hats, costumes, quilts, giant mandalas, and even freestanding tents. Her art is partly informed by the love and care that her mother and other working-class women put into making their homes inviting and special. “She [her mother] created a beautiful ambiance with nothing,” Bailey said in an interview with The Root. “She’d get these afghans and quilts from the Salvation Army to adorn the house in a way that was like an art installation.”

Born Sherilyn Bailey in Seattle, Washington, she changed her name to Xenobia in honor of an ancient warrior queen. She studied ethnomusicology—the global exploration of music in its anthropological context—at the University of Washington. This was her introduction to the sounds and cultures of world music and Asian philosophies. Bailey worked as a costume designer for Black Arts West, an acclaimed African American community theater until she was accepted at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute in 1974. While earning her BA in industrial design, she learned to crochet under Italian Swiss artist Bernadette Sonona, whom Bailey described to The Root as “a brilliant needle artist” who taught her how nearly every skill she uses today in one lesson. Her signature stitch is referred to as “liquid stitch” – a flowy line that almost appears to be dripping. She has noted that the practice of crochet is meditative for her, like counting prayer beads.

ALABAMA-CHANIN-XENOBIA-BAILEY-PHOTO-COURTESY-OF-BURNAWAY-2

Image courtesy of Burnaway.com.

As Bailey’s work and education advanced, she found increasing influence in African and Asian cultures, Eastern and Native American spiritual ideologies, African American rural and urban life, all underscored by a 1970s funk aesthetic. “Funk is the unending cycle of life,” she says. “It’s the ultimate concept—wherever your imagination will take it.” She has been quoted as saying that African American trauma resulted in funk. “But we can make a joyful noise in that funk, too. From that garbage comes fertilizer, and that’s where fresh seeds sprout.”

Her explorations with yarn led her to a career designing culturally explorative hats and sculptural headpieces inspired by African American patterns and traditional motifs and African American braided hairstyles. Her work appeared in Elle, Essence, and Interview magazines, in print advertisements for United Colors of Benetton, and on media like The Cosby Show and Spike Lee’s film, Do the Right Thing. Bailey ultimately moved to different areas of exploration because she didn’t want to be pigeonholed as a milliner. She wanted to promote cultural awareness on many levels and became, in effect, an activist.

ALABAMA-CHANIN-XENOBIA-BAILEY-PHOTO-COURTESY-OF-MCCOLL-CENTER-3

Photo courtesy of the McColl Center.

Ms. Bailey admires the Bauhaus philosophy and wants everyday people to find ways to be revolutionary in everyday life. “Art has to be medicine,” she has said many times and wants her work to show everyday people that they can inspire themselves. “People don’t make up their own recipes anymore; people don’t experiment.” Her work is accessible but futuristic and spiritual, and undeniably DIY.

The next time you are in New York, visit the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority’s 34th Street-Hudson Yards station. There you will find her first public art commission, Funktional Vibrations—a glass mosaic that reflects her textile art and is a tribute to the African American experience. Bailey has no intention of retiring anytime soon and continues to expand her reach and express her point of view in new and innovative ways.

Lead image courtesy of SMS Commons.

ALABAMA CHANIN – PABLEAUX JOHNSON + MARDI GRAS INDIANS

PABLEAUX JOHNSON + MARDI GRAS INDIANS

If you are a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance or a fan of the Bitter Southerner, as we are, you likely already know the work of Pableaux Johnson. During the 2015 SFA Symposium, he shared a short film about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath and celebrated the city’s resilience with a helping of red beans and rice. His photographic essay on the Mardi Gras Indians was one of the most immersive and colorful pieces of writing we encountered last year.

ALABAMA CHANIN – PABLEAUX JOHNSON + MARDI GRAS INDIANS

A prolific writer and photographer, Pableaux often writes about the food, heritage, and culture of his hometown of New Orleans. He is also the author of three books, ESPN Gameday Gourmet, Eating New Orleans: From French Quarter Creole Dining to the Perfect Poboy, and Lonely Planet’s World Food New Orleans.

ALABAMA CHANIN – PABLEAUX JOHNSON + MARDI GRAS INDIANS

In 2014, he documented a year of life and loss among the Mardi Gras Indians, who spend untold hours stitching and beading and feathering costumes to be worn each year for Mardi Gras Day and Carnival, for annual events, and for Jazzfest. He captures the craftsmanship involved but also documents the community involvement, chants, drums, and dance of the Mardi Gras Indian culture. His work also portrays the commitment to family—biological and chosen—that tribes express when they lose elders and chiefs.

ALABAMA CHANIN – PABLEAUX JOHNSON + MARDI GRAS INDIANS

ALABAMA-CHANIN-INSPIRATION-LEE-BONTECOU-1

INSPIRATION: LEE BONTECOU

The Alabama Chanin Collection includes garments made using a new stencil design inspired by the work of multi-disciplined artist Lee Bontecou. We drew inspiration from some of her sculptures and paintings that resembled black holes or voids, but her work encompasses so much more than that. Bontecou has always been difficult to categorize, as her work reflects elements of Minimalism, Abstract Expressionism, and Feminist art. She was a true pioneer in the use of unconventional materials in her sculptures, integrating metal tubing, scrap hardware, and recycled linen during the 1950s and 1960s. She takes painstaking care with her work—always leaving visible traces of her making process, like stitches, scorch marks, and twisted wire.

One of her most significant discoveries was how a welding torch could be manipulated to create an easily controlled spray of black soot, which became one of her signature techniques. The torch used both oxygen and the chemical compound acetylene and when tinkering with the torch, Bontecou discovered that turning off the oxygen caused the acetylene to spray pure soot across her workroom floor. “I just started drawing with it, and I had to keep the torch moving. I burned up a lot of paper!” she said. “Then I got thicker paper that resisted the flame more, and it was an incredible black, it was just beautiful. I made a lot of drawings with it.”

ALABAMA-CHANIN-INSPIRATION-LEE-BONTECOU-2

Left: Untitled, welded steel, canvas, black fabric and wire, 1959; Right: Ugo Mulas, Studio of Lee Bontecou, 1964, photograph © Ugo Mulas Heirs

Her use of soot as a material led her to create her signature black hole motifs. One of the sculptures used as inspiration for our design (Untitled, 1959) is a relief made from scrap metal scavenged from outside of factories and a broken conveyor belt from the laundromat located below her New York apartment. Like many of her sculptures, it combines industrial and natural elements and attempts to capture, as she described, “as much of life as possible – no barriers – no boundaries – all freedom in every sense.”

ALABAMA-CHANIN-INSPIRATION-LEE-BONTECOU-3

Untitled, Welded steel, porcelain, wire mesh, canvas, grommets, and wire, 1980-98; image from the Museum of Modern Art

Many of her sculptures and wall reliefs were large and took years to create and were suspended from the ceiling or, if wall mounted, were ambitious in the amount of space they inhabited. Bontecou said, “I just got tired of sculpture as a big thing in the middle of the room. I wanted it to go into space.” For years, she left much of her work untitled, as she wanted the viewer to interpret the art without imposed meaning.

The video below from the MoMA displays some of Lee Bontecou’s seminal works.

#womenartists

Top image: Untitled, soot on paperboard,1958; image from the Museum of Modern Art

View our current Collection here.

ALABAMA-CHANIN-THE-ARTIST-AT-WORK-1

THE ARTIST AT WORK: THE SMOCK

In the past, we have looked to other artists’ personal styles to inspire elements of our Collections—Frida Kahlo, Anni Albers, and Georgia O’Keeffe, to name a few. As part of our most recent Signature | Eveningwear Collection, our design team was drawn to the idea of the artist at work—how artists can combine their media, tools, work styles, and artistic vision and (perhaps unknowingly) establish an affecting style that is a direct reflection of their work.

ALABAMA-CHANIN-THE-ARTIST-AT-WORK-2

Left: Barbara Hepworth at Trewyn Studio, 1961 Photograph by Rosemary Matthews, Courtesy Bowness, Hepworth Estate; Right: Barbara Hepworth working on Curved Form, Bryher II, 1961 Courtesy Bowness, Hepworth Estate

We looked to Barbara Hepworth, who created abstractionist, curvaceous sculptures from stone, wood, and bronze. She became a prominent figure in the Modernist movement and her clothing spoke directly to her lifestyle and work. She utilized messy materials and could not be precious about how she looked while working. Designer Margaret Howell once remarked of her work clothes, “When I had visited her studio in St Ives, the thing that stuck in my mind was the rail of aprons and shirts splattered with plaster of Paris. I liked the colors—indigo, tan, the colors of workwear.”

In order to chisel and paint and mold, she opted for overalls, hooded jackets, and smocks. She looked relaxed and natural; her clothing was a part of her. Inga Fraser, a curator of the Tate Museum once said, “Her early work was all about truth to material, allowing the material to shape the form of the sculpture itself, and her dress represents that. She dedicated herself completely to her art and had no qualms about being photographed in the clothes she wore to work in. It helped her to be taken seriously.”

ALABAMA-CHANIN-THE-ARTIST-AT-WORK-3

Left: Louise Bourgeois with Maman by Jean-François Jaussaud, Brooklyn, New York, 1995; Right: Louise Bourgeois by Robin Holland, 1990s

Other artists like Louise Bourgeois, who, as a child, worked with textiles in her family’s textile business, felt an emotional connection to garments and that was undoubtedly present in her work. “Clothing is…an exercise of memory…,” Bourgeois is quoted by MoMA.org. “It makes me explore the past…how did I feel when I wore that…” She often worked in smocks, but had a distinct personal style outside of the workroom. Even so, her sense of self and sense of fashion were reflected in the simple work garments she chose.

Among our newest garments are the Addison, Georgia, and Iris styles—all inspired by artist smock designs. Our smock style was also inspired by one of Natalie’s personal garments, made by Dries van Noten. These pieces are proof that personal style and work are often intertwined, whether or not the wearer is a “traditional” or celebrated artist. View our Signature | Eveningwear Collection and these smock-inspired garments here.

#womenartists

P.S.: Explore the Journal to discover the lives and work of more incredible women artists.

ALABAMA CHANIN - ARTISAN MADE - MARCIE MCGOLDRICK 1

ARTISAN MADE: MARCIE MCGOLDRICK

This month, we began expanding our jewelry options with unique porcelain cameo rings and pendants designed and created by Marcie McGoldrick. The New York-based artist spent 16 years working at Martha Stewart Omnimedia—starting as a product developer for the “Martha by Mail” catalog, before transitioning to craft editor for Martha Stewart publications, and eventually to consultant and independent artisan.

While studying Industrial Design at Pratt Institute, Marcie began experimenting with ceramics and the process of slip casting—making a mold from a model in order to cast in larger quantities—actually inspired her to veer toward variation rather than uniformity. “I was really drawn to the process because, even with a mold, there is still the opportunity for each piece to feel a bit different. I tend to exploit that idea in the ceramics that I make.”

Marcie’s innate curiosity was encouraged by her mother, a teacher, who reinforced her instincts to make and to take things apart and put them back together again. “I was always taking apart broken things, like watches, VCRs, and music boxes. I wanted to see how they worked and if I could fix them.” This approach ties directly into her design philosophy of remaining curious and creating things that have the potential for emotional connection. When she embarks upon a new project, Marcie is often spurred by the desire to learn an entire new skill set or technique. “When I started the cameo jewelry I had never worked with metal before, so I was able to learn about castings and bezel setting. There was a steep learning curve, but it was worth it.”

Those cameos have delicate details and a unique tactile quality that results from their source inspiration and Marcie’s materials and methods. “A friend of mine began collecting Grand Tour Cameos, which were souvenirs from Pompeii and Herculaneum during Victorian times. I was really drawn to them and decided to cast them in the porcelain colors that I was developing for my other ceramics. Because many of them were fairly small and ceramics shrink after firing, they were a great size for jewelry.”

ALABAMA CHANIN - ARTISAN MADE - MARCIE MCGOLDRICK 2

Her process for creating each piece includes casting the cameo in colored porcelain—which means the cameos are not glazed a color, but rather the clay itself determines the color. Once the piece is cast, it is hand finished and fired before being set in silver or gold. Because each piece is hand finished and set, all are completely unique.

In addition to her work as a ceramist and jewelry maker, Marcie works as a freelance creative consultant in both Brooklyn, New York, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Look for her cameo rings and necklaces at The Factory and in our online store.

GEORGIA O'KEEFFE

GEORGIA O’KEEFFE

“Nothing is less real than realism ― details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get the real meaning of things.” – Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe is undoubtedly considered one of America’s greatest and most influential painters. She was a key figure in the emergence and advancement of American modernism and produced an extensive body of work over the course of seventy working years. Her skill for capturing color, light, and form via her most frequently featured subjects—landscapes, cityscapes, desert skies, bones, and (of course) flowers—was nuanced and centered in her sense of place.

Her iconic flower paintings are lush with color and have been interpreted as evocations of female genitalia. Photographer Alfred Stieglitz, O’Keeffe’s husband and promoter, encouraged Freudian comparisons, but O’Keeffe was uncomfortable with what she felt were degrading analyses of her work made by male artists; she fought to assert her own voice. She wrote to her friend Mabel Dodge Luhan, “I thought you could write something about me that men can’t – What I want written – I do not know – I have no definite idea of what it should be – but a woman who has lived many things and who sees lines and colors as an expression of living – might say something that a man can’t – I feel there is something unexplored about woman that only a woman can explore – Men have done all they can do about it.”

O’Keeffe’s ownership of her femininity and her image are examined in Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern. The exhibition examines what they believe to be a well-crafted persona created by a truly independent artist, through photograph portraits and the artist’s wardrobe. Her clothing is displayed alongside photographs and O’Keeffe’s paintings as a way to demonstrate how fully she claimed and curated her identity throughout her career. Living Modern suggests that the artist was modern art’s first real “celebrity” and that she used clothing in a calculated way, to solidify her persona.

The collection documents her early years, where she established a simple style of dress and a cosmetic-free face, her time in New York when she adopted a stark black-and-white palette, and her years in New Mexico where her clothing became a reflection of her more vibrant surroundings. Until her later years, O’Keeffe wore black and white suits with a headscarf or hat and loose-fitting garments like kimonos—almost always in black. She learned to sew at an early age and made her own clothing over the years, but also leaned on a core group of designers and commissioned custom items. Her style was indelible: minimal, androgynous, and carefully thought out. The exhibition’s curator Wanda Corn explains, “She’s an artist of distillation. She takes something and brings it down to a very purist and minimalist aesthetic. She didn’t do big buttons, ruffles, lace.”

“Everyone wanted to redress her to make her appear more feminine,” Corn explains. Instead, she used clothing to demand agency in a male-dominated field. In the days before social media and message-driven branding, O’Keefe (much like Frida Kahlo) used her clothing to establish a deliberate aesthetic and identity—and to reinforce a commitment to her values and to her personal philosophies.

Click here for more information and to watch a video about the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition.

Get the book here.

#womenartists

ALABAMA-CHANIN---MOSE-TOLLIVER---INSTITUTE-193_1

MOSE TOLLIVER + INSTITUTE 193

Alabama artist Mose Tolliver was known primarily for his paintings of birds, frogs, flowers, and erotic figures. An exhibition at Institute 193 in Lexington, Kentucky, earlier this spring shed much deserved light on an often overlooked segment of his output—his self portraits.

Tolliver was born one of twelve children to tenant farmers in the Pike road community near Montgomery in the early 1920s. His family like many others at the time, moved from the country to Montgomery in the 1930’s in search of financial opportunity. Mose began work at a young age to support his family, performing general maintenance and repairs and working as a gardener, for which he was known to be especially proficient. After marrying a lifelong friend, Willie Mae Thomas, and serving a short stint in the army, Tolliver began work for the family of Carlton McLendon, first in their home, and later in the McLendon furniture company. In the late 60’s, while working in the furniture company’s warehouse, a crate holding a ton of marble fell off a forklift and crushed both of Tolliver’s legs, leaving him unable to walk without the assistance of crutches for the rest of his life.

ALABAMA-CHANIN---MOSE-TOLLIVER---INSTITUTE-193_2

Right: Moses Tolliver. Self Portrait. House paint on plywood. 30 x 15 in. Left: Moses Tolliver. Self Portrait. House paint on plywood. 17 x 10 in.

Although he had made art prior to the accident, mostly painting and carving tree roots and found materials, he became extraordinarily prolific afterward. Sitting at the foot of his bed, he would paint from morning to night on found surfaces—plywood, wood paneling, furniture, metal, and cardboard—finishing up to ten works daily. The works were hung all over the house and porch, often using soda pop tabs as a mounting apparatus. This mirrors Tolliver’s description of his mother’s house. “One thing I remember about our farmhouse—it was just a shack, but my Mama had pictures all over the walls.” His home began to attract attention from people in the area, and soon he was selling works to passersby, collectors, and eventually museums and galleries.

ALABAMA-CHANIN---MOSE-TOLLIVER---INSTITUTE-193_5

Moses Tolliver. Self Portrait. House paint on plywood. 25 x 24 in.

He quickly developed a unique visual style that remained consistent for nearly forty years. His forms and figures are direct and fantastical, merging graphic immediacy with forms that are alternately whimsical, spiritual, dark, or comedic. Tolliver’s works convey emotion immediately and economically while maintaining extraordinary depth. It’s not entirely clear where Tolliver sourced the inspiration for his various subjects but there are some clues. It has been suggested that his fascination with birds, turtles, and frogs may relate to Yoruba folklore passed on orally by generations of African-Americans, but they are also common animals in the areas surrounding Montgomery. Inspiration for ‘Moose Woman,’ an erotic female figure that Tolliver frequently depicted, was based on an image of Ka, an ancient Egyptian symbol for a soul leaving the body, found in a book in Tolliver’s possession. His method for creating self-portraits, however, seems to be fairly unique, excepting their adherence to a few portraiture tropes, namely, utilizing three-quarters profile and vertical formatting. Facial features are present but strange. Eyes, nostrils, and mouths are usually perfectly round or ovoid. The mouths are consistently open, showing teeth and often exposing a brightly colored tongue, sitting on an oblong, amorphous, almost gelatinous face. The teeth are bared and widely spaced. He paints himself in various colors, rarely in any that resemble flesh, on backgrounds that employ complex color harmonies. Only a few clues exist to indicate that these figures are, in fact, the artist—an ever-present button up shirt, a decorative headpiece that the artist called a head bob, and in early portraits, the presence of a pipe.

ALABAMA-CHANIN---MOSE-TOLLIVER---INSTITUTE-193_4

Right: Moses Tolliver. Self Portrait. Acrylic on wood. 32 x 24 in. Left: Moses Tolliver. Me smoking my pipe on pike road with cigar butts in it. House paint on plywood. 28 x 20.5 in.

The result of Tolliver’s unique conception of self results in a collection of lush and far-reaching psychological self-portraits. He is an expert at conveying mood and emotional states and moves deftly between joy, rage, uneasiness, and tranquility while eschewing any interest in any faithful depiction of concrete visual reality. The images, when presented in tandem, begin to illustrate the fluctuating mental state of one person across time. Tolliver once stated that he painted as a means to “keep his head together.” His self-portraits seem to be especially relevant to this notion.

Tolliver’s work, unlike several black artists recognized for their contributions to portraiture, is seemingly unconcerned with relating to traditional western modes of figural representation. For example, Kerry James Marshall, who was born in nearby Birmingham, focuses a considerable portion of his artistic production to amending Western art history to include the black bodies and identities it so frequently sought (and still seeks) to erase and destroy by appropriating Classic tropes and subjects. The work of Kehinde Wiley and Mickalene Thomas often work with similar source material, drawing reference from Matisse, Manet and numerous other artists from the Western canon, and juxtaposing them with Black figures, techniques, and visual language drawn from African and African American art traditions. These works are explicitly anti-colonial and work in the critical role of undoing Western cultural imperialism by questioning and challenging it. Tolliver’s self-portraits work through different means to the same end, establishing and asserting selfhood and humanity outside the bounds set by whiteness. Where Marshall, Wiley, Thomas and others seek to subvert, reinterpret, or challenge, Tolliver chooses to exist beside. It’s important to note that these strategies are complementary rather than fragmented, and work collectively to address issues of representation, identity, and power.

Tolliver was widely shown through the 80’s and early 90’s, garnering solo exhibitions at the Corcoran Gallery and the Montgomery Museum of Art, and has had major institutions purchase his works. Notably, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Folk Art Museum have both acquired self-portraits for their permanent collection despite there being little scholarship or representation of this portion of his production. His work, unfortunately, has not been adequately discussed, analyzed, or exhibited since. The exhibition ‘Self-Portraits of Me’ at Institute 193 made up considerable ground on this front, creating much-needed dialogue surrounding an artist and a segment of his production that is often overlooked.

Written by Paul Michael Brown with additional thanks to Phillip March Jones, Maia Ferrari, and Institute 193.

Institute 193, a project Phillip March Jones began in October 2009, is a non-profit contemporary art space and publisher that collaborates with artists, musicians, and writers to document the cultural production of the modern South. They produce exhibitions, books, and records with the goal of unearthing significant ideas from the region and sharing them with the world. Institute 193 engages and directs, steering and shaping projects into reality without sanitizing the vision of the artist.

ALABAMA CHANIN – IRVING PENN: BEYOND BEAUTY

IRVING PENN: BEYOND BEAUTY

“A good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart, and leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it; it is in one word, effective.” – Irving Penn.

Best known for his fashion photography and portraiture, Irving Penn spent over six decades perfecting a unique style, with painstaking attention to detail and composition. He is largely remembered for his work with Vogue magazine and his fashion photography set the standard for documenting couture clothing and women’s wear for decades to come. Penn created an extraordinary 165 covers for the magazine, more than any other photographer. He also contributed singular and enduring portraits of famous figures—including iconic images of Truman Capote, Salvador Dali, Georgia O’Keefe, and Pablo Picasso. Vogue’s art director Alexander Liberman coined the term “stoppers” to describe the effect of a Penn photograph on viewers—meaning the image was so striking, it stopped you from turning the page.

ALABAMA CHANIN – IRVING PENN: BEYOND BEAUTY

After years of traveling the world on assignments, Penn developed a strong preference for photographing subjects in a controlled studio environment that allowed him to focus on a subject’s essence—without the distraction of outside elements. His portrait compositions were sparse and he generally posed his subjects against a simple backdrop, with diffused lighting. His most frequently used background was an aged theater curtain he found in Paris, and he carefully transported it to each studio he used. When traveling, Penn brought with him a tent that would serve as a similar background to his studio environment.

ALABAMA CHANIN – IRVING PENN: BEYOND BEAUTY

Decades of fashion photography led Penn to be somewhat critical of his own work, avoiding looking at his magazine images because “they hurt too much”. In search of new sources of inspiration, he immersed himself in learning early photo printing techniques. His research led him to a process for printing in platinum and palladium metals (known as platinotype), enlarging negatives for contact printing on hand-sensitized paper, which was adhered to an aluminum sheet so that it could withstand multiple coatings and printings. For the next three decades, Penn printed all of his new work and went back to recreate some of his earlier prints using this method. Supposedly, some prints could take over three days to complete.

ALABAMA CHANIN – IRVING PENN: BEYOND BEAUTY

In honor of what would have been Irving Penn’s 100th birthday, the Met Gallery has curated an extensive exhibit, Irving Penn: Centennial, that runs through July 30, 2017. The Frist Center for Visual Arts in Nashville, Tennessee, is currently exhibiting Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty through May 29, 2017. We encourage you to visit one (or both) exhibits to witness Penn’s eye for detail and finding the humanity in his subjects.

If you can’t visit the exhibition, you can get the beautiful book here.

ALABAMA CHANIN - ROBERT THARSING INSTITUTE 193

INSPIRATION: ROBERT THARSING

In 1971, Robert Tharsing moved to Lexington to work as a painting instructor at the University of Kentucky. Geographically, he was thousands of miles from his home state of California; culturally he was perhaps even further removed. On the West Coast, he had grown up near Los Angeles and later studied painting at UC Berkeley under talents like David Hockney and Elmer Bischoff. An unrepentant contrarian, Tharsing was uninterested in the machinations of the art world but completely obsessed by the possibilities of painting. In his new environment, there was time and space to explore.

ALABAMA CHANIN - ROBERT THARSING INSTITUTE 193

In the early 1970s, Tharsing began pushing the limits of his own work, transforming traditional canvas paintings into objects and freeing them from the confines of stretcher bars. He pinned massive canvases directly to the wall, draped them over tent poles, and even painted on clothing items he purchased at local thrift stores like Goodwill and the Salvation Army. This latter series, begun in 1979, was in some ways the most ambitious.

ALABAMA CHANIN - ROBERT THARSING INSTITUTE 193

Tharsing began these paintings by laying out collected skirts, dresses, overalls, bellbottoms, and other raw clothing items and slathering them with polymer medium. Unlike a traditional canvas, they were irregularly shaped with varied surfaces that bore buttons, seams, collars, and hems. The human form was both startlingly absent and overtly implied, something Tharsing used to great effect by “freezing” them (with polymer medium) in newly-prescribed states of motion. His action helps us imagine their former roles as participants in the quotidian realities of life, with us while we have meals, go dancing, lie in the park, or lounge around the house.

Robert Tharsing painted exactly twenty of these works before moving on to other endeavors. They were displayed only once during his lifetime in a small exhibition at the University of Kentucky in 1981. While these painted clothes are not necessarily typical of Tharsing’s style, they give tremendous insight into the mind of the artist, his willingness to explore and experiment with painting in every way possible.

Phillip March Jones

ALABAMA CHANIN - ROBERT THARSING INSTITUTE 193

Robert Tharsing: Second-Hand Shapes was a pop-up exhibition at Institute 193 from May 4 – 20, 2017 coinciding with retrospectives honoring the artist at the Lexington Art League and Ann Tower Gallery.

Photos courtesy of Phillip March Jones

ALABAMA CHANIN - INSPIRATION-ANNI ALBERS PANT SUIT

INSPIRATION: ANNI ALBERS’ PANT SUIT

Anni Albers challenged artists to reject “recipes” and repetition and the safety of what they know will work. She encouraged artists to step away from formulaic making strategies, replacing them “with the adventure of new exploring.” Her life and work are a mirror for finding rich complexity and diversity within simplicity. The photograph of Anni above in her white pant suit exudes this elevated simplicity. Taken by her husband Josef Albers during a visit to Florida, it inspires me to get dressed for summer.

P.S.: Inspired by Anni’s outfit, we have created a wide-leg pant for the Collection in both full-length and cropped versions—made with Alabama Chanin’s 100% organic medium-weight cotton jersey.

Image Credit: Anni Albers in Florida, circa 1938, photograph by Josef Albers © the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / ARS, NY

#womenartists

ALABAMA CHANIN - RINNE'S HARVEST SERIES - PHOTO CREDIT - RINNE ALLEN 1

RINNE’S HARVEST SERIES

Rinne Allen, collaborator and inspiration behind our most recent capsule collection, is the creator of a series of photo essays titled “Harvest”, a number of which have been published by T Magazine, of The New York Times. The Harvest Series is a first-person look at our regional agricultural systems, examining the individuals who work in concert with nature to provide the essentials we need for food, clothing, and shelter. Her topics cover a wide range of topics, both traditional and unconventional.

ALABAMA CHANIN - RINNE'S HARVEST SERIES - PHOTO CREDIT - RINNE ALLEN 2

In 2015, we hosted Rinne for one of our periodic On Design conversations where she discussed the Harvest Series – which began with her chronicling of the Alabama Chanin + Billy Reid cotton project in 2012. Since then, Rinne has added some beautiful posts that highlight the people and processes behind America’s harvests, which include a maple syrup harvest from a family’s backyard in the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina, a sea salt harvest from Bull’s Bay off the coast of South Carolina, and a flower harvest in rural Georgia to create a letterpress calendar.

ALABAMA CHANIN - RINNE'S HARVEST SERIES - PHOTO CREDIT - RINNE ALLEN 3

She continues to expand the series, following different growing seasons and the philosophies of the growers themselves—publishing a number of them on her website.

ALABAMA CHANIN - RINNE'S HARVEST SERIES - PHOTO CREDIT - RINNE ALLEN 4

We invite you to explore her Harvest Series as it continues to develop – at T Magazine, on Rinne’s website, and in other future publications. Rinne is actively working on this series, and usually shoots one or two stories a month, depending on the season. We will update where you can find them, as it expands to other sources.

P.S.: In addition to capturing incredible images and telling beautiful stories, Rinne also makes Light Drawings, which are available here.

#womenartists

ALABAMA CHANIN - RINNE'S LIGHT DRAWINGS

RINNE’S LIGHT DRAWINGS: VAN DYKE BROWN

Photographer and artist Rinne Allen’s Light Drawings were introduced at Alabama Chanin during the summer of 2015. At that time, the Alabama Chanin Collection featured Indigo textiles, and the blue cyanotypes resonated perfectly with our designs.

In addition to her blue light drawings, Rinne also creates sepia-colored works of art, which are presented alongside our recently debuted Rinne’s Dress Collection.

ALABAMA CHANIN - RINNE'S LIGHT DRAWINGS

Developed in the 19th century, light drawings are created by exposing light sensitive paper to the sun, leaving behind only a shadow of the specimen. The process used to create the sepia prints is called Van Dyke Brown and requires an extra step in the darkroom—making them rarer than well-known blue cyanotypes.

ALABAMA CHANIN - RINNE'S LIGHT DRAWINGS

For the process, Rinne combines elements from her garden with alternative photo processing methods she learned in some of her early college photography classes. She and her mother gather clippings from the garden and place them on specially treated light sensitive photo paper and lay them in the sun. After a certain amount of exposure to sunlight, a cyanotype emerges.

Explore our Rinne’s Dress Collection, which also includes a stencil design inspired by her drawings.

Find the one-of-a-kind Light Drawings online here.

ALABAMA CHANIN – RAQUEL RODRIGO

ARTIST SERIES: RAQUEL RODRIGO

We are continually intrigued by artists who conceive new ways to create old-fashioned arts. Cross stitch, which is one of the oldest forms of embroidery, was originally used to embroider textiles in ancient Egypt and China. Today, it is often used as a way to decorate clothing and fabric with flowers or patterns. Recently, Spanish artist Raquel Rodrigo has employed the technique to make walls of flowers.

ALABAMA CHANIN – RAQUEL RODRIGO

Rodrigo’s education and background are in set design and interior design, but since 2014, she has been producing large-scale cross-stitched street art in Valencia and Madrid. Through a series of X’s, Rodrigo creates hibiscus flowers, roses, cherry blossoms, and other flowers, all best viewed from a distance.

The designs are made with thick string cross-stitched onto wire mesh. Rodrigo creates depth in her designs by combining different shades of string. She assembles her work in her studio, then rolls them up for transport. Her designs range in size and are situated in a number of places including buildings, window grates, bike racks, and chain-link fences—each piece highlighting the unique architectural qualities of its location.

ALABAMA CHANIN – RAQUEL RODRIGO

Rodrigo uses enlarged cross-stitching as a form of guerrilla marketing for Arquicostura, a street-art marketing agency. Through Arquicostura—a word that combines the Spanish words for architecture and sewing—Rodrigo has created art for Alhambra, a luxury Italian brand, and Endora Productions.

Rodrigo’s work is a beautiful marriage of an age-old pastime with modern sensibility. The beauty in her flower creations and her innovative spirit inspire us to keep finding ways to make what is old new again.

ALABAMA CHANIN – RAQUEL RODRIGO

Images from Arquicostura and This is Colossal.

#womenartists

ALABAMA CHANIN - AGNES MARTIN

#WOMENARTISTS: AGNES MARTIN

“Of all the pitfalls in our paths and the tremendous delays and wanderings off the track, I want to say that they are not what they seem to be. I want to say that all that seems like fantastic mistakes are not mistakes; all that seems like error is not error. And it all has to be done. That which seems like a false step is the next step.” – Agnes Martin

ALABAMA CHANIN - AGNES MARTIN

Agnes Martin was in her thirties when she decided to become an artist and for over four decades, she created elegant, perfectly square paintings using mostly grids and stripes. From a distance, you might say that Martin simply painted the same thing again and again, with subtle, almost endless variations. But the details—how the lines were created, the tone, depth, proportion, texture—were what brought the abstract beauty to the forefront. “I paint with my back to the world,” she said.

ALABAMA CHANIN - AGNES MARTIN

Her early artwork included portraits, landscapes, and still life paintings, but through her studies at the University of New Mexico and Columbia University, she was introduced to Taoist ideas and Zen philosophy, which would inform her artwork from then on, as she was drawn toward the concepts of abstraction. She began to focus on the grid format not to exclude nature, but to include it. “It’s really about the feeling of beauty and freedom that you experience in landscape.” Her grids were repetitive, but with subtle differences. Her paintings were like her observations of clouds passing above her head. “I paid close attention for a month to see if they ever repeated,” she said. “They don’t repeat.”

ALABAMA CHANIN - AGNES MARTIN

After a number of years working as an artist, Martin abruptly abandoned the New York art world and gave away her materials, resurfacing in New Mexico a year and a half later. When she returned to painting, about 5 years later, the grids had evolved into horizontal or vertical lines and her pale, neutral color palette was replaced by pale pinks, blues, and yellows—a reflection of the desert landscape.

ALABAMA CHANIN - AGNES MARTIN

In New Mexico, Martin lived a stark, near-monastic existence with an intense focus on spiritual awareness. When she was finally ready to return to New York, she found a space in a studio community located in abandoned shipping lofts in lower Manhattan known as the Coenties Slip—also home to Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, and Robert Rauschenberg. It was during this time that the mental illness she’d managed for years became more pronounced and she was hospitalized on multiple occasions. She was once found wandering Park Avenue, completely unaware of who she was, and admitted to Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital; there, before she was discovered by friends, she was given shock therapy.

Martin, with her cropped silver hair and solid physical presence, worked up until a few months before her death in 2004, at age 92. As she aged, her artwork became more vibrant and full of new shapes and colors than in her younger years. She said, “My paintings are not about what is seen. They are about what is known forever in the mind.”

The Solomon Guggenheim Museum’s exhibition of Agnes Martin’s work allowed us to enjoy the qualities Martin always sought to portray: beauty, innocence, and happiness.

ALABAMA CHANIN - AGNES MARTIN

Images pictured above are from Agnes Martin.

#womenartists

THE SPIDER IS AN ODE TO MY MOTHER.

“The Spider is an ode to my mother. She was my best friend. Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop. Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother.”

— Louise Bourgeois (1911 – 2010)

Bourgeois was a French-American artist proficient in an incredible number of artistic disciplines, but perhaps best known for her large-scale sculptures and installations. Her artwork was often autobiographical, referencing childhood memories—particularly those of her beloved mother and unfaithful father.

Among her most recognizable works is Maman, a massive 30-foot sculpture of a steel spider. The towering structure, whose title translates as mom or mommy in French, pays homage to Bourgeois’ mother Josephine, who passed away when Louise was 21 years old. “I came from a family of repairers,” Louise said. “The spider is a repairer. If you bash into the web of a spider, she doesn’t get mad. She weaves and repairs it.”

The creature is supported on eight slender legs and has a sac containing 10 marble eggs on its underbelly. It is the largest in a series of spider-themed pieces that became central to Bourgeois’ work in the 1990s. It has been said that her spiders are contradictory representations of motherhood—representing both predator and protector; the silk builds elaborate webs and cocoons, but also binds the spider’s prey. Maman, massive in size, but balanced on thin, spindly legs, is both strength and fragility in one.

Thanks to Milton Sandy for sending along the link and quote.

Photo courtesy of Peter Bellamy

#womenartists

ALABAMA CHANIN – BAUHAUS COLLECTION

BAUHAUS COLLECTION

Though the actual German Bauhaus school technically existed for a mere 14 years, its legacy undoubtedly continues to expand and flourish. The school, active during the years of the Weimar Republic, sought to unite artists of all disciplines in a utopian goal of designing a new world. Until broken up by the Nazis in 1933, Walter Gropius’ school developed a rigorous, hands-on curriculum led by some of the world’s greatest architects, designers, graphic artists, and weavers.

ALABAMA CHANIN – BAUHAUS COLLECTION

After fleeing Germany, prominent Bauhaus teachers and artists fanned out across the globe—many in America. Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe became director of the School of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology; Laszlo Moholy-Nagy formed the Institute of Design in Chicago, and Josef and Anni Albers developed programs at Black Mountain College in North Carolina before Josef moved on to teach at Yale. Gropius himself ended up at Harvard, chairing the Graduate School of Design.

ALABAMA CHANIN – BAUHAUS COLLECTION ALABAMA CHANIN – BAUHAUS COLLECTION ALABAMA CHANIN – BAUHAUS COLLECTION

Over the years, Gropius, other Bauhaus masters, their students, and prominent Bauhaus-inspired artists have donated works to Harvard’s Busch-Reisinger Museum, now one of the largest Bauhaus collections in the world. The museum’s holdings—more than 32,000 paintings, textiles, photographs, and other works—are now largely accessible to the public online. Their online archive is incredibly well organized and easily searchable.

ALABAMA CHANIN – BAUHAUS COLLECTION

This free-to-use collection is open for public viewing in its entirety, in preparation for the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus school’s founding. For those who want to start with the basics, begin with the Chronology section for a visual representation of the school’s creation and development. The massive collection also follows the legacy of the movement through works of its actual students and others associated with the discipline. Visit the guide to the archives to see just how expansive the collection is or narrow your search by individual artist, topic, medium, date, or object number. (And for those interested in specific pieces, according to the museum, “Most any object can be requested for in-person viewing the museum’s Art Study Center.”)

ALABAMA CHANIN – BAUHAUS COLLECTION

Start your tour here—but we recommend setting aside a few hours for browsing. You’ll need it.

All images from Harvard Art Museums.

SONIA DELAUNAY

“He who knows how to appreciate color relationships, the influence of one color on another, their contrasts and dissonances, is promised an infinitely diverse imagery.” – Sonia Delaunay

Sonia Delaunay (1885 – 1979), alongside her husband and fellow artist Robert Delaunay, co-founded the Orphism art movement, an offshoot of the Cubist style that focused on abstraction, light, and color—in contrast to the monochromatic style of traditional Cubism.

ALABAMA CHANIN – SONIA DELAUNAY

Sonia was a painter but began experimenting with textiles as “exercises in color”; her fabrics combined the traditional Russian folk-art of her childhood with the avant-garde style of early 20th-century Paris. She took abstraction of style and color from canvas to fabric, and her daring and oft-photographed garments represented female agency, style, and independence. Delaunay is often remembered for her bold, woolen (and almost certainly uncomfortable) swimsuits—which were really more symbols of color and design than actual functional garments.

ALABAMA CHANIN – SONIA DELAUNAY

She found it essential to take into account the human form when designing fabrics—not just designing fabrics and then shaping them to fit the body afterward. In a 1968 letter, Delaunay lamented a trend of creating garments from Mondrian and Pop Art fabrics: “All [my] works were made for women, and all were constructed in relation to the body. They were not copies of paintings transposed onto women’s bodies…I find all that completely ridiculous.” Her work was so revolutionary and respected that she was the first living female artist to have a retrospective exhibition at the Louvre.

ALABAMA CHANIN – SONIA DELAUNAY

Images from Sotheby’s, Azure Magazine, and Modernarium.

#womenartists

ALISON SAAR

Alison Saar, contemporary sculptor and mixed-media artist, was born to acclaimed assemblage artist Betye Saar and Richard Saar, a painter and conservator. In her work, Betye (now 90-years old) often addresses the journey and identity of the African American woman—concepts that Alison has built upon as she explores her own family and racial identity through her work. She acknowledges her own racial identity serves a large purpose in her work. “I think being biracial definitely has a big play in my interest in that or my experience with that—never belonging to either world, always being considered some sort of ‘other’.” She does not shy away from discussions of race, gender, culture, and spirituality, but she also does not lead her viewer to a comfortable conclusion.

ALABAMA CHANIN – ALISON SAAR

Saar works in a number of media, but many of her works are life-sized sculptures of African American figures carved from wood or shaped from tin. Her work centers largely on African diaspora and femininity—particularly the exploitation of the African American body in society and culture. A reviewer noted, “Saar is among a larger generation of artists who recognize the body as a site of identity formation, acknowledging historical injustices and presenting defiant figures that seem to transcend their pasts.” Many of her figures are in some way bound, carry heavy loads, or are juxtaposed with objects in such a way as to measure human value in economic terms—African American bodies as commodities. Her perspective is a way for the artist and the viewer to reclaim their bodies while acknowledging the historical struggle surrounding them.

View works from several of Alison Saar’s collections here.

ALABAMA CHANIN – ALISON SAAR

Images from LA Louver, OMI International Art Center, ArtNC, and Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

#womenartists

FRIDA KAHLO’S DRESS

Frida Kahlo was both surrealist painter and unwitting fashion icon. Her image is immediately recognizable and her clothing was carefully chosen to reflect her feelings about femininity, politics, and her own physical limitations. Frida’s vibrantly colored and richly embroidered garments were tweaked versions of traditional Mexican clothing, with corset-style bodices and long flowing skirts. But the roots of her style are much deeper than they appear on the surface. Like most women, Frida dressed to look and feel beautiful but, unbeknownst to some, also to mask her ailments and near-constant physical pain.

ALABAMA CHANIN - FRIDA KAHLO'S DRESS 2

Her full skirts hid legs damaged by childhood polio and a horrific bus accident at 17. That accident left her with a heavily scarred body and lifelong health problems that over 40 surgeries could not correct. During a three-month stay in a hospital, Frida began painting the full-body casts she had to wear for long stretches of time. Eventually, she created her own structured corsets that allowed her to walk upright, though in constant pain. She covered these leather structures with fabric corset tops or bright, feminine blouses.

ALABAMA CHANIN - FRIDA KAHLO'S DRESS 3

As Frida became more incapacitated, her garments became more elaborate and colorful. When her right leg was amputated, about a year before her death, she fitted her prosthetic with a bright red embroidered boot—and she added a Chinese bell to the laces for greater effect. Her approach to fashion was almost one of defiance; she wanted to make herself feel beautiful in spite of her physical limitations, but she also wanted to portray an air of confidence to the world at large. Last year, for the first time since her death, some of Frida Kahlo’s personal garments were displayed and photographed.

ALABAMA CHANIN - FRIDA KAHLO'S DRESS 4

Images from Collectors Weekly, Vulture, and NYMag.com

#womenartists

LOUISE NEVELSON + THE COLOR BLACK

“I fell in love with black; it contained all color. It wasn’t a negation of color. It was an acceptance. Because black encompasses all colors. Black is the most aristocratic color of all… You can be quiet, and it contains the whole thing.” – Louise Nevelson

ALABAMA CHANIN – LOUISE NEVELSON + THE COLOR BLACK

American sculptor Louise Nevelson became known for her large, three-dimensional wooden structures, almost all painted in monochromatic white or black. In her most iconic works, she utilized found objects and scraps gathered from debris piles, and so referred to herself as “the original recycler”. Nevelson originally limited herself to black and white to “discipline” herself—but the colors eventually became part of her signature style.

During the mid-Fifties, she produced her first series of all-black wood landscape structures, describing herself as the Architect of Shadow. “Shadow and everything else on Earth actually is moving. Movement—that’s in color, that’s in form, that’s in almost everything. Shadow is fleeting… I arrest it and I give it a solid substance.” For much of her life, critics and admirers were almost fixated on her use of black, but Nevelson never shied from discussing its importance. “You see, [black] says more for me than anything else. In the academic world, they say black and white were no colors, but I’m twisting that to tell you that, for me, it is the total color. It means totality. It means: contains all.”

ALABAMA CHANIN – LOUISE NEVELSON + THE COLOR BLACK

Images of Louise Nevelson from Jeanne Bucher Jaeger. Images of Nevelson’s work from the Guggenheim Museum.

#womenartists

CREATIVE PROCESS: PHILLIP MARCH JONES

Alabama Chanin followers and Journal readers are likely familiar with Phillip March Jones—artist, photographer, author, curator, Makeshift participant, and a frequent collaborator of ours. He grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, attended Emory University, the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, and Auburn University. Phillip founded and runs the non-profit gallery space, venue, and small-scale publishing house, Institute193 in Lexington, Kentucky. He has also been director of the Andrew Edlin Gallery in New York.

We believe that as an artist he sees beauty and relevance in things that most of us either overlook or choose to avoid, like roadside memorials. His book, Points of Departure, is a collection of roadside memorial Polaroids—glimpses of personal grief and reminders to all passers-by that someone’s life was irreparably changed at that specific place. Phillip merely documents each unofficial marker without imposing his own point of view and allows the viewer to bring his or her own meaning to each photo.

Phillip also served as Director of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, a non-profit organization that documents, researches, preserves, and exhibits the work of self-taught African American artists. The organization’s goal is to bring this quintessentially American art form to a wide audience and have it rightly recognized for its essential, influential contribution to the history of American art.

While he has never stated this as his goal, I wonder if Phillip is inwardly driven to change the way the world thinks about and sees things that may be overlooked. With the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, he works to ensure long-term survival of art and artistry of those labeled “outsider” artists; with Points of Departure, he is also giving permanence to what might otherwise be temporary. He is attempting to help each subject transcend labels—or to simply be seen and recognized.

He clearly believes in the same sharing philosophy as Alabama Chanin, once telling us: “I believe that information, influences, and sources exist to be shared. I think a lot of artists, publishers, and musicians feel a need to protect their creative material to ensure their ability to effectively commodify their work. In my experience, sharing images on a website does not prevent people from buying a book, visiting an exhibition, or buying into a project. That notion carries over into my work with Institute 193 and Souls Grown Deep. Both organizations have an open content approach, and function on the principle that education and awareness should always be the motivating interest. All of the work I do is focused on providing access and points of entry to new ideas and material.”

It is with all of this in mind that we asked Phillip to participate in our research project on the creative process. Our questions and his answers are below.

ALABAMA CHANIN – CREATIVE PROCESS: PHILLIP MARCH JONES
Homecoming Party

 

Alabama Chanin: Do you have any creative rituals?

Phillip March Jones: Everything I do starts in a small black book. I always have one in my pocket or bag. I make lists. I draw. I take down notes, memorable quotes, or random thoughts. Things seem to expand out of those pages.

AC: What makes you curious?

PMJ: Anything I don’t understand. I’m especially drawn to people driven by a seemingly other-worldly impulse. Artists, writers, musicians, and individuals who are slightly off or out or left or right.

ALABAMA CHANIN – CREATIVE PROCESS: PHILLIP MARCH JONESChasing Shadows

 

AC: What do you daydream about?

PMJ: Walking out of my door and never stopping. Just walking.

AC: Do you have processes or tricks to spur creativity?

PMJ: De-connecting. I also take long walks, especially in cities. 6 hour walks. That kind of thing.

AC: Do you have to be in a certain mood in order to create?

PMJ: No—it just sort of seeps out, I think.

AC: If your creative process or project isn’t productive, at what point do you cut your losses? Or is there a point? Do you keep pressing on?

PMJ: Keep moving. Throw lots of things at the wall. Something will stick?

ALABAMA CHANIN – CREATIVE PROCESS: PHILLIP MARCH JONESCreeps

 

AC: What parts of your work seem the “heaviest” and the “lightest”?

PMJ: My daily photographs are the lightest. My heavier works tend to be my books and works on death, memorials, and memory. And the curated exhibitions. I need to learn to be less formal with those projects—loosen up a bit and find bits of humor in the severity of those ideas.

AC: What parts of your imagination seem the “heaviest” and the “lightest”?

PMJ: My imagination is active and unfocused. In that sense, it feels light, ideas dashing in and out, but the ideas themselves can be a bit heavy.

AC: In what ways would you want to change your imaginative spirit?

PMJ: I would try to make it more focused and productive, even though I think that might diminish the power or force of the ideas.

AC: Is there something that can halt your creativity? Distractions, fears, etc.? Have you found a way to avoid those pitfalls?

PMJ: Distractions and fears have always proven to be good fodder for creativity.

AC: Have you ever censored your imagination or creativity because you don’t want to offend anyone? If so, how?

PMJ: Not really. But there are things I have specifically not shared, because of their personal nature. They do exist, however.

ALABAMA CHANIN – CREATIVE PROCESS: PHILLIP MARCH JONES
Pink + Green

 

AC: If you had to start over, would you choose a different path in your career?

PMJ: Yes, I would be a gardener.

AC: If you were no longer able to use the medium that you are now working in, how else would you express your creativity?

PMJ: There is always a way to translate ideas into some other format. I would write more I suppose.

AC: Who do you define as a visionary?

PMJ: Unfortunately, most of the visionaries I admire have passed away. I’m looking for some new light. In the meantime: Hudson from Feature Inc, Samuel Mockbee from Rural Studio, and some of my favorite artists like Mike Goodlett and Robert Beatty.

ALABALABAMA CHANIN – CREATIVE PROCESS: PHILLIP MARCH JONES
Kid Dreams

 

AC: What last made you think, “I wish I had thought of that!”?

PMJ: Oh—that happens all the time. I was recently given an umbrella shaped like a cactus. It’s a truly brilliant object.

AC: Which ones of your products and/or services inspire you the most?

PMJ: Institute 193—and what the artists create there—is always inspiring. I only created the structure. The inspiring part is what the artists have done in the meantime.

(This project is made possible in-part by a fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts.)

Photo of Phillip by Melvin Way.

All other photographs courtesy of Phillip’s daily photo blog Pictures Take You Places.

NATALIE BAXTER + INSTITUTE 193 Q&A

Some subjects are so polarizing that almost any discussion of them is fraught with tension or awkwardness. And so it is with the topic of gun violence. No matter what your stance is, whenever we are faced with a tragic mass-shooting incident, many of us feel powerless; we respond with anger or by shutting the world out. Artist Natalie Baxter began working through her complex feelings by sewing – making pillows in the shapes of guns, for a project she calls Warm Gun. An exhibition of her work, called “OK-47” – is currently on display at Institute 193 in Lexington, Kentucky.

Natalie, a Lexington native, currently resides in Brooklyn and is also an accomplished filmmaker and photographer. With Warm Gun, she takes two things she learned from her Kentucky childhood – sewing skills and a knowledge of guns – and combines them to create a discussion around violence, gun culture, and gender norms. She is taking hand sewing, something traditionally considered feminine, and combining it with objects considered by many to be masculine, hoping to challenge cultural perspectives on both violence and femininity/masculinity.

While she knows that her work might be viewed as controversial, her intent is not to project an anti-gun stance. Because the debate surrounding gun violence is personal to so many, she wants viewers to feel free to bring their emotions into their interpretations of her work. Natalie has created guns that are technically harmless; they can either be taken as a starting point for a conversation about gender and violence – or they can be seen as a stuffed, humorous replica of someone’s favorite gun. Our friends at Institute 193 took some time to talk to Natalie about her ideas behind her work and the process. For more about Natalie Baxter or to view her work, visit her website at nataliebaxter.com.

ALABAMA CHANIN - NATALIE BAXTER 2My Super Sweet M16

What’s the process of sewing a gun pillow like? You sew these by hand, correct?

I model all of the warm guns from photos of real guns I find on the Internet and they usually take about a day or two to complete.  When I hear about shootings in the news, I do a Google search to find out what kind of gun was used and then hand draw a pattern onto fabric that I’ve sourced from the garment district or my roommate’s Goodwill pile.  I sewed the first 100 guns completely by hand and have since become more familiar with my sewing machine and now do a mix of hand and machine sewing.  I love how portable hand sewing is — I have a long commute to work, so I am able to use that time sewing guns on the subway.  I don’t pay much attention to scale or worry about exact proportions, so the guns tend to look cartoonish.

ALABAMA CHANIN - NATALIE BAXTER 3Tammy Gun

Was the choice to use some secondhand fabrics deliberate or simply one born out of frugality? Are you particular about fabric quality, color, texture, etc.?

When I first started this project, I was using a lot of fabrics I already had – clothes my roommates were getting rid of, fabric someone didn’t want anymore, or cheap material I found at fabric stores.  As the project continued, I became more selective with my fabric choices.  I discovered the high-end fabric stores throughout the city, the garment district, and a few online stores and started making more deliberate color and pattern choices.  I also learned a lot more about fabric types and textures from regularly visiting places like Mood Fabrics and New York Elegant Fabrics and talking to designers sourcing materials for clothing lines — there is so much to know about fabric! I also frequent the City Quilter and this great discount fabric store in Chelsea called Trumart Discount Fabric.  Right now, I’m attracted to bright floral prints, texture and metallic material.

ALABAMA CHANIN - NATALIE BAXTER 4Don’t You Derringer

When we began talking about exhibiting them at Institute 193, I thought how odd it is for these objects just to exist. They are so cleverly conceived; yet conceived out of violent tragedy. And treating them as plush toys seems a bit vulgar, but I know that wasn’t the intention. Are they meant simply to be tools for discussion? Where do you see these sculptures fitting in outside of the context of a gallery?

(This all makes me think of the recent debate over memorials to confederate generals or to times of slavery. What do we do with these objects? Do we destroy or hide them, lest we glorify the things they depict? Or do we keep them around to tell cautionary tales of our own history?)

I have been careful to keep this work existing as art objects and in an art context.  I do hope that I am stirring up thoughts about gun control, gun violence and gender issues, but I realize that to some people, I am making a cute stuffed replica of their favorite weapon.  I appreciate work that does not have just one take away or gives me that feeling of, “Oh, I get it.”  The gun debate has proven to be emotional for a lot of Americans; everyone has their own opinion as to what should or should not be done.  Everyone comes to view art with different thoughts and opinions and is able to interpret it differently.

But these objects are also very fun to interact with.  I went down to New Orleans to visit a friend and brought some of the first guns with me.  I whipped them out in a room full of grown men who immediately started shooting at each other, making machine gun noises — turning into little boys with colorful, droopy, soft toys.  These were guns I made using the historically feminine craft of sewing. That’s when I realized I was playing with gender in this work, so, I started experimenting with the concept and ended up photographing the guns with men in their underwear.

ALABAMA CHANIN - NATALIE BAXTER 5Hot Shot

I do cringe a little bit when I hear “These are so cute, I want to get one for my niece/nephew/son/daughter,” but in the same way that I cringe when I hear someone say they won’t visit New York City because they can’t carry their gun.  I don’t know if this work is going to change anyone’s stance on the gun debate, but at the very least, I hope it gets people thinking and talking about the issues.

Being an organization that represents Southern artists, Institute 193 is always very geographically conscious. So I have to ask: how has growing up in Lexington, KY affected this series and your work in general?

I came up with the idea for this project while at home in Kentucky for the holidays and at a friend’s house who has a collection of handguns hanging on his wall.  Remember, this was in the wake of Ferguson, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, black lives matter marches were happening all across the country. Police brutality and gun violence were hot media topics and fresh on everyone’s minds, so looking at this entire wall covered in guns felt uncomfortable and strange and like something I would never see anywhere in my new home in New York City.

All of my work explores questions of identity and place.  While pursuing my MFA at the University of Kentucky, I created work that explored my family heritage in eastern Kentucky through a series of video portrait vignettes of women from age 8 to 80.  Kentucky is where I was introduced to gun culture and Kentucky is also where I learned the craft of sewing and quilting, from one tough, Appalachian, gun-owning Granny.

As far as Lexington specifically, my parents did a really good job of fostering my interest in the arts as a child, and luckily there were places in Lexington such as the Living Arts and Science Center where I could take art classes after school, I’d go shopping at Third Street Stuff to see the colorful work from Pat Gerhard, go to gallery openings of Robert Morgan’s work, and I interned at the Heritage Art Center. All these things helped show me that being an artist is possible and valued in a community.

ALABAMA CHANIN - NATALIE BAXTER 6Wild Goose

Kentuckians seem to be very divided on the issue of gun control. Even just this week I’ve overheard widely contrasting opinions in cities across the state. I can see how this is so. For example, I have an uncle who is quite liberal and firmly supports stricter gun control policies. But he lives in a rural area of Kentucky and keeps outdoor farm animals, so he himself owns a couple of firearms to deal with emergency situations that may threaten his property. Brooklyn is quite a different cultural landscape. Do you find the conversation differs in NYC versus KY? If so, how?

The gun debate has proven to be an emotional and complicated one for a lot of people.  It’s hard to pin down, but one study that attempts to track the “most armed state” based on the number of NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) background checks divided by population has Kentucky at the top of the list. We are one gun loving state, that’s for sure.  And while we usually go red, growing up in Lexington has led me to believe that we are a fairly politically diverse state as well.

It has been interesting to see how people from different parts of the country receive this work.  While I do see more pro-gun rights commentary from my Facebook friends in the southeast, I have friends in Kentucky from both sides of the political spectrum who seem to be supporting what I’m doing. I hear a variety of comments from “These are so cute, I want to get one for my husband, he loves guns!” to “Are you making penis guns?” Soft sculpture work, in general, is really approachable, especially when it is a recognizable form and made from colorful fabric.  At first, people’s childlike instincts make them want to interact with these objects, but hopefully, that will open the door to them thinking about greater issues.

ALABAMA CHANIN - NATALIE BAXTER 7OK-47

I know that not all of the sculptures are modeled after weapons used in recent mass shootings, though many are. Will you continue to sew gun pillows for as long as shootings continue to occur in the US?

Unless this country makes some big changes to its gun laws, I sadly think there will always be mass shootings during my lifetime.  I started this project partly because I needed to constantly be creating.  I don’t know if this need is an obsession, an addiction, a blessing or a curse – I haven’t figured that out yet.  Maybe I will still be sewing gun pillows as an old lady, who knows.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I just want to talk a little more about the role gender plays in this work:

Gender is morphing in this very public way in the media right now.  In the past year, we met Caitlyn Jenner, legalized gay marriage and we’ve also seen a lot of terrible acts of gun violence­­—not directly related.  At the same time, I think something really interesting is happening with gun ownership and masculinity. Elizabeth Winkler explains it really well in an article she wrote for Quartz, “America’s gun problem has everything to do with America’s masculinity problem”.  She quotes sociologist Jennifer Carlson in the article, “As men doubt their ability to provide, their desire to protect becomes all the more important.  They see carrying a gun as a masculine duty.”  So I’ve been playing with these ideas of gender and masculinity in gun culture through the use of the traditionally feminine craft of sewing to create turn these hard, masculine, phallic symbols into soft, droopy colorful pieces.

*Images courtesy of Institute 193.

#womenartists

INSPIRATION: DEREK JARMAN’S SKETCH BOOK

I’ve been carrying this book around with me for weeks—which is no small feat. In a bag that is already oversized and overloaded, a three-pound book is quite an addition.  But every time I take it out to leave on my home studio table, I reconsider, put it back in my bag and take it back to The Factory—and so begins the dance again of hauling it back home again. I’ve been thinking a lot about my own journals recently, which have become less beautiful over the years. What was once a place to draw and scribble, I now use to make lists of the things I need to do or document meetings. But there is the occasional drawing from Maggie or my granddaughter Stella, and findings from trips that include business cards and ephemera, alongside a few thank you notes. I want my journals to become a place of inspiration (again). I want to cut apart every book and every journal I’ve ever written or compiled and re-do them. I want to write and think and draw. I want to sit in Derek Jarman’s garden and doodle.

Derek Jarman was an English filmmaker, stage designer, artist, author, diarist, and talented gardener. He created eleven feature films, most notably Sebastiane, Jubilee, The Tempest, and Caravaggio. As a director, he cultivated close working relationships with artists like Tilda Swinton and Dame Judi Dench—and even convinced Sir Lawrence Olivier to come out of retirement for what would be his last performance. In addition to his presence on the film scene, he remained relevant in pop culture as part of the 1970s London social scene—directing music videos for Marianne Faithfull, The Smiths, and the Pet Shop Boys.

Jarman was prolific as a painter and a well-known and respected set designer for stage and film—notably for director Ken Russell. He was an outspoken and early advocate for gay rights and AIDS awareness until his death in 1994 from an AIDS-related illness. Jarman was perhaps one of the most well rounded artists of his era; he wrote memoirs, poetry, and social criticism. He also cultivated beautiful highly regarded, postmodern-style gardens, including his home at Prospect Cottage, Dungeness in Kent. On all fronts, he rejected straightforward, modernist visions or design theories. Of his gardens, he said, “Paradise haunts gardens, and some gardens are paradises. Mine is one of them. Others are like bad children, spoilt by their parents, over-watered and covered with noxious chemicals.”

Friend and muse Tilda Swinton wrote hauntingly of Jarman:

This is what I miss, now that there are no more Derek Jarman films: the mess, the cant, the poetry, Simon Fisher Turner’s music, the real faces, the intellectualism, the bad-temperedness, the good-temperedness, the cheek, the standards, the anarchy, the romanticism, the classicism, the activism, the glee, the bumptiousness, the resistance, the wit, the fight, the colours, the grace, the passion, the beauty.

Longlivemess.

Longlivepassion.

Longlivecompany.

ALABAMA CHANIN – INSPIRATION: DEREK JARMAN'S SKETCH BOOK

INSPIRATION: LIGHT DRAWINGS

Rinne’s Light Drawings remind me of leaves floating on the surface of still water, in shades of blue and indigo. And we’ve just added more of her ethereal drawings to our online selection.  Stop by The Factory Store in Florence, where they are on display and available for purchase. Call us with any questions: +1.256.760.1090

LIGHT-DRAWINGS

the bright nights just at summer’s end, when you wanted to make each day and each night last forever
secretly swimming and laughing and trying to will the autumn never to return
innocence remembered and clung to, as not to lose it completely

Nightswimming deserves a quiet night.
The photograph on the dashboard taken years ago,
turned around backwards so the windshield shows.
Every streetlight reveals the picture in reverse.
Still, it’s so much clearer.

I forgot my shirt at the water’s edge;
the moon is low tonight.

Nightswimming deserves a quiet night.
I’m not sure all these people understand.
It’s not like years ago—
the fear of getting caught,
of recklessness and water.
They cannot see me naked.
These things, they go away,
replaced by everyday.

Nightswimming, remembering that night.
September’s coming soon.
I’m pining for the moon.
And what if there were two,
side by side in orbit
around the fairest sun?

That bright, tight forever drum
could not describe nightswimming.
You, I thought I knew you.
You I cannot judge.
You, I thought you knew me,
this one laughing quietly underneath my breath.
Nightswimming.

The photograph reflects,
every streetlight a reminder.
Nightswimming deserves a quiet night.

R.E.M., Nightswimming

ROBERT THARSING: PARADISE

If you had only seen his most recent paintings, currently on view at Workshop (Christian Berst), you might assume that Robert Tharsing’s idea of paradise resembles a lush and colorful landscape full of palms, ferns, and the occasional volcano. In reality, the artist has contented himself with simpler pleasures: a decent sized room with access to woodworking tools and enough space to lay a large piece of canvas on the floor. Since 1971, Robert Tharsing has occupied a total of six studio spaces, most within walking distance of one another in downtown Lexington. These studios became the backdrop to his practice but also provided a retreat from the daily challenges and responsibilities of teaching at the University of Kentucky.

ALABAMA CHANIN – ROBERT THARSING: PARADISE
Robert Tharsing in studio, circa 1992

For this piece, Tharsing’s friends and family submited photographs of the artist in his studio. They span over forty years and show works in various stages of completion. From this small set of images, one can view the evolution of his work, but also identify the consistent forms, shapes, and colors that have dominated his practice. Hard-edged geometric forms clash against or lie over top of organic shapes, plants, and animals, often glowing in vibrant, nearly florescent hues.

ALABAMA CHANIN – ROBERT THARSING: PARADISE
Robert Tharsing with mobiles, 2002 by Suzanna Scott

ALABAMA CHANIN – ROBERT THARSING: PARADISERobert Tharsing in studio, 2007 by Lina Tharsing

ALABAMA CHANIN – ROBERT THARSING: PARADISE
Robert Tharsing starts a new painting, 2015 by Lina Tharsing

ALABAMA CHANIN – ROBERT THARSING: PARADISE
Rainforest Stream, oil on canvas, 40″x54″, Robert Tharsing

Paradise Interrupted, Tharsing’s current exhibition, presents a culmination of his techniques and aesthetics in a newly personal manner. The studio is present in these works—in references to lotus flowers and other plants from his courtyard garden—but so is the artist, grappling with years of exploration and engagement with his medium. These paintings, somewhat uncharacteristically, bear Tharsing’s reflections on personal circumstances: health, mortality, and the interference both have wrought upon body and mind. They combine places both real and imagined, the view from the studio window and from the mind’s eye.

ALABAMA CHANIN – ROBERT THARSING: PARADISE
Transitional Plant Pond Elements, oil on panel, 16″x23″, Robert Tharsing

ALABAMA CHANIN – ROBERT THARSING: PARADISE

–Phillip March Jones

All images Courtesy of Christian Berst Art Brut (New York/Paris) and Ann Tower Gallery.

INSPIRATION: RINNE ALLEN

Rinne Allen and Alabama Chanin first crossed paths almost a decade ago, when Rinne attended one of Natalie’s early “Alabama Adventure” weekends—which included picnics, short workshops, music and storytelling. (Those early weekends became what is now our annual company picnic + workshop weekend.) After that, it seemed that we began to cross paths more frequently—at Southern Foodways Alliance events, through friends, logically, working together became the most natural next step. Rinne has produced photography for the Alabama Studio Book Series, our collections, the website and Journal—and she perfectly captured the process of our Alabama Cotton collaboration with Billy Reid—including a beautiful piece for the New York Times online magazine.

Rinne currently lives and works in Athens, Georgia. One glance at her website shows her distinctive eye and diverse skill set. She can find and photograph a special moment in any environment and she seems to have an innate understanding of light. She also has a keenly developed understanding of natural elements. In fact, she and her husband Lee have spent the last 15 years maintaining the garden of Dr. John Linley, the late professor of landscape architecture at the University of Georgia.

ALABAMA CHANIN - INSPIRATION: RINNE ALLEN

For the last two decades, Rinne has worked as both a commercial and fine art photographer. In addition to Alabama Chanin, she also collaborates with Hable Construction, R. Wood Studio, and Selvedge Magazine. Her long-running series Harvest, documenting harvests across the south, is published regularly in T Magazine, The New York Times Style Magazine. She works regularly with artists and authors, notably with Hugh Acheson on his James Beard Award winning cookbook, A New Turn In the South. Her book, Citizen Farmers, made with farmer Daron Joffe, won the 2015 IACP award for Food Matters. Currently, Rinne—along with Kristen Back and Rebecca Wood—curates a beautiful website, Beauty Everyday. The accompanying book, Beauty Everyday, which highlights 365 beautiful photographs of the South, can be purchased here.

She has created a unique, natural light drawing process that combines elements from her garden with alternative photo processing methods she learned in some of her early college photography classes. She and her mother gather clippings from the garden and place them on specially treated light sensitive photo paper and lay them in the sun. After a certain amount of exposure to sunlight, a cyanotype emerges. Each of these beautiful pieces is completely one of a kind.

Export 1
Visit her website for just a glimpse of her talent.

ON DESIGN: WILLIAM MORRIS + ARTS AND CRAFTS

Last fall, as an extension of our Makeshift initiative, we began a new series of events and conversations called On Design. The series explores art, design, makers, relationships, and the elevation of craft. Our conversation in January explored William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement. Here are some of Natalie’s thoughts from the presentation. Feel free to share your own thoughts and join the conversation.

From Natalie:

When I started the company that Alabama Chanin has become today, I had a vision for what I wanted to accomplish. At the time, I wouldn’t have identified that vision as a business model—but as the company expanded, I understood that I wanted to design and grow the business in a sustainable way. In a world of fast fashion, mass production, and machines, I wanted to design slowly and thoughtfully. I also wanted to promote skills that seemed to be vanishing, particularly hand-sewing skills—like those used by quilters.

ALABAMA CHANIN – ON DESIGN: WILLIAM MORRIS + ARTS AND CRAFTS

Continue reading

NEW: ONE OF A KIND

In April, I traveled to Chicago to lecture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. While there, I spent some time at the Art Institute and found great inspiration from the works displayed in their galleries. (For someone who has been considering scale and texture quite a bit lately, Elena Manferdini’s exhibition gave me plenty to think about.)

I immediately felt connected to one of the Georgia O’Keeffe paintings, which took me back to 2012 when Alabama Chanin hosted a Weekend Away Workshop in Taos, New Mexico. The workshop was held at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, and I slept in the very room that Georgia O’ Keeffe stayed in some 60 years ago.

Jpeg

Continue reading

DESIGN: PATRICK KELLY

Last July, we explored Alabama’s fashion design history and, in our studio conversations about that post, we started asking one another about other designers that have emerged from the South. Dana Buchman, Pat Kerr, Johnny Talbot, and Wes Gordon all hail from states neighboring our own. When searching my brain for designers from Mississippi, the first that came to mind was Patrick Kelly.

Patrick stands out so significantly in my memory because he emerged as a designer of note in the 1980s and during my time in design school. He is, in many ways, a designer with sensibilities completely different from my own; he created body conscious garments with flamboyant embellishments. In other respects, we have a certain kinship, as he found ways to repurpose and recycle clothing into new garments. He also found inspiration in his community and neighbors, once telling People Magazine, “At the black Baptist church on Sunday, the ladies are just as fierce as the ladies at the Yves Saint Laurent haute couture shows.”

ALABAMA CHANIN – DESIGN: PATRICK KELLY

Continue reading

TRAVEL: HOWARD FINSTER’S GARDEN

I took the pieces you threw away, and put them together night and day, washed by rain, dried by sun, a million pieces all in one.

-Howard Finster, “Poem for the Garden”

Howard Finster, a Southern Baptist minister and self-proclaimed “man of visions” moved to Pennville, Georgia in 1961, having purchased four acres of land that was mostly swamp. After draining the land with a series of homemade canals and channels, he began building the Plant Farm Museum, a biblical roadside attraction that would house “all the wonders of God’s creation.” Finster’s modern-day Garden of Eden was covered in biblical verses, paintings, and sculptures of the artist’s own design and punctuated by a series of structures including the Bible House, Mirror House, Hubcap Tower, Bicycle Tower, and a Folk Art Chapel which was five stories tall and built without plans or the aid of an architect.

In 1965, Howard Finster retired from preaching and increasingly dedicated himself to the Plant Farm Museum and his burgeoning career as a visual artist.

Ten years later, Finster’s elaborate environment was featured in Esquire magazine and renamed Paradise Garden. The garden has changed greatly over the years, and many of its original works have been acquired by collectors and museums. Few images of the garden in its original state exist.

Fortunately, one anonymous visitor to the garden in the mid-1970s held onto his or her pictures, and we are able to experience the garden at the height of its beauty – intact and un-plundered.

–Phillip March Jones

Continue reading

AGATHA WHITECHAPEL: PATCHWORK PHOTOS

For many of us who call ourselves “mother”, there are two types of children in our lives: those that are born to us and those that come into our lives and become “ours” for life. For me, this was the case with Agatha Whitechapel, daughter of my dear friend (who I commonly refer to as, simply, “Whitechapel.”) I think of her as a version of her collages, fully realized – a lifelike composition of images pasted together to create a portrait. Adopted daughter to me; young girl grown up; mother of Elijah; photographer; and, finally, friend. Agatha cut her teeth in Europe of the 1990s, traversing between London and Vienna. Agatha’s school was the keen eye of her mother, music video film-sets, and the world of skateboards. When I met her, she was a 12-year-old girl, fascinated with hearing and telling elaborate stories. According to Agatha, she has taken her “childhood obsessions with fantasy and storytelling and turned them into visual explosions with as much colour, pop and pomp” as she can possibly fit into one picture.

Agatha Whitechapel Continue reading

INSPIRATION: MINECRAFT

Where does inspiration come from? Do ideas spring from a single stimulus? Or are they generated by a creative environment fostered over time? Of course, we know the answer is both – and many more sources.

My daughter, Maggie, is obsessed with Minecraft, which (if you don’t already know) is an open-ended game that relies upon the player’s creativity to build her own world and solve problems along her journey. The game’s virtual world is made of cubes of materials – grass, dirt, sand, bricks, lava, and many others. Players survive and earn accomplishments by using these blocks to create other materials, structures, and any three-dimensional form.

Continue reading

ON DESIGN: A MAKESHIFT CONVERSATION SERIES

Beginning  October 13th, 2014 and as part of our ongoing Makeshift conversation, Alabama Chanin will host a series of discussions and lectures about design, art, business, community, and plenty of other topics. Events will be held at the Factory on the second Monday of each month. The format will shift, depending on topic and presenter, but you can look forward to informal talks, multi-media presentations, and hands-on workshops.

Makeshift began over three years ago as a conversation about design, craft, art, fashion, and DIY—how they intersect and how each discipline elevates the others. Since its beginnings, we have expanded the conversation, discussing how making in groups can build relationships and communities, all the while examining what the design community can learn from the slow food movement.

ON DESIGN: A MAKESHIFT CONVERSATION SERIES

Continue reading

THREE FOR A DIME: BUTCH ANTHONY

We’ve written about Maxine Payne’s book, Making Pictures: Three For a Dime, which highlights the work of a family of itinerant photographers – the Massengills. We were inspired by this catalog of the family’s work and incorporated those thoughts and feelings into our most recent collection. Alabama Chanin, in collaboration with Maxine Payne and contributor Phillip March Jones, has invited a number of different artists, writers, musicians, chefs, and creative types to offer up their own interpretations of the Massengill photographs in a series of posts for the Journal. The posts give voice to the images of the often-anonymous figures that appear in the photographs. For this particular entry, we invited Butch Anthony tointertwangle a series of Massengill photographs.

THREE FOR A DIME: BUTCH ANTHONY

Continue reading

DANA BARNES

At Alabama Chanin, we’ve spent years working with textiles to find the perfect medium for our techniques and products: 100% organic cotton jersey. We are drawn to artists who utilize what some might call ordinary materials and tools to create extraordinary work. Dana Barnes has done just that; she has taken familiar techniques like crochet and felting and combined them with a common material, merino wool. But, her results are not ordinary. Rather, they are unexpected and exquisite.

Dana Barnes is a renowned fashion designer, having created collections for lines like Elie Tahari, Adrienne Vittadini, and Tommy Hilfiger. Her exploration into wool and textiles sprang from a practical issue – one that many mothers face: as her young daughters ran and played, they made a little too much noise for the neighbors living beneath the family’s expansive loft. At the time, Dana was experimenting with wool and felting and wondered if she could make a rug that was big enough to cover the family’s living space. What resulted was a massive rug sewn together by hand from large crocheted squares of felted, unspun wool.

DANA-BARNES-STUDIO-01

Continue reading

MAKING PICTURES: THREE FOR A DIME EXHIBITION

One Saturday morning in the mid-1930s, Mancey Massengill, a wife and mother of two, saw people having their pictures made in a dime store photo booth in Batesville, Arkansas. According to her son Lance, “she watched close, and got the name off the camera, then wrote to the company and ordered the lens. She got the money for that by taking about two dozen pullets in for sale.” Her husband, Jim, built a box to house the lens and outfitted a trailer to create a mobile photo studio. On weekends, they would set up in little towns across the state and make pictures, three for a dime.

Jim and Mancey Massengill started this family side-business to make ends meet. The country was in the throes of depression and on the verge of entering the Second World War. Work was scarce in rural Arkansas, but the Massengills understood that even in rough times, life continues. Babies are born, children play, couples meet, and we all grow older. Someone needed to be there to capture those moments and that person could perhaps make a living doing it.

A few years later, the Massengill’s sons, Lance and Lawrence, and their wives, Evelyn and Thelma, worked their way into the business. They outfitted their own trailers and made their own pictures, traveling across the state in search of clients. The surviving family diaries and notes from this period attest to a very strong and entrepreneurial work ethic, with little mention of aesthetics or technique. The men and women of both generations describe where they went, what they did, and how much they made with only fleeting mention of life’s details. With few exceptions, the stories are left to be told by the pictures they made.

MAKING PICTURES: THREE FOR A DIME EXHIBITION

Continue reading

7 LESSONS FROM MARIA POPOVA

Maria Popova is the founder of Brain Pickings, a website designed to introduce you to a broad variety of subjects that feed one’s mind and inspire creativity.  Since founding Brain Pickings, Maria has spent countless hours researching and writing – hours that have taught her many life lessons. In honor of the website’s 7th birthday last fall, she was generous enough to share 7 things she learned from those 7 years of reading, writing, and living.

The 7 Lessons:

  1. Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind.
  2. Do nothing out of guilt, or for prestige, status, money or approval alone.
  3. Be generous with your time and your resources and with giving credit and, especially, with your words.
  4. Build pockets of stillness into your life.
  5. Maya Angelou famously said, ‘When people tell you who they are, believe them’. But even more importantly, when people try to tell you who you are, don’t believe them.
  6. Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity. As Annie Dillard memorably put it, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
  7. Debbie Millman captures our modern predicament beautifully: “Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time.”

Continue reading

PORTRAITS IN CREATIVITY: MAIRA KALMAN

We at Alabama Chanin have long been obsessed with and inspired by Maira Kalman. She has a rich and singular voice – as a visual artist, author, illustrator, and storyteller – that imbues people, objects, and words with knowing wit and humanity.

Maira has written and illustrated 18 children’s books, all of which have been popular nighttime reading with my daughter Maggie. Maira’s illustrated version of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style resides, beautiful and dog-eared, on my desk each day—as it has become part of our company style guide. And for years, I have traded and passed on copies of and links to her columns from the New York Times, The Principles of Uncertainty and The Pursuit of Happiness (both of which are now published exquisitely in book form).

KALMAN-BOOK-1

Continue reading

DIY WRAPPED CANVAS

We’ve written before about the importance of color – from a cultural standpoint and a design perspective. At Alabama Chanin, we tend to embrace more muted tones for our design color palette. Muted colors have a reduced intensity, so any saturated color stands out in comparison.  We are drawn toward natural tones and some of our fabrics are colored with natural dyes to create rich, pure shades of color.

When it comes to individual style, our feelings about color can be personal; a color can make you feel happy or sad, energetic or depressed. Colors can transmit mood, thought, and feeling. When discussing the best way to exhibit the color options for our DIY projects, Olivia – a member of our design team – suggested that we approach the display as an art project. The result of her work, this wrapped canvas, is beautiful, simple, and focuses the viewer’s attention directly on color. Anything else you take from this, like your thoughts on color, is personal.

WRAPPED-CANVAS-03

Continue reading

COLOR + JOSEF ALBERS

“In visual perception a color is almost never seen as it really is – as it physically is. This fact makes color the most relative medium in art.” –Josef Albers

Color, as we see it, results from our eyes and brains working together to make sense of the light around us. Since as early as the 15th century, artists and philosophers alike have tried to understand how this works and create a unified approach to color – a color theory – to understand how colors complement or contrast with each other and why they rouse our emotions and influence our decisions.

Essentially, color theory, like the interaction between our eyes and brains, helps us make sense of what we “see.” Perhaps one of the most influential color theorists was artist and educator Josef Albers, who published Interaction of Color in 1963. A tome of a book on color theory, it was made for interaction, to be pored over and actively, even emotionally, involve students as they learned Albers’ philosophy of color.

Continue reading

SUN YOUNG PARK (+ ILLUSTRATIONS FOR A BOOK)

Sun Young Park, a freelance illustrator living in New York, is an integral part of the Alabama Chanin team. If you own Alabama Studio Sewing + Design or have ever browsed our Studio Style DIY Custom DIY Guide, then you’ve seen the beautiful sketches of our garments, illustrated by Sun. I met Sun several years ago by accident through a mutual friend, which resulted in an impromptu breakfast at The Breslin, April Bloomfield’s restaurant at the ACE Hotel in New York City. I was immediately taken by her enthusiasm and had been looking for a new illustrator for my books. Our chance meeting was good fortune.

Sun creates illustrations for a variety of projects, including April Bloomfield’s new book, A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories, and Gertie’s Book for Better Sewing. We love Sun’s illustrations, doodles, and drawings and recently were able to chat with her about her beginnings in illustration, inspirations, artistic process, and desire to create.

Gerties-Book-for-Better-Sewing_Sun_Young_Park-04W
Continue reading

PHILLIP MARCH JONES | PICTURES TAKE YOU PLACES

Windows, New York, New York

We asked contributor Phillip March Jones to share the process and inspiration behind his daily photo project, Pictures Take You Places.

Seeing is everything. But it takes practice.

Modern_Antiquity_Atlanta_GA-WModern Antiquity, Atlanta, Georgia

La_Plage_Trouville_FRANCE-WLa Plage, Trouville, France

For the past couple of years I have been traveling almost constantly for various projects in the United States and abroad. As a result, I am often away from the studio and distracted from the kind of intense focus required and afforded therein. These circumstances have led me to rethink my artistic practice and even the way I interact with the world. The newfound freedom of a portable studio has forced me to develop exercises to keep my eye and mind focused and has led to several new bodies of work, including the creation of a daily photo project titled Pictures Take You Places.

Continue reading

EUGENE + MARIE

In 1939, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein met a 19-year-old girl named Eveline Kalke, whom he nicknamed “Marie,” at a state fair in Wisconsin. The two married in 1943, and settled into their daily lives in Milwaukee where Eugene worked as a baker. Unlike most bakers, Eugene spent his free time composing poems on the subjects of love, nature, reincarnation and time travel. He made fantastical paintings of unknown universes, ceramic vases pieced together from dozens of hand-sculpted leaves, towers and thrones fashioned from chicken bones, concrete masks, and perhaps most importantly, elaborately-staged photographs of his wife and muse, Marie.

EUGENE + MARIE

Continue reading

LINA THARSING WALGREENS PHOTOGRAPHY

Cemetery Shadow, 2012

Contributor Phillip March Jones, introduces us to artist and photographer Lina Tharsing, who currently has an exhibition of her paintings on display at Poem 88 in Atlanta through October 19, 2013.

A few years ago, Walgreens launched a clever promotion for a reusable film camera in a world full of digital devices. The cheap plastic cameras, which retailed for about ten dollars, advertised “free film for life” in big letters. The catch was that you had to have the film processed at Walgreens, but it seemed like an opportunity to Lina Tharsing, a young painter and photographer from Lexington, Kentucky.

Lina Tharsing is best known as a painter but has been making photographs since she was a child. According to Tharsing, “I remember my first roll of film exactly. I was only eleven, and in an effort to amuse a bored child, my mother handed me a camera and told me to go out into the yard and take some pictures. At that moment, my view of the world changed, the lens revealed something my eyes hadn’t seen before. It was the ability to capture a fleeting moment and freeze it forever, to frame a scene.” Tharsing carries a camera with her everywhere she goes in a relentless pursuit of light and a self-described “singular moment where reality and fiction intersect.” She seeks out the brightly lit tree in the middle of a forest or the deep shadow that forms a portal into some other dimension. The resulting images of figures, interiors, suburban scenes, and natural landscapes challenge our perception of truth, offering a composed tension of multiple realities that would otherwise be forever lost.

LINA THARSING - Portal LightPortal Light, 2012

Continue reading

MAPPING MANHATTAN

A physical place can be filled with such meaning. Just think of your hometown; do you have recollections of your favorite spot? Or maybe you couldn’t wait to get away and that feeling is still palpable. Returning to places that I have lived before, I have a sense memory of how to get around and I associate feelings and memories with specific locations. In a city as large as Manhattan, the sheer number of these feelings and remembrances must be infinite, many times the number of inhabitants.

As we head to Manhattan this week with our newest collection, this conversation feels especially interesting. Our own personal map of the city, marked with new clients and boutiques, will guide us as we write another chapter into the Alabama Chanin story.

In 2007, Becky Cooper became interested in locations and maps after studying Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities and she was inspired by an internship with non-profit organization CultureNOW, where she worked to map Manhattan’s public art spaces. She told the New York Times, “I’m really bad at geography. But I think it helped me to see maps more as a biography.”

MAPPING MANHATTAN

Continue reading

LONNIE HOLLEY: KEEPING A RECORD OF IT

Keeping a Record of It (Harmful Music), 1986, Lonnie Holley, Salvaged phonograph top, phonograph record, animal skull 13 3/4 x 15 3/4 x 9 inches, Courtesy of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation. Photo: Steve Pitkin

Lonnie Holley, at the age of 63, is finally getting his proverbial moment in the sun. The artist’s second album, Keeping A Record of It, was released today by Atlanta’s Dust-to-Digital label, and he is currently touring the US with Deerhunter and Bill Callahan. Earlier this year Holley performed at the Whitney Museum of American Art during the Blues for Smoke exhibition, and a solo-exhibition of his visual work is scheduled to open at th­e James Fuentes Gallery on September 15 in New York. Holley’s life has not, however, always been this glamorous.

Lonnie Bradley Holley was born on February 10, 1950 in Birmingham, Alabama. From the age of 5, Holley worked various jobs, picking up trash at a drive-in movie theatre, washing dishes, and cooking. He lived in a whiskey house, on the state-fair grounds, and in several foster homes. His early life was chaotic and Holley was never afforded the pleasure of a real childhood.

LONNIE HOLLEY

Holley performing at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY. Photo: Matt Arnett

Continue reading

A RECIPE FOR PRINTING

Yesterday, we heard from Heather Wylie about her Bohemian Bop venture, her love of printmaking, and how she got into screen printing t-shirts. Today, Heather shares with us a recipe for screen printing at home, based on her own self-taught experience and by following You Tube videos and a few books on the subject, including Printing by Hand: A Modern Guide to Printing with Handmade Stamps, Stencils and Silk Screens by Lena Corwin, which we wrote about here a few years ago.

As Heather mentioned yesterday, printmaking requires many steps and each step demands careful attention in order to get the desired outcome. Anyone can print at home, but it is a lengthy process.

A RECIPE FOR PRINTING

Continue reading

AMOS KENNEDY + THE PERFECT POSTER

Amos Kennedy became an artist in an unusual way. At age 40, he left his corporate, white-collar job and secure middle class life to pursue a passion for printing, took to wearing overalls, and learned to live on an artist’s salary. He prints posters for The People, keeping the message clear and the price affordable. His work ranges from the inspirational to the informative, often creating and printing work for festivals and events. In 2008, filmmaker Laura Zinger directed “Proceed and Be Bold,” a documentary about Amos Kennedy and his non-traditional path into the art world.

AMOS KENNEDY + THE PERFECT POSTER

Continue reading

EMILY SPIVACK + WORN STORIES

Last year at MAKESHIFT 2012, one of our gatherings revolved around “Worn Stories,” an idea based on the blog, Sentimental Value, by Emily Spivack, friend of Jessamyn Hatcher. Spivack’s blog – and soon to be book, titled Worn Stories – shares the stories of garments purchased from Ebay. Those anecdotes were written by each item’s respective seller and, “are a window into people’s lives,” Spivack told the New York Times in a recent article highlighting her “Sentimental Value” exhibition at the Philadelphia Art Alliance.

Spivack also created and writes Threaded, the Smithsonian’s fashion history blog. Needless to say, Spivack has become an authority on connecting stories and clothing, which she views as works of art. Anyone who has ever made or purchased an Alabama Chanin garment knows the value we place on the quality, timelessness, and story of each project. Spivack’s mission rings very true for us.

Emily Spivack’s exhibit, Sentimental Value is on display through August 23,2013.

For more information, click here.

 

HÖFER’S LIBRARIES

We recently shared a few thoughts and memories of the library, collected from friends and neighbors, about the role libraries have played and continue to play in our lives. The draw of the library is foremost, the books. It is a democratic place to learn, escape, and relax. For many of us, the library conjures childhood memories of our local facility, perhaps a favorite librarian, and certainly the stack of literary treasures we inevitably brought home with us. German photographer Candida Höfer’s series of color plates, Libraries, captures the architecture and physical structures that hold those treasures and the art of those sacred halls.

This impressive volume contains 137 color plates of Höfer’s work, including the British Library in London, the Escorial in Spain, the Whitney Museum and the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, the Villa Medici in Rome, and the Hamburg University Library, among many others. The images are mostly devoid of people, drawing the eye and mind not to the functionality of a space, but to the colors and aesthetic of a building with a single purpose.

HOFER'S LIBRARIES

Continue reading

A CHATTANOOGA WHISKEY COCKTAIL

In anticipation of tomorrow evening’s opening exhibit of our BBQ’ed Dresses Collection at Warehouse Row in Chattanooga, Tennessee, we mixed up a celebratory cocktail. Our friend Brooks Reitz of the Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. sent us a few more bottles of his Small Batch Tonic for the event, and the Chattanooga Whiskey Co. is providing the booze, so we mixed the two together, plus a touch of lemonade for sweetness, and found ourselves in a dreamy barbeque state of mind.

A CHATTANOOGA WHISKEY COCKTAIL

Continue reading

FAYTHE LEVINE AND SIGN PAINTERS

Growing up in small-town Florence, Alabama, a trip into downtown meant a visit to colorful shops, recognized by equally colorful signs. Ye Ole General Store had a block letter, serif-type sign across the entranceway and inside, we could find canteens and hats and overalls for backyard battles and explorations. Next, we’d walk to Court Street and look for the black and orange storefront that meant Wilson’s Fabrics. The simple lettering, enhanced by the high contrast color choices, told my grandmother to come right in – the “Tall Man with the Low Prices” had just the cotton and muslin she needed. Finally, the best part of our trip was our visit to Trowbridge’s for hot dogs and milkshakes. The hand-painted awning, with its swirling cursive script, told us we were headed in the right direction. The front window advertises SANDWICHES, ICE CREAM, SUNDAES. We would slide into a booth and look at the hand-painted menu hanging behind the ice cream counter. That beautiful menu is still there today, challenging me to choose between the hot dog and the chicken salad sandwich. I think the town would riot if it were ever taken down.

This sentimental love I have for hand painted signs was rejuvenated when friend and fellow maker, Faythe Levine, and her co-writer Sam Macon published Sign Painters. This book chronicles the histories and modern-day stories of sign painters. In the 1980’s and 90’s, the art of painting signs became doomed to obscurity, or worse -extinction- with the invention and widespread use of vinyl lettering and digital design. In today’s world, full of Adobe software and inflatable dancing tube men, it is hard to remember that every grocery store sale sign, billboard, storefront, and banner was once carefully designed and painted by hand.

SIGN PAINTERS

Continue reading

CHATTANOOGA, TENNESSEE

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be heading up to Chattanooga, Tennessee for an Alabama Chanin One-Day Workshop, a trunk show, and an exhibit of BBQ’ed Dresses. Yes, we put a few of our handmade garments into the smoker.

Last fall, for the Southern Foodways Alliance 15th Annual Symposium, we BBQ’ed a few Alabama Chanin dresses, with the help of Nick Pihakis from Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q in Birmingham, Alabama. John T. Edge was the impetus for the project, asking us to design some BBQ inspired garments that eventually hung proudly alongside Landon Nordeman’s stunning photographs of pit masters and their tools. It is going to be great to see the BBQ inspired collection hang again later this month at Warehouse Row in Chattanooga as part of Crafted by Southern Hands.

CHATTANOOGA TENNESSEE BBQ DRESS Continue reading

GERTRUDE STEIN + TENDER BUTTONS

“A Carafe, that is a blind glass. 

A kind in glass and a cousin, a spectacle and nothing strange a simple hurt color and an arrangement in a system to pointing. All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling. The difference is spreading.”

This is how Gertrude Stein begins her Cubist experiment in verse. Tender Buttons, Objects has been called a masterpiece, a failure, confusing, nonsense, and a beautiful collage. It has been supposed a practical joke, too obscure to have real meaning, or too meaningful to describe (the last presumably said by an unenthusiastic poetry student).

TENDER BUTTONS

Continue reading

TILLEKE SCHWARZ + A SKIRT

Monday, we wrote about artist Tilleke Schwarz’s New Potatoes as inspiration for the week. However, Tilleke’s textiles have been a source for inspiration for me for years. When New Potatoes landed on my desk about a year ago, we started the skirt you see above as homage to Tilleke and her work.

We have produced narrative work over the years in the form of our Story Quilts. With that series, we take vintage quilts, refurbish them, and embroider oral histories onto the fabrics. You will find a Textile Stories Quilt project in Alabama Studio Style that describes this series. However, this series is small in comparison to the beautiful narrative work of Tilleke Schwartz.

TILLEKE SCHWARZ + A SKIRT - FABRIC DETAIL

Continue reading

TILLEKE SCHWARZ (+ INDIGO WEEK)

I first saw Tilleke Schwarz’s work in an exhibition called Pricked: Extreme Embroidery at the Museum of Arts & Design in New York. The needlework was displayed proudly as contemporary art by extraordinary female artists. Boundaries were pushed as textile art was made. Friend, Maira Kalman, also had work on view.

Tilleke’s work resonated with me with its elaborate technique and profound artistic statement. At the time, her first book Mark Making (2007) had quickly sold out, so when her self-published second book, New Potatoes, came out a few years later I readily ordered 10 copies.

TILLEKE SCHWARZ: NEW POTATOES Continue reading

EL ANATSUI

From far away, Ghanaian artist El Anatsui’s large-scale artworks take on the appearance of textiles and tapestries with patterns resembling those a master weaver might create. But upon closer inspection, the poignant pieces are actually constructed with simple bottle tops connected by copper wire.  Flattened then stitched, their unique assembly allows the works to move, flow, and take almost any shape. They speak volumes about El Anatsui’s education and home.

EL ANATSUI Continue reading

FABIOLA (LOVE LETTER TO A PAINTING)

In his classic tome on two-dimensional design, Wucius Wong indicates that it takes at least three elements for something to be considered repeating. Repeating elements is one of the first theories you learn as a textile designer. I spent an entire semester discussing the theory of words and their meanings in design language. We were all in agreement: for repetition, two isn’t enough. What about over three hundred?

Wucius Wong’s theory is the first thing that comes to mind when I look at these pictures from an exhibition by the artist Francis Alys, showcased at the National Portrait Gallery in London. In room after room, over 300 portraits of Saint Fabiola are displayed: the same woman in the same pose, the same traditional rendition. Repetition – the same image seen over and over again.

The artist has collected these paintings from flea markets and garage sales in his adopted home of Mexico City. Most are painted by amateur artists. All portray the same woman, again, and again, and again. What Alys points out is that, though the images are similar – they all portray this woman, Saint Fabiola, in the same traditional veil, seated in the same pose and with the same background color – each individual image is unique. Each bears the mark of the artist. One may paint her nose with a slant; another may paint her with makeup or a solemn expression. The artists have copied a widely known image, but interpreted through their own eyes. We see repetition, but without absolutely identical images.

The larger art here is in the repetition of the “pattern,” or image. But, Francis Alys is showing us that even copies bear the mark of the creator. Seeing the same image repeated hundreds of times makes for an impressive impact. Viewed as a whole they represent merely a single pattern; viewed more closely, they demonstrate that, even when re-creating someone else’s work of art, the artist’s uniqueness shines through.

SAINT FABIOLA

*Photos borrowed from California Literary Review.

ADVANCED STYLE

There’s a cluster of Polaroids in our production office that never fail to captivate our visitors, and even though they’ve been there for the better part of a decade we still find ourselves staring. They’re so beautiful. It’s hard to look away.

Those Polaroids are from our first fashion show— 8 years ago—a cast of women assembled by the amazing Jennifer Venditti of JV8, Inc. Jennifer, a director and pioneer of selecting models whose beauty is far from typical, introduced us to a group of ladies whose poise, confidence, and style were unmistakable.

Mimi Weddell was among this incredible ensemble, a vibrant actress and New York fashion icon. She was most known for her lifetime obsession with hats. We love that her words are the introduction to Ari Seth Cohen’s book, a celebration of personal style at any age, Advanced Style:

“I can’t imagine going without a hat. The only romantic thing left in life is a hat.”

Continue reading

“AS LONG AS I CAN SEE, I’LL BE TRYING TO THREAD THAT NEEDLE.”

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, Tennessee, to view “Creation Story: Gee’s Bend Quilts and the Art of Thornton Dial.” I spent forever moving from one quilt to the next – leaning as closely in as I could without being reprimanded. No matter how many times you see those beautiful pieces, they never fail to amaze and inspire. The quilts, while spectacular, were meant for everyday use and were made with whatever materials were available. The personal stories associated with each quilt drove that point home. Each was described by the maker in simple terms and plain language, as if what they produced was no big deal, as though anyone could do it. I was particularly taken by the quilts of Missouri Pettway, both intricate and simple in their constructions. One quilt, made from her husband’s work clothes, demonstrated the love that went into each and every one of these works of art. I felt a lump rise in my throat as I read the description, as told by the quilter’s daughter, Arlonzia:

“It was when Daddy died. I was about seventeen, eighteen. He stayed sick about eight months and passed on. Mama say, ‘I going to take his work clothes, shape them into a quilt to remember him, and cover up under it for love.’ She take his old pants legs and shirttails, take all the clothes he had, just enough to make that quilt, and I helped her tore them up. Bottom of the pants is narrow, top is wide, and she had me to cutting the top part out and shape them up in even strips.” Continue reading

DIY THURSDAY: ANDREA ZITTEL + SMOCKSHOP

In 2009 and 2010, an exhibition was held at Pratt Institute to help explain the relationship between fashion and sustainability.

For this exhibit (called Ethics + Aesthetics = Sustainable Fashion), curators Francesca Granata and Sarah Scaturro (now Conservator at The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art) displayed garments from our Alabama ChaninSongbirds collection, and also from artists and designers like Susan Cianciolo, Andrea Zittel, Suno, and Bodkin.

Andrea Zittel’s Smockshop pattern was included in the “Rethink” portion of the exhibition and provided as a printed pattern at the back of the catalog. From page 36 of the catalog:

A simple double wrap-around garment, the smock as designed by the artist Andrea Zittel, is a versatile and utilitarian garment. For the Smockshop project, it is reworked by a number of artists who reinterpret the original pattern based on their individual skill sets and tastes. In line with Zittel’s motto, “Liberation through Limitations,” the smocks are intended to be worn exclusively for six months, but in an understanding of the idealistic nature of such a practice, the artist is at least hoping “to inspire a more frugal approach to design.” The examples in the exhibition are by the artist Tiprin Follett, who wore her smocks continuously and documented her performance in an interview with Zittel as well as through snapshots.

Continue reading

BASILICA HUDSON WORKSHOP

We will host our first One-Day Retreat of the fall season in New York’s beautiful Hudson Valley on Sunday, September 16th. Our day will be spent in a restored nineteenth century factory and will feature local food from Barbara Goldstein of Blima’s.

We were able to talk to friend Melissa Auf der Maur from Basilica to find out a little more about the history of the space, future plans for the center, and where to spend the rest of our weekend in the Hudson Valley.

Below we share what learned – which includes lessons on historic preservation and roof gardens.

xoNatalie

Continue reading

LEARNING FROM THE VERNACULAR

“It is essential to remember that as many arts of living exist as cultural nuances and beliefs.”

I posted about Deidi von Schaewen’s work back in 2010 when her “Learning from Vernacular” first appeared as an exhibition to be seen only by train.

Now, she takes the work one step further in an exhibition that “proposes a world tour of traditional architectures, known as ‘vernacular’, presented in models, films and photographs.”


Deidi von Schaewen by Deidi_vonSchaewen Continue reading

PENLAND MOMENTS (AND HEADED HOME)

It has been a wonderful two weeks at Penland: learning, exploring, resting, dreaming. I dread leaving this magical place and at the same time I look forward to going home and using the tools I learned here to become a better designer. As I pack the car, we leave you with a few shots of the tools of Penland.

Happy trails and a great weekend to all…
xoNatalie

Continue reading

BLUE HIGHWAYS

Excerpt from *blue highways*
– William Least Heat Moon –

(Lovingly translated to typewriter by my friend Jeff)

“I drove onto the Natchez Trace Parkway, a two lane running from Natchez to near Nashville, which follows a five hundred mile trail first opened by buffalo and Indians. Chickasaws called it the Peace Path. In 1810 th Trace was the main route for Ohio Valley traders who rather than fight the Mississippi currents, sold their flatboats for scrap in Natchez and walked home on the Trace. The poor sometimes traveled by a method called *ride and tie* two men would buy a mule, one would ride until noon, then tie the animal to a tree and walk until his partner behind him caught up on the jack that evening. By mid-century, steamboats made the arduous and dangerous trek unnecessary, and the Trace disappeared in the trees. Continue reading

MARIA MOYER + PLANKTON

Having seen Maria Moyer’s recently-released collaboration with West Elm, I can’t help but visualize which surfaces in my home and at the Factory will best display the porcelain vases and tea lights. I’m certain there will be quite a few.

As a sculptor, Maria appreciates the ‘craft’ behind the design, which translates beautifully into her work. There’s a lovely purity of form paired with incredible attention to detail in each piece.

Continue reading

MONDAY MORNING INSPIRATION: JANET MALCOLM

“Last winter, I came into possession of the papers of an émigré psychiatrist who practiced in New York in the late 1940s and 1950s,” Janet Malcolm explains in an article in the New York Review of Books. Malcolm is describing a set of papers she found and used as both inspiration and materials for her collages. These works were exhibited in a show, Janet Malcolm: Free Associations, that ran through January 14, 2012, at Lori Bookstein Fine Art in New York City. This sentence was also posted in the gallery.

Continue reading

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

As the year closes, I thought I would put together a list of those people and organizations who have made a difference for me in 2011. For a moment, let’s celebrate just a few of those who are creating inspiring works by striving toward a better, more beautiful, sustainable world.

The Kitchen Sisters, Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, have been producing inspiring material for years, as producers of such programs as Hidden Kitchens, Lost and Found Sound, and now, The Hidden World of Girls. One particularly inspiring piece, the film “White Gloves,” by Courtney Stevens and Les Blank focuses on the Oakland Museum Women’s Board. The short piece is poignant in its focus on volunteerism, women, and the relationships that bond people together.   The Kitchen Sisters never fail to tell important stories and create moving art. (Images at the top of this post from Francesca Woodman.)

The book, Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, offers a challenge to the notion that more is better and instead emphasizes the importance of locally-centered commerce, politics and culture. The author, Bill McKibben, challenges us to consider why we buy what we do and urges us to think about our role within a community at large. McKibben makes appeals for action, but he also leaves us with a sense of what is possible. I believe in community and the fact that change is possible.

Continue reading

& HAPPY HOLIDAYS

…from our dear friend Eva Whitechapel and all of us @ Alabama Chanin

SAVAGE BEAUTY

I was greeted at work today by the most wonderful discovery – I  literally gasped when I saw the copy of Savage Beauty on my desk. Thank you Natalie!
 It’s no secret that I’ve been obsessing over Alexander McQueen for the last several months, watching past runway shows, and sending links with reckless abandon. 
The work is breathtaking.

I will now give my computer a well-deserved rest from endless McQueen queries so that I might devote the day to 
complete immersion in one of the most beautiful books I have ever seen. You’ll find a couple of beautiful photos below, but there really is so much more.
-June

P.S.: Thank you to Andrew Bolton and the entire team at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute for the stunning retrospective. Read the New York Times article about the show and the man: Designer as Dramatist, and the Tales He Left Behind

 

ECO SALON FRIDAY: A TRIP OF ONE’S OWN

Those of you who follow us on Twitter, Facebook and/or Tumblr, know that I was in New Mexico over the holidays. What resulted from this adventure was a love for the west and an understanding of why so many artists and creative types have settled to work there.  I was deeply impacted by the beauty, spirit, and (perhaps mostly by) the clear, crisp air. The day my friend Jennifer and I landed we spotted four rainbows.  Our friend Jeff wrote that such an unlikely experience is “possibly an indicator of good fortune to come.”

My blog post at EcoSalon this Friday is about our trip and the inspiration I found in a woman – long dead – named Mabel Dodge Luhan.

Thanks to EcoSalon for the continuing bi-weekly collaboration – read all of my stories there and make sure you let them know what you like.
xoNatalie

A TRIP OF ONE’S OWN

“I can’t believe that I am doing this.” Wait. Laugh. Repeat.  These were the words I kept echoing over and over again as I sat at Gate B27 in the Atlanta Airport. My girlfriend, Jennifer Venditti, is sitting across from me, looking like a vision of New York City chic. I stare at her in amazement. We are waiting to board a flight to Albuquerque, New Mexico, with plans to catch up on the last six months of one another’s lives.

Continue reading

DOUGHNUTS + T-SHIRTS

While I was away having fun at the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium last weekend, my daughter Maggie was working hard at eating doughnuts and designing t-shirts for our new children’s line.

The top design features a glass of “sweet tea” on the t-shirt front – not iced tea as it “has to be sweet to be tea.” This is from a girl who thinks that doughnuts should be considered a vegetable.

Our children’s line launches next month in New Orleans at Angelique Baby on Magazine Street as a part of our New Orleans and Ogden Museum traveling show.

I can’t wait to get back to NOLA.  See all of our upcoming events here.
xoNatalie

 

EL COSMICO

Plan your adventure and join us (along with Patty Griffin, Barbara Lynn, Ben Kweller, The Black Angels, Amy Cook,  Imogene + Willie, and a slew of others) in Marfa, Texas – September 22 – 25.

Learn more about El Cosmico and the Trans-Pecos Festival of Music & Love here.
Adventure awaits…

YIELD

If you are in New York for Fashion Week, mark your calendar for the opening of YIELD on September 10th at the Textile Arts Center.

Thanks to Holly McQuillan and Timo Rissanen for including our work in this important installation.

And learn more about zero waste in Subtraction Cutting School, by Julian Roberts.

 

THE HEART

I once had a close friend who was the most incredible painter, yet never sold a single piece of art. I (and everyone who saw her work) was certain she was destined for artistic greatness and critical acclaim, if only she could get people to see her work. She thought it unfair and ridiculous to allow a gallery to take a commission on her sales when she did all of the work. As her collection grew, her apartment shrank, and I decided to play hero – or at least middle man.   That was free of charge.

Unfortunately, my efforts met with failure after failure; despite interested buyers, the deal always fell through. Mostly she claimed the piece was in need of some minor finishing then failed to follow up, refused to return calls. How could someone struggling with bills be so unmotivated that they couldn’t even schedule a time to collect some cash? Finally I realized (and after a couple of cocktails she admitted) that she had no intention of selling those paintings- they simply meant to much to her.

You’d be hard-pressed to find an artist who hasn’t experienced this sort of attachment to their art. Investing so much of your time and energy into a piece shapes the way you view and how much you appreciate it. When I begin a project that I know is destined for someone-somewhere else, I take a moment to focus on that fact; I take a moment to hope it will bring happiness to the wearer. Then, I let it go.

It’s hard to see a piece of our clothing in-person and not touch it – strangers have been known to sacrifice their understanding of personal boundaries on more than one occasion. The beauty of hand-stitching is almost shocking in its simplicity, and even the most perfect looking stitches are not- that’s the point. It is impossible to conceal the artistry and expression in a garment that has been made by human hands. Diane, our head seamstress (who you will meet later),  can tell you which one of our stitchers is responsible for a garment with a quick glance… we wonder if she can tell their mood as well.

Alabama Fur (in the picture above) is one of the most time-intensive treatments in the collection; it can take several weeks to complete an all-over application. Every time I run my hands across a sample of it I can’t help but think of how much time it spent with the artist who made it.  Was it put aside at the same time every day in the name of homework assistance? Did it suffer through the new season of True Blood, or help with any important decisions?

The Alabama Chanin collection (in the best case scenario) is made from cotton that is grown in Texas, spun in North Carolina, knit in South Carolina,  dyed in Tennessee and North Carolina, and sewn by our incredible Artists here in Alabama. I’d like to introduce you to the people that take part in the making of your Alabama Chanin pieces, those that cut your fabric, pack the boxes that are mailed to you, and those that hand-stitch our collection on their own terms and time.  Each garment is hand-numbered and signed by the artisan who assembled it. Who made your favorite piece? Check the tag, and if you’re inclined, say hello when he or she is featured. We love learning more about our friends, fans, and clients. We hope you enjoy getting to know us a little better during the upcoming months.


KYUR8

The newest issue of KYUR8_Webzine, created and curated by my friend RUDJ, launches today.

Guest Editor: Natalie Chanin

Have a look and spread the word: KYUR8_Webzine

PEN + PENCIL MUSINGS

And this is what my pencil bag would want me to draw if I were Gordon Hull:

GLORIOUS CUT PAPER

Paper Cutting:  Contemporary Artists, Timeless Craft

From the introduction by our friend Rob Ryan:

“Were you that kind of child that ate your way all around the edge of the hole in the middle of a cookie bit by bit with tiny teeth in little nibbles…  I was always busy jumping over and around the cracks in the sidewalk, and I looked up at the spaces in the sky that lay between the shapes made by crisscrossing telephone lines and power cables waiting for a jet plane or a bird to pass perfectly into the center of the frame that I had created in my head.  At that instant, I shut my eyes as if they were a camera shutter and captured that moment and made it mine.”

Image above from  Hina Aoyama: Chandelier of Cherry Blossoms, 2008.

Mia Pearlman, influx, 2008, paper, India ink, tacks, and paper clips

And I love the black and white work of  Beatrice Coron, which reminded me of the beautiful  end credits from Lemony Snicket by Jamie Callari:


Cindy Ferguson, Untitled, 2008.

Elsa Mora, detail from Missing Thoughts, 2009.

Inspiration for years to come: Paper Cutting:  Contemporary Artists, Timeless Craft



INDEED.

*Illustration by Eva Whitechapel

IN TODAY’S POST

“Wanted: a needle swift enough to sew this poem into a blanket.”  – Charles Simic

(Thank YOU, Kate.)

UPCOMING DATES

Weekend Workshop – March 4 -6, 2011 @ The Factory in Florence is almost sold out – contact our office to reserve a spot:  256-760-1090.

Natalie will be speaking in The Ballroom @ Athens State University, Athens, Alabama on the 8th of March.  Free and open to the public.

The DooNanny @ The Woods of Wonder in Seale, Alabama – starting March 25th & going through the 27th at 5pm – book your campsite here.

If you are on the West Coast, plan to visit us @ RedBird in Berkeley on the 28th & 29th of April or sign up for our One Day Workshop @ the Edible Schoolyard on the 30th of April.

2011 DooNanny poster designed by Jaime Cervantes and Jack Sanders

ALLEGRA HICKS – AN EYE FOR DEDSIGN

Although Allegra Hicks: An Eye for Design has been laying on my coffee table for months, it seemed the perfect opportunity to dive in on this cold, cold evening. (Thanks to Abrams for sending along a review copy.)

Sitting with a glass of wine in front on the fire, I find Allegra’s colors and textures a breath of fresh air to winter gray.  And I am mesmerized by Antonio Monfreda’s art direction and the juxtapositions of Emanuele Mascioni’s beautiful photographs. Allegra has also taken the time to walk the reader through her design process and inspiration with simple, lovely prose.

A great inspiration book for every library:  Allegra Hicks: An Eye for Design

Continue reading

FRIENDSHIP – QUILT OF THE MONTH #3

Maggie’s new school is hosting their annual Fall Festival tomorrow and each of the classes was asked to make a project to donate to a silent auction.  The Class Moms are asked to help organize this and (as I am one of the two responsible) I, of course, suggested that we make a quilt. To be honest, it just seemed the path of least resistance at the time.  However, this project has become so lovely that we decided to share it as our “Quilt of the Month #3.”

We simply cut blocks of organic cotton jersey from white, cream and tea and had the class (in conjunction with their 4th grade buddies) draw pictures of “Family & Friends.” The project was spread out over a few mornings – just thirty minutes each of the mornings before the day started. The kids had a great time (were asking for more) and the results were outstanding.

We used Crayola Fabric Markers for the drawings and then added little bits of embroidery, appliqué and reverse appliqué from Alabama Stitch Book and Alabama Studio Style.

Everyone who has been in our studio is amazed.  I wish that I had been collecting Maggie’s drawings since she was born to make a quilt for her (well, myself).  And I asked Maggie to start holiday themed blocks last week with trees, presents, snow, etc.  Can’t wait to see how it turns out.

Follow the instructions below to make your own Friendship Quilt and wish us luck tomorrow at the silent auction!

Continue reading

SUBTRACTION CUTTING SCHOOL + TIMO RISSANEN

Subtraction Cutting School (published by the Center for Pattern Design) first came to my attention one afternoon in New York City when I had the chance to sit and talk with Timo Rissanen.  That afternoon, Timo had just moved to New York and began his post as Assistant Professor of Fashion Design and Sustainability at Parsons The New School for Design.  Our conversation was fascinating and he followed our talk with a great email, a reading list and some links to his favorite sites.

One of my favorite parts of the conversation was Julian Roberts’ site and, consequently, I have become obsessed with Subtraction Cutting School.

Continue reading

THE MAP AS ART

Just as I am designing the new collection, a treasure of a book arrives on my desk from Princeton Architectural Press.

I have always been a fan of You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination.

And now Katharine Harmon has compiled the most beautiful collection of images and ideas in her newest book The Map as Art: Contemporary Artists Explore Cartography.

Quilts, installations, illustrations, photography… sitting with this book is like traveling while sitting at my studio table.

Katharine Harmon: The Map as Art: Contemporary Artists Explore Cartography

SEWN NEWS

Thank you to Sara for showing me the work of Lauren DiCioccio and a new way to look at the everyday.

Artist Statement:

My work investigates the physical/tangible beauty of commonplace mass-produced media-objects, most recently: the newspaper, magazines, office papers and writing pads, plastic bags, 35 mm slides. These media are becoming obsolete, replaced by the invisible efficiency of various technologies. In some cases, this transition is a good thing- faster transmission and distribution of information, streamlined systems, openness to user input, less waste. But a hole is left behind by the disappearance of these everyday objects. What will happen when we no longer touch information? When newsprint does not rub off onto our fingertips? When we no longer write longhand?

The tedious handiwork and obsessive care I employ to create my work aims to remind the viewer of these simple but intimate pieces of everyday life and to provoke a pang of nostalgia for the familiar physicality of these objects.

LEARNING FROM VERNACULAR

I love the juxtaposition of images, architecture, and landscape in this exhibition by Deidi von Schaewen.

Visible only by train, the images make me long for a travel via rail today.

NOWNESS

NOWNESS – Every day of the month there is something to love. NOWNESS

Look for Alabama Chanin on NOWNESS in the coming months thanks to Wyatt Troll and all our friends at Commune.

HOPE AS THE ANCHOR OF THE SOUL

Breathtaking new work by Denyse Schmitt:
“Hope as the Anchor of the Soul: Mount Lebanon Quilt Series”

About the series from her website:

“On a 2007 pilgrimage to the Mount Lebanon Shaker Village in New York, Denyse saw accidental, raw beauty in empty, decaying interiors awaiting renovation. Knocked out doorjambs, random linear gashes in walls that exposed ribbons of lath, and cream-on-cream layers of patches in the plaster, would visually translate into the minimal piecing design of her new quilts.

On View at Ralph Pucci International, 44 West 18th Street, NYC, Gallery Nine (9th Floor). 212-633-0452.”

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

Butch had a vision of a structure after watching Where The Wild Things Are and Zach has spent the last weeks bringing it to life.

I love the stark geometry against the trees and water. It is a shame that they are going to burn it in the end.

I told Butch this morning that I would like to re-build it this summer and host a dinner right there in the middle.   Beautiful…

Come join us at the Doo-Nanny for films, sewing, books and a little bit of the wild.

FOLK ART + PRIMARY COLORS

Congratulations to Leigh for being the winner of our sweepstakes for Project #7.

Her lovely text:

Folk Art. Primary colors. An afterthought lit with a silver glow. The importance of an exchange with beauty in our everyday lives. To live in the Art. Wear your Art. Creative like a child. Allowing yourself to enjoy a compliment. Celebrate the simple. Quality not quantity. Letting time win. Strong bonds take longer to make. Hard to break. Blood red says come to me. Flowers say slow down or you’ll miss me. Rich with the blues. Like water. Which heals. Raised petals come to life. Wants to be touched. Makes us smile. The Canvas is fabric. Brush strokes are thread. A maze of glass. Color in the midst of this grey Winter. A hint to a secret. By which only the wearer of this art knows. But if you’ll sit for tea. Under the magnolia’s. She will amaze you. In her handmade clothes. That each tells the stories of her life.

Thank you for all the great entries & stay tuned for a new sweepstakes…

ARCHEOLOGY OF THE FUTURE

A photo from Li Edelkoort’s exhibition last year titled: Archeology of the Future

A table from Studio Jo Meesters in collaboration with Marije van der Park sits before one of our Textile Stories Quilts – a project included in our new book Alabama Studio Style.

*Photo courtesy of Li Edelkoort

SIT

In the next decade, I will sit at my table more often and think.

In the next decade, I will sit at my table more often.

In the next decade, I will sit…

SIT : obs. 3d pers. sing. pres. of Sit, for sitteth.

To rest upon the haunches, or the lower extremity of the trunk of the body; — said of human beings, and sometimes of other animals; as, to sit on a sofa, on a chair, or on the ground.

To perch; to rest with the feet drawn up, as birds do on a branch, pole, etc.

To remain in a state of repose; to rest; to abide; to rest in any position or condition.

To lie, rest, or bear; to press or weigh; — with on; as, a weight or burden sits lightly upon him.

To be adjusted; to fit; as, a coat sits well.

To suit one well or ill, as an act; to become; to befit; — used impersonally.

To cover and warm eggs for hatching, as a fowl; to brood; to incubate.

To have position, as at the point blown from; to hold a relative position; to have direction.

To occupy a place or seat as a member of an official body.

To hold a session; to be in session for official business; — said of legislative assemblies, courts, etc.; as, the court sits in January; the aldermen sit to-night.

To take a position for the purpose of having some artistic representation of one’s self made, as a picture or a bust; as, to sit to a painter.

To sit upon; to keep one’s seat upon; as, he sits a horse well.

To cause to be seated or in a sitting posture; to furnish a seat to; — used reflexively.

To suit (well / ill); to become. To sit with a child.
Definitions of sit (sort of) from www.brainyquote.com , instructions for my Farm Table – pictured above – in Alabama Studio Style, inspiration to sit from a poem once given to me by a dear friend:

SPEAK ALL THE GOOD

I have been thinking a lot these last weeks about Maira Kalman.

First off, I am reading The Elements of Style, which is illustrated by Maira. While Maggie is now addicted to What Pete Ate – which means daily readings. You see, I have been sitting with Maira now day and night for weeks.

Secondly, I found this quote last week – which made me happy – and was reminded of Maira’s post “Can Do.”

“Speak ill of no man, but speak all the good you know of everybody”
–Benjamin Franklin

“And the Pursuit of Happiness” has been a light in my life this last year – along with many of my friends.

And, in true Maira Kalman style, this quote from Ben Franklin took me a step further and brought to mind my Grandfather “Perk.” At the mention of his name – and long after his death – people who knew him give an audible sigh and settle in their skin. “Yes, Perk,” they say. My daughter is named after his sister – who evokes the same response.

Perk was just the kind of person that made people feel happy, and good about themselves, and happy with the world. I have many a story to share about him – and will one day soon!

He would always repeat this old wives tale: “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.” He was ready with a guitar and a song, peanut brittle and a sly little smile. He was always tinkering with something and just trying to make this world a better place in general. Perhaps just a bit like Ben Franklin…

I guess that I just want to remind myself (and those of you still reading) that there is beauty in life every day. And while all the media wants to remind us that this was The Decade from Hell and The Decade of Fake (which I actually enjoyed reading), I would like to remember that some really lovely things – like Maira Kalman – enriched our lives this last year (and the nine years before). Perhaps we could start spending a bit of time each day “speaking all the good” we know of everybody.

Happy Holidays.
From our home to yours…

THIS IS FOR YOU

This Is For You by Rob Ryan – a beautiful inspiration & glimpse into the world of Rob Ryan. One of our favorite artists, we were lucky to do a collaboration with Rob for our Fall/Winter 2004 collection.

And yes, everything is going to be OK…

THE COLOR OF DESIRE

Red can be a naughty color — red-light districts and bordellos. It is both the color of Satan and the color of the Roman Catholic Church. Stevens notes that red was a color often associated with divinity; medieval and renaissance paintings show Jesus and the Virgin Mary in red robes.
Red is for happiness — Indian brides get married in red saris. Red for good luck — the one-month birthday of a Chinese baby is celebrated with red eggs.

Red is rarely an accident.

“A textile is not dyed red by chance,” Stevens says. “No you use red for a specific reason whether it’s for love, for fertility, for happiness — you made it red on purpose.”

From: The Color Red: A History in Textiles

Read:  A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire


REVIVAL OF CLASSICISM

I stumble across more and more about Classicism these days.

Stylesight writes about it this month:   “Words such as Heritage and Craftsmanship – ones that we have heard much of recently – are more than just the buzz labels du jour. Rather they form a bridge to a past many consumers look back at longingly.”

Revival of Classicism – Overview by Renee Labbe

HELVETICA

It has taken me two years to finally see this film that friend, painter and film buff Judith Eisler recommended so long ago. A fantastic and beautifully made look at the global visual culture that touches our lives every day.

One of the best movies I have seen for a very long time.

Helvetica: A Documentary Film by Gary Hustwit

CAN DO

“Benjamin Franklin was a genius, one of the great inventors of this country. What did he do? Well, everything.”

Can Do by Maria Kalman

 

QUILTING

What can be said about quilting?  It is a process I love: the history, the stories, the fabrics, the people.  (I even made a documentary film called Stitch about old-time quilting circles.)  At Alabama Chanin, we even take vintage quilts, refurbish them and add the oral histories of textile workers, collected from my community.

I am in awe with The International Quilt Study Center, as the pieces there tell a history of women’s work that cannot be seen anywhere else on the planet.

The now-famous Gee’s Bend quilts and their simple magnificence rooted in a complex history have long been an example of beauty sprung from necessity. I cried the first time I viewed the Gee’s Bend exhibition at the Whitney.

It has been said that our collections are based on quilting.  This is only partially true. Alabama Chanin garments derive from a basic quilting process of the straight stitch, and we tie layers of fabric together with quilting stitches. But our garments are not quilts.

I have never really been a great fan of contemporary quilting (Although I LOVE it when the subversive finds its way into the contemporary).

That is until I learned about Julie Floersch.  Julie’s pieces are stunning, refreshing, contemporary and inspiring. And, friend and colleague, Denyse Schmidt adds such beauty to the realm of contemporary quilting.

Ultimately, the quilting process influenced the foundations of Alabama Chanin and will be with us as we continue to grow.

THE GIFT

Blair brought me this beautiful bowl to Atlanta as a present (as if her posts were not present enough). The bowl came wrapped in a pretty box and tied with an orange ribbon that was affixed with masking tape at the bottom (her son Jess’ art material of choice.) As I opened the box, Blair talked about the McCartys and how they sign their work with a piece of their home: Mississippi mud. Their signature slides down the front of my bowl.

I have proudly placed this bowl on my kitchen counter as a reminder of how something as simple as dirt can become a treasured vessel when you talk to it with your hands.

Visit McCarty’s Pottery

 

RINNE ALLEN

I received the most lovely pack of 3 x 5 photographs from Rinne in the mail a few months back. The photos were like a photo album from the last three years of my life and included our old offices, my daughter at three weeks old, and my grown son. But the loveliest of all was this picture of Butch’s installation:

Birds of a feather will fly together.

I have this photo pinned above my desk to remind me each and every day that we are here to fly.

See more from Rinne here.

And all of her work for Hable Construction

 

CEREMONY

I am obsessed with ceremony these days: rites of passage, moments to reflect, moments to celebrate and moments to join inspire me. I occupy my mind with details, images and processes.

Imagine my delight when Angie Mosier told me the story of cooking a wedding cake in New York City for Ted Lee (of Lee Bros. fame) and artist E.V. Day.

The story of Angie flying a cake to New York and icing it in a friend’s kitchen inspired me to look at E.V.’s work more closely. On her website I laughed at finding a most beautiful celebration of ceremony:

E.V. Day Bride Flight, 2006

CHARLEY HARPER’S ABC’S

And in reference to actually being able to read…

The new favorite book at our house: ABC’s by Charley Harper

It is a stunningly beautiful book of alphabet and animals seen through the eyes of Charley Harper. We read it each day front to back, back to front and then front to back again.

I am inspired to make a pattern of lady bugs, clover, luck and more.

EVOLUTION/REVOLUTION

The Arts and Crafts in Contemporary Fashion and Textiles

William Morris said, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” This is the essence of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

Joanne Ingersoll and The Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design have put together an amazing show called Evolution/Revolution – The Arts and Crafts in Contemporary Fashion and Textiles which runs from February 11 – June 15, 2008.

We are honored to have two pieces included in the show. (A detail from one of our “Textile Stories” quilts is below.)

EVOLUTION/REVOLUTION

But, more important is that the Exhibition Notes are a wonderful document of the work that is going on today. While they are extremely beautiful, they are also beautifully poignant for the times in which we are living and working. Joanne has done an amazing job of addressing a difficult theme which could have easily lost its way and, consequently, given us a clear vision of where we are headed in the future.

Read a review of the show by Greg Cook here.

I am hoping that the show will have legs and travel…

 

PAINT-BY-NUMBERS

My dear friend Sara Martin made the most amazing presents for her yearly holiday party. Everyone at the party received their very own Paint by Number portrait, painted by Sara and her husband, Kory.

Sara shared this software with me which would be great for embroidery and needlepoint too: Paint By Numbers 2005

And here is a history of the Paint by Number phenomenon from the Smithsonian Institute: Paint by Number

Be sure to read “Every Man a Rembrandt.”

 

MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART, LOS ANGELES

I have been in Los Angeles to speak at the ITAA conference and conveniently staying next to the MOCA. My first visit to the museum, Skin + Bones: Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture, changed the way I think about exhibition design.

And, my second visit was equally inspiring: Gordon Matta-Clark: “You Are the Measure”

As I walked through this beautiful exhibition, I kept thinking of the opening quote from Vicktor Papanek’s book Design for the Real World:

The wheel’s hub holds thirty spokes
Utility depends on the hole through the hub.
The potter’s clay forms a vessel
It is the space within that serves.
A house is built with solid walls
The nothingness of window and door renders it usable,
That which exists may be transformed
What is nonexistent has boundless uses.
–LAO-TSE

This show has to be seen first-hand. And although there is a catalog for the exhibition, the detail, humor and spirit of the pieces seem to get lost in photography. The thread-drawn imagery is spectacular.

This piece from the permanent collection takes my breath away.