24 July 2015

An Apple a Day: exploring health through art


An Apple a Day: Saturday. Phoebe Ann Erb.

Recently, DH and I enjoyed a local art exhibit with the engaging title of Healthful.   Eighteen artists, all affiliated with the community arts organization Unbound Visual Arts, explored the theme of physical and mental well-being in various media, including, but not limited to, painting, quilts, and photography.

The exhibit was curated by John Quatrale.

My friend Phoebe Ann Erb presented a series of collages celebrating the folk wisdom of eating an apple a day, but with a twist - on Sunday, just rest under an apple tree! It's a palatable message (pun intended) as portrayed by Phoebe's seven engaging collages, in which she melds her gouache painting with vintage fabrics and paper.

A collage a day...work by Phoebe Ann Erb.

The work below, by Ruth Rieffanaugh, offers advice even more directly. The density of the text is reminiscent of those package inserts which accompany medications, but the warmth of the wood and informal quality of the lettering suggests the inner monologue of someone confronted with, but not conquered by, illness or other challenges.  One of my favorite lines in this work: "You can become off balance seeking stability."

Musings, Ruth Rieffanaugh.

Musings, detail.



The fascinating pen drawings in the image above were begun by Dianne (Iyan) Freeman while she recuperated from surgery.  Beauty can rise from the most unpromising of circumstances.

Reflection, a Self-Portrait, Dianne (Iyan) Freeman.


I Have Hip Dysplasia, Grace Luk.

Humor was in evidence too. We are all familiar with the Snellen eye chart; a standard, reliable method of measuring visual acuity.  In the digital print above, artist Grace Luk uses the familiar chart to communicate information about another condition which may not be so easily "seen."


Seattle Garlic Cluster, Francis Gardino.

Since this blog began with an apple, why not end with another food associated with a healthy diet and good nutrition?  Garlic was historically used both as a food and a medicine, and the plump bulbs in the photograph above, glowing in their purple net packaging, look ready for the kitchen. 

15 July 2015

Time Travel aboard the Frigate L'Hermione


Rigging of L'Hermione.

L'Hermione in port.

Just in time for Bastille Day, the Marquis de Lafayette arrived in Boston aboard the 32-gun, three-masted frigate L'Hermione. Say "The hair-MY-knee" in English, or impress your friends with your grasp of French pronunciation and say "LAIR-me-own."

All right, all right, reality must intrude. The tall ship which visited in Boston on July 11 and 12th is a replica of the original frigate which brought the young Marquis de Lafayette to Boston in 1780.  The Marquis, a great friend of General Washington, proved an invaluable asset during the Revolutionary War.  Learn more about the L'Hermione project at http://www.hermione2015.com/index.html 

A crew member, dress as the Marquis, is shown below, with one of the many helpful volunteers who assisted visitors.  L'Hermione is visiting several North American ports, including Boston and New York,  this summer, and then will "rentrez chez elle" - return to her home port - in Rochefort, France.

Marquis de Lafayette and volunteer.

So, how does this have anything to do with fiber?  Well, in addition to the acres of sail canvas, furled while she was moored in the harbor, there are literally miles of rope - more properly called lines - used in a myriad of ways on board. The lines are twined from natural fibers such as jute and, in a concession to modern requirements, polyester filament.

Originally rope was made outdoors in areas called rope walks; later extremely long, narrow buildings housed the manufacture of rope in which lengths of manila, sisal or jute filament were twisted together.

The humble rope is essential.

Exterior of the ship.


Stern of the ship.

The ship was quite a popular attraction; we arrived at Rowe's Wharf early in the morning and were able to board after just a short wait. One hundred and twenty visitors were allowed on at one time.


On deck.

The lifeboats.


Looking up.


Ship's bell, and crew member's footwear.

The co-ed crew dressed in period costumes; we chatted with the crew member in the image below, and, using Franglais, learned that the timbers for the massive masts came from Oregon, and that most of the constituent parts of the ship were made not only from traditional materials but using traditional techniques as well.

Able seaman.

In addition to the French ship and crew, a contingent of Minutemen from Lexington were part of the celebration, including the father and daughter depicted below. Their wonderful period costumes were developed and made by fashion designer Ruth Hodges, of Lincoln.


Minuteman and daughter talk the helm.


Everyone gets a turn.

04 July 2015

Happy Fourth of July!

Our town puts on a great pyrotechnics show.
Our town produces a wonderful fireworks display every year, as part of traditional festivities which include carnival rides, carnival food - fried dough, anyone? - and a local band playing patriotic favorites. A good time was had by all.

21 June 2015

"Wonder of Wool" exhibit at the American Textile History Museum


Coverlet, Pennsylvania, late 19th - early 20th century, detail.

From May 20 through December 31, 2015, the American Textile History Museum features a special exhibit, the Wonder of Wool: Ancient Fiber to Modern Marvel.

The show displays quite a variety of sheep- and wool-related objects illuminating the romance, and science, of this protein (animal-derived) fiber.  One highlight is a "please touch" wall of yarns as well as woolen fabrics, both woven and knit.

Adorable exhibit free bookmark - take several home. I did.

View of the Stevens gallery.

Tactile delight!

The image below is a wall collage of Green Mountain Spinnery mohair-blend yarn, from our neighboring state of Vermont. Luscious colors.

Wool takes dye beautifully.

The exhibit featured fashions old and new, including a late 19th-century catalog, and ladies undergarment, from "Dr. Jaeger's Sanitary Woolen System Co."  The British apparel company Jaeger was founded to produce long-johns based on the hygiene theories of German physician Gustav Jaeger (1832 - 1917.)

Before there was Victoria's Secret.

Up-to-date fashions.

The exhibit of modern apparel trumpeted wool's continuing role in high fashion, in part aided by the sustainability movement - sheep regrow their fleece each year.  Although I recognized some of the names represented, such as Massachusetts native Joseph Abboud and, of course, Pendleton, discoveries include newer labels Wool & Prince and Ramblers Way Farm.

After touring the exhibit we wandered into one of the educational spaces within the museum.  We were delighted to encounter the work of weaver Antonia Kormos on the classroom walls.

Classroom with looms.

Work by master weaver Antonia Kormos.

The Shepherd Boy, unknown artist, 1840's.

Although the information presented in the Wonder of Wool exhibit will be familiar to most textile mavens, it was still a treat to encounter 19th-century sheep-themed ephemera, such as this hand-colored wood engraving, from a design by an unidentified artist and sold by Boston vendor J. Fisher.   Note to the museum shop: I would happily buy a reproduction of this charming image if one were available.

15 June 2015

Quilters' Connection Quilt Show

Circle Game/What Was I Thinking? Karen Swiech.

The end of May brought an end to a chapter in the saga of my quilt guild, Quilters' Connection. Our annual show blanketed the walls of the Arsenal Center for the Arts for the last time. After ten years in residency, the guild has decided to up sticks and move to a convention center at Bentley College, in Waltham.  Here, for the last time, are scenes from the Arsenal Center.

Quilts at the entry.

There are no visitors in these images as I took them the day before the show opened as part of my duty as assistant quilt show photographer. The show featured a good variety of quilt genres again this year - traditional quilts, landscape creations, figurative work, etc. - as well as apparel and fashion accessories. 

The quilts in this blog post are simply ones which spoke to me, but all the quilts and wearables will be on view on the guild's Flickr site soon.

Quilts line the walls.

Spider-Spun Beach Balls, Carol Anne Grotrian.

The non-juried guild show is very egalitarian, as the work of nationally-recognized artists, such as Carol Anne Grotrian and Nancy Halpern, hangs in neighborly relation to artwork by folks like me, for whom quilting is the continuation of a family tradition, or who simply find joy in the act of creating something unique with their hands (and sewing machines.)  Enjoy, and remember that each image can be enlarged by clicking on it.

New Goose on the Block, Nancy Halpern; quilted by Ruth McDowell.

Time in a Bottle, Diane French Chait.

Pool Pleasure, Deborah Rocha.

Fear the Beard, Rosemary Bawn.

Low Volume Tiles, Michelle Gallant.

Batik Neighborhood, Margaret Rolph.

Slot Canyon at Tent Rocks, Susan Stemporzewski.

View of the Bridge, Kathleen Walsh.

Love in a Daze, Elizabeth Chamberlain Habich.

Although it's unclear whether the guild will be able to mount a show at Bentley, I certainly hope we continue this tradition of sharing our work with each other and with the wider world.

25 May 2015

"Roman in the Provinces" life at the edge of empire


Funerary relief of woman, Palmyra, 125 - 150 CE.

The exhibit "Roman in the Provinces: Art on the Periphery of the Empire" is a timely, welcome and fresh look at the material culture of various peoples conquered, in the military sense, but never quite subjugated culturally, by Rome.  In the eastern-most regions of the Roman Empire, today's Syria and Jordan, the emperor was acknowledged in public inscriptions incised not in Latin, but in Greek - the heritage of Alexander the Great's earlier victories.

The woman memorialized in the sculpture shown above is depicted as a proper Roman matron, with the spindle and distaff symbolic of domestic virtue, but her name, Shagal, in carved in Aramaic, the spoken language of ancient Palestine and Judea.  In addition to linguistic traditions, pre-Roman, and, eventually, early Christian rituals, thrived within a framework of Roman governance.

The show, artfully installed in the two floors of the McMullen Museum at Boston College, features a breadth of objects in glass, clay, stone, fiber, and metal.  A special highlight, and the focus of this post, are the more than forty textile fragments, some over 1400 years old, lent by collectors Donald and Barbara Tellalian, and rarely exhibited. One of precious fragments, of a rooster, is featured on the exhibit poster.   A note on dates and materials: dates given are all CE, Christian Era; the textile fragments are made of dyed wool and plain linen.

Left: exhibit poster. Right: Textile fragment with rooster, Egypt, 5-6th cent.

From the exhibit wall text, "Weaving Identities":

While most textiles have perished, a significant number survived in graves in the dry earth of Egypt.  Many date from the fourth to ninth century and are made of linen and dyed wool.  Just as today, in late antiquity textiles were everywhere.  Their principal use was for clothing that in addition to covering the body could also express various identities: gender, age, social status, profession, religion, and cultural and regional affiliations.  In homes, textiles covered cushions and beds and served as curtains and tablecloths.  In churches they were used as altar cloths, chalice covers, and screens.  In pagan temples they were presented as lavish gifts to the gods whose images they sometimes clothed.  Highly valued, textiles often were reused until threadbare.

Commonly produced in the home, textiles were also made in factories in late antique Egypt.  Limits on their cost are set in the price edict of Emperor Diocletian, where they are the most mentioned item.  The demand for textiles throughout the empire and their portability meant that their imagery was widely disseminated.  They bear motifs drawn from the many cultures found within the empire, decorations that also appear in other media like mosaic, glass, stone, ceramic and metal.  Many of these images allow for multiple interpretations depending on the context of their use and their audience.  Grapevines, for example, held significance for both pagans and Christians, though in different ways.
Textile roundel, Egypt 5-6th cent. Photo: Yale University Gallery.

For example, in the textile roundel above we know the central female figure is a deity, because of the nimbus, or halo, around her head, but her exact identity is open to interpretation. She may be Tyche, a Greek goddess whose Roman counterpart, Fortuna, brings prosperity, but, placed in the center of a cruciform shape, she may also represent a Christian saint.

From the wall text we learn that the fragments are, well, fragmentary, because these pieces were cut from larger textiles by dealers who felt only the decorated portions were worthwhile. So it is hard to understand how these little pieces of cloth might have been used in apparel or home furnishings.  A few fortunate survivors show  more of the body of the garments embellished by the roundels and borders.

Fragment of decorated tunic, Egypt, 7-8th cent.

In the image above, the neckline of the tunic featured decorative bands which continue vertically; the vertical bands are clavi (from the same root word as clavicle).  In the image below, a detail of a 3rd century fresco in Sicily, the hunters wear tunics with similar decoration. The roundels near the bottom hem of their tunics are orbiculi.

Mosaic, Villa Romana del Casale. source: http://www.villaromanadelcasale.it/

Tunic, Egypt. 7-9th cent.

The image above is from //www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2012/byzantium-and-islam/blog/topical-essays/posts/fashion and shows a tunic with its clavi and orbiculi intact. This basic t-shaped garment was the everyday wear for men and children; women wore a longer garment called the tunica.

Elaborate tapestry weaving was used to decorate the home too, including the cushions and covers of the stone couches on which upper class citizens reclined during banquets, in good Roman fashion.  Although the figure below is memorialized dressed in Palmyrene priestly attire, he reclines, Roman style, on a couch covered with banded textiles.


Funerary relief with banquet scene, Palmyra, 200-250 CE.


Cushion cover fragment, Egypt 5-6th cent. 

The image above, featuring a dancer surrounded by bowls of fruit, is a cushion cover which, unusually, retains remnants of its fringed loop decoration; it must have been quite a plush item to lean on when new.

Larger fragments give an exciting glimpse of how color was used in these antique textiles. In the piece below the decorated band connects red and black borders. The image is a bit difficult to see but the pattern features a figure with a halo and upraised arms, flanked by pairs of nude figures with shoulder cloaks, and birds. Bacchus? Christian saint? It's a mystery.

Textile fragment with dancers and birds in heraldic pairs, Egypt 8-9th cent.

Some of the textiles are clearly associated with Christianity, such as the roundel below, which shows an ankh, the ancient Egyptian symbol for life, retooled as a Christian cross. The proto-cross is surrounded by a pattern of vines and grapes, suggesting that this fragment decorated an altar cloth used for celebrating the Eucharist, possibly in an Egyptian church.

Textile roundel with interlace, Egypt, 4th cent.

Mosaic, San Vitale, Ravenna. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:San_Vitale_in_Ravenna_06.jpg

The image above, depicting a mosaic from the Basilica of San Vitale, a church whose construction began in 526 CE, shows an altar with decorative roundels.

On the other hand, some of the textile fragments have an imperial Roman connection, such as the fragment below, featuring an eight-pointed star encircling a tree of life motif, with an outer border of dancers. The purple color, which may be true Tyrian purple, or, in this case, an imitation of that expensive dye, was traditionally only permitted on clothing used by emperors or senators; later the color was also allowed on certain religious garments.




Some of the textiles have retained their colors remarkably well, including the complex band below, sandwiched by rare remnants of plain linen weave.


Textile band with birds and foliage, Egypt, 7th cent.

Textile band, detail.

The exhibit included pre-recorded video demonstrations of glass-blowing and intaglio carving, but revealed little about the process by which these decorative bands were created, one of the few weaknesses of an otherwise stellar exhibit. To be fair, perhaps the process has yet to be researched and described.  It's clear, though, this that embellishment was time-consuming and hence a costly luxury, conveying status on the wearer.

Textile fragment with roundels with dancers, grapevines and lions. Egypt, 5-6th cent.

Detail, showing plain linen and dyed wool.

So, aesthetically, the late antiquity approach to the embellishment of clothing seems to favor attaching decorated bands or roundels to plain linen garments. Perhaps some dyestuffs were too costly to use to color entire garments, or perhaps representational motifs on garments gave the wearer status, or even protection, like a woven amulet. The band in the image above features colored ducks, a symbol of abundance, as well as grapevines surrounding a red fruit, which might well be a pomegranate, symbol of fertility.

The narrow bands as well as the roundels typically incorporate beautiful borders as well as central motifs - a lot of thought was given to the transition from field to edge in the design, and this is found in other objects, large and small, in the exhibit. Just one example is the newly-restored floor mosaic fragment below, from the church of Bishop Paul, in Gerasa (now Jorash, Jordan.)

Mosaic floor fragment, limestone, c. 526 CE.

Border detail, floor mosaic fragment.

For an exhibit on culture at the boundaries of an empire, it seems fitting to end with a craftman's careful attention to another kind of periphery, in a timeless work of art.

There is a catalog, with 15 essays, accompanying the exhibit, ISBN 978 1 892 85022 5.