29 May 2013

Stately Mansions - Robert Treat Paine house

Exterior, Stonehurst.
A family member is recently engaged to be married, so yours truly has made the rounds of popular Boston-area wedding venues. When given a choice between a root canal - and I have had a root canal - and wedding planning, I'll choose the planning, but it's a close call. Some folks love poring over Martha Stewart Weddings magazine, or visiting the online site The Knot, or designing a signature cocktail for the reception - I am not one of them.

However, there are some redeeming features, such as becoming reacquainted with one of the many Boston landmarks that one knows one should visit more often but somehow never does. Our venue search took us to Stonehurst, the Waltham summer home of Robert Treat Paine, Boston attorney and philanthropist. The mansion, completed in 1886, was a collaboration between architect Henry Hobson Richardson, designer of Boston's Trinity Church, and landscape Frederick Law Olmsted, whose best-known work is probably New York's Central Park.

Hilltop site, Stonehurst.

The home sites at the top of a hill on 109 acres in Waltham, and is a good example of Richardson's use of contrasting textures in his work. Here, the wood shingles form a weathered dark skin above the boulder stone walls; the Palladian arched window looks a bit delicate for all this masculine material surrounding it. The massive red sandstone lintels above the windows, however, fit right in.  Historic images show ivy climbing up the stonework. With a covering of creeping greenery, the house must have looked like a moss-covered boulder rising out of the hilltop.

Stone, shingle and clapboard.

Stone arch.

Hall and grand stairway.

The interior is a unique Richardsonian mash-up of Western and Oriental influences including lots of wood paneling, coffered ceilings, and Japanese-inspired art tile. The open plan and hilltop location meant the house was quite breezy in the summer while the heavy stone walls would have helped keep things cool. It was probably a good deal more comfortable than Mark Twain's rather airless home in Hartford, Connecticut, built around the same time.

Beautiful fireplaces and mantels.

Carved wood details.

Victorian beds and bureaus.

Servant's room.

The bride-to-be decided Stonehurst was not right for her wedding. However, the home, still undergoing study and restoration, is partially furnished, and if you like late Victorian furniture, it's worth the trip for that alone.

28 May 2013

Tammis Keefe website - placemats added!

Click on image to enlarge.

Thanks to the web skills of my patient DH, the Tammis Keefe website now features a selection of her placemats, produced in the 1950's by Fallani and Cohn. As advertised by Lord & Taylor, a set of four placemats and four napkins cost $5.95.

I've featured some examples in their original gift packaging, including fiber content label. My favorite, if I'm allowed to have favorites, is a design I've named "Famous Vineyards" (center mat, above.)  DH and I took a fun wine education class this spring and learned about some of the reds and whites and terroirs which Keefe displays in her design. So, a toast to Tammis and her tabletop designs!

22 May 2013

What Women Wore - Students and Parisiennes

A long weekend in New York gave me the opportunity to study women's costume - the textile historian's term for clothing - as displayed by Joan of Arc, disco ladies, 19th-century Parisiennes,  and my daughter, as she received a graduate degree from Columbia University.

Columbia graduates, in baby blue caps and gowns.
Our prime objective in New York was a graduation ceremony at Columbia, the 5th oldest institution of higher learning in the US.  Founded as King's College in 1754, after the Revolutionary War anything royal of course became politically-incorrect, and the institution was re-named Columbia; however, tabs featuring royal crowns still decorate the gowns, and the crown motif can be found throughout the school.

School colors of baby blue (officially "Columbia blue") and white are derived from two 19th-century literary cum debating societies whose colors were blue and white.  I don't know if the football team finds it difficult to maintain its collective game face while uniformed in baby blue.

Gowns and mortarboards are of course derived from medieval models. Early universities were places of study for church careers, so scholars wore clerical robes daily. Today academia regalia are worn by students only at commencement, and by administration and faculty during academic ceremonies, including convocation.

The day before her commencement, daughter and assorted family and friends trouped to the Met to see a wonderful exhibit Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity, which ends May 27.  This exhibit pulls painting not only from the Met, but from museums in Chicago, Paris, and even Hungary.

The exhibit is a rare inter-displinary effort between the costume and European paintings departments and affords the viewer a unique opportunity to see what the artists themselves saw as they painted. Photography was not allowed, as I found out after snapping the image below, but exhibit highlights are online.

In the Conservatory (Madame Bartholome), Paul Albert Bartholome.
In the image above, painter Bartholome depicts his wife on the threshold between outdoors and the conservatory.  After his wife's death, just a few years after this picture was created, he saved the dress, now displayed in front of the painting.  

By the time of the earliest pieces in this exhibit, the Napoleonic age, with its classical paintings by David and Gericault, was long over. After Waterloo, France experienced one political spasm after another, including the Bourbon restoration, July Monarchy, Second Republic, and Second Empire. Finally the Third Empire emerged.  It was supposed to be a temporary fix, but lasted from 1870 until the Germans marched into France in 1940.  Prussia and Austria achieved military superiority, wresting Alsace-Lorraine away from France at the conclusion of the Franco-Prussian conflict.

What did this all mean for French artists? The days of painting military conquerors, royal portraits and mythical subjects were over. In addition, photography up-ended the role of the artist as recorder of realistic images.

Meanwhile, the Paris Exposition of 1855, France's response to the London Crystal Palace 1851 event,  had established that France, if less dominant in military and political spheres, was nevertheless a world leader in industry and art, which were never more successfully combined than by the silk manufacturers of Lyon, who eagerly adapted the new aniline dyes for production, and promoted styles which used yards and yards of colorful material.  Inexpensive lithographic printing meant a proliferation of style books, patterns books and fashion plates, the precursors of our modern fashion magazines and New York Times supplements.

Although ready-to-wear was still in its infancy, the carriage trade was declining as middle-class shoppers could now purchase yard goods at the new grand magasin, Printemps, opened in 1865, and deliver their material to a dress-maker, with whom they would collaborate on the design of a garment at once unique but responsive to the dictates of fashion.

Wives, models and friends of artists, in their day dresses or evening attire, replaced the nude odalisques and ermine-ed royalty as subject matter for the new breed of artists, who, far from competing with black-and-white photography, used the new technology as an aide, and while not striving for exacting depiction, nevertheless excelled at observing the ephemeral play of light and shadow on fabric, whether indoors or en plein air.  While Titian was celebrated for his depiction of flesh, these Impressionists focused on fiber, and artists still had a monopoly on color, which would not become commonplace in photography until the 20th century.

So, while the dresses themselves do not appear particularly modern to our eyes - the nip-waisted silhouettes and bustles appear decidedly old-fashioned, in fact - the dresses and paintings in this exhibit actually reflect and celebrate an revolution in consumerism, in the relationship between artist and society, and in the content and marketing of art.

The dresses also represent the last efflorescence of bespoke tailoring and dressmaking -  the arrival of elevators, motorcars and omnibuses made elaborate, voluminous dresses impractical.  But while they lasted, what dresses they were! Many skilled hands contributed to the construction of these garments, employing both hand-stitching and seaming by the recently invented sewing machine.  Just as we might admire a beautifully constructed clock or boat, we can respect the work of the couturier's atelier.  Before the typewriter and the switchboard provided more opportunities, millions of women stitched and embroidered for a living.  This show is also a memorial to their unsung skills.

What Women Wore - Joan of Arc and Disco Belles

We recently traveled to New York for a graduation and had fun time-traveling through fashion history...

From 19th century France we traveled to 1970's disco-era New York in an unusual show at the Museum of the City of New York highlighting the work of fashion designer Stephen Burrows, the first person of color to win a Coty Award, the fashion industry's Oscar.  The exhibit is up through July 28.

Mr. Burrows pioneered color-block designs, lettuce-edging of knit fabrics, and the use of metal grommets and trims, now so ubiquitous on handbags.

Jersey-knit dresses, 1970s.

Knit fabric with Lettuce-edge detail.

Dresses in berry colors, metallics and animal prints.

Fashion sketch, 1970s.

Dress with metal grommet trim, 1970's.

Knit fabric softens ceiling.
The ceiling of the exhibit room is softened with layers of draped white knit fabric, with, yes, a lettuce-edge. This was quite effective at making the rather stark space much more artifact-friendly. Less successful was the crystalline substance scattered on the low pedestals -  it was trying invoke the glitter of disco balls perhaps, but just looked odd.  Otherwise the exhibit is a lively multi-media affair.  Diane von Furstenberg and Marc Jacobs clearly  reference the work of Mr. Burrows; perhaps they will lend a hand as he seeks to revive his label.

Light sculpture, museum lobby.

Joan of Arc, Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington, 1915.

Finally, we come to a woman wearing armor - who else but Joan of Arc.  She sits, sword upraised, astride a horse in Riverside Park, and jump-started the career of her artist, a woman sculptor named Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington. Mrs. Huntington did extensive research for this statue; the excerpt below is from http://newyorkcitystatues.com/joan-of-arc/

At the time the head of the armor department in the Metropolitan said no Joan had ever been done before that had the correct 15th century armor, which is a very plain armor and also very early armor so it was very difficult to get together a whole set of them. But he managed to at the Metropolitan and there was a young man that he knew who put on the armor and I photographed (him on) one of those imitation horses, wooden horses, they have. So that I could work from photographs because the armor itself was too valuable to take away to the studio or anything of that sort, you see. So with the photographs I was able to get the correct armor.
Personally I don’t see how Joan ever went into battle with that armor on, because I remember — I’ve forgotten the date now — but they had a big pageant in the old Madison Square Garden and they wanted a Joan to lead the procession. I’d done my Joan so they asked me if I wouldn’t do it. They knew I rode a horse, and we managed to get together a hired armor, not of the period but near as possible. I put it on and it was the most uncomfortable thing you ever could imagine to ride in. I don’t know how she ever managed to be active and go into battle with it because it was a very stiff, heavy, uncomfortable thing. I had to be lifted on the horse; I couldn’t get up otherwise.

So, in one trip we viewed  many modes of dress for women, depending on their role - warrior, disco belle, fashionable muse or scholar.

02 May 2013

Silk sensations - quilts that shimmer and shine

Silk cocoons, Kiryu, Japan, 2012.
On April 27, I participated in a one-day symposium, Silk: Fabric, Fashions and Quilts, co-sponsored by the American Textile History Museum (ATHM) and the New England Quilt Museum (NEQM). The series began two years ago with a seminar on textile design and production during the interregnum between the world wars, and I look forward to another session in two years.

Textile history is a topic of almost infinite breadth, encompassing the history of capitalism, manufacturing and labor regulation, consumer demand and preference, science and technology, art and design, etc. This symposium, while a wonderful learning opportunity overall, perhaps tried to cover too much of this territory, more than was realistic in one day. However, as an overview of the issues relating to the study of an historically significant fiber, the symposium did serve to underscore the ubiquity of textiles in every aspect of our lives, not just our closets.

We assembled at the NEQM, and, after a welcome and brief introduction, during which the NEQM volunteers were recognized and thanked for their efforts, the day began in earnest with the opening address, a Powerpoint gallop  through the history of American silk production - thread, yarn and yardage - led by social historian Madelyn Shaw, independent curator, textile historian and co-author of American Silk.  Ms. Shaw's impressive resume can be explored at her website.  

Highlights of this fast-paced presentation included information about the first successful American silk concern, Cheney brothers, whose gigantic factory complex can still be visited today in Manchester, Connecticut, and images of fashion-forward silk fabric from manufacturer  H R. Mallinson, whose printed silks challenged the hegemony of imported European silks in couturier clothing.

Following Ms. Shaw's address, the sixty or so attendees divided into three groups each of which headed out to one of three concurrent sessions. My group remained at the NEQM for a curator-led tour of Silk! Antique and Contemporary Art Quilts, organized by NEQM curator Pam Weeks, and on view until July 7, 2013.   Ms. Weeks, an excellent speaker, has put together a show of both variety and depth.

Sampling the Silk Road, Christine Wickert, 2011.

The award-winning quilt above was made by master quilter Chris Wickert, from applique patterns by Edyta Sitar.  My image is less than optimal, but this quilt epitomizes the qualities of silk that make it irresistible - the rich colors seem almost lit from within, and the smooth, slightly reflective surface supports Ms. Wickert's exquisite hand-quilting perfectly. 

Symposium attendee listens to gallery talk.

The quilt on the far wall in the image above was the impetus for this exhibit.  Stella Antiqua, by artist and silk historian Hanne Vibeke de Koning, is a hand-pieced and hand-quilted silk confection in feminine pinks and beige, and is in the collection of the National Quilt Museum.  Curator Weeks, a polymath who is herself an accomplished quilt artist, was quite taken with this quilt when she first viewed it and it sparked an interest in silk and silken quilt-making.

In lovely curatorial touch, one of the historic bed quilts is actually displayed on an historic bed.  In the so-called Saffron Quilt, from the Wenham Museum, the yellow silk, in marvelous condition, again highlights the exuberant hand-quilting.

Saffron Quilt, maker unknown, 18th c.

Pieced Silk Sampler, Elizabeth Crehore Johnson White, c. 1850

Silk fabric and hand-quilting are perfect partners, and in the Elizabeth White quilt, above and below, silk cooperates with a quilter's imagination run riot, particularly in the pale green silk sashing.  The sampler blocks were probably pieced with scraps left from dress-making, but the quantity of fabric needed for the sashing suggests it was purchased especially for the purpose. The pale green color works perfectly with the toned blues, corals and browns of the pieced blocks, corralling the wide variety of designs into a cohesive whole. 

Pieced Silk Sampler, detail.

One recurrent, but unheralded, theme throughout the exhibit is what we now call "upcycling" - the reuse of what would otherwise be waste or scrap material.  Silk, due to its cost and status as a luxury fiber, was particularly treasured. The quilt below, from the Pilgrim Roy Collection, is made of remnants of silk linings from a hat factory.  The pinwheel pattern is one of my favorites, and the diagonal lines of color just animate those whirligigs.

Pinwheels, maker unknown, c. 1940

Pinwheels, detail.

Happy Father's Day, Janet Elwin, 1992.

Another example of upcycling is the star quilt above, made from ties and, I believe, men's shirtings.  The careful organization of colors in the stars, as well as the contrast between dark tie material and light shirtings, make this one of the best menswear quilts I've seen, and I've requested Ms. Elwin's book from my local library.

Happy Father's Day, detail.

Straight Furrow log cabin, Amelia Jerome Perkins, c. 1880, detail.

One gallery in the exhibit is devoted to Victorian examples of the log cabin quilt; the example above has particularly compelling placement of alternating color bands within the overall light/dark sequencing of the straight furrow pattern.  This quilt really packs a graphic punch.

Silk Tobacco Premium Quilt, maker unknown, c. 1910.

In addition to dress-making offcuts and hat factory remnants, another source of silk for quilter-makers included the silk premiums enclosed with tobacco products. An skilled stitcher collected and arranged these into the small textile above. The word "baby" is embroidered on the back; consider the juxtaposition of tobacco products providing material for a baby quilt.

After the gallery tour our group continued to our second rotation, a study group session led by Lorie Chase, who briefly discussed alternatives to silk, such as synthetics, and cotton or wool treated to look more lustrous, either through heat-treatment to add shine, or through the fabric's woven construction, such as cotton used in a satin weave.  In a satin weave the horizontal threads, the weft, go under one vertical, or warp, thread but over two or more warp threads. (In plain weave each weft thread goes under one warp thread and over one warp thread.) The placement of the weft threads in the satin weave makes for an inherently smoother, more reflective fabric surface.

Satin weave - http://fm-textile.wikispaces.com/Section+3.1

I found it difficult to "change gears," from focusing on silk qua silk to a wider consideration of all the ways quilters and fiber artists add sheen and luster to their work. Ms. Chase, an independent scholar and quilt historian, had put much thought and energy into the study materials, including some wonderful handouts with actual fabric swatches. However, it almost seemed as if this segment belonged in a future seminar devoted less to one natural fiber and more to a general consideration of issues such as the artist's use of reflectivity, cultural attitudes towards sheen and texture, and the role of synthetics in the quiltmaker's toolbox.

After a delicious lunch at the ATHM and a tour of the wedding dress exhibit (see previous post) my group walked back to the NEQM, where the concluding session was a quick, illustrated tour of one of America's commercial failures - the abortive attempt to raise silkworms in mid-19th century New England. Marjorie Senechal, professor emerita at Smith College and co-author of American Silk, compared and contrasted the correct approach to silkworm husbandry, from "moth to cloth" as she put it, with the ultimately unsuccessful methods of growers in Northhampton. Silkworms are fussy little creatures! (Youtube video from my trip to Japan in 2012.)

Participants and presenters.

The final group activity was a "show and tell" by attendees, which was wonderful and too short! I wish more time had been left for this portion of the symposium.

As a sort of recessional at day's end, we were treated to an interpretative dance by The Luminaria Dance Company of Cambridge.  The dancers had energy to spare but, clutching my valued handouts, it was all I could do to slink to my car after such an intense day of learning and exploration.