Off the Wall: American Art to Wear

I went to a couple of great  exhibits this year before the coronavirus shut the museums.  One of them,  Off the Wall: American Art to Wear, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, was especially enjoyable.

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While I’ve never been a fashionista, I’ve always loved colorful, striking clothing.  I grew up in the 70’s with a mother who thought that Leslie Fay was a fashion icon.  Oh, dear.  This made for some interesting discussions best left to memory.  But a lot of people felt like my Mother.

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There has always been art clothing, but usually not for the hoi polloi like me and my Mother who were expected to wear sensible “uniforms” and not stand out.  That seemed to change in the late 60’s and early 70’s when brighter colors became acceptable, tie dye was all the rage, and the hand-made movement took off.   I think that the American art clothing movement was a product of this, and it has definitely left a mark on what we wear today.

Some of my favorite pieces from the exhibit:

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Embroidered Top and Skirt, Mary Ann Schildknecht

There is a saying somewhere  that an article of clothing does not qualify as couture unless a dozen nuns went blind making it.    So I was amused  to learn that nuns taught Mary Ann Schildknecht how to embroider while she was serving a two-year prison sentence in Italy for hashish trafficking.  The result is this astounding top and skirt, above.

I first saw this cape and hat by Susanna Lewis in an issue of Ornament Magazine years ago.  Ornament is the best magazine if you are interested in art clothing.

Double click on the pictures to get  a look at the full sized versions of this headdress and cape by Debra Rappaport.  They are made entirely of found objects.

Knitwear

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Joan Steiner, Manhattan Collar
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Katherine Westphal

 

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One of the entries from the Levis Art Denim contest of 1974. Levis Jeans sponsored a contest inviting its customers to decorate their denim and send them pictures.

This is just a sampling of the wonderful articles of clothing displayed in the exhibit.   The Philadelphia Museum of Art has put together an exhibition book which you can order here.  There’s also a real interesting out-of-print book on the Art to Wear movement,  Art to Wear by Julie Schafler Dale.  You can order a used copy here.  Julie Shafler Dale ran a gallery in Manhattan for a number of years that was known for showcasing innovative crafts and new craft mediums (including polymer) before they made their way into the mainstream.  The Julie Artisans Gallery  is closed now, but you can read about it here.  You can read about the Levis Art Denim Contest  and see the winning entries  here.   If you would like more information on Off the Wall: American Art to Wear, click  here and here and here.

 

Goddess!

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How are people inspired by history, landscape,  myth and memory?   On a cold night in November, some lucky people got to peek into the mind of fashion designer  Mary McFadden and find out. After the  Moore College of Art tapped  McFadden for its 2008 Visionary Woman award and presented an exhibition of her designs and selections from her personal textile and jewelry collection, McFadden reciprocated,   delivering  a slide show and lecture on the creative process behind her ethereal, feminine fashion collections.

“I travel,” she said, “take thousands of pictures, buy sixty books and then go back home and read them all. Then I design the collection in a half hour.” The audience gasped. “But it takes a long time to get to that point!” she exclaimed.42

Her inspiration came from everywhere: The Elgin Marbles, Pre Colombian pottery, Japanese, African and Middle Eastern textiles. She pointed out that while the pleating found in many of her clothes resembles  ancient Greek robes, they are also reminiscent of a a dessert terrain’s wind blown sands.   The motifs she painted on her clothes came from looking at ocean waves, the sky, and bird’s wings. One look at her clothes and you understand.  But she did a lot of looking and thinking before she put pencil to paper. That was the most important concept I came away with.

Here are some more pictures from the exhibit.