Style Court

Nine Years of Textiles, Art History, Gardens, and a Little Mental Traveling with Courtney Barnes


Living with Art: Ghost Town

 [Ricky Gervais and Téa Leoni in Ghost Town.]

Ages ago a friendly reader asked if I knew anything about a flowering branch upholstery fabric spotted in the hysterical 2008 movie, Ghost Town, starring Ricky Gervais and Téa Leoni. (Leoni's character has a chair in her apartment covered in what looks a bit like a blown-up version of Flowering Quince from Clarence House.)

In case you're new to the world of interior decoration, pictured above is a longtime design blog favorite with Flowering Quince: Sara Ruffin Costello's bedroom photographed by Gemma Comas for domino.

 [Greg Kinnear and Ricky Gervais in Ghost Town.]

Earlier this summer, while roaming the aisles of bolts at Atlanta's budget-friendly textile emporium, Forsyth Fabrics, I may have stumbled upon the vaguely similar Flowering Branch print seen in the film. While it's not on Forsyth's site, you can find it online here.

But the reason I'm mentioning Ghost Town today is the art. Well, the art and the overall feel of Leoni's apartment. The character is a scholar -- an Egyptologist. Production designer Howard Cummings gives us a little visual backstory by densely packing into her home a lot of photography, objects, textiles and paintings.

[Téa Leoni's character, Gwen, at work in Ghost Town.]

Many of the pieces are fairly large; it's interesting to see how they all work in a relatively small space. I might even go so far as to say the eclectic yet sophisticated mix on the soft blue-gray walls calls to mind Miles Redd. Sort of. Mostly, the apartment feels like it belongs to a specific person. Although, Cummings never resorts to Egyptology stereotypes (according to the production notes, avoiding clichés was the goal).  It all comes together in a dynamic, elegant way, and unfortunately the apartment is only on screen for a few minutes, so I've been rewinding and pausing. If anyone knows something about the photograph behind Gervais' head, above, I'd love to hear from you.

Other wonderful things to see in Ghost Town include the Met's Temple of Dendur, Beaux Arts architecture and the change of seasons in NYC. The film begins at the very end of summer and quickly progresses into fall, making it a perfect September rental. 

Related past post: Collecting.

Update: 9.13.10

The Clarence House linen makes another beautiful appearance in Patricia Herrera's house, published in the October 2010 Elle Decor. (Photography by Roger Davies.) Above is a tiny teaser; be sure to pick up a copy of the magazine and enjoy seeing all the images with story written by Mitchell Owens!



 [Screengrab via YouTube: Ferris Bueller museum scene.]

I've been trying to remember which five works of art I first chose to discuss back in the late 90s when I was training (or as my poor practice audience might have said, straining) to give tours at the High. For some of the exercises we were required to do assigned pieces (in my case a Joseph Cornell) but later, when given free reign, I'm pretty certain I picked a Sally Mann from the permanent collection. At the moment, the other four elude me. What I do vividly recall is how one of the more creative docent candidates captivated her audience by working some pop culture -- the Ferris Bueller museum scene -- into her presentation about Pointillism.

[Madame Pierre Gautreau, Antonio de la Gandara, 1897, Gibbes Museum of Art.]

Docents guiding visitors through the Gibbes' galleries this fall should find plenty of engaging jumping off points in Face Lift.  In July, I mentioned Barkley Hendricks' Ms. Johnson,  a 1972 painting included in the exhibition of American portraiture opening this Friday, September 3, and today there are more fascinating portraits to explore over on the Gibbes' blog.

Curator Sara Arnold explains how her team poured over the museum's strong collection of portraiture from the 18th century to today, narrowing the field to fourteen portrait pairings. One full-length portrait they studied was Antonio de la Gandara's 1897 painting of Madame Pierre Gautreau, aka 19th century 'it girl' Virginie Avegno Gautreau, aka "Madame X." Learn more about the de la Gandara painting, commissioned after Sargent's notorious work, here.


The Two Feathers

Loving the new limited edition linocuts from PerlaAnne. (As MOMA explains, linocuts are a "type of relief print in which linoleum is used as the printing surface".)  I think the handcarved, printed and pulled tri-color feather prints are my favorite. Edition is limited to six. Details here.


Magnetic Attraction

[Moulding samples on the left and below are from Roma.]

This weekend I discovered something at Home Depot that's probably old news to everyone but me: small, affordable, zinc-plated magnetic sheet metal that makes creating a custom fabric-covered inspiration board really easy.

For a while now I've been wanting to do something with my last scrap of Lisa Fine's Malula linen and the material happened to be just long enough to stretch over a 12" by 18" sheet of metal -- a pint-sized board that cost about $7. Currently, duct tape is holding the fabric in place, but I do plan to frame it. One of Ralph Lauren's fall ad campaigns has me in the mood to look for old mouldings (antique gilded frames are propped in several shots).

[Ralph Lauren Blue Label fall 2010.]
If all the mouldings I like prove to be too costly for this project, I think I'll buy modestly priced wood trim at Home Depot and stain or paint it. By the way, High Street Market is always worth a look for one of a kind tack boards made with vintage frames and remnants of beautiful to-the-trade fabric.

I opted for the lightweight, easily portable magnetic board because I wanted to be able to play around with thick swatches and trims without pinning them. Word of caution: the corners of the sheet metal are extremely sharp, so it might be wise to keep it away from kids until the edges are buffered by fabric or a frame. 

 [Exhibition catalog image via Michael Shamansky Bookseller Inc.]

Related links of interest: the V & A's short video about historic methods of water-gilding and The Art Newspaper's coverage of a past Munich exhibition that delved into the history of frames. The Art of the Frame: Exploring the Holdings of the Alte Pinakothek was on view at Alte Pinakothek, January 28 through April 18, 2010.

FYI: Copper Clad chest on the inspiration board is from Anthro's September catalog.


Traces of the Calligrapher

[Elliott Puckette's sawhorse table and studio via the exhibition catalog Elliott Puckette: New Work, Paul Kasmin Gallery.]

For me it began with an interest in Elliott Puckette's work.

 [Elliott Puckette, Untitled 2009, gesso, ink, kaolin on board. Paul Kasmin Gallery.]

The meandering lines of the Kentucky-born fine artist's paintings are often influenced by sources ranging from Middle Eastern calligraphy and decorative arts to the theories of historian Oleg Grabar, so as I've learned more about her approach I've also become fascinated by old script.

[Calligrapher’s table with a drawer for storage. Turkey, late 1600s–1700s. Wood inlaid with bone, ebony, stained woods, and metal. Private collection.]

 [Calligraphers’ tools, storage box, and pen cases from Turkey, Iran, and India.]

Last night during a visit to Emory University's Carlos Museum,  I had a wonderful opportunity to see not only a variety of centuries-old calligraphy (aka beautiful writing) from Spain, North Africa, and Iran, but also the antique tools used to create these masterful works on paper. Once again, the intimately scaled galleries of the Carlos serve as a very effective setting for a jewel-box-like display of diminutive objects.

 [Calligraphers’ penknives, Turkey, 18th and 19th centuries. Steel blades, brass mounts, handle materials include ivory and agate.]

For two concurrent Islamic calligraphy exhibitions opening Saturday, August 28, the walls of the third floor galleries have been transformed; the lively citrus-hued paint we saw with summer's When Gold Blossoms: Indian Jewelry from the Susan L. Beningson Collection is gone and the backdrop is now rich, dark and inky -- a great foil for the precious agate, ivory, jade, silver, and gold pieces on view.

[Pen box, Turkey, 18th century. Wood with tortoiseshell and mother-of-pearl inlay; interior lined with leather. Private collection.]

In this post I wanted to focus on one of the companion exhibitions, Traces of the Calligrapher -- the show that highlights folios and tools of the trade from the 17th through the 19th centuries. Many of us haunt shops like Green & Stone of Chelsea, drawn to the old paintboxes and supplies, and I think anyone passionate about decorative arts or anyone who works with his or her hands will appreciate the spectacular instruments in Calligrapher: inkwells, scissors, burnishers, storage boxes, writing tables, reed pens, and penknives (used to cut the nib of the pen) originating from Turkey, India, and Iran. In addition to the gorgeous inlay work I'd been waiting to see, there were surprises like crimson-colored lacquer and indigo paper. 

[Pen Box, Turkey, circa 1850. Steel overlaid with silver and gold. Private Collection.]

Emory's Dr. Gordon Newby, Chair of the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies, explained to me that Eastern calligraphers were revered for their work. Accordingly, the refined instruments they used were handcrafted with great artistry. Really, the exhibition pays homage to all of the artisans involved in the calligraphic process: paper makers, gold beaters, illuminators, bookbinders, and metalworkers. But calligraphers enjoyed a status on par with the acclaim only a few fine artists receive in the 21st century. And just as I hope to one day own a piece by Elliott Puckette, collectors sought out works by specific calligraphers.

[Image courtesy of the Carlos .]

Whether you live in Atlanta or plan to be in town sometime this fall, the Carlos is a serene place to explore. The only long winding lines you are likely to encounter will be the ink-made scrolls in the calligraphic manuscripts. While the contemporary Michael Graves-designed building offers a more intimate experience than that of other public museums, housed inside is one of the Southeast's premier institutions known for its major collections of Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman, Nubian, African, and Asian art. Also, classical architecture enthusiasts may enjoy spotting a few Philip Trammell Shutze structures on Emory's campus. Architecture Tourist offers the 411 here.

 [Late-19th-century sadeli inlaid Anglo Indian lap desk, or writing box, from F.S. Henemader Antiques Inc.]

Related past posts: Contain Yourself and Dreams Contained.

More to explore: Art of the Middle East at LACMA.


Closing Thoughts

 [Image courtesy of Shannon Morris.]

Curator Shannon Morris, organizer of the traveling exhibition, Transitive Geographies: Contemporary Visions of an Evolving South, is scheduled to be on hand today, Thursday, August 26, at the Rebecca Randall Bryan Gallery on the campus of Coastal Carolina University. A closing reception will take place from 4:30 until 6:30 p.m., and Shannon's talk starts at 5 p.m.

[Image courtesy of Cynthia Farnell and the Bryan Gallery.]

As I learn more about the next venues for the show in New Orleans and Birmingham, I'll keep you posted.  Read past posts about the exhibition and represented artists here.


Geisha in Birmingham

[Screengrab from Memoirs of a Geisha 2005.]

Dr. Liza Dalby, widely known as the American Fulbright student who lived with the geisha community in Kyoto as she researched her PhD dissertation during the 1970s, is scheduled to visit the Birmingham Museum of Art, Sunday, August 29 at 2 p.m.

Today Dalby is an anthropologist and novelist specializing in Japanese culture. She served as a consultant for the 2005 film Memoirs of a Geisha and this weekend, in conjunction with the museum's current exhibition, Fashioning Kimono: Art Deco and Modernism in Japan, Dalby will discuss the powerful yet generally less understood geisha influence on Japanese fashion. As I understand it, her talk will explain how geisha cultivated the reserved aesthetic known as iki, a fundamental aspect of Japanese taste.

With no charge for admission, this lecture falls in my Inspiration is Free category.  Learn more about Dr. Dalby and her book, Geisha, here.

[Image of Japanese magazine Taiyo via SRI bookstore.]

Related past post: Following Threads.

High-maintenance Posing as Low-maintenance

I think I'm establishing a solid track record for selecting projects that appear to be all about no-frills, easy-going style but in reality are a royal pain for the kind person helping me execute my vision ('royal' being a not-so-subtle reference to the Jane Austen-inspired royal-iced cookie incident of 1998).
[Pastry tool via Williams Sonoma; Still from Emma © 1996 Miramax.]

While I hope I've always had a healthy dose of respect for the professional upholsterers and craftspeople I've called upon in the past, watching my dad space and position nailheads on the recently completed (much appreciated) DIY sawhorse table was an eye opener. We experimented with laser levels, old fashioned levels, string lines and homemade templates but nonetheless some of the little buggers started to squirm out of place when tapped with the hammer. And even for those of us who like imperfect things, crooked nailheads are just sad. So, getting them all lined up was no easy feat. If you've ever attempted a project like this with an awl, or have your own tips, please share your insights!

It goes without saying that the next time I casually ask an upholsterer to space nailheads one and three quarters of an inch apart over grosgrain on a curvy chair, I'll better understand the effort that entails.

 [Ivory Maktas, 1700s and 1800s, Turkey. From a private collection. Image courtesy of the Michael C. Carlos Museum.]

As mentioned the other day, exquisite tools, sophisticated craftsmanship and painstaking artistry will be on view as part of two concurrent Islamic calligraphy exhibitions opening this week at Atlanta's Michael C. Carlos Museum.  In addition to learning more about this subject, I'm looking forward to seeing how the curators highlight all the small objects in the show and I plan to report on the preview shortly.

After my desk was finished, Dad discovered decades-old sawhorse hardware left behind by my granddad. Usually I favor vintage hardware, but as it turned out, I think the sleeker, newly purchased steel brackets better suited my project.

Nailhead image used in collage shown at top is from True Value Hardware. All other pictures are my own. 


The Workhorse

Here's my finished hybrid. As expected, it's part Julia Reed and part Martha Stewart with a little inspiration from Haskell Harris.  I know you've seen sawhorse desks before, both the DIY variety and the catalog options, but I wanted to share this because the endless options for customization really do make it fun. Well, fun for me. Perhaps not so fun for my dad who built the desk entirely by hand. 

[Image via General Hardware.]

Using steel sawhorse brackets from the hardware store with a combination of old wide-plank pine floorboards and two-by-fours, Dad built two sawhorses with shelves as well as a tabletop. But, as shown here, you can buy ready-made legs at IKEA (just search for 'trestle').  Since my father had some pine on hand, I only had to spend around $22 $32 for paint, assorted hardware and a few extra pieces of wood.

Now, initially I wanted a cloth-covered top because I liked the idea of a craft-friendly work surface; I planned to use the water-repellent coated linen featured in the Martha video, with the hope I could be totally careless with my Starbucks cups. But when the yardage arrived,  I found myself drawn to the olive-brown matte finish on the reverse. So, I went with the uncoated side. The linen feels nice under my elbows and objects don't slide away; time will tell how practical it proves to be. If you are interested in a waterproof-yet-still-attractive tabletop, these instructions for 'lacquering' burlap sound interesting.

For the legs, I was curious to try that inky, slate-like chalkboard paint championed by Haskell. Obviously though, highgloss paint or a rich stain would give a different, more glamorous polish. And Julia's desk looked great in its raw state.

Total cost: under $55 $65 (the linen was $32). Word of warning: keeping the nailheads straight is the most tedious part of the project but worth the extra effort.


Hardware Store or Shoe Boutique?

[Liz's Antique Hardware photographed by Art Streiber published in Shabby Chic, Harper Collins, 1996.]

In her recent G & G essay about Harper Lee, writer Alice Randall talks about Scouts and Scarletts. For Randall, the world has long been divided into one archetypal literary character or the other -- a Scout or a Scarlett. As my sawhorse desk project has evolved and I've found myself happily spending more time in hardware stores, I've been thinking that, just in terms of aesthetic style, maybe our personalities can be distilled into 'hardware store' or 'shoe shop.' You know, essentially where are you most energized: exploring the crowded aisles of an old fashioned hardware store or the edited displays in a sleek boutique?

I love the creative possibilities inherent in all those heady art supply and hardware store scents. My preference seemed obvious. But then there are tall boots. Especially Frye's.

[Heath boots via Frye.]

Since age five I've been drawn to all sorts of knee-high boots and even if I'm only window shopping, I do like thinking about them. So, the material archetypes need a little work.

The picture at top is from my favorite among Rachel Ashwell's older series of books, the original Shabby Chic, featuring more well-worn leather, natural wood, and an interesting mix of California houses, including director Tony Scott's. Although, shown here is Liz's Antique Hardware in L.A. Off the top of my head, Architectural Accents is a good place to go in Atlanta if you're looking to browse a somewhat similar place. I found the supplies I needed for my almost-finished desk at General Hardware in Brookhaven.

Update 8.23.10

[Photo by Caroline Allison courtesy G & G.]

Matt and Carrie Eddmenson's Nashville shop, Imogene and Willie, may just offer the best of both worlds. Located in an old gas station with perfectly faded oriental rugs scattered underfoot, this store sells custom-made jeans, hand-dyed scarves from India, hamam towels from Turkey, and vintage boots all in a utilitarian-chic setting. Learn more about Matt and Carrie, along with twenty other rising designers, architects and artists, in G & G's special style issue. (Yours truly contributed the profiles on Shelley Hesse and Melissa Rufty.)



[From the left, Julia Reed's homemade writing desk photographed by Francois Halard for Vogue February 2001; my desk in progress; Tom Tamborello and Martha Stewart, Martha Stewart Living Television, November 1999.]

Since 2001, I've been drawn to Julia Reed's homemade writing desk (the one photographed in her former, slightly bohemian digs in New Orleans' French Quarter) and if all goes well, my own interpretation will be finished this weekend. Mine is actually going to be a painted and upholstered hybrid, incorporating ideas from Martha Stewart's team -- stylist, Tom Tamborello, and editor, Page Marchese Norman -- along with inspiration from Haskell Harris. (And coming in under budget at $52!)

[Seventeenth-century Japanese lacquer cabinet on a William Kent-style stand, at Penrhyn Castle, Gwynedd. ©NTPL/John Hammond.]

In the meantime,  over at the National Trust's Treasure Hunt, Emile de Bruijn has posted some fascinating examples of lacquer cabinets with 'hybrid' doors. (My own rathers sloppy description.) He's started one of the most interesting conversations about chinoiserie that I've come across in a while. Click here for more.

Update 3:50 p.m.

[Images via Francois Halard's Visite Privee.]

Speaking of creative spaces and Francois Halard's work, the new exhibition catalog, Visite Privee, looks like a must have. The book highlights the photographer's shots of artists' studios; included are Cy Twombly, Julian Schnabel, Richard Avedon, Paul Cezanne, Ahn Duong, Miquel Barcelo, Robert Rauschenberg and more. Halard's own house in Arles is featured too. Learn all about it here.



 [Image via the Gibbes Museum of Art.]

Photographer Scott Henderson deserves a little extra applause for this shot taken in the Gibbes' galleries. It's not an easy thing to capture a group of museum visitors studying a painting in a way that does justice both to the art and the people. (Still love the candid Nasher image of an individual juxtaposed with Alma Thomas' lively work.) Here, the shadowed, perfectly natural forms of the young viewers are a terrific foil for the illuminated reclining figure in Childe Hassam's April (The Green Gown), 1920.

The Gibbes blog often features striking images and helpful content. Earlier this month, Pam Wall, Curator of Exhibitions for the museum, explained the two-year process leading up to a very interesting soon-to-open exhibition, Stacy Lynn Waddell: The Evidence of Things Unseen. The show opens September 3 and is the contemporary mixed-media artist's first solo museum exhibition. Just another happening to keep in mind if you plan to be in Charleston, South Carolina this fall.

[Robe, Central Asia, Uzbekistan, Bukhara, Late 19th to early 20th century, The Textile Museum, 2005.36.31, The Megalli Collection.]

Counting down to Colors of the Oasis: Central Asian Ikats, the Textile Museum's big fall show, we're at roughly less than the two month mark. The exhibition opens to the public October 16. For more on the spectacular accompanying catalog, click here



[Photo top left by Patrick Cline for Lonny, August-September 2010 (the Rachel Ashwell story),  brass tack shown bottom left via Horton Brasses, chocolate linen via B & J, nailhead shown top right via True Value Hardware.]

I've been gathering tangible supplies along with inspirational images for my own interpretation of Page's and Shane's cloth-covered work table. It looks like rich chocolate-brown linen will be my choice for the desktop, but the video description of B & J's alternate brights is accurate; if you're interested in making a waterproof craft table for a child's room, there are fun school-bus-yellows and Popsicle-oranges. 

 [Textile-covered trunk from Guinevere in London.]

While browsing hardware stores and my go-to place, Horton Brasses, for nailheads, I came across nice reproduction pieces for trunks. Interesting only because last year, when I posted some of Guinevere's trunks covered in antique linen, a few friends contemplated doing thier own DIY version with a flea market find. So, I thought I'd follow up, albeit a year and a half later, with this Horton link


Traces of Dalí

[Image copyright Lulu de Kwiatkowski.]

When it comes to 20th-century art, my passions lean toward Matisse and Picasso, but, as I mentioned the other day, the High's dynamic new exhibition, Dalí: The Late Work, has made me stop and notice the surrealist's influence all around. Today's example: Lulu de Kwiatkowski's collages. Objects or people appearing out of context, dreamlike imagery, layers of memory -- these are aspects I'm more aware of now.  

Lulu's work will be shown at Clic Gallery, 225 Centre Street, NYC, in mid-November.  Dalí continues on view in Atlanta through January 9, 2011.

Related past posts:
Raising Free Thinkers
Dalí in Atlanta