Style Court

Textiles, Art History, Gardens, and a Little Mental Traveling with Courtney Barnes 2006-2016


Museum Quality Tie-Dye

[Gambia, first half of the 19th century. The British Museum, London (Af.2796). Image via the Met.]

Long before free spirited college kids embraced it in the late 1960s, and centuries before it became a staple craft activity at suburban summer camps, tie-dye was a technique used around the globe. Shown above is a detail view of a masterful example from Africa. September 2008 through April 2009 it was included in the Met's exhibition, The Essential Art of African Textiles: Design Without End.

According to the museum, this cotton indigo tie-dyed piece was among the earliest African textiles acquired by The British Museum and it's the oldest example of this art form to have been preserved. It would be easy to assume the "cosmic explosion" look of the design was spontaneous or experimental, but curators say the repetitive pattern and even distribution of indigo resulted from skilled crumpling, binding, and overall control. Like many African cloths, this example was woven with narrow strips of fabric, however,  as Hali notes in their spring 2009 issue, the bursts of blue here cloud the underlying contruction.  


Inspiration is Free

[Detail view via LACMA.]

Here's a little example of the geometric textiles I'm highlighting in an upcoming post. Part of LACMA's celebrated collection of master Kuba cloths, it's a late 19th to early 20th century raffia palm plain weave from the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire).

Each year LACMA invites its Collectors Committee to vote on new acquisitions. During an event that is somewhat like the High Museum's debut Collectors' Evening, curators from various departments pitch potential acquisitions and hope the votes swing their way. In 2009,  LACMA's group of patrons voted to acquire 117 outstanding Kuba aristocracy textiles from artist and scholar Georges Meurant's collection. (Meurant wrote the book mentioned in a previous post, Shoowa Design: African Textiles from the Kingdom of Kuba, and one of LACMA's new acquisitions made the cover of Hali summer 2009.)

Jed Johnson's large-scale L' Africain Savanna, a cotton-linen blend, kind of walks the line between a stylized zebra print and something reminiscent of a traditional African pattern.

[Image copyright National Geographic.]

I'm not quite as bad with geography as I am with spelling (wish I could blame that on high concept classes that eschewed memorization -- sadly, it's just me) but between reading real news about contemporary Africa and doing research for recent posts, I had to break down and admit it wouldn't hurt for me to consult a map. National Geographic's interactive version is helpful.  

If you can navigate your way to 5905 Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, LACMA is offering free general admission for all on Memorial Day, May 31. And the list of Blue Star museums continues to grow; currently more than 700 (including LACMA, the High, and the Carlos) are now offering free summer admission to active duty military personnel and their families. Click here for details.

[Image via LACMA.]


Sights and Sites

[Annie Kammerer Butrus, Acrylic on two joined panels, 28 x 50 x 2 inches,  Peach Tree Trail: Summer 5.]

Some people follow bands around the southeast; I keep tabs on artist Annie Kammerer Butrus. Most recently, on Monday night, I caught up with her at Thomas Deans Fine Art. One of the most illuminating things she said about her work had to do with light.

Annie grew up in Chicago and earned her BA in art at Wellesley (cum laude, by the way) but much of her adult life has been spent in Birmingham, Alabama where she and her husband are raising their family.  She explained that when she first came to the Southern city, she was gobsmacked by the interplay of summer sunlight and trees, and the interesting shadows that resulted from it. Her curiosity about the natural world and regional landscape has in fact had a huge impact on her work -- in a way I can't adequately capture with a smattering of small images on a blog. So if you are able to get to Bennett Street before June 17,  I highly recommend the small show. Gallerist Thomas Deans is incredibly knowledgeable, dealing with art ranging from 1750 to present day.

With Memorial Day approaching, I also wanted to mention that the Carlos Museum is now one of 600 Blue Star museums offering free admission to active duty military personnel and their families from Memorial Day, May 31 through to Labor Day, September 6, 2010.

[Gold bracelet; Tamil Nadu; 19th century. From the Michael C. Carlos Museum exhibition catalog When Gold Blossoms: Indian Jewelry from the Susan L. Beningson Collection.]

Click here for a past post about the Carlos' luminous exhibition,  When Gold Blossoms: Indian Jewelry from the Susan L. Beningson Collection.


On the Way to a Post

[J. Crew's Wayuu Mochila from the Columbian coast.]

[Oscar de la Renta's interpretation for the The Mochila Project.]

Handwoven Wayuu mochila bags have received a lot of buzz in recent months. I'm among the many who are drawn to them so, no surprise, I started combing back issues of Hali and Selvedge for information about traditional weavings from Columbia.

[Tom Hannaher's ancient coca bag photographed by Fred Mushkat; image via Hali.]

At the moment I haven't found what I was looking for, but I did stumble across an ancient South American coca bag, and that somehow led me to a past exhibition at D.C.'s Textile Museum, The Finishing Touch: Accessories from the Bolivian Highlands, where I noticed a mid-20th-century man's coca bag that could possibly inspire JADEtribe.

[The Textile Museum 1989.28.9. Latin American Research Fund.]

And that led me back to a Bolivian weaving I'd already mentioned in a past post.

[Photo by Don Tuttle via Hali.]

Long story short,  no original South American textile blog post for today.  However, turning a page in Selvedge and mentally traveling to another continent, I did learn a fact that makes an interesting follow up to the Out of Africa post.

[Asante kente cloth from the archives of Adire African Textiles.]

According to the magazine, the long history of indigenous West-African textile production has been shaped by complex factors including, first, the arrival of Islamic textile merchants and later European colonialists but through it all West-Africans held onto their own traditions. In fact, historically, weaving has been a very prestigious job in the region. Now I'm more curious than ever to know where Milena Canonero and Josie MacAvin sourced the various textiles seen in the movie, which is set in East Africa.

Note: Detailed background on Asante kente cloth can be found here.

Also, if you're interested in ordering a back issue, Hali summer 2009 has a special report on African textiles.


For the Adventurous Baby

After yesterday's post, I couldn't resist these preview items from High Street Market's annual Vintage Baby Sale scheduled to take place online Wednesday through Friday, May 26-28. A little something for parents-to-be who loved West with the Night. And unlike the first edition books I mentioned Sunday, these pieces won't come with enormous price tags.  

Look for 50 baby-related vintage items ranging from sterling silver rattles and child size wicker chairs to brass animals and old lettered blocks that can be repurposed to personalize the little one's room. Styles will be varied too, of course. I just selected things with a Beryl Markham motif.

If you're curious to see the different covers publishers have used since the 1940s to market West with the Night, click here.

 [Image via Bailgate Books.] 

In case you were wondering, I don't receive a dime (or free products) for talking about any of the merchants included above.


Stories, Pictures, and Fabrics

 [Image credits follow below.]

Recently I got a little sidetracked listening to director Sydney Pollack talk about his 1985 film, Out of Africa. (Despite his Oscars, I'll always remember Pollack as Will Truman's dad.) I was really just trying to find in-depth information about the movie's set decoration and costume design. From the incredible clothes worn by Malick Bowens' Somali character,  Farah, to the European upholstery, the Indian marketplace in Nairobi, and the assorted African textiles representing various groups, Out of Africa is filled with beautiful fabric. Maybe I haven't picked up the right DVD (2010 marks the film's 25th anniversary) but I still haven't stumbled across a bonus interview with costume designer Milena Canonero or the late set decorator Josie MacAvin.

I'm so curious to know where Canonero found the fabrics for Farah's turbans. Interestingly, one version he wears is vaguely similar to Martyn Lawrence-Bullard's Sultan's Garden.  There is a bonus documentary, Song of Africa, that features set illustrations as background, however nothing is said about them.

For Pollack, the crux of the movie is all about possessiveness, in terms of the romantic relationship between the lead characters Karen Blixen and Denys Finch Hatton (Meryl Streep and Robert Redford) and of course the larger backdrop, European colonialism in Africa. So belongings -- crystal, china, furniture -- are strong compoments in the story. As Streep's character evolves and learns more about Kenya, African pieces make subtle appearences in her house and wardrobe. If the screengrab above isn't too small, check out the pillows above.

[Blixen, Karen; Isak Dinesen. Out of Africa. London: Putnam (1937). First edition available through Quill & Brush.]

Doing research, I did discover various vintage book jacket designs for Blixen's Out of Africa. The art for the first edition emphasizes the writer's poetic description of the landscape, looks a bit like British Tree-of-Life designs, and was probably meant to have romantic appeal to European audiences. 

[Image via Turrn the Page Books.]

Moving into the 1950s, the design is more graphic and seems to take inspiration from African textiles. Not surprisingly, I love the green chosen for this version and, to me at least, the animal drawings suggest some of the work by Blixen's employee, Kamante Gatura. His watercolors and his own interpretation of "Out of Africa" were compiled by Peter Beard in the 1975 book, Longing For Darkness : Kamante's Tales from Out of Africa. (Click here for details on a current exhibition of Kamante Gatura's art.)

[Image via Peter Beard.]

In the early 80s, Modern Library published an edition of Out of Africa with a stylizd woodcut illustration by Stephen Alcorn on the cover. And around the same time Penguin published a version with a striking portrait. But, from what I can tell, after the movie release, most editions featured a still from the film. (In case you didn't know, the film is only loosely based on Blixen's stories, which offer little detail of her relationship with Finch Hatton and contain many more paradoxes.)  

I'd say the evolution of the book jacket echoes the pattern observed in this post. By the way, the first edition even had a chic, imaginatively designed cloth binding with bird under the jacket (click here to see) and the 1937 Danish edition is very eye-catching. Wish I knew something about the illustrator.  If you do, I'd love to hear from you.

Click here for an African textiles reading list.

[Image via Amazon.]


Flower Power III

Today I followed a link to a Birmingham-based magazine, Flower, and discovered a new source for African pottery. New to me, that is.  In a story highlighting containers from far-flung corners of the globe, Flower includes Baule pottery made on the Ivory Coast of Africa and sold in the U.S. through the Museum for African Art. According to the museum's site, proceeds from sales go directly to the women who make the wares.

The simple yet elegant form, utilitarian roots, and earthy patina of the clay vessel above really caught my eye. I'm still enamored with the idea of bringing more African design into my rooms and this collection seems like a great way to do it without jumping on the trend bandwagon. I thought creamy magnolias with shiny green leaves might contrast beautifully with the rich finish of the pots. (A little history of African ceramics here.)

[Pottery image via Museum for African Art.]

[Image via the Michael C. Carlos Museum.]

FYI for anyone visiting Atlanta: Last week after seeing When Gold Blossoms, I wandered into the Carlos' African galleries. The terrific early-20th-century Ivory Coast gold and copper bull that I posted long ago is currently on view.

Related past post: Inspired by African Aesthetics (click link for image credits). 

Loosely related past post: Designing Women.


A Different Kind of Injection

[©NTPL/John Hammond courtesy of Treaure Hunt.]

Perhaps this is a less controversial type of filler than the kind given by dermatologists. Above, as reported by Treaure Hunt, an antique torchere at Saltram, in Devon, receives a restorative treatment injected into the woodworm holes. A conservator at the workshop of Tankerdale Ltd. administers the shots. Click here for the full story.

Flower Power II

[Brick pathway, circa, 1970, from Doris Duke's Mughal Garden. Image courtesy of the Doris Duke Foundation.]

No time for much of a post this morning so I'm following up on this past post, and this one, with a mini garden escape via Doris Duke's Mughal flowers

[Photo by David Franzen. 18th-century portable writing desk in wood, ivory, and gilt iron alloy, from Western India made for the Western market, image courtesy of the Doris Duke Foundation.]

Also, another reminder for Atlantans: In conjunction with the Carlos exhibition, When Gold Blossoms, the museum is offering a two-week session metalwork studio for teens ages 13 to 17. The dates are June 21-25 and June 28-July 2.

Alan Bremer, President of the Georgia Goldsmith’s Group, will work with participants to create small-scale pieces in metal with the lost-wax casting method, colorful enameling, chain-making, and woven-wire fabric techniques with works from the exhibition as inspiration. Camp sessions are $185 per week for Carlos Museum members; $225 per week for non-members. 10% discount to families registering more than one child. For details or to register, call 404.727.0519 or click here.



 [Detail, early-20th-century Navajo horse blanket, hand-woven wool. Through Allan Arthur.]

Trends aren't my usual focus but sometimes it's hard to resist observing them.  For example, Design*Sponge has been posting nice dispatches from Brimfield 2010. Among the trends D*S spotted are 'camp' blankets inspired by Navajo weavings. Looking at the photos, my mind flashed back to this post about vintage textiles from the American Southwest and Mexico (with a few Cherokee-made baskets from the Southeast added to the mix too). Then I remembered that one of the Georgia sources I originally mentioned has relocated. So I hope this is a helpful, albeit belated, heads-up to Atlantans. Current info can be found here, and in case you missed it, always on-the-pulse Mr. Nick Olsen sang the praises of Navajo graphics here.

 [Photo by William Waldron.]

Stripes are completely cross-cultural. Depending on your frame of mind, the stripes on the bedding in this guestroom designed by Timothy Whealon (see Elle Decor, June 2010) might be seen as loosely echoing the Navajo stripes of the antique blanket below.

[Detail, circa 1900 Navajo rug, hand-woven wool. Through Allan Arthur.]

Annie in Atlanta

[Annie Kammerer Butrus, Acrylic on two joined panels, 28 x 52 x 2 inches,  Peach Tree Trail 7: Fall.]

[Annie Kammerer Butrus, Acrylic on panel, 11 x 14 x 2 inches, from her Peach Tree Trail series, spring 2007.]

There's no shortage of interesting happenings this month in Atlanta. Artist Annie Kammerer Butrus, whose acclaimed work has been exhibited at several museums across the U.S., will visit Thomas Deans Fine Art, Monday, May 24, from 6 to 8 p.m. As part of the gallery's Evenings with Artists series, Annie will talk about her open-air methods and her approach to documenting changes in the Southern landscape. Thomas Deans is located at 22-B Bennett Street and Annie's work will be on view through June 17. (BTW: The nuanced paintings are more spectacular in person, so the show is a must see!)


The Same Wave Length

[Gold bracelet; Tamil Nadu; 19th century. From the Michael C. Carlos Museum exhibition catalog When Gold Blossoms: Indian Jewelry from the Susan L. Beningson Collection.]

What do they always say about Latin root words? Once you learn them, you notice them everywhere and can more easily decipher the meanings of other words? Something like that. The same holds true for patterns in design. Yesterday, I was at the Carlos Museum looking at an incredibly chic and intricate bracelet crafted in 19th-century India.  The wall text noted that the gold beauty, now part of the Susan L. Beningson Collection, features a wave, or lahariya pattern (sometimes spelled laharia), and a flat etched clasp with double peacocks.   

"Oh, just like the tie-dyed Indian cloth," I thought to myself.

Above is a close view of a circa 1860s turban, or pagri, from Rajasthan via Cora Ginsburg's 2009 catalog.  According to the catalog, to prove that a laharia pagri was authentic -- in other words, not simply printed but achieved through a highly-detailed, multi-stepped process involving complex folds, wraps, ties, and skilled handling of dyes -- craftspeople sold the pagri with their ties still in place. To show a client the pattern, an end was usually unraveled.

[Gold rattles for baby Krishna, 18th century, along with other devotional objects, a peacock and small bird.  From the exhibition catalog When Gold Blossoms: Indian Jewelry from the Susan L. Beningson Collection.]

The Carlos is a terrific venue for When Gold Blossoms: Indian Jewelry from the Susan L. Beningson Collection because the museum is a bit like a jewel box itself. The galleries are intimate and for this exhibition the walls have been bathed in refreshing citrus shades of orange and kiwi-green -- lovely backdrops for more than 150 pieces encompassing anklets, necklaces, earrings, hair ornaments, ivory combs, and objects made for deities in Hindu temples.

Among my favorites, two gold baby rattles with exquisite open work or jali. Right off the bat, the style reminded me of those jali screens at Doris Duke's Shangri La.

 [Doris Duke and James Cromwell by the Jali Pavilion at Shangri La, 1939. Photo by Martin Munkacsi, copyright The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.]  

[Marble screen and frame commissioned by Doris Duke while honeymooning in India in 1935. Photo by David Franzen, courtesy of the Doris Duke Foundation.]

Several necklaces in the show combine metal with fabric ties. To some extent those made me think of Alabama Chanin's jewelry, but they also called to mind the loose ties on the slipcover in Michael Smith's bedroom as seen in the May 2010 Elle Decor. His relaxed chair cover is a foil for the grander furniture, particularly the German-silver bed made in Jaipur, India by John Robshaw. 

[Michael Smith's master bedroom photographed by Simon Upton and styled by Carolina Irving Elle Decor May 2010.]

[Detail view, Michael Smith's master bedroom photographed by Simon Upton and styled by Carolina Irving Elle Decor May 2010.]
 [Gold rattles for baby Krishna, 18th century. From the exhibition catalog When Gold Blossoms: Indian Jewelry from the Susan L. Beningson Collection.]

But back to the rattles for baby Krishna. In March I said I was curious to see what designers (interior, textile, fashion, event, jewelry) will take away from the exhibition. And I'll admit the playthings, although intended to be devotional, made my mind drift to a baby shower in a Mughal-inspired garden with vintage Indian textiles used as tablecloths.

The circa 1900 embroidered cloth serving as a backdrop, above, is another Cora Ginsburg find and is way too precious to consider using on a table; I just love the look of it. Also in my fantasy: brass replicas of the birds and rattles to position at the guests' place settings. The baby gifts are from Rikshaw and the hostess could wear the "wave" bracelet.

Now, to really come full circle, I have to mention the June 2010 Elle Decor.

It's the biggest June issue Margaret Russell and her team have ever done, and while devouring the many pages, I noticed all sorts of great tie-dye items. Plus, a Robshaw robe very much inspired by lahariya made the annual summer gift guide.

[All Elle Decor images posted with permission from the magazine.]

There are plenty of dreamy summer (or summer-y) houses too, including Meg Ryan's and the beach digs of Jeffrey Alan Marks and Ross Cassidy. I won't spoil the surprise by posting any peeks at the interiors, but I do want to say congratulations to two designing gentleman who've been good friends to this blog.

 [Photograph by Tom Atwood posted courtesy Oliver Furth.]
 Oliver M. Furth  (read a past post about Oliver's philanthropy here).

And Grant Gibson. Both men are highlighted along with a host of other fresh talents and celebrated masters. Click here to read Grant's "Three Wishes." Cheers guys!