Style Court

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


Coming Soon: Seema's New Collection

For her latest collection, Seema Krish has meshed the two worlds she knows best. Raised in India, educated in the U.S. at FIT, and now a Boston resident, she blends India's textile traditions with a modern Northeastern American sensibility. Pictured above, a sneak peek from a post that will be up shortly, is Manhattan, a hand-embroidery reminiscent of centuries-old phulkari. The fresh colorway is Central Park Green.

Related past post: Seema's Studio.

Image courtesy Seema Krish.


Flora Life

[Images courtesy Cistanthe]

One of my favorite posts of 2013 highlighted Cistanthe, Bailey Hunter's project that employs women to create painted and block-printed botanically-patterned organic cottons and silks along with brilliantly colored solid fabrics. Looking ahead to a new year, here are some of the company's freshest offerings: hand-blocked Raj Flora on silk tussah, shown at top, and Mughal Flowers on a tea-stained base. Fabrics typically cost between $35 to $60.

The High is kicking off 2014 with fresh flowers, too. The Museum's inaugural Art in Bloom is set to take place January 10 - 12. During the event, 50 works from the permanent collection will serve as inspiration for floral designers. Ryan Gainey, one of the South's best known gardeners and artists, will be a featured lecturer along with fascinating self-taught topiary artist Pearl Fryar, and landscape historian and scholar Daniel J. Nadenicek, UGA's Dean of the College of Environment and Design.

[One more from Cisanthe, Coromandel Flora on silk tussah.]


Wishing you a healthy and happy holiday week filled with lots of good surprises!



Treasure Tree

[All images courtesy the Design Lab of]

English block-printer Cameron Short's tangle of rough branches, ivy and oak leaves holds more than what initially meets the eye. Second and third glances reveal a host of ornaments collected by the tree's resident magpie, including a Faberge egg. Aptly named, this Short design pictured above in indigo is  Treasure Tree.

It seems fitting that the design holds so much mystery; the artist behind it generally resists the limelight. A veteran of London's glossy advertising world, Short now resides deep in the English countryside with his young family where he pursues his first passion, printmaking. Working from a shepherd’s hut, he draws and hand-carves each of his own wood-backed lino blocks, then moves on to his 1904 proofing press. Like the creations of his mentor, Marthe Armitage, Short's designs conjure a rustic realm. The printmaker also has a strong sense of the narrative.

Three of his wonderfully earthy, folkloric prints are currently available as upholstery through the UK-based The retailer recently opened a showroom in New York, too. While I've singled out Treasure Tree. in pumice, on the Margot loveseat, you can see the full collection here.


Local Talent: Clay McLaurin

[Unless credited otherwise, all images courtesy Clay McLaurin Studio
Pictured above, Elena in Mineral.]

[Elena and Wandering Stripe, both in Gulf.]

[Brush in Twilight.]

"I loved the immediacy of having [material] in my hand -- something that could be touched and used," says Atlanta-based artist and textile designer, Clay McLaurin, explaining his decision to pursue a career centered on fabric rather than graphic design as he initially planned. "I knew my career choice after taking a screen-printing course at The University of Georgia, where I received my BFA in fabric design and first fell in love with printing on fabric."

[Arch in Midnight.]

Today McLaurin has his own line, a graphic yet organically-colored collection of natural fiber fabrics printed in the South. Since I was curious about the art school grad's background and sources of inspiration, McLaurin kindly took time out for a little additional Q & A:

SC: Is there one textile, maybe a piece you studied in school, that further ignited your passion? Tell me a bit more about your education.

CM: At UGA I was exposed to William Morris. I remember being blown away by his process -- the intricacy of his designs and the movement of his patterns.

[A Morris design favored by McLaurin from 5000 Years of Textiles, edited by Jennifer Harris. ]

Later, I received my MFA from RISD. There I honed in on my surface design and weaving skills. RISD taught me to explore concepts and to push the boundary of the textile itself.   

 [Medallion in Tahoe.]

[Manji in Ocean.]

[Bleeding Heart in Melon.]
SC: What about other artists? Who else has informed your work?

CM: There are so many. I love the work of early explorers and artists like Anna Atkins and Karl Blossfeldt. There is a simplicity and natural beauty in their photography.

[Aristolochia Clematitis Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865–1932) Collection of The Met.]

[Anna Atkins, Poppy, about 1852. V & A Museum no. PH.381-1981.]

I also love the abstract paintings of Pierre Soulages. The movement, scale and rhythm in his art is bold and fresh. I take from these artists the idea that nothing is too fragile or perfect, but rather the imperfection is the beauty.

 [Soulages via Tate. © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2002.]

[Antique shibori via Sri Threads.]

SC: I think traditional Japanese techniques have inspired your work, no? Could you explain the significance of the dot-like forms in your designs? And what about the soft blues and greens in your palette?

CM: Traditional Japanese techniques have certainly inspired my work. The dot-like patterns take their inspiration from the Japanese resist technique called shibori with which fabric is bound, stitched, folded, twisted, or compressed then dyed. The resisted areas have usually been shaped into some type of pattern. When I was a student at UGA, I had an entire class devoted to Japanese textiles. In the class I learned this process of dyeing (in an actual Indigo vat), and I remember how incredible it was to be able to capture a pattern through a process unlike screen-printing or weaving.

[Shibori in Twilight.]
[Manji in Slate.]
Many of the dot-like patterns take inspiration from this concept of shibori in an abstract way. In some instances, such as Manji and Shibori, the dot acts as the resist [like in conventional shibori], but in other cases -- Elena or Medallion -- the dot is filled with a color thereby allowing the negative space to become the positive. I love playing with positive and negative space in my designs.

[Clay at work via Instagram.]

[Shibori in Fern.]

[Wave in Moss.]
The soft blues and greens were mostly inspired by the landscape. I remember when I first stepped foot in Japan, the quality of the light reflecting on the land was stunning.

[Georgia's natural beauty via the studio's Instagram.]

[Bleeding Heart in Midnight.]
So the colors in the collection are what I consider to mirror nature: sky blues, forest greens, lichens, earthy neutrals and midnight blues.

[Wave in Robins Egg.]

SC: Favorite museums?

CM: The Kyoto National Museum is not only architecturally inspiring, it houses a stunning collection of artifacts and textiles as well. And I have to admit, I'm a little partial to the RISD museum, it has an amazing historical textiles collection.

SC: Favorite textile-related book?

CM: Structure and Surface - Contemporary Japanese Textiles by Cara McCarty & Matilda McQuaid.

[Arch in Peony.]


A Stitch in Time

[Indian (Punjabi), late 18th or early 19th century. The Elizabeth Day McCormick Collection, MFA, Boston.]

Adding to yesterday's post, here are two examples of much older phulkari embroideries, this time from the MFA, Boston's collection. In her book, Indian Embroideries, Rosemary Crill explains that phulkari literally translates to flower work but depending on the region in which a piece was made, the design might be entirely geometric. Chevron and diamond patterns are prevalent, for example. The common denominators among these ceremonial folk textiles are restrained designs on a plain-weave cotton ground and associations with weddings.  

[Indian (Punjabi), 19th century. Gift from Mrs. Strafford Wentworth to the MFA, Boston.]

Both of the textiles shown here were embroidered with silk thread. The MFA points out that the cloth at top has a small green leaf motif happening at the apex of each triangle in the main field, while the second piece, pictured directly above, is covered with highly stylized flowers. Warm reds, yellows and greens are characteristic colors.


Textile of the Day

[Image via the Philadelphia Museum of Art.]

Last week I had a chance to peek at a forthcoming collection from an American textile designer who has a contemporary aesthetic but draws inspiration from her Indian heritage. Soon I'll share a preview with you, but for now here's a look at one of the types of work that inspires her: Phulkari embroidery from Punjab, India. This bold 20th century piece belongs to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, although it's not on view at the moment. With its linear emphasis, the cloth reminds me a little of the museum's Sol LeWitt installation.

About four years ago, in conjunction with their major Kantha exhibition, the Museum produced an excellent podcast about Bengali embroideries. Hopefully more podcasts on other Indian textiles in the collection will be made.


The Next Wave

[Silkworm from the series This Our Land, Anna Heyward Taylor, linoleum print, 1948. The Gibbes. Click to enlarge.]

In just over a month The Great Wave: Japonisme in Charleston will open at The Gibbes. Contrasting works by Charleston Renaissance artists (a group active from 1915 through the 1940s) with 19th century Japanese woodblock prints, this exhibition illustrates how the South Carolina artists drew inspiration from Japan’s ukiyo-e school. Typically, these Southern artists celebrated the flora and fauna of their own region but depicted it in a very Japanese-influenced style, using Japanese techniques. And of course many of the plants and trees associated with the American Southeast actually originated in Asia. More on the upcoming show can be found in this past post.

Today I wanted to highlight another of Anna Heyward Taylor's linoleum prints from the 40s. It's like the great aunt of a graphic Jennifer Ament. Oh and speaking of great waves, check out Ament's new painting, Crashing Wave, at the bottom of this page.


Pattern to Print

[Screengrabs from English Silk]

On view now through March 2014 at Bexley's Hall Place is Pattern to Print, a show that explores silk printing in Crayford, Bexley, specifically textiles done at the David Evans factory. Although the venerable English manufacturer was finally forced to close a little over a decade ago, the factory's archived patterns still inspire designers. At Vimeo, I found a documentary that conveys just how painstaking Evans's hand-block printing process was. From carving the printing blocks to creating the dyes and ultimately stamping out the incredibly dense paisleys, it's all covered here.

One of the reasons cited for the demise of block printing at Evans was customer dissatisfaction with minuscule pin dots that appeared on fabric, revealing the craftsman's hand. Seems ironic now, with the renewed interest in handmade wares.   

Coincidentally, after this exhibition closes, a new related V & A book will be released in the U.S.: Selling Silks by Lesley Miller looks at a highly-coveted 18th-century French sample album for silk merchants. 

Miller offers a facsimile of the original but also explains how the English -- Spitalfields manufacturers -- drew inspiration from the leading silk producers in Lyon, France.


Hatch at the High

Young American ceramicist Molly Hatch is known in part for works that are riffs on 18th-century textiles and decorative arts (not to mention her Anthro collaborations). Rich Chinese Export lacquerware, Blue Willow plates, printed toiles and patterned silks from the V & A's collection are among the pieces that have inspired her. So I'm anxious to see how Molly interprets two circa 1755 botanical Chelsea Factory plates from the High's Frances and Emory Cocke Collection of English Ceramics.

[Molly Hatch's proposed installation for the High Museum of Art]

It's a distinguished collection but not one that all museum visitors first gravitate to when they initially walk through the galleries.

[18th-century Chelsea Factory plate from the High's Cocke Collection]

Molly's boldly-scaled installation, scheduled to go on view March 15, 2014, in the High's Wieland Pavilion, will I think highlight the vibrancy and lushness of the Chelsea Factory artisans' floral designs -- aspects that can be overlooked with centuries-old plates that some perceive as granny chic.    


Rooted in the Ancient

[Peter Fasano's Cupar]
Suggesting Kuba cloth with its abstracted pattern, this hand-screened linen from Massachusetts-based textile designer Peter Fasano is offered in a variety of luscious colors as well as earthy neutrals more reminiscent of traditional African woven-raffia textiles. It's my nod to an upcoming Romare Bearden exhibition -- although the fabric doesn't exactly look like any work in the show.

[Romare Bearden Calypso's Sacred Grove. Collage, 1977. Via the Smithsonian.]

Fans of the 20th century American master will soon be flocking to the Carlos Museum. Making its way here is the traveling exhibition, Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey, that features the artist's complete 1977 series of 20 collages inspired by Homer's epic poem. Also on view will be related work from the 60s and 40s such as drawings based on Homer’s other epic, The Iliad. The included pieces are narrative and figurative, but throughout his career Bearden synthesized diverse techniques and styles encompassing Cubism, abstraction, and an African aesthetic, hence my pairing.


Off the Beaten Path

[Photo by Courtney Barnes]

From a 25-foot-tall illuminated earth goddess to brilliantly lit allées, dramatic sights abound at the ABG's Garden Lights, Holiday Nights, but the installation that really wows me is a subtler display in the Fuqua Conservatory. Less expected, the lights dripping down enormous palms in the glass house might not initially stop visitors in their tracks as the colorful spheres on the adjacent Great Lawn do, yet the impact is equally magical. If you're looking for an escape from the holiday frenzy, visit during a non-peak evening and meander through the lush (and warm!) tropical forest. Garden Lights continues through January 4.

[Via Callanwolde]
Opening this weekend is the annual 12-day event, Christmas at Callanwolde. A fundraiser for Callanwolde (the 27-acre 1920s Druid Hills estate designed by architect Henry Hornbostel that today serves as a non-profit educational center for the visual, literary and performing arts), festivities center around the showhouse with rooms and halls decked out by interior and floral designers. Holiday Handmade, an Atlanta Etsy sellers market, and a host of children's activities are offered too. What you may not know is that the special event's calendar also includes seasonal workshops for grown-ups -- everything from iron work to felt-wreath-making to flower arranging. One in particular grabbed my attention: Marbleized Paper Ornaments. This one-day class is offered Saturday, December 7 from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Details here.

[Detail view, 19th-century marbled paper, Gold vein Overprinted on Spanish moiré pattern.