Style Court

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


Glow Time

[A previous Munro installation via Longwood Gardens]

Here's something else to look forward to in 2015: British artist Bruce Munro's installation at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, May 2 through October 3. Known for his Field of Light first shown about 10 years ago at the V & A, Munro will do multiple installations throughout the ABG but the showstopper is likely to be his Forest of Light with over 30,000 illuminated stems popping up in the Storza Woods at dusk. Seen from above on the Canopy Walk, the sight should be magical evoking a mood that's sort of Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose-goes-pared-down-industrial.

Grand Opening

[Longquan ware vase, latter half of 13th century,  Southern Song or Yuan dynasty. Stoneware with celadon glaze and Japanese lacquer repairs. Freer Sackler.] 

The Freer Sackler is starting the new year with a bang, releasing images of 40,000 Asian artworks (the galleries' entire holdings) via a free resource called Open F|S. This means that the public will be able to access objects not on view and if interested use the images for anything ranging from massive mood boards to more scholarly pursuits  -- essentially any personal or artistic project under the non-commercial umbrella.

Check out the gilded "scar" on the old vase, above. Rather than hide its imperfections, a Japanese artisan highlighted the flaws as he repaired them.

[Carrying case,  20th century. Cotton with mirror glass, open chain, buttonhole, and stem stitches; laid work. Gujarat/Kutch or Sind, India or Pakistan. Freer Sackler.]

According to the museum, slight asymmetry also figures in the design of this handbag with pakko (meaning well-done) embroidery. The unconventional approach is supposed to stave off bad fortune.


Film Festival

[Screengrab from Ang Lee's Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon]

Last month I instagrammed a wish that Raise the Red Lantern (Zhang Yimou's staggeringly gorgeous but hard to find 1991 movie) would stream on Netflix or appear in iTunes. Hasn't happened yet but my fingers are still crossed; The Met's spring blockbuster, China: Through the Looking Glass -- set to open May 7, 2015, examining China as ever-enduring fashion muse -- might help build momentum. The Museum says that some of the show's "reflections" will materialize in film clips from acclaimed Chinese directors including Yimou and Ang Lee, which will complement the exhibited clothes and vignettes centered on women with presence such as Oei Huilan.

In the meantime, other easier to access textile-filled flicks include Yimou's House of Flying Daggers and Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon And The Last Emperor, subject of a past post, dovetails with the eras highlighted in The Met's upcoming show. (Actually, in one way or another all of the suggested films do, as the exhibition covers territory from the 18th century to the present, but Emperor shows more mingling of Western and Eastern fashion in the 1920s.)

[17th–18th century Chinese saddle made for the Tibetan market. The Met.]

According to The Met, this opulent saddle is not unlike styles owned by the emperor Qianlong centuries before last emperor Pu Yi came on the scene. Though I'm highlighting it here just as a nod to the horseback riding scenes in Crouching Tiger. Well worth a look, the saddles and accompanying horse blankets in the movie seem wonderfully rugged by comparison.

Less Expected Mix

[Paul Gauguin, Still Life with Peonies, 1884. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, NGA.]

With its blue-grays, muted purple-y-pinks, rusty-reds and bits of gold, Gauguin's palette here is slightly more subdued than the electric color mixes seen in his later works from the South Pacific but nonetheless rich. Although part of the NGA's collection, the painting is currently on loan for the traveling show, Bouquets: French Still-Life Painting from Chardin to Matisse, which is now at the Dallas Museum of Art but headed to the VMFA in March (at the latter the exhibition title will be Van Gogh, Manet, and Matisse: The Art of the Flower. )

But back to Gauguin's piece, his colors bleed and swirl together a little like a paisley pattern from the same era.

[Details: Kashmir Shawl, India. 1865-1875. Marla Mallett Textiles.]

The palette of either object could be a great jumping off point for an entire room.


Into the Blue

[Book open to an image by Francois Halard]

Up for binge watching a little art history?

A few years ago, scholar and BBC broadcaster James Fox presented A History of Art in Three Colours, a multi-part documentary in which he explores blue, gold, and white. All of the segments are riveting (think gold as embraced by the Egyptians and later by Klimt, and imagine Whistler's white) but lately I've been focused on Dr. Fox's blue narrative.

To convey just how rarefied and tantalizing lapis-blue was to medieval Venetians, he shows the laborious process by which the lapis stone was transformed into brilliant ultramarine paint, and he visits Giotto's star-flecked, deep-blue, 14th-century barrel-vaulted ceiling within the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. Fox sees blue as an adventurous color, sometimes exotic and technically always a bit out of reach.

By the late 20th century, blue pigments weren't so rare but the application of blue paint on a Manhattan patio stairway -- a detail I spied in the 2001 book, House & Garden Book of Style -- still has an adventurous spirit.

The Eye Has to Travel

[Click for full view. Colossal Statue of the Gautama, 1855, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.]

If you're spending the holidays in the D.C. area, there is still time for a virtual journey to other corners of the globe via Captain Linnaeus Tripe: Photographer of India and Burma, 1852-1860, on viw at the NGA. The exhibition is actually a joint effort between The Met, the V & A and the NGA, and it's is headed to NYC in February.

An unlikely artist, Tripe, a British military officer, recorded stunning vistas and ancient archeological sites providing Victorians a window to a world they'd not previously seen. Fittingly, the new show, which by the way is the first large-scale traveling exhibition of Tripe's work, will journey on to London, nicely timed to open at the V & A before The Fabric of India. For armchair travelers, there's a catalogue, too.


Seasons Greetings

Rudolph's cousin, pictured above, is rendered on a Japanese writing box (Suzuri-Bako) with a deer and foliage motif attributed to Hon'ami Kōetsu, 1558 - 1637. This piece is part of a new exhibition, Flowers and Birds, Wind and Moon: Nature’s Presence in Japanese Art and Culture, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Soon more Japanese works will go on view at the Museum when a major show dedicated to the accomplishments of Kano painters, Ink and Gold: Art of the Kano, goes on view in February.


December Journeys

[Zorah Debout, Henri Matisse. Oil on canvas. 1912. The State Hermitage Museum.]

In The Eye Has to Travel the emphasis isn't on Vogue's September issue but instead on the magazine's December offerings. It's explained that during Vreeland's years as editor, she really ramped up the fantasy in the last month of the year, giving readers vicarious journeys to places perhaps previously not thought of.

Here's my pick for a satisfying virtual trip: Artists’ Journeys: Sean Scully on Henri Matisse, an early 1990s BBC documentary in which Scully compares and contrasts his own work and sources of inspiration with those of the 20th-century master and even travels to Morocco to follow the path blazed by Matisse.


The Flora Influence

[Book image via Barnes and Noble]

It's too bad I'm not in school re-experiencing Intro to the Italian Renaissance. I have just the topic for a research paper. Admittedly my idea isn't very original but in light of recent trends (recent meaning the past several years), this subject is hard to resist: Flora, as interpreted by Botticelli in La Primavera, circa 1477 to1482, and her centuries-lasting impact on fashion and pop culture.

[Screengrabs two through four are from the documentary Botticelli: A New Springtime]

Historians say that ever since Botticelli's work was rediscovered so to speak in the 19th century, his Flora has been a popular muse. For example, a Google search revealed this late 1960s magazine cover on which she is meant to suggest a contemporary flower child. Fast forward a few decades and she reappears in the 1990s via long floral-print skirts, Anthro, and Phoebe Buffay.

Now her spirit can be felt in every online flower crown or wreath tutorial.

But if you're mostly interested in the actual botanical specimens used by the Florentine artist throughout the painting, I stumbled upon an intriguing title, Botticelli's Primavera: A Botanical Interpretation..., originally published in the 80s and apparently currently out of print. (By the way, once a week I'll be Instagramming new-to-me book and textile finds like this, intermingling them with my own mundane fare, since these days I always seem to be short on time for decent blog posts.)

More glimpses of the Renaissance master's wildflowers -- growing in the grass and across Flora's dress -- can be seen in this video about the restoration of La Primavera


Making the Cut

[Detail: Shawl, Dhaulpur, ca. 1850 ©VandA.]
What to edit? That's often the curator's dilemma. In organizing the V & A's upcoming show, The Fabric of India, textile experts Rosemary Crill, Divia Patel and the entire team have too much of a good thing -- an abundance of great pieces but not unlimited exhibition space. So they've been making some stressful cuts. However, a few of the rejected textiles, like this fringed 19th-century silk shawl with wide borders, stylized flowers and hems of gold-wrapped thread, are still having a moment in the sun thanks to the exhibition blog, which I mentioned last month. See more of this massive Indian shawl along with other didn't-make-the-cut objects here.


Mughal Celebrations

[Mirrored ceiling and copper ceiling lamp in the Mughal Suite. © 2014, Linny Morris, courtesy of Shangri La.] 

Doris Duke's famed, jali-filled, Taj-inspired Mughal Suite -- oft-blogged here and newly restored to its original late-30s luster -- recently opened to the public. 

[Click to enlarge. Photo ©Tim Street-Porter from Doris Duke's Shangri La: A House in Paradise,
Skira Rizzoli, 2012. Image published here with written permission from the photographer and book publisher.]

Visitors, until now prohibited from entering this airy enclave within Duke's Hawaiian residence, Shangri La, with its mother of pearl furniture, red velvet day beds, and lush Indian textiles, may check out her original paint choices -- colors which her foundation says were discovered during microscopic studies of the old walls -- and see how she first furnished the digs immediately after her round-the-world honeymoon. 

Since public access to the suite of rooms is a milestone in the property's history, Shangri La has also organized a series of celebratory events showcasing the arts of Mughal India. These will continue through July 2015, but later this month on November 29th, from 5 to 7:30 p.m., filmmaker James Ivory of Merchant Ivory Productions will participate in the series by talking about his own movie making adventures in India. Details here.


Follow Up Finds

A quick update to an earlier post and a piece I wrote for flower: V & A curator Martin Barnes has edited a new 104-page book, Horst: Patterns from Nature, to complement the museum's main Horst exhibition catalogue. In part a reissue of the volume of textile-like images that Horst himself compiled in the 1940s, this 21st-century book includes 28 additional lesser known photo-collages.

And these kaleidoscopic collages are also available as notecards.


In the Air

[Chloe Spring 2015 via Vogue UK.]

[Ralph Lauren's fall spin on lacy pattern in wool.] 

Lace is in the air figuratively, on the runways.

[Caroline Clifton-Mogg's book, Textile Style, open to the section on lace. Photography by Andrew Wood.]

And literally, here above this tub. If you happened to check out my Instagram feed this week, you probably glimpsed a bit of this bathroom. It seems to be channeling Stevie Nicks, and with all those house plants, it has a nice 70s feel in general. So, in more ways than one, it's on the same wavelength with what recently came down the catwalk. This room is also my perfect segue to a new exhibition mention: Nineteenth Century Lace at the Lacis Museum in Berkeley. The recently opened show explores both handmade and machine-made examples, charts shifts in fashion and technique (including a method of embroidering in the air), and delves into how technology helped the lace industry survive turbulent times. Admission is free and the exhibition continues through February 9, 2015.


The Swimming Pool

[Matisse's dining room at Hôtel Régina, Nice, 1952, as seen in MoMA's exhibition catalogue.]

At long last, it's here. In the States, at MoMA. This Sunday, Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs, an exhibition I've been talking about for months, officially goes on view. Yet another mention may seem annoyingly excessive but a specific feature over at the Museum's microsite warrants attention.

Back in June, I posted designer Amelia Handegan's use of a Matisse-inspired mural in a Sullivan's Island dining room -- just one of countless examples of the modern master's continued impact. Although Handegan had painter Kristin Bunting do the 21st-century frieze in brilliant yellow with white, rather than Matisse's famous blue, she did juxtapose the mural with a neutral wall, echoing how the pioneering artist set his room-spanning paper cut-out, The Swimming Pool, against burlap-covered walls.

Now, in this video and on this microsite, MoMA's director, Glenn Lowry, conservators and curators discuss the original burlap used in Matisse's dining room in the South of France, the mural's second life at the Museum (MoMA acquired it in the 1970s), and how the piece has been painstakingly installed for the upcoming show.


Home Front

[Unless credited otherwise, all images in this post are from The Artisanal Home: Interiors and Furniture of Casamidy and published here courtesy Rizzoli. Jorge Almada photographed the chairs above.] 

It's too bad that there's no season three of Man Shops Globe debuting this fall. Remember during season two when Keith Johnson, the show's host, met up with decorator Michael Smith in San Miguel, Mexico? One of their shopping excursions led them to Casamidy, the contemporary-design-meets-old-world-craftsmanship furniture company founded in the late 1990s by Jorge Almada and Anne-Marie Midy.

The inanimate star of the episode turned out to be Casamidy's signature iron and metal-mesh piece, the "Manchez" chair, painted red and upholstered in an Otomi embroidered fabric. Airy and graphic, the chair is a riff on classic French forms, but also nods to traditional Mexican style. In short, it embodies both Anne-Marie and Jorge. And its role on the show made many viewers curious to see more of the designing couple's own realm.

[Photo by Anne-Marie Midy. Pictured is her home office on the third floor of the couple's Brussels townhouse.]

Now, thanks to Rizzoli's new book written by the designers, The Artisanal Home: Interiors and Furniture of Casamidy, a virtual tour of their private world is possible.

[Photo by Anne-Marie Midy]

Not only can we visit their family's homes in Mexico, but also their European digs and other projects ranging from a tiny yet chic pied-à-terre in Paris to a ranch in Sonora. (Ann-Marie is a former Martha Stewart Living art director and an interior designer as well.)

[Photo by Ricardo Labougle. Click to enlarge.]

For textile junkies, the book offers innumerable fixes: suzanis, ikats, Provencial quilts, Western florals, Saltillo serapes and of course Otomi embroideries.

[Jorge Almada]
Jorge explains that he and Anne-Marie tend to work autonomously. He is all about patina, has a penchant for iron, oak and saddle-leather, and describes himself as thinking like a furniture salesperson. In contrast, Anne-Marie can be more poetic (she once had a concept for a line of furniture that "flowed in the wind") but she knows how to collaborate with craftsmen to bring her lyrical ideas to fruition.

It's this merging of disparate creative viewpoints that seems to give Casamidy designs their charm. Well, that and the hands of the artisans who make the couple's ideas tangible. The book gives these metalworkers, glaziers, tinsmiths and upholsterers their due, highlighting each artisan by name and image.

[The Drawing Room: English Country House Decoration, from Rizzoli 2014 with photography by Paul Barker, is open to Hilles House.]

Different sorts of handcrafted furniture, layered textiles and family heirlooms can be found throughout Jeremy Musson's The Drawing Room: English Country House Decoration, an ode to what has historically been seen as a feminine space. Musson takes us through the evolution of the room, from its seeds as a "withdrawing" place to a grander site for courtly entertaining. Ultimately the drawing room becomes a place for less formal gatherings -- today a TV may even be spotted among the layers -- but each interior highlighted is nonetheless rich with color, texture and pattern.

What distinguishes this book from others in the genre is that many of the rooms have contemporary touches. All of the icons are here -- Nancy Lancaster's "buttah" yellow room and David Hicks's The Grove, just to name two. And anyone who paid close attention to the set design in Mira Nair's Vanity Fair will appreciate the twin, chinoiserie Chippendale daybeds at Stanway House (detail-oriented folks will love how the rooms are shown from multiple angles).

But the unexpected sights of 21st century life make the images especially compelling. Above, a Union Jack pillow and more recent books and magazine's are strewn about in the Long Room at Hilles House, home of the Blow family. Originally created by Arts and Crafts architect Detmar Blow in 1914, it is a cozier take on an English manor ensconced in the Cotswolds. Think "Modest Manorial," as Musson says.      

[More from Musson's The Drawing Room: Stanway House. Click to enlarge.]


The Fabric of India

[©NTPL/Erik Pelham. Courtesy of The National Trust,]

This time next year, textile junkies will want to be in London. From September 26, 2015 through January 10, 2016, the V & A will present The Fabric of India, an exhibition comprised of famed pieces like Tipu Sultan's 18th-century Indian chintz tent (the one with stunning red flowers acquired by Edward Clive in 1799 and installed at Powis Castle in Powys, Wales), myriad folk, court, and made-for-export textiles from the Museum's own collection, and work from contemporary Indian fashion designers.

[Skirt cloth, silk embroidered with silk thread, Kutch, Gujurat, circa 1880 ©Victoria & Albert Museum.]

[Skirt cloth, silk embroidered with silk thread, Kutch, Gujurat, circa 1850 ©Victoria & Albert Museum.]

Rosemary Crill and Divia Patel are curating so it will be interesting to see if any of the three embroideries pictured here end up on view in the show. While the exhibition will be large -- the first truly comprehensive show to explore handmade Indian textiles from the 3rd to the 21st century, with more than 200 examples, says the V & A -- narrowing the field of choices is probably still a challenge.  

[Detail of a  a bed cover from the back of Rosemary Crill's Indian Embroidery.]

If you're curious about the hurdles curators face while mounting a show of this scale, or you just want to sneak a peek at the objects they are working with, check out The Fabric of India blog. It's already live.


Something Beaded and Something Blue

[Lacey wrap by Etkie at Beyond Buckskin Boutique. Details follow bellow.]

For a while now, Karen Kramer seems to have had some interesting pieces to consider: there's the still-incredibly-chic, circa 1948 long-fringed crepe dress designed by Gilbert Adrian for Taos-transplant Millicent Rogers; contemporary bead artist Jamie Okuma's collaborations with Christian Louboutin; and Isaac Mizrahi's Totem Pole Dress (the eye-popping embroidered one donned by Naomi Campbell on the cover of TIME in the 90s). The connecting thread here is that each item was heavily influenced by Native American style, with California-raised Okuma's work drawing directly from her own heritage (Luiseño and Shoshone-Bannock). As PEM's curator of Native American Art and Culture, Kramer is weaving together objects for a very timely -- and perhaps fairly large -- 2015 exhibition, Native Fashion Now.

[Julia cuff from Etkie. More below.]

Designs by Native Americans will be key to the show but work from non-Natives like Mizrahi will be part of the story, too. Kramer is focused primarily on the past five decades and, as mentioned in her related blog post, is exploring all-things Native from street to haute, tradish to cutting edge.

Hopefully a lavish catalogue will accompany the exhibition. In the meantime, here are some finely made goods you can admire (and wear) right now: hand-beaded on a traditional Navajo loom with seed beads, the pictured cuffs and wraps were crafted by Native American women living and working just outside Albuquerque. Learn more about the enterprise, Etkie, here.

[Ceramics images by Jeffery Cross, courtesy Heath,]

Also handmade in the U.S. is Heath Ceramics' latest collection inspired by Lake Tahoe and the intense blues -- seen in both water and sky -- surrounding the snowcapped Sierra Nevada Mountains. 

Bowls, vases, textiles and more are scheduled to be available early October. A look back at 1940s Heath here.


Plant Oneself Well

[Detail view: Bamana mud cloth pictured in The Silence of the Women. Credits and full view follow below.]

Whether spied on a Pinterest board, at Urban Outfitters, or at the Smithsonian's site, hand-dyed, intricately patterned mud cloth (bògòlanfini) made by the Bamana people in Mali, West Africa is now a very familiar sight in the U.S.

But before it was, Sarah Brett-Smith, professor of West African art and culture at Rutgers, was very busy studying the textiles. From her scholarly beginnings in the 70s, she has focused on the women behind the patterns, interviewing Bamana artisans well-versed in the most traditional techniques. Historically, women were the ones to design and paint the cloths, and Brett-Smith is fascinated by the ways in which their geometric patterns served as a sort of private visual language. In fact, in her just-released tome, The Silence of the Women, she likens the carefully hand-painted patterns to poetry. She also feels that the designs could be viewed as abstract art rather than craft.

Today's highlighted cloth comes from the book. Originally intended to serve as a woman's wrapper, it's from the 1920s, features a painted motif known as "plant oneself well," and today belongs to Musee du Quai Branly. Brett-Smith says that the stippled design in the large squares with Xs might have been inspired by the look of peeled leather.