Style Court

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


Take a Closer Look

[Tray for the inner storage box of the tea-leaf storage jar named Chigusa, with ornamental cords and storage envelopes Courtesy Freer Gallery of Art.]

Before I had a clue what it was, the luscious blue cord drew me in.

[Chigusa, with mouth cover, securing cord, and net bag Courtesy Freer Gallery of Art.]

Actually, there is a Japanese silk net as well as the ornamental cord. Both were used by the Japanese during the 16th century to elevate a humble Chinese tea-leaf storage jar known poetically as Chigusa, or myriad things. The attention given to this rustic pot was all a part of the Japanese approach to celebrating sometimes flawed, quotidian things, particularly objects used in the tea ritual. Obsessive tea men, as scholars call them, even wrote down their close observations of Chigusa in diaries.

This fascination will be the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Freer Gallery on February 22, Chigusa and the Art of Tea. Curators have designated part of the exhibition space to be used as a Japanese tea room, recreated with attention to detail including tatami mats. Also look for tea culture accouterment such as Japanese stoneware water jars and wooden vessels, calligraphy by Chinese monks, and Chinese and Korean tea bowls. Apart from the exploration of Asian design and Japanese tea culture, though, I think the show offers an opportunity to contemplate utilitarian beauty in general. 


Along those lines, Hidden Heroes. The Genius of Everyday Things is coming to the Museum of Design Atlanta, scheduled to be on view February 23 through May 11, 2014. This exhibition delves into pencils, paperclips -- 36 functional, brilliantly designed pieces in total -- that have altered human existence.


Chinese Borders

[Images copyright the V & A]

What to look at first? The flowering branches and the hanging bird cage?

Or the floating basket of fruit decked out with a chic red tassel?

Maybe the exquisitely detailed floral border that brings into focus the 18th-century silk coverlet's central element, that ethereal tree?

Made in Guangzhou, China, the handpainted cloth was likely a bedcover, according to the V & A, and aesthetically it has a lot in common with export wallpapers from the same region. Just the other day, Emile de Bruijn posted news of an upcoming exhibition, Peeling Back the Years, that looks like a must see for UK bound Chinese wallpaper junkies. As always, Emile's wallpaper posts are filled with striking images rarely seen elsewhere. And in case you missed it last year, this one dealt with a really specific design element that has an awfully cool sound: mottled bamboo trelliswork borders. At least I think anything with "mottled" in front of it sounds intriguing.


Along the Same Lines

[Images via Anthropologie.]

Known for charming hand-block-printed napkins and tablecloths, Pomegranate has an African-inspired design, currently available through Anthro, that's all about the juxtaposition of a field of striped zebras with a wide rhythmic border.

[Indigo strip woven and resist dyed cotton cloth. known as Ndop Cloth, Baminiki People, Grassland of Cameroon, Mid 20th century via Esther Fitzgerald.]

Composed of squiggles and crisp dashes, the border's pattern calls to mind graphic strip-woven cloth and resist-dyed fabric.

[Lwalwa Artist, Democratic Republic of the Congo Mask, ca. 1875-1950 Wood, 11 inches. High Museum of Art, Fred and Rita Richman Collection, 2004.150. Photo by Peter Harholdt.]

Or even the design, just barely visible above, embellishing the top of a Congolese mask. Look for more original African design in the High's new show, African Mask/Masquerade:More Than Meets the Eye, opening tomorrow and continuing through September 14. And on Thursday, January 30 at 7 p.m., the museum's curator of African art, Carol Thompson, will talk about the show and the High's ever-increasing holdings of African pieces.


Design Library Expands Again

[Image Peter Demuth Photography] 

The London branch of the vast textile repository known as The Design Library has upped sticks to Fitzrovia, former stomping ground of the Dylans (Bob and Thomas) and Virginia Wolf, just to mention a few artists. Referenced here many times before, the library now holds over seven million documentary textile designs, ranging from mid-18th to late- 20th-century examples. These may be licensed or sold to contemporary designers for inspiration. The new address is Wells Street and appointments are required.


Weird but Wonderful

[A Balsam Plant, Deccan region, India, circa 1660-80. Opaque watercolor and gold on paper. Alvin O. Bellak Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Initially, I didn't think of this miniature Indian floral portrait as weird. It's the Philadelphia Museum of Art's object description that reads: "…sometimes weird, but always wonderful…" And that drew my focus to the plant's extraordinarily odd qualities. As if it received fertilizer the surrounding plants did not, the balsam is massive with fantastic seashell-esque blossoms arranged in harmony with the highly stylized clouds.

The cloud border is actually what prompted this post. While the piece is a work on paper, not cloth, I thought the combined motifs -- floral with spiral clouds and sky -- might inspire textile designers.

Much more on this painting and similar works can be found in the Museum's catalogue, Intimate Worlds: Indian Paintings from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection.


Still on the Borderline

At long last, The Calico Museum of Textiles' revamped site is live, complete with online ordering. The previously posted, fantastical border print with striped turtles, patterned fish and flowers is one of many designs available as a notecard.

Also offered in the publications section: a reprint of G. P. Baker's 1921 edition, Calico Painting and Printing in the East Indies in the XVII AND XVIII Centuries.

[Screengrab of Emily Blunt in The Adjustment Bureau. Set decoration by Susan Bode-Tyson, production design Kevin Thompson.] 

 Related past post: On the Borderline Again.



[Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940) Madame Josse Hessel dans l'atelier de Vuillard, 1915,
 pastel on paper. Image via Christie's.]

Beautifully blurred, the rugs in Vuillard's studio, above, are nearly indistinguishable from the dappled sunlight streaming through the room and almost one with the floor.

With its gradated dyes, this vintage hand-knotted Oushak spied at Old New House has a painterly quality that reminds me of Vuillard's work.

Fitting, I guess, since Melissa and Dave, the husband-and-wife-team behind NewYork-based Old New House, see rugs as works of art in themselves. Dave comes from a very long line of rug dealers, and in addition to the array of antique and vintage Orientals offered in the couple's shop, you'll find wonderfully graphic pillows made from rug remnants.

[Image courtesy Old New House]

These wares are stitched up in their own NY studio.


Border Lines

[Late-1930s Indian cotton printed with textile paints.  Courtesy of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.]
Major thanks to the WSJ's Off Duty editors for letting me share my passion for border fabrics in this weekend's beautiful issue (I still can't believe they didn't cut my reference to a 70s-style elephant-border-printed pillow spotted in the movie Rush -- the 1990s film, not last year's). Textile designers Michael S. Smith, Aleta Bartel-Orton, Lulu de Kwiatkowski and Zak Profera offer their viewpoints, too, so check it when you have a moment.

Next week, here on the blog, we'll explore antique and vintage examples. For now, an old favorite from Doris Duke's collection. The exhibition, Doris Duke's Shangri La is still traveling through the U.S. and will open at the University of Michigan Museum of Art on January 25.

[Francis Frith Musjid, Boorhaupore - From Frith Series 1822–1829 albumen print. UMMA.] 

A show that Duke might have appreciated, An Eye on the Empire: Photographs of Colonial India and Egypt, looks at how the burgeoning field of photography piqued Victorian curiosity about far off lands. This exhibition also opens at the UMMA, a bit later, on March 22.


Tribal Beat

[Early 20th-century Indonesian batik from Sumatra. Lotus Asian Art and Antiques.]

Batik alert: the largest vetted exhibition of tribal art in the U.S., the 28th annual San Francisco Tribal & Textile Arts Show, should offer collectors and design enthusiasts a chance to see less expected pieces from more than 100 participating dealers. In addition to keeping an eye out for wax-resist-dyed fabrics, visitors will want to look at the Shamanic masks, Congolese basketry and intricately woven textiles. The event is happening at the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason Center, February 6 – 9, and general admission is $15.

One of this year's exhibitors is the Austin, Texas-based gallery, Lotus Asian Art and Antiques. I can't seem to get loti out of my mind this week. There was this Chinese ink drawing in the Met's collection plus the amazing views of Lotusland, the wondrous botanical garden near Santa Barbara, captured in Lisa Eisner's short film for Tory Burch.

BTW, on Saturday, March 8, at 2 p.m., Hutton Wilkinson will visit Lotusland to share thoughts on the unconventional garden's founder, Ganna Walska, and her friendship with Tony Duquett. The talk's theme is Enemies of the Average.


Quince Sightings

Quince branches are starting to fill the flower buckets at Whole Foods. Let's delve into the V & A's archives for a related fabric.

[Textile via the V & A.]

From 1954, a printed-in-the-USA design by Cheney, Greeff & Co, Flowering Quince.

Green Light

There's a translucent green bottle in the picture above but depending on the device you're using to view this, it's likely cropped from sight. Visible bottle or not, the random pile with Madeline Weinrib's Lucy velvet ikat, front and center in emerald, makes me think of Robert Falk's still life, below. Something about the luminous splashes of green and the Central Asian connection.

[Robert Falk circa 1917]
Until I read Susan Meller's book, Silk and Cotton, I was unfamiliar with Falk. As mentioned in this November post, he was a founder of the Russian avant-garde Jack of Diamonds group, and while for much of the 20th century his work was under-appreciated, his Cezanne-influencd painting, Man in a Bowler Hat, was the centerpiece of a recent Sotheby's auction. Pre-WWI pieces and later paintings from his Samarkand period often incorporate regional textiles -- sometimes the very type of textiles that inspire Weinrib's work.

Light-reflecting and plush, her all-silk double-warp woven ikats keep alive the Central Asian craft but also reflect her own contemporary artist's eye. Colors are incredibly vibrant, although Weinrib edits her palette, and designs tend to be more spare.

[Images via SCAD Museum of Art. Pictured is the Pamela Elaine Poetter Gallery, which follows the original rail platform that was once part of the Central of Georgia Railway complex, a National Historic Landmark.]

Speaking of palettes and light, former contributing editor of Architectural Digest, Jeffrey Simpson, will be at the SCAD Museum of Art on January 21 to present an evening lecture, Light and Color Throughout the Centuries. Admission is free.



[Jennifer Jason Leigh in Campion's In the Cut. Image via…]

This weekend I was down at the High, studying the myriad fresh flowers that were brought in for Art in Bloom. Scents of hyacinth and rose filled some of the museum's galleries as designers including Ryan Gainey and Holly Bryan did their own interpretations of works in the permanent collection. Using golden-yellow flowering branches, speckled orchids and crimson berries, Bryan echoed Norman Lewis' abstract expressionist piece, Torch, and I came away inspired to do a different kind of pairing.

[Image via…]
During the opening credits of Jane Campion's rather polarizing 2003 film, In the Cut, there's a dreamy image of a petal shower. It's morning in the garden and everything is bathed in warm golden light. Green (a color used throughout the movie), yellow, citrus-y orange and rust dominate. (See a gorgeous still here.)

Just in terms of color and form, the art and fabric below remind me of Campion's quick, shimmery scene.

Annie Kammerer Butrus's Peach Tree Trail: Summer IV, acrylic on panel,  2006. More on Butrus here.

Butrus's McCraw Farms, Bernice McCraw: Starlite Peach, acrylic on panel 2005. 

And Schumacher's large-scale floral linen, Arbre Chinois in sage, shown here up close.


So Happy Together

[18th-century painted and dyed Indian cotton chintz given by G. P. Baker to the V & A.]

The River Wild. That's what I've dubbed the design running through some extraordinary Coromandel Coast palampore fragments in the V & A's collection. Pictured above is a detail of the border with birds, blossoms and of course flowing water, all motifs inspired by themes in Japanese textiles or lacquerware.

Looking at the blues and reds, I thought it would be interesting to pair the antique chintz with one of Madeline Weinrib's new sumptuous silk-velvet ikats: handwoven Lucy in Sky. Note the hint of red threads outlining Weinrib's lighter blues? More on the artist-designer's softer-than-soft Central Asian textiles in an upcoming post.

[Lucy velvet ikat pillow]


Warming Up

Dr. Zhivago-esque or not, frozen windows are less charming in real life. I think we could all use a little warmth. Soon.

[Andrew Bucci, Abstract 1977. Oil and charcoal on paper.]

Even just warmer sights, like the pink, red and yellow-green strokes in Andrew Bucci's work, on view throughout January at Cole Pratt Gallery in New Orleans. This Saturday, the gallery is having a reception to celebrate the Southern modernist's work.

[Screengrab from Dr. Zhivago. The miniseries aired in the U.S. on Masterpiece Theatre. Set decoration by Philippa Hart and Tatiana MacDonald. Cotume design by Annie Symons. Click to enlarge.]
But if you're not weary of Zhivago imagery, don't forget all the embroidered textiles in Giacomo Campiotti's 21st century interpretation.


Textile Scout™

[Indian (Punjabi), 19th century. Cotton plain-weave embroidered with silk. Gift of Barbara Deering Danielson to the MFA, Boston.] 

Admittedly, it's kind of confusing. Phulkari, a term for a specific type of Indian embroidery, literally translates to flower work. But the antique examples I shared before the holiday break appeared abstracted; more geometric than floral.

[Indian (Punjabi), 19th century. Cotton plain-weave embroidered with silk. Gift of Denman Waldo Ross to the MFA, Boston.] 

And it's the same with these additional, brilliantly colored pieces from the MFA, Boston. Contemporary textile designer Seema Krish explains, in part, why the flower work can be so linear. She says a darning stitch, worked from the reverse, is traditionally used by women working at home to create iconic phulkari motifs like stars, flower blossoms or peacocks. Since the linear stitches are made at varied angles, the designs typically have a highly stylized, symmetrical, geometric look.

Phulkari and historic textile craft in general had a direct influence on Krish's latest collection, launching this month. While I can't think of a modern designer who hasn't been inspired by the past in some way, vague or obvious, Krish recently pointed out to me that her work is intimately linked with her Indian heritage. She truly understands the old techniques.

Tribeca, shown above in Cherry Lane Red, is hand-screen-printed and embroidered to reflect Krish's own aesthetic: pattern that's a bit less dense with doses of white to keep the reds crisp and fresh.

Union Square, also pictured in Cherry Lane Red, is hand-block-printed and embroidered.

Soho, shown in Hudson Indigo, is produced by Krish using the ancient Japanese shaped-resist method, Itajime Shibori.

[Except for the MFA images, all photography courtesy Seema Krish.]

During the process, accordion folded fabric is secured between two pieces of wood kept in place with C-clamps. Dye goes only to select parts of the cloth, resulting in a desired pattern. Again, Krish prefers simplicity. Soho, a linen-wool blend, will be offered in gray with white or the always-on-trend, rich indigo with white. Learn more about the artisan's hand behind all Krish textiles here.