Statement: My Fossil Garments are presented as petrified specimens. The deconstructed garments – sometimes embedded in handmade felt – are offered for inspection on taut surfaces. By carefully cutting apart and arranging the garments, their human connection is emphasized. Crochet and lace, showing through the almost transparent garments, appear skeletal. The rigid framing exposes the somewhat sentimental clothing in an unemotional perspective, allowing the viewer to examine the clothing as archaeology.
I really lucked out at the Rutherford NJ Street Fair one year: several wonderful old christening dresses for cheap! They were very fragile, almost transparent, and I washed them gently, patting, not twisting. With a razor blade, I partially deconstructed them - just enough to open them up, so their form was fully visible.
The fabric was so fine that crochet could be seen right though it.
In this detail, you can see 2 cherubs and a face under the dress fabric, 2 pieces of net sewn over the dress, and wheat stalks embroidered on the dress. I was thinking about this piece as I walked through the park here in Passaic, looking at the old sycamore trees. As these trees get older, the trunks develop big sagging lumps. I decided to add just a tiny bit of that lumpy aging to this first garment - a sharp contrast in this infant dress. Look again at the sleeve pointing at you in the first image.
Fossil Garment #2 (36"h x 27"w)
Yep: this piece has everything but the kitchen sink. It has the dress, crochet, lace, handmade felt (with embedded crochet), discharged scissor and spool images, and a handkerchief that tells the story of Cinderella. This one meets all my criteria for good art: 1. it has real visual power, 2. it has content, 3. the content relates to the materials.
In the upper 'wing' above the sleeve here, you can read the embroidered word Mother (from another handkerchief) and mom's profile next to it. A little further down, Cinderella is sweeping up the threads. Another cherub is playing right over a barely visible Cinderella and her coach. If you really hunt, you might find the word GIRL embroidered vertically along one seam...
...and the prince took her away, with LOVE right over them. Which pretty well sums up the whole fantasy that was fed to little girls. Fossil Garment #2: no head, no working arms, the dress is trying to grow wings, the whole piece is falling apart (and threatened by those red scissors) and she's carrying all that romantic nonsense.
Anne was a nurse, and worked as one of the first airline stewardesses, back when uniformed nurses did the job (really, it's true: the airlines wanted to make people feel safe, although if I was doing something for the first time, and was told it required a nurse to be present, I don't know if I'd find that reassuring).She later worked on a cruise line. Her estate sale was full of textile souvenirs from around the world. I added sections of a cloth globe, and sewed it all onto a dark blue KLM Dutch airlines blanket (which Anne must have taken home from work).
I had great fun doing this - sewing an Egyptian camel under an apron labeled Madeira, juxtapositioning an English flag near a South American mola, having an Egyptian figure point the way for a variety of dolls and international textile figures.
But this could also be titled "A Bad Use of Great Materials", because, let's face it, the composition is awful, I should have edited down the materials available...I want to go back and deconstruct the whole thing, then put it back together with the skills and understanding that I've gained by making pieces like this.
I've read that in China, at that site where they've found so many buried clay figures - soldiers all in different poses, horses, archers - that the people in charge have left a great deal of the site unexplored. They want to wait until new technology becomes available, so they can do the best possible job of preserving these artistic masterpieces.
To a much lesser degree, I face the same quandary: when I find incredible old handmade lace, should I save it until my skills improve? Should I really cut apart this 90 year old dress? My cousin is a costume designer, who knows a great deal more than I do, so if there's any question that I might possibly be vandalizing a treasure, I ask her first. Almost always my materials are stained, too weak to be saved, or torn - not wanted by museums.
But I've found that after careful planning, I just have to make that first cut. If I'm too timid, too in awe of the material, the result will be rubbish.
Will I cut this one up and re-do it? Only if I'm magically granted another lifetime.
Yes, there are a few more biography quilts, but we'll just chalk those up to early mistakes and leave them in storage,OK? This is the last one worth sharing: Frances. My sister, Claire, was in charge of the church yard sale up in her small Maine town, and I was visiting. Claire told me that the pieces belonged to one of their oldest members, Frances. No more information, so I improvised.
Back home in NJ, I used woolen scraps to create a dark patchwork background, then arranged the white pieces to form a vaguely female figure. It was all pinned in place on my work wall when my son and his friend (then teenagers) came galloping through. I stopped them to ask their thoughts: Could they tell what is was? Was this too literal? My son has always been a great critic, and he said he could see a female figure, and thought the small closed purse represented her genitalia. And his friend? "uh...we don't talk about stuff like that at my house.."