One Day Later and It’s Art to Wear (Mostly)

I know, I know, I just did a blog yesterday.

But something about how we leave things behind and how I am going to do some drawings on a long scroll to put in a wine bottle made me remember someone.

K. Lee Manuel. One of the few California based artists who started the Art to Wear movement of the 70s. Long after she was featured in this iconic book I read somewhere that she would paint feathers and leave them in places around the world….just drop them and then watch from some hidden place. And when someone picked a feather up, they looked up in hopes of seeing the bird it came from. She loved bringing that bit of magic into someone’s life, someone off in distant places where magic was still possible.

Of course, unlike now, magic was more possible in 80s and 90s. We are too tainted now and if someone found one of her feathers they would likely google it up with a photo and reaffirm their belief that it was not even remotely from a real bird.

Anyway, K Lee Manuel was magic for me and years later (after I came across her name in the art to wear world) I had a chance to purchase one of her feathers that she had turned into a pin. Here it is. I still have it!

Can you imagine coming across this on a path in Central Park or along an Amazon trail? Or on the steps to a mosque in India? How could you not look up!

So thinking of her and others who were such pioneers in the field of Art to Wear, I dug out my book. A book that in 1986 when it was published took every dime I could save to afford its cost of $98 before tax. They ended up having to do a second printing of this luscious book that must weigh close to ten pounds.

I drooled through this book for many years and worked at making my own Art to Wear. And almost all those pieces that did not end up lost to customs in Australia ended up decorating the dining room chairs of a friend in Brisbane, Queensland. I think Peter still picks the one he wants to wear to art openings with his sari.

And another aside, the author Julie Dale’s husband is Jim Dale, the voice actor that took several Emmys for his portrayal of all the Harry Potter character voices on the compact discs. Lee and I found him magic to listen to and I would buy the Potter stories in this form rather than book form…just to be read to. We would sit on the couch and keep ourselves to just a couple of chapters a night.

So here are some of the people from this book.

K. Lee Manuel. Feathers and leather in her hay day.

Jean Williams Cacicedo who just a few years ago I shared a bottle of scotch with when we taught at the same venue and relived these early days of Art to Wear.

Tim Harding who invented the slashed clothing that was layered cloth and later cut into and washed and washed to fray the edges. I did several vests like this and only one full length coat. The best material I could find was cheap and loosely woven cottons from India in very garish colors. It really fluffed up nicely. Somewhere an Australian aboriginal girl might still have hers.

And Ana Lisa Hedstrom. I took a workshop on various discharges from her in the 90s and some of the lesson pieces ended up on a jacket that I gave to David Baker, a favorite masseuse here in Brasstown.

And Randall Darwall. When I bought a large shawl from him in the late 90s, I went up to my hotel room, took off all my clothes and laid under all that rainbow dyed silk. I no longer go places I could wear it, but might just treat myself to a good lie down with it.

When out in San Jose, California in 1991 for an international textile conference, a friend and I went up to San Francisco to visit the Obiko gallery where the best of the best Art to Wear could be purchased. Or at the very least fondled. I came away with Sandra Obiko’s business card. But on the way into the gallery I met a homeless woman selling hand made jewelry. Her name was Dolores. I bought two pieces, chunky with several African trade beads. Soon after I got home I made a small figure of her, called it Dolores, filled her body with cheap African clay beads to give her some weight and adorned her with several beaded necklaces. I kept Dolores for over twenty-five  years….only parted with her last year.

Anyway here is Sandra Obiko’s card. It has a beautiful embossed cover.

When we were in the gallery an older woman, about my age now, came in and tried on a necklace. It was very much of its time….weighted with special tokens spaced out just right. She bought it and I wanted so much to be her, to have that necklace that I had just touched and let go when I saw the price of near $1,000 as I recall. I watched her wear it out into the San Francisco sunlight and was so envious. I hope a daughter or grand daughter is wearing it now.

But in looking up K Lee Manuel and the story I read about her leaving feathers around, I came across a downloadable video of Sandra Obiko’s gallery…. It is so much fun to flip through all the artists she carried. One of them that I was so glad to see because his work is not in Dale’s book is John Marshall with his rice paste Japanese colored cloth made into clothing. He and I were doing a fiber market many years ago and he wanted one of my little pins of a tiny old man in textile clothing with a twig for a body. He traded me a swatch of his cloth, about a quarter meter for it. I still have a bit of that cloth.

I never thought when I bought that book in 1986 that over the following years I would share a bottle of scotch with one, trade goods with another, buy a piece of artwork (feather) made by one, take a workshop with another, and purchase a cloth that made me take my clothes off from yet another.

The story of K Lee Manuel and her generous gift to the world via her magic feathers must have been written in Ornament magazine. It was the inspiration for so many of us enamored with the whole idea of Art to Wear and although I remember the story well, I do not remember the source.

But aside from all that getting side tracked, I cut my first five foot piece of paper today to draw/paint on to put in a bottle. The paper was too porous for my watercolors, so I have gessoed the length of it and might now do small silver point drawings instead of painting. I will show how far I get next time.

In the meantime, Lee asked me if I wanted to go to the dump today. We took all the trash from his truck and put it in my car. This may mean that he has decided to no longer drive. I hope so as he does not use a phone and going to the trash once a week was the only time he drove. We finished that excursion with him telling me, “Thank you for doing that.” I told him, “No worries, it was fun……as long as you do the dumping into the bins.” Then it was lunch….hot dog for him, soup for me and a shared beer.

Til next week or whenever.

Remembering Lake Mungo

This is a double page from my sketch book made from an altered old library book on traveling Australia. It now resides in the Queensland State Library Artists Book Collection. Every once in a while I hear from someone who asked to peruse it. It is nice to remember that visit to Lake Mungo and how so many of us were there to make some sort of recording of our reactions to such an extraordinary place.

So today while looking through the images of artwork, I selected a few of the pages to show here.

I used the soils of Australia that had been turned into watercolors to mark pages as well as my trusty travel watercolor set.

I tied the last few pages closed and labeled them “private”. I remember that in those pages I wrote about the “Imposed Sacredness” that people assign to places that really are just places that developed through time and circumstances of Nature.  I do not know why there is such a need for people to name something in order for it to exist and have meaning. Silly really.

I put this next image in from the book just because of the wrapped wire drawing on the left.

It became the “handle” for opening a portfolio that I titled “Imposed Sacredness” that was exhibited in 2009 with other artists’ works on Lake Mungo.

I made six collographs with graphite drawings in an attempt to capture the essence of that place. Here they are in the order they appeared in the case.

The piece sold during the exhibition and then sold from that buyer to another person who was a student, friend and inspiration. I hope she passes it on to someone else.

I impressed a sheet of masonite, still wet from layers of gesso, with bits of cloth, sticks, whatever would make a permanent mark. Then the large piece was cut with a band saw into several strips with wavy sides.

They went through the etching press with dampened Rives BFK paper and heavy felts.

Once the impressions were deep into the paper and dried thoroughly, I did my graphite drawings and used colored pencils to shade in the embossed landlines. I even sanded the graphite to bury it deep into the papers fibers.

I liked how the embossed sheets gave a sense of buried land and the life that lives above it. Apostle birds are something I could watch all day, the way they busy themselves minding one another’s business. Not one can get away from the others for more than a minute without the others following and badgering him to stay in the group.

I still have those collograph strips. Maybe I should use them again and capture the depths of where I live. And then what?

That is the question that keeps coming up each time I think I should do something over there across the hall in the studio. A studio all cleaned up from the holidays for the art group meeting last Sunday that is now postponed for two weeks.

Here is an idea. Maybe I should get a very long but narrow strip of paper and every day draw something from here. Just a flow of images. Then maybe roll it up tight and put it in a bottle, a wine bottle. And then do it again, and again…..

I will start by cutting a long strip of thin kozo and then see where that leads.

I can do this. It will be easy. Almost as easy as getting an empty wine bottle.

By next week I should have something to show you.

Now I am off to check on Lee and see what he would like to do next.


Small Tools in the Studio

I was sorting out this tools case I made a couple of months ago. Some new things needed to be added. Then I remembered how this store bought awl always rolls off my work table. A quick trip to the belt sander in the studio fixed it right up.

And after sanding and waxing the awl I decided to polish up this needle case. I found it in a bunch of boxes related to loom weaving. The top unscrews….a very handy little thing.

And bamboo awl and bone folder made by Matthew English, a wonderful paper maker from Tennessee.

Here are some of my other needle cases with a hammer and brass and wood tool for making starter holes. I keep a couple of darning needles inside the handle just in case I don’t have enough awls. The one with the branch handle I made myself. It is good for pushing with the palm of my hand. Several of these were confiscated in Australia customs when I sent them over to sell at a vendors table. They saw more bark on them than I did.

Little cedar toothpick holders from the town I was a little girl in. I like that this was a popular souvenir of that north woods town stuck in the middle of state and federal land.  And I have no idea what the flat brass needle was for but I used it for weaving shifu threads for a long time before I found these beauties.

I bought them from a Tasmanian bone needle maker and could only part with one of them. They are very kind to the rough paper shifu threads that I make and weave. The big black bone folder is just in the collection because it was different and looked like it could take a good pressing. The small indispensable stainless rulers came from the online store, MicroMark. The six inch one is filled with holes at all the measurements so as to fit your mechanical pencil through and get an accurate mark.

More bone folders. The top one is the first one I ever bought. It fits the hand just right. The next two were made by Jim Croft. Jane Nicholas from Australia gave me her fabric folder which works wonderfully on papers. That little finger indent gives extra pressure right where it is needed. And finally my latest bone folder made by Kent Stewart of a material called delrin. It is very thin at the wide end so tucks things in quite nicely. It is considered better than the teflon ones and I was happy to find one in the craft shop after Kent let me use his in my final class at the folk school

And finally my little needle case made from contact printed wool bought in Tasmania with pages made from chemically rusted cloth. The little scissors I bought from a vendor while teaching in Australia. They are just the right size for snipping threads and pop into their little case that just covers the blades.

I have lots more tools….the Japanese hole punch for example. But the ones here are the ones I love holding and every once in a while will take the time to clean them up, give a bit of wax where needed and put them back where I can find them again.

We went to a friend’s house in Weaverville, NC for Thanksgiving dinner. Now our son is on the road home, back to Michigan. Lee is working on something in his shop that our son set up for him to do. And I am thinking it is time for lunch.

Til later.

Finishing Up The Stitched Australia Book

Here is the finished book with its wrap tie. I got to use the last two small pieces of wood patterned by Toni Rogers in Queensland.  All threads used in the book came from Australia.

And besides using Australian tea to color the pages and shellac that I bought in Australia, I used my little geometry set bought in Brisbane many years ago to make circles, etc. Even my needles came from Richmond, Tasmania.

The images were harvested from this book.

There is something magic and charming and educational about all the pictures used in this book to tell a bit about the settling of Australia.

I used a coptic binding for the folios and spacers in the book.

And after I got all the folios shellacked, tea dyed and stitched I put them into some sort of order of settling the land.

I realized that I wanted it a bit thicker and had this picture of four surveyors/telegraph workers sitting there. The reason it sat there was because it is my romantic idea of what a true Australian male looks like. In fact several years ago while teaching in the Northern Territory the assistant to the Craft Alliance there introduced me to her husband. She knew I would like him because he had this look of pure Australian bloke. When she finished work that week he was going to take her on trip around the perimeter of the continent on his motorcycle. He had that truly capable look about him and had me grinning in his company. Any one of the men below could have been related.

Anyway aside from all that, these men in the picture and two more random images became the in between two-folio signatures to make the book larger and eliminate seeing the empty space between those folios.


I liked how they inserted themselves into the other images and the country. It might matter that I listened to Lyle Lovett music while I put these boys into the book.

There are other images, lots of other ones of people settling into the country, displacing the aboriginal culture.  And kangaroos.

And the convicts….all accused of one of the nineteen crimes that got them deported to the other side of the world.

I will stop here and maybe figure that I have enough samples and books that involve the stitch. There are only four in the class so far and I have no idea until I start teaching where each of their interests lie.

It will be my last class taught for John C Campbell Folk School here in Brasstown, NC. Thirty years and six months is quite enough. I look forward to really enjoying this last one and hope the students do as well.

Til next week when I can show pretty outside pictures again.