Growing up in small town Florence, Alabama, a trip into downtown meant a visit to colorful shops, recognized by equally colorful signs. Ye Ole General Store had a block letter, serif-type sign across the entrance way and inside, we could find canteens and hats and overalls for backyard battles and explorations. Next, we’d walk to Court Street and look for the black and orange store front that meant Wilson’s Fabrics. The simple lettering, enhanced by the high contrast color choices, told my grandmother to come right in – the “Tall Man with the Low Prices” had just the cotton and muslin she needed. Finally, the best part of our trip was our visit to Trowbridge’s for hot dogs and milk shakes. The hand painted awning, with its swirling cursive script, told us we were headed in the right direction. The front window advertises: SANDWICHES, ICE CREAM, SUNDAES. We would slide into a booth and look at the hand-painted menu hanging behind the ice cream counter. That beautiful menu is still there today, challenging me to choose between the hot dog and the chicken salad sandwich. I think the town would riot if it were ever taken down.
This sentimental love I have for hand painted signs was rejuvenated when friend and fellow maker, Faythe Levine, and her co-writer Sam Macon published Sign Painters. This book chronicles the histories and modern-day stories of sign painters. In the 1980’s and 90’s, the art of painting signs became doomed to obscurity, or worse -extinction- with the invention and widespread use of vinyl lettering and digital design. In today’s world, full of Adobe software and inflatable dancing tube men, it is hard to remember that every grocery store sale sign, billboard, storefront, and banner was once carefully designed and painted by hand.
In a couple of weeks, I’ll be heading up to Chattanooga, Tennessee for an Alabama Chanin One-Day Workshop, a trunk show, and an exhibit of BBQ’ed Dresses. Yes, we put a few of our handmade garments into the smoker.
Last fall, for the Southern Foodways Alliance 15th Annual Symposium, we BBQ’ed a few Alabama Chanin dresses, with the help of Nick Pihakis from Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q in Birmingham, Alabama. John T. Edge was the impetus for the project, asking us to design some BBQ inspired garments that eventually hung proudly alongside Landon Nordeman’s stunning photographs of pit masters and their tools. It is going to be great to see the BBQ inspired collection hang again later this month at Warehouse Row in Chattanooga as part of Crafted by Southern Hands.
“A Carafe, that is a blind glass.
A kind in glass and a cousin, a spectacle and nothing strange a simple hurt color and an arrangement in a system to pointing. All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling. The difference is spreading.”
This is how Gertrude Stein begins her Cubist experiment in verse. Tender Buttons, Objects has been called a masterpiece, a failure, confusing, nonsense, and a beautiful collage. It has been supposed a practical joke, too obscure to have real meaning, or too meaningful to describe (the last presumably said by an unenthusiastic poetry student).
Poster by our friend Amos Kennedy. More on Amos and this poster coming soon…
The newest issue of Refueled Magazine is out and features friends Jack Sanders of Design Build Adventure and Otis James in Nashville. The images in Refueled No. 11 are (once again) beautiful and stunning.
Thanks and a hug to Chris for including Alabama Chanin in the new issue (see our two-page spread below). Hugs and love to Rinne Allen for the beautiful image of me picking cotton last fall.
Read the online version of Refueled No. 11 below.
This weekend marks the 15th year of the Doo-Nanny festival, simply called ‘Doo-Nanny’. The folk art festival has grown and evolved into a temporary community filled with creative expression that occupies Butch’s 80-acre farm once a year.
When Butch speaks of the history of Doo-Nanny, his story begins with a turnip root that was plowed up in his garden by friend John Henry Toney. The turnip “had a face in it,” so he drew a picture of it and sold in a nearby junk shop to a folk art collector. And so, in 1996, Doo-Nanny was born out of a roadside art show. Years later, the folk art festival merged with a “lo-fi” movie festival and is now complete with solar showers, an outdoor community kitchen, art vendors, and culminates with a burning effigy for the celebration on Saturday night.
Ready for art and making, campers, artists, musicians, and free spirits arrive here for fun, food, music, and experimental architecture. Children run free (but supervised). I’ve heard first-time attendees say nothing could have prepared them for the spectacle of the weekend; this year’s event is certain to be another good one.
Monday, we wrote about artist Tilleke Schwarz’s New Potatoes as inspiration for the week. However, Tilleke’s textiles have been a source for inspiration for me for years. When New Potatoes landed on my desk about a year ago, we started the skirt you see above as homage to Tilleke and her work.
We have produced narrative work over the years in the form of our Story Quilts. With that series, we take vintage quilts, refurbish them, and embroider oral histories onto the fabrics. You will find a Textile Stories Quilt project in Alabama Studio Style that describes this series. However, this series is small in comparison to the beautiful narrative work of Tilleke Schwartz.
I first saw Tilleke Schwarz’s work in an exhibition called Pricked: Extreme Embroidery at the Museum of Arts & Design in New York. The needlework was displayed proudly as contemporary art by extraordinary female artists. Boundaries were pushed as textile art was made. Friend, Maira Kalman, also had work on view.
Tilleke’s work resonated with me with its elaborate technique and profound artistic statement. At the time, her first book Mark Making (2007) had quickly sold out, so when her self-published second book, New Potatoes, came out a few years later I readily ordered 10 copies.
From far away, Ghanaian artist El Anatsui’s large-scale artworks take on the appearance of textiles and tapestries with patterns resembling those a master weaver might create. But upon closer inspection, the poignant pieces are actually constructed with simple bottle tops connected by copper wire. Flattened then stitched, their unique assembly allows the works to move, flow, and take almost any shape. They speak volumes about El Anatsui’s education and home.
In his classic tome on two-dimensional design, Wucius Wong indicates that it takes at least three elements for something to be considered repeating. Repeating elements is one of the first theories you learn as a textile designer. I spent an entire semester discussing the theory of words and their meanings in design language. We were all in agreement: for repetition, two isn’t enough. What about over three hundred?
Wucius Wong’s theory is the first thing that comes to mind when I look at these pictures from an exhibition by the artist Francis Alys, showcased at the National Portrait Gallery in London. In room after room, over 300 portraits of Saint Fabiola are displayed: the same woman in the same pose, the same traditional rendition. Repetition – the same image seen over and over again.
The artist has collected these paintings from flea markets and garage sales in his adopted home of Mexico City. Most are painted by amateur artists. All portray the same woman, again, and again, and again. What Alys points out is that, though the images are similar – they all portray this woman, Saint Fabiola, in the same traditional veil, seated in the same pose and with the same background color – each individual image is unique. Each bears the mark of the artist. One may paint her nose with a slant; another may paint her with makeup or a solemn expression. The artists have copied a widely known image, but interpreted through their own eyes. We see repetition, but without absolutely identical images.
The larger art here is in the repetition of the “pattern,” or image. But, Francis Alys is showing us that even copies bear the mark of the creator. Seeing the same image repeated hundreds of times makes for an impressive impact. Viewed as a whole they represent merely a single pattern; viewed more closely, they demonstrate that, even when re-creating someone else’s work of art, the artist’s uniqueness shines through.
*Photos borrowed from California Literary Review.