Today’s blog post is a summary of a recent ArtBreak written by the artist who led the session, Angela Mele, a scientific illustrator for under-appreciated species.
Being a fan of Ann Hamilton’s work, and of post-Civil War promotional paintings of railroads and Western landscapes, I decided to try to work out a connection between the two at the ArtBreak session I led two Saturdays ago. Every time I visit the common S E N S E, I think about duality in ‘the sense of touch.’ Touch often implies a benign and loving gesture, yet can also result in taking, holding, owning—as with fur turned to coats, turned to museum objects, and as with the first drawing made of a useful plant turned to exhausted agricultural space.
The ArtBreak attendees were apparently inspired enough by the rather somber connection I drew between scientific illustration and Western expansion to obligingly draw seal intestines and fur coats: none too simple a task. The variation in approaches to drawing the objects in the bassinets was totally exciting (for me, anyway) and hopefully, the “assignment” spurred a unique way of looking at the objects, especially for first-time viewers.
During the exhibition’s opening night I was a reader/scribe, but I soon found myself drawing the luminous sealskin infant parka in front of me instead of reading to it. I figured Ann would be just as happy with that form of documentation, and through careful observation of the crinkled material, I found a sense of wonder and compassion for the object’s history and origins.
I hoped for the ArtBreak participants to find some enjoyable semblance of that experience. Representational drawing, like writing by hand, has become an obscure way of describing the world around us. These days, a drawing or painting of a place can hardly convince us to pack up and head across the country. Yet the deliberate sense of touch required for this kind of drawing–hand on pencil and paper, of eyes closely trained on the subject—makes it an enduringly powerful, intimate, and potentially genuine form of documentation.
Object Narratives: Fur and Fashion Thursday, Jan 29, 7 – 8:30 PM
As part of the series that explores the historical and cultural context of objects in the common S E N S E, join Clara Berg, Museum of History & Industry’s Costumes and Textiles Collections Specialist, for a lesson about the local history of fashionable fur.
This week’s blog post is a preview of “Object Narratives: Fur and Fashion” coming up on January 29th. Clara Berg, Collections Specialist for Costumes and Textiles at MOHAI is our speaker and the author of today’s post.
I love the deeply personal nature of clothing. Clothing has an intimate, sensory relationship with the body, and every object has an intriguing history.
Ann Hamilton’s exhibition the common S E N S E includes more than forty garments from the collections of the Henry Art Gallery and the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. The garments are made from animal materials: fur, feathers, skins, guts. Depending on the piece and your sensibilities, you may find the idea of wearing the clothing repulsive or enticing. You may be passionately opposed to any kind of animal suffering, and recoil at the idea of wearing their skins on your body. Or you may find the materials interesting and inviting, and wish to experience their luxurious textures against your skin. Either way, there is something visceral about viewing these garments.
Clothing is also personal because it is full of stories. There is the story of the material itself—where it came from and how it was manipulated and changed. Then there is the story of how a garment was pieced together and shaped. Something hand-stitched takes hours of care and precision, but even the most industrialized clothing factory still requires human labor. You can’t put a bolt of fabric in a machine and have it spit out a pile of shirts. Human hands put pattern pieces together, guide sections through the sewing machines, and clip loose threads. Commercial garments also have the story of the seller—the person or people running a business which builds relationships with clients and promotes a certain aesthetic or lifestyle. Finally you have the wearer (or perhaps a succession of wearers) who take the garment out into the world—wearing it in daily life or only for special occasions.
If you are interested in learning more about the stories of the garments on display in the common S E N S E (and others from the Henry collection which are usually in storage) I’ll be giving a program on January 29th about the history of fur and fashion in Seattle. Who were the people and businesses involved in the industry here? Who were the clients who bought furs and where did they wear them? What did fur mean to the people of Seattle? I’ll talk about those histories, take a close look at some garments in the Reed Collection Study Center, and then tour the garments in the exhibition. For me, learning those historical stories increases that visceral experience of the garments. In addition to your own feelings about the materials and style of the garments, you can add a connection to the people who created, touched, and cared for the objects in the past.
Stop by the Henry for some artistic insights this week!
INCITE•INSIGHT lecture: Jill Magid Thursday, Jan 22, 7 – 9 PM Come hear Jill Magid discuss various tensions between the individual and “protective” institutions. It’s typical of her practice that she follows the rules of engagement with an institution to the letter — sometimes to the point of absurdity.
Thursday, Jan 15, 7 – 8:30 PM
Assistant Art Professor at the University of Manitoba, Cedric Bomford, will lead an insightful discussion on the current methods of the artistic process. This lecture series is held in conjunction with the University of Washington School of Art + Art History + Design and the Nebula Project.
ArtVenture with the Burke Museum (Part Two)
Sunday, Jan 4, 2 – 3:30 PM
Part two of this join ArtVenture will be held at the Burke Museum! Bring the family to exploring familial relationships across cultures and then create a family portrait after exploring cultures presented in the Pacific Voices exhibition!
Merry Happy Everything! We are closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day, but otherwise open regular museum hours. Come on by!
This week, join us on December 27th from 2:30-3pm for an ArtBreak led by artist Claire Cowie. We look forward to hearing her insights into the common S E N S E. Learn more about Claire and her artistic practice in this video from our Northwest Artists series.