Style Court

Nine Years of Textiles, Art History, Gardens, and a Little Mental Traveling with Courtney Barnes


African Style in the States

[Design by Nathan Turner. Photo by Victoria Pearson published in Nathan Turner's American Style, Abrams, 2012.]

Another book I'll be covering in the next few days is designer and shop owner Nathan Turner's debut release. Whether he's pulling together a room or a cozy dinner party, Nathan has a distinct talent for channeling certain vibes -- could be Bloomsbury or California Ranch -- without getting too theme-y. Shown above is an African design appreciation moment. Here he mixed a 19th-century patterned African basket and vintage African textiles (not really visible in this picture) with Amber Arbucci's elephant photograph and a Ralph Lauren zebra fabric.

[Interior of Arensberg apartment, 33 West Sixty-Seventh Street, New York photographed by Charles Sheeler, 1919. Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950.]

Nathan's vignette prompted me to post a quick reminder of The Met's recently opened show, African Art, New York, and the Avant-Garde, on view through April 14, 2013. We already know how strongly the pioneering artists of the early-20th century -- Picasso, Matisse -- were influenced by African sculpture and textiles but this exhibition looks at American collectors' responses in the 1910s and 1920s. In the States -- well, specifically in New York -- African art and artifacts could be appreciated anew, as abstract works of art rather than colonial trophies. The Met's show encompasses forty wood sculptures from West and Central Africa juxtaposed with photographs, sculptures, and paintings by Brancusi, Rivera, Picasso, Stieglitz, Sheeler, and Picabia. The Harlem Renaissance and its connection to African art is touched on in the exhibition, too.


Book Club

[Photo my own]

Maybe you've been wondering what's taking me so long to get to John Robshaw's new textiles book? Well, it's bigger than I expected -- in a really good way. Literally larger in format with gorgeous two-page spreads but also broad in scope. That it's entertaining and beautifully-illustrated is no surprise. I didn't know, though, how much it would delve into Robshaw's days as an art student. So I'm taking my time. Be back soon with more.

Home Grown: A SCAD Grad's Journey to Wallpaper Design

[Unless credited otherwise, camellia photos are my own.]

When surface designer Karla Pruitt first visited the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), she was mainly thinking about the innovative programs offered, the professors, and what type of career she might launch after graduation -- not necessarily moonlit Georgia gardens and all of that. But as it turned out, the school's alluring surrounds, along with the cutting-edge curriculum, later influenced one of her most important projects to date.

[Dawson Architects renovated SCAD's Pepe Hall for the school's Fibers Department.]

Describing her initial visit, Karla, a 2007 graduate who majored in fibers, shared with me via email: "I was impressed by how [SCAD] really focuses on preparing you for a career, if that is what you are interested in pursuing, and the fibers program takes job preparation to yet another level."

[Karla courtesy Karla.]

SCAD actually employs the largest full-time fibers faculty in the U.S. Additionally, according to the school, it now offers the nation's best-equipped fibers facility -- the recently renovated 20,759-square-foot Pepe Hall -- with specific areas for dyeing, weaving, screen-printing, repeat pattern design and more, as well as state-of-the-art looms and a Mimaki textile printer. Still, I wondered what ultimately drew Karla toward fibers.

[A fellow student at work, via SCAD.]

She elaborated: "I arrived in Savannah thinking I would major in illustration, but my first quarter there I went to a fair where all the majors have booths set up, and the professors speak to undeclared students. An illustration professor told me that most of their graduates were freelancers. That scared me. I was wandering around the fair, troubled, when I saw the beautiful fibers booth. There were quilts, weavings, and dyed fabrics, but also illustrations -- in repeat. The [textiles and fibers faculty] told me that they were a small department, but that an extremely high number of students received multiple job offers before graduation... from many of my favorite brands, no less. In the end, that is what happened to me, too, and that was an amazing way to finish college!"

[Silk at La Manach via Selvedge, issue 29.]

Sharing a bit more of her personal perspective, Karla added: "The fibers department is special because the classes are diverse and perfectly applicable to what a designer needs to know before they work for a design firm. (You will be better at designing a screen print for manufacturing when you have actually screen printed before.) It has been amazing to see what the talented, thoughtful and hard-working people I graduated with (around forty students from the fibers department) are accomplishing."

[Karla's vintage thread tassel used as bookmark in a hand-bound book by fellow former SCAD student, Monica Holtsclaw.]

[Images above and below via SCAD Museum of Art. Note the preserved 19th-century gray brick. Pictured below 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. ]

Since Savannah has long been home to creative types, I wondered what Karla found most inspiring about the place. Her reply:

"Savannah is gorgeous! I did not have a car my freshman year, and I was forced to walk all over downtown for pretty much everything. It gave me space to think and enjoy the scenery. The students and professors were the most inspiring part of Savannah for me, though. I was challenged to become a better designer everyday, to take constructive criticism with grace (so important!), and be inspired by what all my classmates were creating."

Although she is currently based in art-centic Athens (the Georgia town), Karla began her design career in Atlanta. In a small way, she sensed she was witnessing history.

"I worked for a large home-textile design firm outside of Atlanta immediately after graduating, and I am really glad I was able to experience American manufacturing of textiles right before a lot of firms sadly downsized or went out of business due to international competition. I worked there for two years, and I was amazed at how many companies use design firms as a middleman of sorts. I was almost always designing product that was ultimately marketed under another label’s name, so I was able to design for lots of different brands. I loved that part of my first job. The more variety, the more fun designing product is, for me at least."

[Karla's own collection. Images courtesy Hygge & West.]

With this experience under her belt, the thought of working independently began to seem less terrifying.  So, she took the plunge and went out on her own. Karla's first licensed product line as a freelance surface designer is a wallpaper collection with Hygge & West. Garden, her favorite pattern, features camellias that were gathered from her own neighborhood and hand-drawn. She wanted to suggest unpretentious glamour with her drawn flowers and buds overflowing just as they do when they pour out onto Athens' streets. And when she saw the final metallic printing in person, she was especially thrilled. Check out all the colorways, from noir to gold, here.

I asked about her process and she said: "All of my designs start with a drawn or painted sketch on paper or with my Wacom pen on my computer."

[Art supplies via Sam Flax.]

"For licensing," she added, "I usually just complete a croquis (a faux repeated design, not in perfect repeat) because it is faster, and if a company uses the pattern they will use their own specifications and dimensions anyway. For freelance patterns, I will put the pattern into perfect repeat from the very beginning of the sketch, usually. A client at a design firm once asked me, 'Isn't there a computer program that will put something in repeat for you?' Well. there are programs that will repeat objects as you direct it to, and I do that in Photoshop and Illustrator, but to make a seamless, beautifully designed pattern, you need to actually design it."

[Vintage huipile with newly hand-woven ribbed cloth from Guatemala via Susan Hull Walker]

Karla gravitates toward the feminine and the extremely patterned, including the wallpapers at Versailles and delicate Liberty prints from England. But she also has a thing for South American textiles, specifically bold and bright Guatemalan embroideries. And she'll likely always have a soft spot for anything tropical or Lilly Pulitzer-esque, having grown up in Miami and Merritt Island, Florida.

Her go-to reference book is Textile Designs: Two Hundred Years of European and American Patterns Organized by Motif, Style, Color, Layout, and Period by Susan Meller and Joost Elffers. She reaches for it because, "Being a surface designer requires knowledge of past textile design, even if you are creating something very modern. Sometimes, I’ll need to look at some very traditional paisleys to remind myself what makes a paisley a paisley, and then while being very aware of not copying anything, draw my own designs. This book also has really interesting historical and cultural notes along with several images of each style of pattern."

[Angelo Filomeno, Dream of Flies (yellow, black), embroidery on silk shantung stretched over linen, 90" x 90", 2010. Private collection. Now on view through February 3, 2013 in Stretching the Limits: Fibers in Contemporary Painting at SCAD Museum of Art.]

 To recharge her batteries, Karla continues to look to her immediate surroundings.

"I am very inspired by what is going on around me -- a novel I'm reading, the clothes my friends are wearing, or a night out to see a new show at an art gallery. Equally important, though more mundane, is to switch tasks during the week. I’ll paint and draw for three days, and then update my blog or take care of office type things for two days. I find that if I try to create constantly, things start to get stale. I thought I would take a lot more time off since becoming an independent artist, but I’ve been busy, which is a good thing; I’m beyond grateful!"

Editor's note: I'm not personally affiliated with SCAD and receive no perks for linking back to the college. I like to help spread the word about happenings and programs at a variety of schools. Often the mail I receive is from art and design students so I was happy to have an opportunity to do a longer Q & A with another terrific SCAD alum. Many thanks to Karla for sharing!


Fine Details

[Unless noted otherwise, photos are my own.]

Let's start up close, with our faces practically touching Lisa Fine's new handprinted linen, then slowly back away to appreciate the large-scale design of Lahore.

Its delicate leafy branches warrant attention.

These myriad little botanical forms come together to create larger, scroll-y, teardrop or leaf-like shapes known as "boteh" or "buta" in Kashmir, India, and more commonly called paisley in the West.

In his book, The Kashmir Shawl, textile scholar  John Irwin charts the evolution of boteh from relatively crisp motifs regimented on a clean, open ground to wilder, exaggerated forms often comprised of countless densely-packed blossoms or leaves (essentially like Fine's design, above). Just as unrestricted ivy overtakes a brick wall, paisley can dominate a design to the point that we only see a hint of the ground color.

[Illustrations from Irwin's early-1970s book, The Kashmir Shawl. Click to read descriptions.]

[John Singer Sargent, Nonchaloir (Repose), 1911. Gift of Curt H. Reisinger to the NGA in Washington, D.C.] 

If you had time to glance at last week's post, you know Lahore was inspired by a pashmina Fine noticed in a painting. It was, in fact, a Sargent portrait discovered in a book in India. But not the one shown here. The piece that attracted Fine includes a shawl rendered in sharper focus. Although the botehs were big, elongated, and arranged in a similar style. This early-20th-century Sargent painting, Nonchaloir, belongs to the NGA. It represents the period in the artist's career when he'd grown weary of accepting commissions for formal portraits and was painting to please himself.

For her fabric, Fine chose four coloways: Monsoon, pictured multiple times above, Apricot, shown below, Rose, and Calico.

Fine also has a new print, Cairo, inspired by an ancient Egyptian textile but she told me that it really reminds her of ceramic tiles found in the Islamic world. "The colors, Candy, Jungle and Iznik, are vibrant jewel tones," she added. And BTW,  since Fine is such an animal lover, it seems fitting that she will offer dog mattresses in Cairo for her upcoming One Kings Lane sale on December 15.

Related past post: Matisse's Egyptian Textile.


Coming Soon: Lisa Fine's Latest

Soon I'll be taking a closer look at Lisa Fine's new hand-printed fabrics, including Lahore pictured above.

[Fragonard's oil on canvas of Madame Recamier (1777–1849) via Sotheby's.]

Although her elongated paisley design was inspired by a cashmere shawl she spied in a painting, the golden Indian one draped around Madame Recamier is not it. I'm posting this Fragonard portrait as a reminder to check out part three of Rosemary Crill's Cotton Road podcast. In the final installment, Crill talks about the Western heyday of finely woven Kashmir shawls -- the period when alluring women such as Recamier, Emma Hamilton (Admiral Nelson's mistress) and Empress Josephine paired them with airy muslin dresses.

Related past posts:

Kashmir to Paris

Cashmere Guru Monique Levis-Strauss

Steely Mags


[Photos by Thuss + Farrell. Design by Matthew Robbins.] 

As much as he loves flowers, sometimes designer and event planner Matthew Robbins prefers to work with food. He might let the whole meal itself take center stage or simply pull together a rustic grouping of fruit and leaves -- no containers needed.

This year, he's gravitating toward the golds and greens of pears. And the still lifes he created, captured here so beautifully by Rebecca Thuss and Patrick Farrell, caused me to start noticing pears everywhere.

Like this 1970s shagreen-covered box by Maitland Smith at Epoca.

And Charles Lang Freer's pear-shaped Goryeo period (late 13th-early 14th century) Korean stoneware bottle with black and white inlays under celadon glaze. It's now in the collection of the Freer Sackler Galleries.

Then there was this circa 1620 Japanese writing table at the V & A. According to the Museum, the materials are "wood, covered with gold and silver takamaki-e (high sprinkled picture) and nashiji (pear-skin ground) lacquer, with gold and silver details."

Pears popped up on a 19th-century embroidered Turkish towel, also from the V & A.

Although this branch with pear -- a design for silk weaving -- is thought to be French, it was found in the Leman Album, a leather-bound collection of 18th-century British weaver/designer James Leman's watercolor designs for textiles. The V & A says the seemingly uncomplicated design shows points rentrés modeling.

Getting more abstract, a detail of an antique Anatolian rug with a striking pear-colored field via Galerie Shabab.

And lastly, this late-1960s inverted pear-shaped ceramic vase by Japan's Tomiya Matsuda (1939-2011).


Golden Eye

[Click to enlarge. 16th-century porcelain tea bowl. Korean. 
Gift of Charles Lang Freer F1905.28. Freer and Sackler Galleries.]

Damaged goods never looked so beautiful. It's likely that this Asian bowl became even more luminous after the Japanese employed their favored technique of ornamentally repairing cracks or nicks with gold lacquer. According to the Freer and Sackler Galleries in D.C., this roughly 460-year-old provincial ceramic piece made by a Korean craftsman was highly collectable in Japan. When used for tea the clay became discolored but the Japanese appreciated this mottled appearance -- this natural patina -- and as the bowl became more time-worn they highlighted its bumps and bruises by gilding them.

To see some gorgeous examples of Korean ceramics with textile-like surface pattern, visit the Freer's new exhibition, Cranes and Clouds: The Korean Art of Ceramic Inlay. As it happens, this month the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Loads of related events are planned the week of November 28. Learn more here.


From Anna to Rinne

[Detail view followed by full image: Rinne Allen's Virginia Creeper cyanotype available at Terrain.]

Although she didn't invent the cyanotype process, Britain's Anna Atkins (1799-1871) is credited with producing 1843's groundbreaking British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions, the first book illustrated solely with photographs. She is also generally acknowledged to be the first female photographer. Today her photographs -- well, to be precise her photograms -- are in the V & A's collection. Photograms are made without a camera or film: the artist (or scientist) simply puts pieces of interest, for example botanical specimens, on light-sensitized paper and then exposes the treated paper to light. In short, this is the cyanotype process.

[Anna Atkins, Poppy, about 1852. V & A Museum no. PH.381-1981.]

Fast-forward about 170 years and across the pond to Athens, Georgia and find Rinne Allen continuing the technique with her Light Drawings. If you read Selvedge, you were probably swept away by the beautiful examples of her work in the latest issue. I was. In fact, the story inspired me to do a little research of my own. I've been learning about Rinne's work with Alabama Chanin and Hable Construction, as well as the cyanotypes. A related post will be up in a while but for now I'm popping in to help spread the word about Rinne's new limited edition prints available at Terrain. You can also take a peek at her bountiful Southern garden here.

[Emily Gomez, Cowee, Franklin, North Carolina – 2006. Cyanotype on vellum from an 8”x10” negative. Print size is 8”x10”, framed size is 20”x16”]

Update 11.16.12
Many thanks to curator Shannon Morris for letting us know about another Georgia-based photographer, professor Emily Gomez, and her innovative cyanotypes which are currently on view through November 30 in Unearthed: A Photographic Search for Native American History at the Museum of Fine Arts at Georgia College.