Monica D. Murgia

Art, creativity, and fashion

Archive for the ‘Great Museums’ Category

November 4th, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Grace Kelly & Fashion Illustration

Pennsylvania always seems to produce fashion icons.  I know so many stylish, entrepreneurial women from this state.  The Michener Museum is celebrating one of Pennsylvania’s most famous fashion icon, Grace Kelly (1929-1982).  The exhibition From Philadelphia to Monaco: Grace Kelly Beyond the Icon is running from October 28th, 2013 – January 26th, 2014.

Illustration of Grace Kelly’s  Wedding Day, 1956.  Illustration by Helen Rose.  Image Courtesy of Patterned History.

Grace Kelly was from Philadelphia, and became a famous actress during the 1950s.   The exhibition traces the unique path Grace Kelly took from Philadelphia to Monaco, highlighting her personal style and journey toward becoming a princess in 1956.   Many wonderful objects are on loan from the Palace of Monaco and the Grimaldi Forum, including: letters, photographs, awards, couture fashion, film clips, playbills.


Illustration of Grace Kelly’s Costume for High Society by Helen Rose.  Image Courtesy of Patterned History.

Throughout the month of November, the museum is offering lectures and workshops that explore Grace Kelly and the fashion of her era.  I will be giving a talk and workshop on Sunday, November 24th on fashion illustration from the 1940s-1960s.  Here is an abstract of the program:

Illustration was a major component of the fashion industry during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Everything from advertisements, magazine articles, to design concepts was the product of illustrators of the day. This lecture will explore the importance of fashion illustration during these three decades. A focus will be on analyzing the style and career of major illustrators Rene Gruau, Christian Berard, and others. Following the lecture, a workshop will be given on drawing the fashion figure. 
Illustration of Grace Kelly’s costume for Rear Window.  Illustration by Edith Head.  Image courtesy of C Sebastion.
We will take a closer look at major illustrators of the era, with special focus on those that created work for Grace Kelly.  New to my site?  You should read my previous post on fashion illustrator Rene Gruau
To purchase tickets, please visit: The Michener Museum
July 17th, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Diaghilev and the Ballet Russe

When I heard about the exhibit Diaghilev & the Ballet Russes 1909 – 1929 at the National Gallery of Art, I just knew I had to make a trip.  Two weeks ago, I made a special trip to Washington, D.C. to see it.  I was not disappointed!  The Ballet Russe was a dance company started in France during the late 19th Century.  Under Diaghilev’s vision, the Ballet Russe grew to be one of the greatest artistic collectives the world has ever seen.



Russian-born Diaghilev (1872-1929) has worked as an art curator and journalist in St. Petersburg.  He had even worked as a creative director of the Imperial Theater.  Diaghilev helped promote Russian culture in France as part of this government position, and organized exhibitions of Russian fine art in Paris.  This initiative was cut short by the demise of the tsarist government.  When it became clear that the revolution was only a matter of time, Diaghilev left for Paris.
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Serge Diaghilev, New York City, 1916.  Image courtesy of The National Gallery of Art.

Eager to continue his career in the arts, Diaghilev saw the potential in ballet.  It was a relatively inexpensive operation, compared to opera.  He also had connections to some of the best Russian dancers.  He urged ballerinas from the Imperial Theater to spend summers in Paris dancing in his productions.  The public was spellbound by the aesthetics of the show.  Diaghilev saw the ballet not only as a way to promote Russian culture, but as a way to pioneer the careers of creative, avant-garde artists and designers.  He carefully selected dancers, composers, fashion designers, and artists to stage a self-contained world of innovation.
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Scenery from the ballet Scheherazade by Leon Bakst, 1910.  Watercolor, gouache, and gold paint on paper.  Image courtesy of The National Gallery of Art.
The exhibition is so vast it’s overwhelming.  There are over 130 original costumes, set designs, paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings, photographs, and posters.  The manner in which it is stages shows you how each ballet had a unique artistic direction.  This had to do in part with the artists and designers chosen to work on each production.
It ranges from sweet and romantic:
Alexandre Benois, Russian, 1870-1960, Costume worn by Lydia Lopokova as a Sylph from Les Sylphides, c. 1916, silk and cotton net, with metal armature for the wings, V&A, London, Cyril Beaumont Bequest © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Leon Bakst, Costume for a Nymph from The Afternoon of a Faun,” c. 1912, silk chiffon, lame’, metallic ribbon, cotton, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
Leon Bakst, Costume for a Nymph from The Afternoon of a Faun, c. 1912, silk chiffon, paint, lame’, metallic ribbon, cotton, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
To ethnographic . . .
Nicholas Roerich, Russian, 1874-1947, Costumes for two Maidens and an Elder from The Rite of Spring, 1913, wool, leather, metal belts and necklace, napped cotton, wood, and fur, V&A, London. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Mikhail Larionov, Russian, 1881-1964, Costume for the Buffoon’s Wife from The Tale of the Buffoon, 1921, cane-stiffened felt and cotton, V&A, London. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.






Mikhail Larionov, Russian, 1881-1964, Costume for the Buffoon’s Wife from The Tale of the Buffoon, 1921, cane-stiffened felt and cotton, V&A, London.  Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

To bohemian . . .


Leon Bakst, Costume for a Beotian Shepherd from Narcissus, 1911, painted cotton. V&A, London.


Leon Bakst, Costume for a Nymph from Narcissus, 1911, painted cotton, V&A, London. Photo Victoria and Albert Museum, London
To Surrealist . . .
Giorgio de Chirico, Costume for a Sylph from The Ball, 1929, silk and tarlatan, with braid.  2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York/ADAGP, Paris. Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
The General from Le Bal designed by Giorgio de Chirico, 1929  DACS, London 2006.  Image courtesy of I’m Revolting.
The General from Le Bal designed by Giorgio de Chirico, 1929  DACS, London 2006.  Image courtesy of I’m Revolting.



 Pablo Picasso, Spanish, 1881–1973, Costume for the Chinese Conjuror from Parade, c. 1917, silk satin fabric with silver tissue and black thread, cotton hat with woolen pigtail, V&A, London © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

To Modernist . . .


Sonia Delaunay, French, 1885-1979, Costume for title role from Cleopatra, 1918, silk, sequins, mirror, and beads, wool yarn, metallic thread braid, lame, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Costume Council Fund Pracusa 2012003; Digital Image© 2013 Museum Associates / LACMA / Licensed by Art Resource, NY




Coco Chanel, Costume for La Perlouse from The Blue Train (right) and Costume for a Gigolo from The Blue Train (left), 1924, knitted wool and wool, respectively. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

When Diaghilev died suddenly in 1929, at the age of 57, the Ballet Russe disbanded.  Such a rich and varied artistic legacy was left behind by this patron of the arts.  I would recommend that everyone sees this show!  For additional information, please visit the following sites:

May 27th, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Punk: Chaos to Couture

Prior to the opening of Punk: Chaos to Couture, there was quite a bit of buzz.  From what I gathered, a lot of people criticized the exhibition before they even saw it.  Strong criticism like this make me wary.  I like to make my own observations first.  So I was careful not to read anything about the show until I got a chance to take it in myself.

Black leather lambskin with plastic & silver metal spikes and zippers by Christopher Bailey of Burberry, 2013.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I’m a huge fan of Vivienne Westwood, so I assumed some of her work would be there.  Thankfully, it was!  Vivienne Westwood was dating a member of the Sex Pistols.  In the early 1970s, they opened a boutique on King’s Road.  The name changed several times, but  was most notably called Sex and later Seditionaries (1976-1980).  Westwood’s early designs were anti-establishment.  She purposely defiled popular culture images with graffiti, like the t-shirt below.  Many of the t-shirts openly referenced anarchy and communism.   She also incorporated fetish wear into her designs.
“God Save the Queen” T-Shirt by Vivienne Westwood from Seditionaries, c. 1976-1980.
Most of the exhibit then focused on how punk trickled up and influenced luxury designers.


The punk aesthetic can be seen in intentional rips and tears, hardware embellishments, and a sort of disheveled look.  Leather is always a nice finishing touch, too.  These two leather pieces really caught my attention.


Ensembles by Balmain, 2011.

The skirt was my favorite part of the look.  Black and red leather covered in studs, intentionally shredded and pieced back together with safety pins.  While it has a DIY feel, work like this takes meticulous precision to complete.  Look at how the safety pins are placed so closely next to one another.


As I moved through the galleries, I was really interested not only the details of the garments, but also how the space of the galleries had changed.  After noting how the designers distressed and embellished the garments, I focused on the design of the space.  The museum staff had cleverly used styrofoam which they carved  with graffiti and tags.  It was very faint, but visible in this columned gallery.






Wedding Dress by Zandra Rhodes, 1977

I also started to see a correlation to other exhibits I’d see.  This jersey wedding dress by Zandra Rhodes reminded me a lot of what I had seen at Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced.  Burrows liked to use jersey and finished the edges with a zig zag stitch.  This kept the silhouette light, and made the edges wavy.





Burrows called this the lettuce edge.  You can see how Zandra Rhodes used this same technique, but also used int for cut outs in the skirt.  Punctuated with crystals and chains, the jersey curls and waves around the body.  It’s attached to the satin bodice with safety pins.



The construction details on this gown reminded me of staples.


Recycling was another theme I loved.  I think it takes someone really creative to take discards and turn them into something fashionable.  This part of the exhibit was called Bricolage, which is taking random materials to create a work of art.  Bits of paper, envelopes, trash bags and other discarded objects were whipped up into the most inventive garments.  Others were made of fabrics treated to look like trash.


Ensemble by John Galliano, 2001.

This ensemble by Galliano is actually cotton twill printed with a newspaper pattern.  Raffia, lurex, and scotch tape complete the look.


But my favorite room was dedicated to graffiti fashion.



Evening gown by Dolce Gabbana, 2008.

I’m fascinated with graffiti because it reclaims our right to art in daily life.  Art is generally the first to go with budget cuts in any organization – schools, corporations, the government.  It’s spontaneous, fun – and often temporary.


Alexander McQueen’s performance dress was on display, too.  This dress was presented on stage, and the paint was sprayed in real time in front of the audience.



Dress by Alexander McQueen, 1999.

Also on display was this dress by Vivienne Westwood.  It reminded me of Philip Guston’s later work.  (Guston was an abstract expressionist painter.  His later work was very cartoonish.  Have a look for yourself.)



Dress by Vivienne Westwood, 2007.

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A Day’s Work by Philip Guston, 1970.   Image courtesy of Daily Artist.



Dress by Vivienne Westwood, 2007.

I have to say, I’m glad I didn’t read any of the reviews before I went.  The DIY themes gave me lots of ideas how I’d like to customize my own wardrobe.  There will be updates when I get to these projects this summer.

Unless otherwise mentioned, all images courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

May 17th, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Textile Designs by Rockwell Kent

As promised, I wanted to write more about the textile designs I saw at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  This was the original drawing that caught my eye.  The design, entitled Swaying Trees, is by American artist Rockwell Kent.


This was a big surprise for me!  Kent (1882 – 1971) studied painting under William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri.  I’d learned a bit about his paintings while working at an art gallery.  Henri encouraged Kent to paint landscapes of Monhegan island in Maine on his own.  This experience of painting directly in nature greatly affected Kent.  Whatever medium he chose, Kent’s work always captures the amazing power of nature.

Kent gained a reputation of a neo-Transcendentalist because of this.  Transcendentalism was a philosophy that originated in the 1830s and asserted that spiritual experiences could be observed in nature.  Time spent in nature often created a mystical or transcendental experience to those that followed this philosophy.


You can see that his textile designs capture natural themes.  The other accompanying design is called Running Deer.  Both of these were realized in 1950.  Kent made a similar design for Bloomcraft Inc called Deer Season, which you can see below:

Kent also completed a few other designs for Bloomcraft Inc, including Harvest Time:
Harvest Time by Rockwell Kent.  Image courtesy of Boston Museum of Fine Arts
And Pine Tree:
Pine Tree by Rockwell Kent.  Image courtesy of Boston Museum of Fine Arts

 Unless otherwise states, images courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

May 15th, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Textile sketches by Sonia Delaunay

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of my favorite places to pass some time.  Earlier this week, I took a group of students to a special event celebrating Punk: Chaos to Couture.  As I wandered around the second floor, making my way to the exhibition, several sketches caught my eye.  The main corridor that leads to the special exhibition gallery is generally lined with works on paper – prints, drawings, and so on.  I noticed a lot of patterns, and knew they were textile designs.  (I’ll be writing more about those later!)  In the middle of this large corridor was a small table encased in plexiglass with the most wonderful sketches by Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979).


These drawings are from 1925, and just darling!  I stood there a long time looking at them.  (They were a bit difficult to photograph without casting a shadow, as you can see.)  These sketches are simply entitled Sonia Delaunay: her paintings, her objects, her simultaneous fabrics, her fashions.  I think these are really prime examples of her design sensibilities, which included the art theory her and her husband Robert developed.  (New to my site?  You should take a look at my previous posts on Sonia & Robert Delaunay)

Sonia, along with her husband, painter Robert Delaunay (1885-1941), developed a color theory called simultaneity“ the sensation of movement when contrasting colors are placed side by side.


I love the geometry and color patterns in each of these sketches.  They clearly show a harmony between the fine and decorative arts movements at the time.  The green and black dress on the left is a nod to Cubism.  The middle dress looks uncannily like the interior of  an Art Deco building.  Perhaps it was inspired by a tiled floor.


The silhouette is still column-like, which is a hallmark of the 1920s.  There is no defined waist, and the garments seem to hang vertically from the shoulders and obscure the shape of the body.   However, you can see that most of the hemlines are quite long – a definite contrast to the American flapper.  A nice alternative silhouette  to all The Great Gatesby buzz that’s been going around.


All images courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

May 15th, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced

This week, I’m taking my classes to see Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced.  It is currently on view at the Museum of the City of New York.  Last week, I went to take care of the paperwork and got a special preview.


Stephen Burrows is an American fashion designer, and was very active in the 1970s.  He studied at FIT and was quickly hired after an internship.


A few weeks ago, I found a great book The Fashion Makers by Barbara Walz and Bernadine Morris.  There was a great biography on Burrows.  It explained how his grandmother taught him to sew as a child.  He explained: “I was fascinated by the zigzag stitch.  I put it on everything.”  He liked to use this to finish the edges on jersey dresses, because hems would weigh the fabric down.  The zigzag finish makes the fabric light, and curl and wave at the edges.  This design signature started to be referred to as the lettuce edge, because it looks like the undulating wavy edges of lettuce.


I just adore the dress above.  The combination of colors are stellar, and it looks so easy to put on and wear.  Another favorite of mine is the outfit below.  It’s two pieces, and just so fluid and romantic.

As I made my way through the exhibition, I was really impressed with how beautiful and easy to wear most of the garments were.  Like the exhibition suggests, each of the designs encouraged movement.  The lightweight fabrics, fluid draping, and uncomplicated construction are just magical.  A majority of my time is spent traveling for work, so finding clothing with these characteristics are very important to me.


I don’t wear pants very often, but was crazy for these tulip pants.  The loose cut and way the fabric envelopes the leg is so interesting.


I also really liked the mannequins the museum used.  Their postures made the clothing come alive.  Most mannequins don’t gesticulate in this type of way.  Generally, they are ridged and are simply hangers for the clothes.  These are so different, and help in imagine the garments on a moving body.



Burrows was also very fearless about pairing vivid colors together.  There is a whole section of the exhibit dedicated to color blocking.


I’m not that adventurous when it comes to pairing intense hues in one garment, but I did really enjoy looking.  This type of color blocking was a signature of Burrows.


This set against the wall was so intense!  It looked futuristic – almost like something by Pierre Cardin or Andres Courreges.  These garments were all available at the O Boutique, the first commercial venture Burrows launched to sell commercially.  He was later signed to make clothes for Henri Bendel’s in New York.


There were also accompanying sketches.  These are always some of my favorite items to look at.  It reveals so much about the design process.

If you’re in New York, be sure to see this great exhibit!  Museum of the City of New York.
April 1st, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Joan Mitchell

Teaching doesn’t come with an instruction manual.  I’d never planned to be a teacher.  Yet almost four years ago, I found myself in front of a classroom.  To say that I was anxious would be an understatement.  Luckily, it got easier with practice.  The very first course I taught was called Fashion Seminar at FIDM.  Part theory, part portfolio development, I was responsible for teaching fashion theory along with art.  The portfolio consisted of a series of art assignments.  The learning outcome was to take an inspiration source and create new and meaningful artwork from it. Each week, we would have a new focus: collage, found object, textile design, and so forth.  There was one assignment that initially gave me any problems.  It was called multiple sensory.



Untitled by Joan Mitchell, 1969.  Image courtesy of the Joan Mitchell Foundation, Cheim & Read Gallery, and Lehigh University.

I understood the concept.  Say your inspiration source is a tree.  How does it feel to touch its bark?  Try drawing that sensation.  Obviously, there is no “wrong” way to do this assignment.  Yet it caused so much confusion the first time I tried to explain this to the students.  For me, this was frustrating.  I didn’t seem to have the right words to explain the desired result.  But then, I remembered learning about synesthesia.  I decided to do a little research and present my findings to the class.

Detail. Image courtesy of the Joan Mitchell Foundation, Cheim & Read Gallery, and Lehigh University.

Synesthesia is a neurologically-based condition in which stimulation of one sensory pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory pathway. Synesthetes, those that have synesthesia, will see colors when they hear sound or touch objects.  (I’ve written about this before!  Please read my post Synesthesia in Art & Fashion.  It’s one of my favorites!)  When I research, I go to libraries and book stores.  I build a sort of book fort around myself, and get lost in thought for hours.  I stumbled across several great books, but the best one was a small catalog called Synesthesia: Art & the Mind.  It’s fantastic, and I have a copy in my personal collection.

Untitled by Joan Mitchell, 1978.  Image courtesy of the Joan Mitchell Foundation, Cheim & Read Gallery, and Lehigh University.

This catalog is how I became acquainted with Joan Mitchell.  And it was love at first sight!  There is a small essay by Patricia Albers in this catalog, and it explains all about Joan Mitchell and how her synesthesia influenced her paintings.  Albers explains:

Joan Mitchell had several forms of synesthesia, including personality-color synesthesia, in which other people induce colors . . .


 Heel, Sit, Stay by Joan Mitchell, 1977.  Image courtesy of the Joan Mitchell Foundation, Cheim & Read Gallery, and Lehigh University.

It turns out that Mitchell also had “colored-hearing” synesthesia, or that she would see shapes and colors while listening to music.  She also has eidetic memory (aka photographic memory) which means that instead of remembering, she would quite literally relive the past.  Albers goes on to explain:

” ‘I carry my landscapes around with me’ she often said, in the form of images that ‘roosted inside’ her.   As involved as she was with trees, rivers, fields, clouds, weather, and so on, she did not work out-of-doors, but rather mentally ‘framed’ whatever spoke to her: ‘the motion is made still like a fish trapped in ice.  It is trapped in the painting.  My mind is like an album of photographs and paintings.’ “


Tilleul by Joan Mitchell, 1978.  Image courtesy of the Joan Mitchell Foundation, Cheim & Read Gallery, and Lehigh University.

Lehigh University currently has a show on Joan Mitchell’s work.  It doesn’t touch on her synesthesia, but I sat in front of these large scale works and just marveled at them.  I really enjoyed the painting above. This canvas just looks like a tree to me.  I stared at it for a while, wondering if I was looking up at branches.  It was like going for a walk through Mitchell’s personal landscape.  This painting really made me happy.  And there was just so much to look at!  It’s even more magical up-close.  Look at the details:




Details. Image courtesy of the Joan Mitchell Foundation, Cheim & Read Gallery, and Lehigh University.


When I explained synesthesia and showed Mitchell’s artwork to my students, I saw a drastic improvement on the work they produced.  There is a really freeing sense that developed in my classroom.  Everyone can experiencing a merging of the senses to some degree.  But the very idea stimulates creativity.  Sensations, emotions – they aren’t logical, nor do they possess a recognizable visual form.  So relating feelings and perceptions to colors and forms in art was almost liberating to the students.  Their creations didn’t have to look like anything, but there was always a recognizable correlation to their inspiration.


Untitled by Joan Mitchell, c. 1952.  Image courtesy of the Joan Mitchell Foundation, Cheim & Read Gallery, and Lehigh University.

As I walked through the Mitchell exhibit, I had the real sense of experiencing nature.  A tree, a leaf, branches, flowers, rain, sunshine through a window – I had the sensations of experiencing it the way Mitchell must have.  This painting made me think of blossoming flowers.  At first, I saw one large flower.  But as I approached the canvas, it seemed there were small flowers scattered about.


Detail. Image courtesy of the Joan Mitchell Foundation, Cheim & Read Gallery, and Lehigh University.


It reminded me of the critiques I had with my students in LA.  Somehow, it all makes sense.  If you are in the Bethlehem area, please drop in to see the show!  It is at the Zoellner Art Center until May 2013.


Untitled by Joan Mitchell, 1992.  Image courtesy of the Joan Mitchell Foundation, Cheim & Read Gallery, and Lehigh University.

March 29th, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Calder Bicentennial Tapestries

Making discoveries in your own back yard are so fun.  Today, I was at the Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University.  I went to their gallery to see the Joan Mitchell show, which I will be writing a post about shortly!  However, I was really surprised to see these tapestries hanging up.  They are by none other than Alexander Calder  (1898-1976).


The Bicentennial Tapestries: La Poire, le fromage, et le serpent (The Pear, the Cheese, and the Serpent) by Alexander Calder, 1975.  Wool.  Handwoven the Atelier of Pinton Freres.

Calder was a famous sculptor.  You’ve probably seen some of his mobiles, which he started producing in the 1930s.  Calder was born in Philadelphia.  His father was a sculptor and his mother was a painter.  After studying engineering, Calder studied at the Art Students’ League in New York



Mobile by Alexander Calder. Image courtesy of the LA Times.
Calder was not limited to sculpture. He experimented with various media: jewelry, painting, drawing, tapestries.  Calder tried it all.  He was also very close friends with Vera Neumann, a fantastic textile and scarf designer.  (I remember a particularly fantastic post on this topic by The Vintage Traveler!)


The Bicentennial Tapestries: La Tache Bleue (The Blue Blob) by Alexander Calder, 1975.

In celebration of the bicentennial of the American Revolution, Calder designed a set of six tapestries.  His designs were then handwoven by the Pinton Freres atelier in Aubusson, France.  A limited edition of 200 were produced.


The The Bicentennial Tapestries: Le Sphere et les spirales (The Sphere and the Spirals) by Alexander Calder, 1975.

Each of the tapestries are signed and have a number.  I wasn’t able to closely examine each of the tapestries, because they were hanging quite high on the wall. Two of the tapestries were hung above benches.  So I stepped up to take a closer look (and a few photos).   Here is the signature and a mark that I can’t quite make out.  I suppose it is the number of the tapestry.



I really loved the graphic quality of the tapestries.  The swirls and stripes are so interesting.  The Palms is a great example of what I’m talking about.



The Bicentennial Tapestries: Les Palmiers (The Palms) by Alexander Calder, 1975.


Calder actually died the same year in which the tapestries were realized by the Pinton Freres atelier. These tapestries were a gift from Philip and Muriel Burman in 1999.  The local newspaper, The Morning Call wrote more about the weaving technique when the gift was announced to the public:

The panels were made in Aubusson, France, using a centuries old technique that takes the weaver a month to create a single square yard of tapestry. The Bicentennial Tapestries were woven at Pinton Freres, the same studio that converted the art of Picasso, Chagall and Miro into Aubusson tapestry.


The Bicentennial Tapestries: Trois spirales (Three Spirals) by Alexander Calder, 1975.

The sixth tapestry was in the permanent gallery downstairs, which I missed.  More reason to go back and take another look!

February 5th, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Menswear: Shoes, 1888

Saturday was a really fun day.  I spent a few hours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with my mom.  It was her first time there, so I had to show her around.  I’m lucky enough to know the Impressionist galleries pretty well.  I visit them almost every time I’m there.  (Second floor, Nineteenth Century European art!)

She absolutely loved it.  We dashed about, looking at different things, only to meet in front of paintings we mutually admired.  Like mother, like daughter I guess would sum the experience up, because we met up in front of this painting by Van Gogh:


Shoes, 1888.  It’s a beautiful painting. Dazzling hues, strong brushwork, impasto layers of paint,  interesting composition.  We talked about this only after a good laugh- we love paintings of fashion.  We sort of marveled at how the shoes were timeless.  They could still be fashionable today, and here they were in a painting from 1888.  We wondered is they were Van Gogh’s own, or maybe they belonged to his friend and fellow painter Cezanne.


My mom was really insistent that they looked like a pair of Vans. She probably made this connection because the soles of the shoes in the painting look white.  I wasn’t really convinced on this comparison.   To me, the shoes seemed like they were made of really nice leather.  Van Gogh took a lot of artistic liberty with selecting the color of the paint, so I guess everyone sees something different.  I imagined a soft, buttery leather, with an oval shaped toe cap.

We had lunch downstairs in the cafeteria, and I spotted these shoes on a passerby:


Making these kinds of connections between fashion and art is practically what I live for.  Of course I was beside myself with excitement, and shouted “I love your shoes!”.  They were practically right out of my imagination of what I thought Van Gogh’s painting was trying to represent.  (These shoes, of course, have a few more eyelets than the painting.)


The wearer almost escaped without further interrogation.  I sat and looked at the rest of my food, and the thought of not know more about the shoes made me lose my appetite.  So I ran after the gentleman to find out more about the brand.  Ian was kind enough to fill me in.  The shoes are by Clae, an Los Angeles based company.  Founded in the 1990s, the shoes are a take on merging casual silhouettes with the comfort of an athletic shoe.  Designer Sung Choi coined a term for this concept: “athleisure”.


They certainly are perfect for a Saturday walking around Manhattan.  The style is classic and refined.  But they certainly look comfortable enough to trek around the city.  Definitely an updated take on what Van Gogh was wearing back in 1888!

February 3rd, 2013 by Monica Murgia

Batik: Cloth as Art

Batik is such a magical textile.  It’s a special way of dyeing cloth.  Wax is applied to the surface of a cloth to protect certain areas from the dye bath.  The cloth is dyed several times to achieve a rich, artistic surface.  It is traditionally done by hand, and takes a very long time.  Resistance and Splendor in Javanese Textiles is a small exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that explores this wax resist dyeing technique.



So, for instance, let’s talk about the sarung above.  There are about 4 different dye colors.  Before the sarung was dipped in a red dye bath, all of the areas that were going to be a different color had to be covered in wax.  The wax prevents the dye from being absorbed in the fabric.  The cloth was dried, the wax removed, and the the process was repeated for the other colored dye baths.


Batik is a traditional cloth from Indonesia.  There are many studios in Java that have historically produced batik cloth.  I wrote a lot about this in graduate school, and always admired how skillfully and artistically the cloth was decorated.  Some of my research is actually published in book  Encyclopedia of National Dress!  The book is available for pre-order on Amazon.  My mom (above) attended the show with me.  She knows how crazy I am about batik, but she had never seen any in person.

She was mesmerized by the level of detail in the cloth.


One of the other aspects I love about Javanese textiles is that they are  spiritual objects.  Indonesia has a really rich and diverse religious community, but a large percentage is Hindu and Buddhist.  The cloth and how it is made is a representation of the universe (sort of like Tibetan sand mandalas).



The act of making these complex patterns is a sort of meditation.  Extreme care and mindfulness are needed, or else the design will not be executed properly.  The artists that make these clothes must be fully present in the moment of creating the cloth.




Also, the colors of the dyes are a spiritual reference. The traditional natural dyes indigo, brown, and white represent the Hindu gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. These three gods are a sacred trinity in Hinduism.  Brahma is the creator, Vishnu is the preserver, and Shiva is the destroyer.  You can start to see how traditional batik represents the larger idea of the universe, life, and death.


 Most of the designs and motifs in batik show scenes from nature.  I think this really reinforces the spiritual element of the cloth.  It represents the impermanence of life. Life changes.  It never stays the same.  Everything grows, changes forms, and eventually leaves the earth.


Most Hindu and Buddhist art address these ideas.  Art from these spiritual traditions act as meditation tools.  They give viewers ways to understand and accept the greater truths and experience of life.  But most Buddhist and Hindu art is stationary and stays in one place.  Batik can be worn, and serve as a daily reminder of spirituality.


All images courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  If you liked these images, I’ll be posting more to my Facebook page.  Please check it out!



February 1st, 2013 by Monica Murgia

A Conversation on Social Interaction

Teaching is always on my mind.  I’m always looking for new and better ways to communicate with my students and those around me.  Worn Through allows me to share my observations and strategies I use for teaching.  One thing I always try to do when planning a lesson is create activities that encourage social interaction.

This term, I am completing a training to teach online.  I’ve been increasingly preoccupied with ways in which to engage and direct social interaction in a digital classroom.   This led me to contact Dirk vom Lehn.  Vom Lehn is a sociologist and lecturer at Kings College.  I was hoping he could share his experiences as an educator and expert on social interaction to shed some light on the matter.  He also invited his colleauge Will Gibson, lecturer at the Institute of Education at the University of London to join the disucssion.

A really dynamic conversation is unraveling as we discuss our interests and training in social interaction as a learning tool.  So for today’s post, please visit Worn Through and read On Teaching Fashion: A Conversation on Social Interaction, Part I.  Whether or not you are a teacher, vom Lehn and Gibson offer some wonderful insights on learning – something you should never stop doing!




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