Saturday, November 7, 2015

Mourning Jewelry

The mourning scene is composed entirely from human hair on milk glass. It contains all the standard elements: weeping willow, tomb, idyllic setting, flowers, and painted in the background sunset yellow, orange, and pink streak across the horizon.  Strand upon strand was layered to create a three dimensional effect and finely chopped hair added last to give the scene greater depth and scale. These three dimensional hairwork pieces are exceptionally rare, and this one probably dates to the mid nineteenth century.

Image and text source

Above image from Millers Antique Guide.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Pearl Origins

Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala

Early History
Treasured and collected by women and men alike for more than 4000 years, pearls are one of the world’s oldest gems. In all likelihood, the first pearl was probably discovered many thousands of years ago by people searching the oceans for food. Since then, pearls have starred in romance, wars, religion and even wagers and the rich history of pearls is full of symbolism across many different cultures and regions.
Ancient Rome
In ancient Rome pearls were a highly prized accessory, the ultimate symbol of wealth and social standing. So much so that only persons above a certain rank were allowed to wear pearls, formalized in law by Julius Caesar who enacted the first legislation restricting who could wear pearls. This only caused Rome’s pearl craze to continue growing, reaching a zenith during the first century B.C. So insatiable was the Romans thirst for pearls that military campaigns were launched for the sole purpose to acquire this precious commodity.
Ancient Rome is also the setting of one of the most famous banquets in history and sums up the value Romans attached to pearls. The incident has been described by the Roman historian Pliny the Elder in his book “Natural History”. Although not without controversy, most historians today agree that the incident described is factual. The story describes how Cleopatra the Egyptian queen hosted a banquet for the Roman leader Marc Antony, and wagered she could give the most expensive dinner in history.
The primary purpose of the dinner was to convince Rome that Egypt possessed a rich heritage and wealth that put it above conquest. At the dinner, Antony was taken aback when Cleopatra had an empty plate and a vessel of sour wine (vinegar) placed in front of her. Cleopatra then dropped one pearl from her large pearl earrings into the vessel, which dissolved in the highly acidic wine and won the wager. According to Pliny the pearl was worth 10 million sesterces or thousands of pounds of gold.
Ancient China
Chinese historical records reference pearls as far back as 2300 B.C., one of the earliest known mentions of the gem. The Chinese considered pearls as prized possessions and often gifted them to royalty. Pearls became especially popular in China during the Qing, or Manchu, dynasty, which ruled from 1644 to 1911. The imperial family and wealthy elite used large numbers of pearls to enhance costumes and furnishings. In theory, the emperor himself was supposed to use pearls only from freshwater mussels in Manchuria, north-eastern China, the dynasty's homeland. But imperial art of the period shows so many big round pearls that at least some probably came from marine pearl oysters in waters off southern China, Vietnam and perhaps the Philippines.
Ancient India
India has had a long and glorious history with pearls. The Rig-Veda one of the oldest Vedas (sacred texts) has the first mention of pearls, approximately 3000 years ago. Around 2,500 years ago, the Atharva-Veda mentions an amulet made of pearls and used as a talisman. The ancient epic poem, the Ramayana, describes a necklace made with 27 pearls. Other texts tell the story of how the Hindu god Krishna was the first to discover pearls.
The Mughal period in India from the 16th to 19th centuries was also significant in the context of pearls. The Maharajahs were avid collectors of pearls, as keen be seen in their portraits. Many of them were draped in some of the finest pearls of the time, with some of their necklaces having as many as 9 strands.
The Maharajah of Baroda in particular stood out for his legendary pearl collection. Some highlights include the “Baroda Pearls” a magnificent two strand natural pearl necklace of 68 graduated pearls up to 16 mm in size and the “Pearl Carpet of Baroda” a 5 foot 8 inch by 8 foot 8 inch carpet made up of more than 1 million natural pearls. You get a sense for their rarity and value, when you look at the prices they fetched at recent auctions. The “Baroda Pearls” went for more than 7 million US dollars in 2007, while the “Pearl Carpet” fetched 5.5 million US dollars in 2009.
Ancient Greece
Well-known for their contributions to art and philosophy, the ancient Greeks held pearls in the highest regard more than 2500 years ago. Believing the essence of love and beauty lay in a pearl’s soul, they often used them at weddings. Persia was the major source for many of Greece’s pearls. Homer describes Juno's pearl earrings: "In three bright drops, her glittering gems suspended from her ears". A beautiful Greek necklace of pearls and gold, which dates from about 2,300 years ago, was displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of New York 100 years ago. It is one of the oldest known pieces in the world, and may still be owned by the museum.
Persian Gulf
Historically, one of the most significant sources of natural pearls, the warm waters of the Persian Gulf were rich with natural oyster beds. Ancient Arab legend states that pearls were formed when dewdrops filled with moonlight fell into the ocean and were swallowed by oysters. The Quran describes pearls as one of the greatest treasures provided in paradise.
Until well into the 20th century, pearls and pearl diving was the main-stay of the economy of the Persian Gulf. Diving for pearls with no safety equipment or training was an arduous and risky proposition, but the reward was plentiful and provided a healthy income for the pearl divers.
Modern History
As Renaissance Europe emerged, a new age dawned for pearls. Pearls became the favorite fashion luxury of the emerging royalty and elite classes. The Persian Gulf remained the most important source, until the discovery of the New World, when pearls flooded in from the oyster beds off the coasts of present day Venezuela, Panama and the Gulf of California.
European royalty’s fascination with the pearls knew no bounds, with pearls used in jewelry, crowns, art and even clothes. While all the royal and noble houses of Europe pursued pearls, Queen Elizabeth I of England stood out. She amassed an enviable collection of pearls that rivaled the most lavish collections of the time. Known to have worn large ropes of pearls, Queen Elizabeth I was a true pearl connoisseur.
The 19th century witnessed the zenith of the trade in natural pearls. The immense popularity and allure of pearls had broadened from royalty to the upper and middle classes, leading to an unprecedented demand for pearls. Sadly, this was not sustainable and by the end of the 19th century most known sources of natural pearls had been discovered. This led to the eventual decline of the natural pearl trade and if it were not for events in Japan, the pearl industry would have been very different today.
The emergence of cultured pearls has again given women the chance to wear a gem that effortlessly expresses elegance, sophistication and feminism. The modern age is full of illustrious women who have made pearls their fashion accessory of choice, fashion icon Coco Chanel, Princess Diana of Wales and Hollywood star Audrey Hepburn, to name but a few.

Image and text source here

New World Pearls

The commerce of pearls in Mexico is as old as the pre-Columbian era, when Mayan and Aztec dealers went wide and far within the confines of their Empires to fetch magnificent pearls for their emperors and gods. Excavations in several archaeological sites have revealed large black pearls within the tomb of a Zapotec  ruler (750-500 a.C), the biggest discovery taking place at site 7 of Monte Alban, Oaxaca.
After the Conquest of the New World by the Spaniards, a tremendous “pearl fever” afflicted them and thus began the establishment of pearl fisheries in this Continent. The first pearl beds to become exploited were those of Venezuela, yielding small white-golden colored pearls, but their fever rose to new heights when they finally reached the Pacific coastline.The first pearls to be called “black pearls” and also as “South Sea Pearls” where the ones fished out of the Mexican, Central American and South American waters of the Pacific Ocean (christened by explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa as “Mare del Sur” -“The South Seas”). Places like the Gulf of Nicanor in Costa Rica, the “Islas de las Perlas” (or “Pearl Archipielago”) in Panama, the coasts of Oaxaca and Jalisco became famous for their large black pearls.
Later on, expeditions were sent to discover the “Sea of pearls”, later christened as the “Mare Bermejo de Cortés” (loosely translated as the “Red Sea of Cortez” and now officially known as the Gulf of California), to obtain the biggest and darkest pearls known at that time. Some time later, merchant and pirate ships from Holland, England and Russia, would appear in these waters, trading whatever valuables  they could for the famous Pearls of the Sea of Cortez…
Image and text source link here. 

History of Pearls

Friday, September 25, 2015

Textiles: The Art of Mankind by Mary Schoeser

My Notes:

  • Textiles reveal the human compulsion to engage with texture, color and storytelling.
  • Cultural significance  - through the ages so many produced and so many survived (remarkable since so fragile). 
  • Large amounts of the very earliest textile exist today because they were buried as grave goods.
  • Important role textiles have always played in ritual. 
  • Represent wealth and power, given as gifts, used to pay taxes, exchange for other good or services, even for peace.
  • The divine right to rule ensured that the kings and caliphs overflowed with exquisite textiles.
  • Homes of wealthy impressive textile legacies
  • Among many culture, textiles passed along lines of descent - dowry, lineage of woman.
  • Long before museums, collectors preserved textiles. 

  • 17th century - more prestigious and to own a fine silk garment or tapestry than a painting. 
  • Industrialization, gentrification, 20th century modern art movement pushed textiles to less important. Financial investment in painting and sculpture took precedence. 
  • Link to gender - men hold power for wealth and money and opportunity - textiles reduced to women's work. (Before industry, living more communal within a family and village)
  • Return to importance - 1960's - founded International Tapestry Biennial Switzerland and breakdown of tradition distinctions between art forms  - allowed for wider/non-traditional use of materials. Installation art. 
  • 1970's - Shift - instead of art that can only go into museums, art being made that couldn't go into museums. Earthworks. Christo and Jean Claude.
  • Also 1970's - feminist artists - confronting subjugation of women - incorporate textiles. 
  • Principles of collage in early textiles - appliqué and patchwork. 
  • Buddhist banners made of scraps of silk - chogak po a Korean patchwork method. 
  • Textile metaphors - following the thread, spinning the yarn - language, interwoven.
  • Ilka White, Entaglement, "Thinking about…all the myriad forms of connection, subtle to vast. Like when your chest feels ripped apart by the sky's eloquence. The mind extends way out beyond the skull…As the quantum physicist tells us, we live in an entangled universe."

  • Development of human brain stimulated by the emergence of basket weaving techniques.
  • Making of textiles - cognitive processing - led to robotics and computing.
  • Evidence - genetic - those that think with their fingers and are destined to manipulate materials. 

  • Visual vocabulary of textiles - thousands of years - connect cultures. 
  • Egypt - roundel form.
  • Persia 224-642 - silk, first know examples of pictorial loom-woven lengths of cloth, different colored  wefts. Dispersed as gifts and traded goods along the Silk Road (up to Scandinavia).
  • Tang dynasty - roundel aligned with Buddhist whee/cycle of life symbol - iconic image of court and church in China, Japan, India. 
  • Roundel modified by silk weavers into curved ogee typical of Italian Renaissance patterns (influenced by Islam, caliphs banned depiction of ??? from some regions). 
  • Design endures, distinct, sign of continuity and survival. 
  • Encircled eagle, emblem of Holy Roman Empire becomes Great Seal of the United States.
  • Origin inherent with textiles - material originating from plants/animals, someone makes the yarn/fiber. Origin, before, history, past - (link to the metaphors of following a thread and spinning a tale. All the different hands and places the materials passes)
  • Slavery. Also pesticides, bleaching. 
  • Natural world managed and altered to suit human need - (this need rooted in sensual desire - our desire to see or be seen with certain colors, textures, objects.

  • Peruvian textiles began to be excavated by German archaeologist in the 1880's.
  • Bauhaus - two cornerstones of modernism - the foundation course (the first to define methods of coordinating color according to hue's contrast properties, including intensity.
  • Itten - interest in weaving - learns from Gunta Stolz - Gunta becomes master of the weaving workshop in 1927.
  • Esther Fitzgerald - Modernism ws nourished by elements form the common pool of mystical ideas. 
  • Suggests Asian textiles direct influence on Modernist color theory. 
  • Anni Albers illustrated cloths by Peruvian weavers and cited them as her great teachers.
  • Agnes Myrtle Nelson - Analysis of Peruvian Weaves
  • Sensual and intensely reflective
  • Brennan-Wood - Vase Attacks San Francisco - reveals darker influences.
  • Roxanne Hawksley - Surgeon's Equipment
  • "Textiles form a firm foundation, a network linking a regard for the past, questions about the present and exhilarating ideas of the future."
Pile carpets, once rare, most extravagant of objects for the interior. 
These carpets for historians signify the presence of a highly organized workshop. 
Warp-looped piled clothes introduced to West via Italy beginning of 13th century, known as velvet, from Latin villus , meaning "laggy hair. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015


Detail of  stitching with silk and cotton thread on felt I dyed with ink.
Been working on this piece for, oh, almost three years now. 

Detail. Ink and metallic thread on faux fur. 

Detail. Cotton quilting thread on faux fur. 
Detail. Light and shadow on fabric. 
Detail. Waxed cotton, thread.
Ceramic forms (small) dipped in wax and paper forms painted in gesso
placed on black felt stitched with cotton thread.
Arrangement made by Amelia Eldridge during a studio visit. 
Detail. Thread, faux fur, ink.
Detail. Silk, cotton, metallic thread, felt. 
Detail. Thread, felt, dye, faux fur. 
Detail. Ink, thread, felt.
Detail. Silk and cotton thread, felt.
Detail. Silk, cotton and metallic thread, felt.
Detail. Thread, tracing paper.
Detail. Gold thread, felt. 
Detail. Wax, cotton, thread, felt.
Detail. Ink on chiffon.
Detail. Ink on chiffon.
Detail. Gesso, thread, colored pencil on tracing paper.
Detail. Gesso, charcoal on tracing paper with pin prick holes.
Detail. Paint, gesso, charcoal on paper.
Detail. Charcoal and pencil on gessoed paper.

Drawing on Tracing Paper

Maps, Charts and Diagrams Workshop at Arrowmont, Tennessee

Jul. 12, 2015 - Jul. 18, 2015
Laura Mongiovi
Fibers , Textiles , Mixed Media

Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts is a national art education center. The School offers weekend, one- and two-week workshops for the beginner to advanced artist, taught by national and international practicing studio artists and university faculty. Students work and learn in professionally equipped studios on a 14-acre residential campus in Gatlinburg, TN. A series of weekly classes are also offered for residents of the local community. Workshops and classes are offered in ceramics, fiber, metals/jewelry, painting, drawing, photography, warm glass, woodturning, woodworking, mixed media, books and paper. Link here to go to the the website home page. 

Arrowmont’s workshops are designed to provide creative opportunities for anyone who wants to learn new skills and be energized and inspired. Weekend, one-week and two-week sessions offer a concentrated experience of working in a professionally equipped studio with dedicated and talented instructors and other students. Students of varied experience levels, ages, and backgrounds work side-by-side, exchanging ideas and techniques. The power of focused time together results in new thinking and artistic growth for all. Workshops are open to students 18 years old or older, at all skill levels unless indicated otherwise in the course description. Instructors are national and international practicing studio artists and faculty at colleges and universities. Workshops are small, generally 10-12 students of varying experience and age but with a common goal of working hard, learning new skills and being creative.


I was invited to teach a workshop at Arrowmont this past summer. We used natural dye and shibori techniques to create lines and shapes on fabric that ranged from subtle to dramatic. Silk, cotton muslin and canvas were the fabrics we used. Once the fabric was dry students responded to thin, delicate lines and areas of pooled color by stitching with thread and drawing with pencil on the fabric. I introduced white and yellow beeswax so students could experiment with waxing a surface and using wax to create a three-dimensional structure. We used red onion skins, turmeric, mixed berry (heavy on the strawberries), coffee and tea for the dyes. Our studio was a sensual experience with many textures, the aroma from dye pots and the scent of beeswax. 

One of the textile studios. So many studios at Arrowmont!
This is where my workshop was held. The studio was well
equipped for dye - lots of big sinks, washer and dryer,
electrical outlets everywhere - everything an artist would
want! In addition to the great studio, Arrowmont provides
instructors with several studio assistants. 

Getting ready for my students! On the table are samples I made
earlier in the summer. Mixed berry (heavy on the blackberry),
coffee and turmeric. I also brought along some of my
favorite books to share.

Fabric in turmeric dye pot.

Karis pulling our first piece out of the turmeric pot. 

Red onion at two different stages. We saved the pot for
a few days. Each day the color lightened. The white cloth
tied with thread is some shibori action. 

Sierra rinsing out mixed berry (heavy on the strawberry). 

Tea on silk, coffee on cotton,
turmeric on cotton, turmeric on canvas.

Coffee on canvas, red onion on silk, mixed berry on cotton. 

Stephanie rinsing out shibori wrapped cotton muslin
from the turmeric pot.