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In the 18th century, an aristocratic gentleman compared the yards of lace around his neck to the land and fields he owned, suggesting that his sartorial finery was worth as much as his geographic property (both being worth a lot of money and functioning, basically, as inventory). Unlike this man, lace is not something I thought a lot about until about 5 years ago. Lace making was not something anyone in my family spent time doing and lace itself was something that I had to avoid wearing. Then I began to see lace (and the utilization of other handcraft techniques–a whole other exhibition and topic I pondered and which will appear in later posts) in brand new work that looked to it as something vital, energizing, fascinating. To be sure, lace never went anywhere. Its heyday as an industry was long over but there are still those who carry on the tradition–updating it, embracing it. And what lace “means” today both in practice and in content is not the same as lace of the past but the history has become an energy that fuels its continuation and adaptation. Lace is about labor and the work of the hand and mind–regardless of materials or ultimate endpoint, the exploration of lace itself is a demanding endeavor. And, even with all of these comments about what lace “is”, it also holds a mysterious, romantic power that cannot be adequately discussed–a power that is respected and explored but, for those truly enamored, not something that can be reasoned.


Anya Kivarkis, DOUBLE CUP BROOCH (Sterling silver and enamel). See more of her work at the awesome Sienna Gallery website

The vintage black lace cover-up/lingerie jacket from the 1950s is lace at its most intimate–originally only meant to be worn indoors as a “cover” to something else. But, and a point taken up later by others, it reveals as much as it conceals. And, black lace was naugh-tay back in the day–a reality that might still be connected with lace (and black lingerie) depending on the context. Anya Kivarkis’ brooch plays specifically with the 1950s camisole kind of “sexy” lace–evoking earlier fibrous lace but complicating it even more, and, in the form of jewelry, questioning its luxury, its ornamental status its relationship to the personal, to the feminine, to the domestic, to the old-fashioned, and the the racy.


Betsy Brandt, WHIRL (Hot glue and pigment, 14 ft. diameter)

Betsy Brandt picks up on lace as signifier of the feminine and domestic but immediately renegotiates the conversation by creating a 14 ft. doily of hot glue and pigment that becomes simultaneously a “carpet” and a swirling mass of form, color and meaning. No longer lace in its familiar form, Brandt’s doily demands we consider the processes of making (first for this piece then for all lace), the significance of questions about gender and gender roles, and notions about what constitutes pretty.


Anna Lindsay MacDonald

And, the wearable lace “maps” of Anna Lindsay MacDonald bring lace back to the body but cement its presence within a larger realm. MacDonald was not first inspired by lace–she has been interested in the interweaving of city streets and the mapping of urban spaces, but has since realized the formal connection between the street networks and the patterning of lace. The concepts of pattern and ornamentation link jewelry, lace, and the maps she was making. With her jewelry, lace has come full circle, in a way, linking the land back to the fiber network back to the body (just like that earlier aristocrat).


For full disclosure, this posting’s title is the same as that of an exhibition I curated (publication pending) that included both historical lace and contemporary objects that were inspired by or utilized lace (generated by those trained within the “art world” and by those who have addressed lace as a pastime and a passion.) While this posting emphasizes jewelry, that exhibition included cut and quilled paper, painting, mylar drawings, 5 ft. cedar lace “collars” and more.) Extraordinary artists and extraordinary work.


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