In one way or another, we know the world through our bodies. They are complex machines–contained chaos, if you will–and infinitely fascinating. It is no surprise to me that artists, philosophers and sociologists (among many) return to the body as a site of investigation and exploration. The artists below offer an especially intriguing framework for considering the human body–they offer up adornment that fragments it and turns it into an object to be worn. A represented body could refer to someone specific or no one in particular–either way, when it is turned into jewelry and worn by someone it becomes a part of that body, the wearer’s body, and a cycle of meaning is created that consistently refers one to the other.



Jessica Calderwood, Blink (enamel, copper and sterling silver)


chrysanthemum_red  chrysanthemums

Heather White, Chrysanthemums (brooches, 2004, sterling silver and cast resin teeth)



Julia Harrison, A Dozen Rose Buds (brooches of wood, lacquer, gouache, epoxy + more)



Margaux Lange, The Kiss (sterling silver, plastic and epoxy resin)



Sarah J.G. Wauzynski, Small Demands (brooch in sterling silver, egg tempera pigment and 18kt gold)



Ineke Heerkens, Ring (leather)



Stacy Rodgers, Breasts



Melanie Bilenker, Feet (2007; brooch of gold, sterling silver, ebony, resin, pigment and hair, 1 x 7/8 x 3/8 in.)






I am intrigued by the persistent human inclination to connect with the broader natural world, especially when we model ourselves after other creatures/living things. This might be most obvious in the realm of clothes and adornment. This goes well beyond wearing representations of animals or other creatures (although those are the kinds of vintage garments that inspire this post). This is an echoing, in our human way, of the colors, patterns and arrangements of the feathers, fur, and design of other animals. And here we find only the beginning of the multiple and complex avenues this could lead us down. Where admiration could be predatory (killing leopards for the profit of their fur, crocodiles for their skin, birds for their feathers) or disruptive (when closed ecosystems become tourist destinations for the curious as well as the sincere) or benevolent (raising awareness of the existence and circumstances of species). This is the serious side of this conversation, what I want to draw attention to here is the celebratory side of this issue–with contemporary artists who, quoting nature, create something theatrical, something joyful, something of a spectacle. These gestures are reverential, analytical, often loving and, absolutely breath-taking.

Jesse Mathes, Partlet (Copper and Prismacolor, 36 x 26 x 17 in.)

Jullie Heffernan Self Portrait as Quarry, 2000, oil on canvas, 70 x 68 in. (A tiny bit different than the other works shown here but I am sure you will forgive me).

Molly Carter, Attirement for the Bride, 20 ft. train of dyed turkey feathers

Alexander McQueen, Spring 2008

Thea Tolsma, Rubber Neckpiece

Alexander McQueen, Spring 2008

A doubling up of the conversation in a modern representation of historical theatricality with the The “Ms. Oiseau Brooch” from Etsy’s paraphernalia


In a way this is an indirect homage to anyone who has revelled in pattern as a combination of shapes, lines, colors, forms and textures (including those ca. 1970s who made the words “Pattern and Decoration” into a so-called movement). But this is also thinking about pattern as a “device” that can be both beautiful and a little sinister (a la Charlotte Perkins Gilman and her yellow wallpaper). Pattern that is enchanting yet, perhaps, also, claustrophobic. Invigorating yet unhealthy. Appealing yet constricting. Pattern (as both abstract concept and physical construction) can be flexible, covering anything–a body, a wall, a floor, a vase, a piece of paper–and playing tricks with the eyes and mind. It can both define and obliterate, emphasize or belittle. The following do not just explore the idea of pattern or the history and significance behind certain designs but they use pattern as something fluid, something that crosses boundaries metaphorical and actual and that establishes unexpected relationships.

Stephanie Liner, Gibbosity, 2006, fabric, wood, paint and live model

Andy Jordan, Polymer Girl, 2004, upholstery fabric and PVC

Andy Jordan, Pica with Stella, 2003

Claire Coles, Wallpaper/Room Scene

Claire Coles, Wallpaper Brooches

Astrid Bowlby, ink on paper installation, 2006

Megan Auman, Living Room, 2006, powder-coated steel, 60 x 80 x 80 in.

Susan Lee-Chun, Facade (The Figurative Kind), 2006, fabric and polyfill, dimensions variable

Anne Polashenski, Lowry Faux Pas Obliteration (Little Boy’s Suit of 1860), 2006, C-print and gouache on paper, 18 x 18 in.


In contemporary “Western” society, personal choice dictates what individuals wear–while there are some institutions that mandate a particular kind of dress (the military, other occupations, “uniform” schools), it is obvious that we no longer live under the same kinds of demands (or even laws*) about dress that once structured lives (*sumptuary laws they were called, and some of them dictated different colors for different social classes or barred the wearing of lace and certain textiles). This is true for what we wear on our head and/or how we arrange our hair as well as the other ways in which we adorn our bodies. 

Through a contemporary lens certain types of hats would seem a little “dressed up.” Clearly those living in Western society today do think about what they put on their heads or how they wear their hair but, as with other elements of fashion, the form and use is a little different now than it once was. 


Whether considered high fashion, special occasion, or sculptural, these contemporary headpieces from designers on Etsy both channel the vintage vibe and create a dramatic profile. They call attention to why and how we wear hats and set the stage for a transformation of sorts. 


Piperewan’s “Feathery Flower Brooch”


TopsyTurvyDesign’s “Sabrina”


Emphasizing the head and hair but creating work that is slightly less “traditional,” the following draw on the social and cultural context of hair and hairstyling as they explore history, identity, fashion, ornamentation, value, luxury, adornment, design, the fantastical, spectacle, and the body. 


Hair Sculpture by Hrafnhildur Arnardottir (check out her super fantastic “Shoplifter” graphic!).  Arnardottir is drawn to hair as a “primal medium” (described as such because it grows on the body) and relishes hair as a material that can be so easily used to explore vanity, identity, and power.



Mother Nature’s Hood by Trudee Hill in collaboration with Mikko Seppa (aluminum, sterling silver, and viscous thread). Hill (and Seppa’s) hood is gloriously both ancient and sci-fi, simultaneously suggesting the decadence of past civilizations and the possibilities of future ones.



Afro Abe II by Sonya Clark . While it is not exactly a hat or adornment for the hair, this work poignantly sums up hair’s social significance. Over the years, Clark has explored the dynamic between hair and self, hair and others, hair and history, hair and identity. 



Tiffany Wigs by Kate Cusack. Using plastic (saran) wrap, Cusack created these wigs for a Tiffany & Co. window display. While they playfully mock the ludicrousness of the extreme hairstyles of 18th century aristocrats, they are also a tribute to such pageantry and are just, immeasurably, lovely.  



Cobra by Candace Kling (From the collection of Alex and Camille Cook). This headpiece is made of ribbon (folded, pressed, pleated, sewn, molded). Oh, yes. It is breath-taking. Kling, exploring the transformative power of garments, believes that headwear can be empowering and has created magnificent headpieces that combine historical precedent and fanciful conjecture.




[On a personal note, I am a hat wearer/head adorner. Pictures from my childhood indicate that this has always been so. And, um, I would proudly wear anything from this post.]


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.