Our graphic designer Erin gives her spin on Spun:
It’s heartening to walk through an exhibit like Denver Art Museum’s Spun: Adventures in Textiles. As a designer, I’ve long identified with the human desire for adornment – an inclination to make oneself and one’s home a beautiful, decorated space. For me, and I imagine many of you, taking pride and ownership in what I use, display and wear in my life fosters an ongoing sense of creativity and joy.
In exploring the exhibit’s “Cover Story” gallery, it amazed me to realize just how long our human impulse has been to push textiles beyond simple function. In learning to dye, weave and stitch in complex and ingenious ways, we’ve taken cloth from a basic use of cover/carry and elevated it into art.
One exhibit example was a Japanese fireman’s coat from the late 1800’s/early 1900’s. Made of thick layers of quilted cotton and soaked in water before use, it was as functional as cotton could be in at the time. But the inside and outside of the coat both feature vibrant paste-resist decoration – on one side, a bold design that made the wearer visible and on the other side a gorgeous scene depicting the wearer’s homeland to be worn for ceremonial use. Even in something as utilitarian as a fire uniform, we upped the function ante with style.
Another lovely piece was a Mexican bedcover called a Colcha from 1750-1810. The cover is embroidered with motifs from as far as Europe and Asia in cultural design blend. I immediately identified with this piece – it’s a centuries-old duvet cover of sorts. Why wouldn’t people in 16th century Mexico want to decorate their sleeping place just as I do now? I suppose that folks born without the adornment gene can cover their beds with burlap – but the rest of us have, and will continue to feel the need to make things pretty.
The exhibit was an exuberant reminder that the desire we feel as craftspeople and as artists to create is both intrinsic and important. When we sew and craft, we’re creating artifacts that will serve as cultural touchstones for the museum-goers of the future – while clothing ourselves in beauty and style along the way.