CLOSE

Gorgeous Stitched Paintings Depict Environmental Destruction

Linda Gass was born to be an artist. She started creating as soon as she was old enough to hold a paintbrush; now, several decades later, Gass has fulfilled her childhood dream and then some. The Bay Area artist creates vibrant works of art on cloth, but they’re not just pretty pictures. Each of Gass’s stitched paintings, as she calls them, also serves as a stark illustration of the damage we’re causing our planet. 

Gass grew up in the 1970s, along with the first stirrings of modern environmentalism. By the time she reached college, the movement was in full swing. It was a “lifestyle,” she tells mental_floss. “It really opened my eyes.” 

But there were practical concerns to attend to. Gass’s parents wanted her to find a career that would support her, which made becoming an artist out of the question. She turned instead to math and computer science, eventually entering the software industry. And her parents were right: she was well-supported. But she wasn’t satisfied. So after years of saving up, she quit. 

“It was a really tough decision,” she says. “I had worked all my life to get to the point where I was in the software industry and it certainly paid well. All of my friends were there. So I had to really build up my courage to step away.”

The risky decision paid off. By 1998, Gass had found her way into textile art, and she never looked back. “I love working in textiles,” she says. “There’s something about fabric that’s very comforting. It’s beautiful and a pleasure to work with.” 

But her environmental roots were calling. It wasn’t long before Gass realized she could integrate her concerns into her art. Her first ecological piece, After the Gold Rush, was inspired by an aerial photograph of California’s Interstate 5.

Painting after painting followed, addressing themes of land use, water pollution, and human violence against the landscape. Yet each image is luminous and lovely to see. This is intentional, according to Gass: “I try to lure people in with that beauty to get them to confront the hard issues we face.” 

Click on each painting's title for a brief description.

Over the last two decades, Gass has expanded her repertoire to include sculpture and landscape installations. Last year, she was honored with a creative ecology residency in East Palo Alto, California. She chose to work on Cooley Landing, a public beach that had, until recently, been landfill. Understandably, the community was somewhat hesitant to spend time there. But through Gass’s free workshops, locals of all ages were able to discover the natural beauty and heritage of their new shoreline. 

East Palo Alto is something of an economic island, a low-income city in a sea of wealthy neighbors. The ecology residency had a dual purpose: introducing the city's residents to their new open space, and offering them an opportunity to engage in hands-on art and science. 

Gass and her workshop participants sketched the wildlife they saw and created a huge installation along the coast—thousands of bright-blue flags, marking where the waterline had once been.

Gass also used her students’ drawings to create a blank silk canvas for community members to paint.

“I overheard some of the girls while they were painting with the dyes, saying, ‘This is magical!’ Which is exactly how I felt about silk painting the very first time I tried it," she says. "It is this very magical, mesmerizing technique. It was so great to be reminded of how lucky I am to be able to work in this art form.”

Gass shows her work in galleries and museums around the country. To see her paintings in person this year, check out the Institute of Contemporary Art in San Jose, California, or the Euphrat Musem of Art in Cupertino, California. 

All images courtesy of Linda Gass. 

nextArticle.image_alt|e
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
arrow
Animals
Boston's Museum of Fine Arts Hires Puppy to Sniff Out Art-Munching Bugs
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Some dogs are qualified to work at hospitals, fire departments, and airports, but one place you don’t normally see a pooch is in the halls of a fine art museum. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is changing that: As The Boston Globe reports, a young Weimaraner named Riley is the institution’s newest volunteer.

Even without a background in art restoration, Riley will be essential in maintaining the quality of the museum's masterpieces. His job is to sniff out the wood- and canvas-munching pests lurking in the museum’s collection. During the next few months, Riley will be trained to identify the scents of bugs that pose the biggest threat to the museum’s paintings and other artifacts. (Moths, termites, and beetles are some of the worst offenders.)

Some infestations can be spotted with the naked eye, but when that's impossible, the museum staff will rely on Riley to draw attention to the problem after inspecting an object. From there, staff members can examine the piece more closely and pinpoint the source before it spreads.

Riley is just one additional resource for the MFA’s existing pest control program. As far as the museum knows, it's rare for institutions facing similar problems to hire canine help. If the experiment is successful, bug-sniffing dogs may become a common sight in art museums around the world.

[h/t The Boston Globe]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.
arrow
History
Mütter Museum Showcases the Victorian Custom of Making Crafts From Human Hair
Palette work from the collection of John Whitenight and Frederick LaValley
Palette work from the collection of John Whitenight and Frederick LaValley
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

During the Victorian era, hair wasn’t simply for heads. People wove clipped locks into elaborate accessories, encased them in frames and lockets, and used them to make wreaths, paintings, and other items. "Woven Strands," a new exhibition at Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, explores this historical practice by featuring dozens of intricate works culled from five private collections.

According to Emily Snedden Yates, special projects manager at the Mütter Museum, hair work—as it’s called today—was common in England and America between the 17th and early 20th centuries. The popularity of the practice peaked in the 19th century, thanks in part to Queen Victoria’s prolonged public mourning after her husband Prince Albert’s death in 1861. People in both the UK and U.S. responded to her grief, with the latter country also facing staggering death tolls from the Civil War.

With loss of life at the forefront of public consciousness, elaborate mourning customs developed in both nations, and hair work became part of the culture of bereavement. "[The 19th century was] such a sentimental age, and hair is about sentiment," exhibition co-curator Evan Michelson tells Mental Floss. That sentimental quality made hair work fit for both mourning practices as well as for romantic or familiar displays of fondness.

Palette work culled from the collection of Evan Michelson and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Palette work from the collection of Evan Michelson
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Most hair artworks were made by women, and created solely for the domestic sphere or as wearable trinkets. Women relied on multiple techniques to create these objects, fashioning wreaths with hair-wrapped bendable wires—a process called gimp work—and dissolving ground hair into pigments used to paint images of weeping willows, urns, and grave sites. Watch fobs, necklaces, and bracelets were woven using an approach called table work, which involved anchoring hair filaments with lead weights onto a table and using tools to twist them into intricate patterns through a hole in the furniture’s surface. Yet another technique, palette work, involved stenciled sheets of hair that were cut into various shapes and patterns.

Hair work remained popular until World War I, according to Michelson, who co-owns New York City's quirky Obscura Antiques and Oddities shop and organized "Woven Strands" along with 19th century decorative arts expert John Whitenight.

“Women hit the workforce, and death occurred on such a huge scale that it really swept away the old way of mourning and the old way of doing things,” Michelson says. By the early 20th century, tastes and aesthetics had also changed, with hair work beginning to be viewed “as something grandma had,” she explains.

The Mütter’s exhibition aside, people typically won’t see hair work in major museums. Being a craft primarily performed by women at home, hair works were usually passed down in families and often viewed as worthless from a financial and artistic perspective.

“A lot of hair work was discarded,” Michelson says. Many owners repurposed the shadowbox frames often used to display hair work by removing and tossing the artworks within. Works stored in basements and attics also frequently succumbed to water damage and insects. Antique dealers today typically only see hair jewelry, which often featured semi-precious materials or was encased in a protective layer.

Sepia dissolved hair culled from the collection of Jennifer Berman and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Sepia dissolved hair from the collection of Jennifer Berman
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Yet examples of hair wreaths, palette work, and other delicate heirlooms do occasionally surface. They’re prized by a small group of avid collectors, even though other connoisseurs can be grossed out by them.

“People have this visceral reaction to it,” Michelson says. “They either gasp and adore it—like ‘I can’t get over how amazing it is’—or they just back away. There are very few other things where people are repulsed like this … In the 19th century no one batted an eyelash.”

“It’s a personal textile,” Snedden Yates explains. “It’s kind of like bone in that it doesn’t really decompose at the same rate as the rest of our bodies do. It’s not made of tissue, so if you keep it in the right environment it can be maintained indefinitely.”

Table work culled from the collection of Eden Daniels and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Table work from the collection of Eden Daniels
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

“Woven Strands” features examples of gimp work, palette work, table work, and dissolved hair work. It’s often hard to trace these types of artworks back to their original creators—they typically don’t bear signatures—but the curators “really wanted to find hair that you could connect to an actual human being,” Michelson says. “We chose pieces that have provenance. We know where they came from or when it was made, or who actually donated the hair in some cases, or what the family name was. We also picked out things that are unusual, that you don’t see often—oddities, if you will.”

Woven hair culled from the collection of Jennifer Berman and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Woven hair from the collection of Jennifer Berman
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Displayed in the Mütter Museum’s Thomson Gallery, “Woven Strands” opens on January 19, 2018, and runs through July 12, 2018. On April 7, 2018, master jeweler and art historian Karen Bachmann will lead a 19th century hair art workshop, followed by a day-long historical symposium on the art on Sunday, April 8.

Michelson hopes that “Woven Strands” will teach future generations about hair art, and open their minds to a craft they might have otherwise dismissed as parochial or, well, weird. “We hope that people see it and fall in love with it,” she says.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios