MFA Boston Olympic Spirit

I love how everyone is so into the Winter Olympics this year. I feel like the winter games get less play than summer usually, but this year they are getting a lot more attention.

And museums are getting into it too. One of my favorite Pinterest boards is the MFA Boston’s Winter Olympics – The MFA Team board. They are filling it up with art from their collections that feature sports in the winter games. I found these great postcards on it. I highly recommend following along.

Have you seen any other great displays of Olympic spirit?

The Monuments Men

I’ve been on a movie kick lately, and last night I saw The Monuments Men, which opened this weekend. There are few movies more up my alley — a period movie about art historians saving art in Europe? Sign me up. I knew I’d love it purely based on its premise.

If you don’t know the storyline, a group of art historians, architects, and artists go to the WWII front to track down art looted by the Nazis. No, it’s not an Oscar winner and there are some hokey moments, but overall it’s very enjoyable. The cast is filled with heavy hitters — George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, and John Goodman.

And it is a story that is important to share. Art and historical looting happens all over the world. War and civil unrest are often used as cover to steal some of humanity’s greatest treasures. One of the best lines in the movie goes, “You can wipe out a generation of people. You can burn their homes to the ground, and somehow they’ll still come back. But if you destroy their achievements, and their history, then it’s like they never existed.”

Actual 'monuments man' James Rorimer, with notepad, supervises American GIs in May 1945, National Archives and Records Administration via AP / Monuments Foundation for the Preservation of Art of Dallas

Of course movies are often more glamorous than real life. If you are interested in reading about the true story, I highly recommend this overview by the Smithsonian and a NPR piece with additional stories of the Monuments Men. The Met created a self-guided tour of artwork currently on display that was saved by the Monuments Men. And don’t miss the New York Times story about the women in the Monuments Men!

Even though you’ll find discrepancies between the real story and the movie, I hope The Monuments Men does well in theaters. I think it’s important for as many people as possible to see it to appreciate that war causes more damage than most people realize. Art and historical looting and the destruction of state archives are still major problems today. Art and artifact theft was and continues to be a problem in the Middle East, the heart of civilization, which increased due to American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. During the Arab Spring, artifacts were stolen from archeological sites across Egypt and from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square. And with the wave of violent protests in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the last week, reports say that the Ottoman archives in Sarajevo are lost from a fire set by protesters.

As they say, history repeats itself. But hopefully a movie like The Monuments Men can draw attention to the brave men and women who risked their lives to repatriate WWII-looted art and more people will have their eyes on issues like this in the future.

Friday File

Happy Friday! What are you doing this weekend? I’m excited to stay home and watch the Olympics! The Opening Ceremony is tonight, which I always look forward to. And I really enjoy figure skating, which is on both Saturday and Sunday. I loved the Canadian pairs’ performance yesterday.

Do you have a favorite winter Olympic sport?

Since the 2014 winter Olympics are here, Unmaking Things has a wonderful history of skiing apparel.

I’m getting even more excited about the Charles James show this summer at the Met after reading Christina Binkley’s recent piece in the Wall Street Journal. I really hope the exhibition talks about some of the innovations and understructures he’s so famed for, instead of just being about pretty gowns.

One of the top fashion critics, Cathy Horyn of the New York Times, resigned last Friday. Many are disappointed and worried about the future of fashion criticism, and rightly so.

This story about a realistic statue of an undressed sleepwalking man on Wellesley College’s campus is one of the funniest things I’ve read all week. No matter if you think of the statue, the students’ reactions are priceless.

Functionality and Aesthetics of Tapestries

Tapestries are fascinating to me. In the Middle Ages, tapestries were major indicators of wealth and status. Their main function was to insulate large rooms, particularly drafty stone walls in castles. They kept the cold and damp out while adding a highly decorative element. Tapestries became major signs of power and luxury as well.

Throughout the Middle Ages, tapestry design became more advanced, and these complicated designs added artistry and color to bare castle walls. Tapestries often told stories — battle scenes, the hunt, leisure activities in the country, religious scenes, family lineage, and mythology were all popular.

To cover large walls, the tapestries themselves were woven on large looms, requiring many craftsmen and a lot of capital. Tapestries were sold readymade or commissioned to depict specific scenes. The more complicated the design, the more expensive the tapestry cost. Gold thread was sometimes woven into tapestries, adding to the prestige of owning them.

Their portability added to their value. Tapestries could be taken down, rolled up, and moved to a new location easily. In fact, owners might have an employee whose sole job was tapestry care, transportation, mending, and alterations. Primarily produced in France, Belgium, and Germany, tapestries were sold to nobility and upper class across Europe.

I don’t know about you, but tapestry’s insulation factor seems highly useful right now. We could drape tapestries around our homes to help us stay warm during this brutal winter. And I can see their appeal as an item of artistic luxury as well. They are definitely worth a second look the next time you find yourself at an art museum.

Friday File

Oh heavens guys. It’s cold here in the Windy City. People ask me almost daily if this was what Fargo was like. I tell them, sort of, but Fargo is based on car culture. Few people take the bus, and there certainly isn’t a subway or elevated train. And there is ample parking. So I was rarely outside for very long when I commuted to or from work during the winter. In Chicago I take the L daily and sometimes the bus. I have a lot longer of walks too. So sure, this feels similar in temperature (to be fair, Fargo is always colder), but I’m out in it a lot more in Chicago than I was in Fargo.

So if you are reading this from a chilly region, stay warm!

Here are the week’s links:

Since the Italian government is strapped for cash, they are holding votes via Facebook on which pieces of artwork to conserve. Is this brilliance or idiocy? Some are saying Italy is in the process of committing “cultural suicide.”

Excuse me while I book my trip to Orlando for this summer. Universal Orlando just announced an expansion to their Harry Potter-themed park.

Did you hear that Chanel’s spring 2014 haute couture show featured sneakers that took at least 30 hours to make? Every look featured a coordinating pair, even the bridal look! That’s quite the statement on the modern women, Mr. Lagerfeld.

The Tate Britain is running a GIF call for submissions. The museum is encouraging fans to create GIFs out of artwork and submit them. Such a cool interactive project, and I can’t wait to see the results.

The history of American men’s facial hair is rife with racial issues.

Dear airlines, please get on this!

MLK Day, Art Institute, and Stephen Sprouse

Cocktail, by Gerald Murphy, 1927, from Whitney Museum of American Art, via artnet Magazine

Yesterday, most of the USA was off for MLK Jr. Day, and I along with them. I spent the afternoon at the Art Institute of Chicago, mostly looking at the exhibition Art & Appetite, which was an interesting exploration of American artwork with a food theme. My favorite pieces in it were created during the 1920s and 30s. I particularly enjoyed seeing Cocktail, by Gerald Murphy, an artist who I’ve read a lot about in the Hemingway biographies and who was a character reference for F. Scott Fitzgerald in his novel Tender is the Night. Art & Appetite closes next week on January 27.

Louis Vuitton handbags and luggage featuring Stephen Sprouse graffiti print, photographed by Raymond Meier for Vogue, January 2001

But the rest of the world went on with business as usual yesterday, and Raincoast Creative Salon ran my last post for my Fashion One-Oh-One column. This time I focused on graffiti in fashion, initiated by the designer Stephen Sprouse. Head over and read all about graffiti in fashion!

I had a blast writing the six-part column for Sandra of Raincoast, and really appreciate her invitation to write for her blog throughout the last four months. If you missed any of my Fashion One-Oh-One posts on Raincoast Creative Salon, here they all are:
The Wedding Dress
Elsa Schiaparelli
Christian Dior’s New Look
The Paper Dress
Stephen Sprouse Graffiti Dress

Friday File

I can’t believe we’re already more than halfway through January. This month is rushing past. If you follow my Instagram account, you saw that I was in Southern California for the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day, and then promptly came down with influenza when I got home. It was a bad flu, the kind with a fever and hallucinating dreams, and I was housebound throughout the so-called polar vortex. I missed a few days of work, so this was my first full week back to work.

Here are the links for the past couple weeks:

I love stories about apartments or offices that have remained untouched for decades. AnOther Magazine recently ran a post on Madame de Florian’s Paris apartment that wasn’t disturbed for 68 years and held secrets about the painter Giovanni Boldini’s lover, Marthe de Florian.

Have you read the “Do What You Love” column on Jacobin that’s been circulating social media? It’s an excellent take down of the DWYL myth — how it can be used to exploit workers and the fact that it is a very classist concept. A must read.

The current state of the American textile industry is recorded in photos and an essay, with a personal look at the factories still in production, in this NY Times piece.

Michelle Obama’s 2013 inauguration gown will be on display at the Smithsonian Museum of American History for one year. No word yet if the gown will become part of the museum’s First Ladies collection permanently.

I rarely buy Vogue anymore, but I’m psyched about Lena Dunham’s cover. I might just go out and pick it up for myself.

Friday File

Today is my last day of work of the year! I have two weeks off to spend with family for Christmas and recuperate from a busy semester. I’m also going to take some time off of the blog, but I’ll be back on January 6. I hope you get a little time off yourself, and I’ll meet you back here in the new year!

Here are a few extra links (than normal) from the past week:

photo of art collectors Herb and Dorothy Vogel, from the National Gallery of Art, Gallery Archives

I’m so inspired by this couple and the priceless art collection they amassed.

Meet the newest designer to join the haute-couture ranks in Paris.

Dressing a mannequin in historical clothing is no easy feat. See how the V&A mounted an 18th-century bridal gown. Bet you won’t guess how a pruning hand saw is a necessary tool!

Historians are pumped that the British Library recently put 1,000,000 images into the public domain with a crowd-sourcing invitation to help it learn more about them. In fact, these are the fashion and costume images that have already been tagged by the public.

On Christmas Day, fashion designer J.W. Anderson will offer downloadable patterns of a leather top and balloon skirt from his autumn/winter 2013 collection. I’m thinking about trying my hand at sewing the avant-garde ensemble.

Jayne Shrimpton dates and analyzes a family photo from the 1860s.

Wishing I had found this gift guide for avocado lovers weeks ago so I could add it to my wishlist. Thanks for tweeting about it Emilia!

Happy holidays!

2013 Gift Guide – Museum Membership

It’s getting into gift-making or buying crunch time. If you still have someone on your list that is tricky, chances are that person has just about everything they need and could want. For these folks, I like going the experience-gifting route.

One of my favorite gift ideas is a museum membership! It’s an experience gift that keeps giving for a full year! There are lots of benefits that your giftee will enjoy. Most museums offer free admission for the membership holder, some offer free or reduced admission for a companion, and many offer a museum store or cafe discount. Members are often invited to exclusive tours or events.

As you can see above, I have a membership to the Art Institute of Chicago, but there are all sorts of museums you can choose from — science, natural history, contemporary art, fine art, folk art, fashion, children’s, history, design, photography, anthropology, sports, and profession-specific museums or zoos, planetariums, aquariums, etc. Chances are there’s a museum or similar institution that meets your giftee’s interests.

And don’t just consider the big museums. Small museums are perfect for museum memberships too — since a visit doesn’t require a full day, she/he can pop in every time a new, temporary exhibition opens. And small museum memberships may be a little easier on the wallet if funds are limited.

Once you’ve chosen an institution, you can buy a membership in person if you live locally, but many also sell them online, by phone, or by mail. Track down their website or phone number, and I’m sure someone at the museum would love to help you purchase a membership as a gift.

Hopefully your giftee will develop a meaningful relationship with that museum, learning, growing, and exploring new things all year long. There’s not much better than that!

P.S. More gift ideas on my Pinterest board!

Holly and ivy graphic by MyCuteGraphics.

Friday File

I’ve always wanted to take a floral class, and this Wednesday I finally did! Pistil and Vine, a super cute boutique florist in Bucktown hosted a topiary-building class. We made boxwood topiaries, and I love my creation. All of us taking the class ended up with completely different results thanks to a variety of decorating options and pruning preferences, but they all looked great. The credit goes to Megan at Pistil and Vine for such great instruction.

And now my fave links from the week:

Here’s another story of a rare piece owned by a person who didn’t know what it was worth fetching high sums of money. In this case, a 200 hundred-year-old Imperial Chinese robe fetched £15,000 at auction. The owner was going to donate it to a charity shop! When am I going to find my own treasure at a flea market or in the back of my closet so I can sell it at auction for $$$$?

This fascinating history about mannequins explains how they reflect societal conventions through various historical vignettes. My favorite story in this post tells about a 1899 wax figure named “Miss Modesty” whose arms and hands covered her face in shame because she modeled undergarments.

Do you know how to properly care for your shoes in the winter? Here’s a great guide to getting them through the cold temperatures, snow, and salt-covered sidewalks.

A new study finds that kids that are exposed to the arts “display greater tolerance, historical empathy, as well as better educational memory and critical thinking skills.” Huh, you don’t say?

Have a happy weekend!

photo by Travis Haughton