Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Foundation or In the Beginning

This is the piece I've spent the past six months working on - and I finished just in time to submit it to the jury for a very special exhibit.

I'm thrilled to announce that it was accepted (1 of 15 pieces) and will be on display at the Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, beginning May 11, 2012.

This year's theme is "Mackinac's Grand Hotel" in honor of Grand's 125th anniversary. My piece is a life size, three dimensional Michigan white pine stump, formed entirely of seed beads. You may be wondering how this piece fits the theme - but it's actually a perfect fit, when you know the early history of the hotel.

 Grand Hotel is one of few remaining "classic" resorts built of wood and the wood used was Michigan white pine, known as the "Eternal Wood". 

Grand Hotel was built in 1887 by Charles W. Caskey, who also built many of the large "cottages" on Mackinac . A work crew of three-hundred men built the one-thousand guest hotel in less than four months. Building materials were hauled across the ice during the winter from St. Ignace where Caskey had his own lumberyard. The original foundation was the pine stumps cut to clear the building site and they purportedly remain beneath the building to this day.


I spent many hours studying actual stumps and living trees, so as to properly capture the color, form and texture. 

The cut portion of the stump was done in bead embroidery in size 15/0 and 11/0 seed beads on a heavy wool felt base. This was attached to a wire armature also covered in wool felt. I created dozens of bark plates in freeform peyote stitch using size 8/0 beads, which were individually attached to the form - the joke was I'd be "barking mad" before I finished!

I'm so looking forward to the show opening and can't wait to see the other pieces on display - do come visit if you'll be in northern Michigan this summer!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Taking to the Water - Part 4

Original bathing costumes from the mid-19th century are vanishingly rare, but I did manage to find a few!

The example above is said to date to the 1850's and there certainly is a resemblance to the fashion plate from 1858 I posted previously.

Here's a couple from the 1870's; I especially like the Greek key trim on the second.

In some locations, suits could be rented - the photo below was taken at Coney Island, supposedly in 1865. Look at the right side of the sign "Fancy Flannel Bathing Suits". 

Peter Tilyou and family moved to Coney Island in 1865 to establish the Surf House, a hotel and restaurant which sold Bavarian Lager for five cents. Tilyou treated those, who rented a bathing suit for 25 cents, a free bowl of homemade clam chowder on the theory was that those that were hungry would spend more money for food at his restaurant. He built bath houses nearby for those who wished to change from their city clothes into fancy full length flannel bathing suits. "Signs on the beach warned "Bathers Without Full Suits Positively Prohibited by Law."

I love this tinplate image, but it really makes me wonder - did these ladies choose to make matching suits or are they rentals?

Here's a CDV image - I was surprised at how short a skirt the lady on the left is wearing. The lady on the right almost appears to be wearing an outfit that was remade from an old dress, much like can be done when  making a wrapper. Her trousers might have been made by cleverly piecing fabric salvaged by both shortening the skirt and removing a removing a breadth of fabric.

The question of attire for the gentlemen attending our bathing party has been an issue:

The commonly held reenactor notion, that men always swam in the nude is NOT an option and my research is showing that it's not necessarily always correct - I have found both descriptions and images of bathing suits for men.

Here's a suit documented to 1860: 

And you've got to love this image - isn't he cute! 

Here's an 1870 advertisement (and compare the lady in the center to the original 1870 suit above)

 These gentlemen apparently shopped at Lord & Taylor's!

Salt water bathing was a rather novel idea in the late 1860's and 1870's.  Those that came to the beach were apprehensive of even sticking their toe into the sea for there were those that warned that sea bathing might "leach away the essential salts of the body." They turned to a noted physician named Dr. Durant for reassurance. He advised that "the bathing dress should be made of woolen it retains the heat of the body and therefore prevents a too rapid evaporation. Maroon and blue are the proper colors as they resist the corrosive and bleaching effects of salt water. Some authorities recommended twilled flannel, in browns, blues and grays, and stressed the desirability of broad-rimmed hats to fend off the sun and wind, as well as shoes to guard against the nipping of crabs.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Taking To the Waters - Part 3

I've noticed an interesting anomaly regarding 19th century bathing/swimming costumes - while the fashionable silhouette changes dramatically from 1860 to 1880, the changes to bathing outfits is much less obvious.

The most obvious changes are seen in the trousers and the sleeves. Trousers become noticeably slimmer and shorter. Sleeves also become shorter. In the fashion plates, skirts sometimes disappear - it's hard to know if this happened in the real world.

We all know that what works in "Fashion World" doesn't always work in reality - the slipper below is a good example; while it's terribly cute, it would never remain on while in the water.

These caps don't look like they would be very practical either.

This slipper might at least stay on your foot, but I can just imagine what all those bows would look like when soaking wet.

Some aspects stay the same - a definite nautical influence in both trims and colors.

 Just like now, some of these fashion plates show ensembles that seem better suited to lounging on the beach, rather than taking to the water!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Taking to the Waters - Part 2

I thought this fashion plate might provide us with some creative inspiration for our bathing costumes - it's nice to have not only the image but the description also:

Godey's July 1864
(See engraving, page 21.)
Fig 1.- Turkish pants of a gray and white striped material, fastened at the ankle with an elastic cord. Paletot dress of a dark blue and black flannel, made with a small cape, and trimmed with black mohair braid. Oil silk hat, bound and trimmed with scarlet binding.
Fig 2 – Suit of pearl-colored flannel, trimmed with dark blue flannel, and braided in a plain Grecian pattern with narrow blue braid. Cap of oil silk, trimmed with dark blue flannel.
Fig 3. – Suit of black cloth, bound with scarlet flannel. The collar is of scarlet flannel, also the cap, which is trimmed with black braid and a long black tassel.
Fig 4. – Suit of scarlet flannel, trimmed with wide and narrow black braid. The dress is decorated with applications of black cloth, cut in the shape of anchors. The hat is of white straw, trimmed with scarlet braid.
There's a lot to consider, colors, trims, fabric and accessories - footwear will be an absolute necessity for bathing on Mackinac's shores
The fashion notes provide a few more details:
As the warm weather is hurrying persons to the sea-side, a few hints on bathing dresses may be acceptable.There is no dress so easy of accomplishment as a neat, tasteful, and comfortable bathing-dress; and yet, sometimes, when watching bathers at the sea-side, one is tempted to believe such an accomplishment impossible.
Instead of the usual flannel, Mme. Demorest is making bathing dresses of moreen, and considers this material better adapted for the purpose. It is of a strong, firm texture; not too heavy, does not cling to the person after being in the water, as it immediately drains off.
A very handsome suit just finished at her establishment, No. 473 Broadway, was of drab moreen, the waist plaited to a yoke, and into a belt at the back, the front left loose and belted in like a morning wrapper. The skirt not too short, about halfway below the knee, and plaited at the back in large box plaits; the sleeves full, and fastened by a close band at the wrist; a small round collar of the same material give a neat finish to the throat. The trimmings consist of a band of scarlet cloth, one inch wide, stitched all round the skirt, a short distance from the edge; the same on cuffs, collar and belt. Bloomer pants, fastened into a band of scarlet cloth at the ankle completes the dress. This suit should of course be lined except the skirt, and was, in this instance, neatly done with a very thin muslin, with just sufficient texture to make it smooth; and the seams were covered in the same manner as a double gown.
Another of the same goods cut like a circular, only joined on the shoulders, was nearly finished and was exceedingly pretty. The skirt being very full, with full sleeves and pants, and dark blue trimmings instead of scarlet, made a very tasteful suit.
But we doubt the propriety of any but a genius at the work attempting to cut it. However, we remember that a duplicate pattern may be had from this establishment of any and everything desirable in the dress department.
By the way, why does not some leader of fashion at Newport or Cape May introduce the Havelock as an appendage to a lady’s bathing hat? It is so disagreeable to have the sun beating down on one’s neck, which it will do, in spite of the wide-brimmed hats. We merely throw out the suggestion.
I must say, I don't plan adding a havelock to my bathing cap or hat!

And just in case you were wondering what "moreen" might be, here's a definition from the Century Dictionary and Cyclepedia:

"A fabric of wool, or very often of cotton and wool, similar to tammy, commonly watered, but sometimes plain. It is used for petticoats, bathing-dresses, etc., and the heavier qualities for curtains."

It's even still being produced, at least for upholstery - see what it looks like here. It'd be interesting to know if anyone is making it in apparel weight.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Growth - Bead Journal Project April 2012

 My rune stone for April is "Growth" or perhaps "Potential" - I'm having trouble deciding, but in a way they represent the same concept, for only when we grow can we reach our full potential.

Growth is easiest when the conditions are ideal, but suboptimal conditions can also stimulate growth - think of a plant growing long and lanky to reach the sun and only blooming once it reaches the nourishing rays.

The focal point of my stone is an acorn cap, found beneath the oak tree in our yard - from small beginnings grows the mighty oak! I created a beaded bezel in greens and browns and continued the beading in two drop peyote in brown beads, to represent soil.

A good portion of the bottom is open, so the base beach stone can be seen. There is a a smattering of green beads and copper wire "rootlets", to further represent the need to stretch or reach out in order to grow. 

I'm really very pleased at how my rune stones are coming together; they've been such a pleasure to work and it's really, really hard to believe I'm a third of the way through this project - eight more to go!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Taking to the Water

Bathing is a sport
Enjoyed by great and small
In suits of any sort
Though better none at all.

[Anonymous, 19th-century poem]

Bathing "au natural" may be the ideal of the poet, but it certainly is not an option for an upcoming bathing party event being planned for August.

So I've started a bit of research on mid-19th century bathing and swimming.

Winslow Homer's "The Bathe at Newport", Harper's Weekly 1858

Doesn't it look like fun?

This is the type of scene we'd like to recreate, albeit on a much smaller scale.

Until the middle of the nineteenth century, swimming had largely been the activity of men, while bathing—that is, dipping into the water, often in the name of healthful duty—was regarded as quite a different pastime, often a feminine one.

And as is so typical of the Victorian era in general, specialized activities require specialized clothing. Obviously, the clothing for bathing and swimming is unique in that its function is to protect the body while allowing movement in the water.

When wet, it becomes heavy and counterproductive to the purpose for which it is designed. Even worse, wet fabric often becomes translucent or even transparent. It clings to the surface underneath and reveals the form supporting it.

In an age of female modesty, these characteristics could and did present embarrassing problems for bathers.

The solution in the late 1850s was to cover the body in several layers of loosely fitting but sturdy clothing, modeled on the bloomer costume of the time.

Briefly, it consisted of a baggy, blouse-topped dress, “short” for its time, cut to the mid-calf and worn with a belt to gather in the fullness. With it, a pair of matching Turkish trousers was gathered at the ankle and finished with a ruffle. Often a short cape or “talma” was included to throw over the shoulders after emerging from the dip. The cape’s purpose was twofold: it would provide warmth if needed and, of equal importance,
a modest covering should the “figure” suddenly be revealed too prominently.

This outfit became the prototype for all women’s bathing suits for the next half century.

"A BATHING DRESS may at first sight appear to lie beyond the domain of fashion. Still there is no reason why this should not be pretty as well as appropriate. The one which we illustrate may be made of delaine flannel, or any similar material, edged with a darker shade of the same; or of bambazet, with a fringe of buckshot, covered with the material of the dress, with pellets of lead in the lower skirt. This latter material will be found quite available." Harper's New Monthly Magazine 1858

Fashion magazines had grave difficulties in finding complimentary things to say about such costumes. In 1854 Frank Leslie’s Ladies Gazette of Fashion started out encouragingly, but gave up in frustration, blurted out the truth, then turned finally to a straightforward description:

"[No. 7] is one of those bathing dresses so necessary to a seaside excursion or residence. If the invigorating sea-bath is to be enjoyed as it should be. The material is common Scotch plaid, green and red, in alternate checks. It is cut short in the bloomer fashion, which though sharks themselves on dry land. But a bathing dress is only intended for convenience, and the least idea of making it elegant would be preposterous.
The dress is made with a loose skirt set into an old-fashioned tight yoke and gathered around the waist with a plaid belt; it is cut short, leaving the feet and ankles free. Long bishop-sleeves fastened
around the wrist with a band protect the arm. The pantalettes are made loose and fastened around the ankles with narrow bands."

Peterson’s Magazine had to agree two years later that it was not a great looking outfit, though at least they thought that with a little embellishing it might possibly be improved:

Bathing-dresses, although generally very unbecoming can be made to look very prettily with a little taste. If the dress is of a plain color, such as grey, blue or brown, a trimming of the talma, collar, yoke, ruffles, etc. . . of crimson, green or scarlet, is a great addition.”

That these costumes were discussed in the various lady's magazines at all is in some measure an indication that women were beginning to need such a costume. And of course, the dress was just the beginning. To complete the outfit, the wearer needed an oil cap to protect her hair from the water, a straw hat and lisle gloves to protect her face and hands from the sun, and gum shoes to protect her feet from whatever lurked on the bottom.

This is just the first in an ongoing series of posts on mid-19th century bathing/swimming - there's lots more to come!

Monday, April 2, 2012

It's Early This Year....


The signs are all around us, long before we can usually expect them - it's definitely early spring on Mackinac!

The woods are positively rustling with squirrels searching the forest floor for hidden tidbits and there's also a whole lot of courting going on:

I always look forward to the annual raptor migration that goes over us, it's just thrilling to see them up soaring above the Island as they head farther north:

Plants are budding out very early:

And there's signs of life in the garden too:

Early spring is full of little signs of the season too come - watch for them, they're such a fleeting pleasure!