Pinned in Place

Her polished eyes are of delicious metals,
And in this strange, symbolic nature
Where virgin angel meets with ancient sphinx,
Where all is only gold and steel and light and diamonds
There shines for ever, like a useless star,
The cold majesty of the sterile woman.

– Baudelaire, Fleurs du mal

Edmund Tarbell, The Three Sisters, 1890, Hats by Philip Treacy
Handmade hats to buy (clockwise): Fascinator by Corina Haywood; Fascinator by Fridavolor; Fascinator Clip by Alice Hart; Fascinator by Vanessa Cunningham; Headpiece by Boring Sidney; Cocktail Hat by Maynard; Hat by McCool Design; Cocktail Hat by Ronit

Baudelaire fashions a woman made not of flesh but of the precious materials she adorns herself with, almost like her jewelry has seeped into her skin. His words, first published in 1857, would echo throughout the following decades as women really did become consumed with being consumers.

It all started with the hat. Chanel’s hats, in particular. Hers were the beginning of the end because she toppled a whole silhouette, and, with it, a whole identity.

Look at these three sisters relaxing on a June afternoon. The painter’s wife wears a red hat with a child in her lap. Her two daughters sit on either side, one on a kitchen chair dragged out into the garden. It’s 1890, just when the Gibson Girl was solidifying into the national ideal. She was born as an illustration: a woman of the upper class with a body in an s-curve that ended in a slender neck and hair piled on top of her head in loose curls. She was athletic and independent but not involved in politics and perfectly happy managing a household and socializing. Pretty dull, pretty impossible. But at least she could shop! Banish her boredom in a new hat.

Frank W. Benson, Lady Trying on a Hat, 1904
Hats by Philip Treacy
Handmade hats to buy (clockwise): Fascinator by Desiree Ferraro; Saucer Hat by The Headmistress; Tilt Hat by Chasing LuLa; Cocktail Hat by Mind Your Bonce; Cocktail Hat by Greer McDonald; Gator Hat by Jasmin Zorlu; Saucer Hat by Maria Marcus; LP Hat by Philippe Borg

Frank Benson’s Lady Trying on a Hat is like the photographs we see now of ideal homes, filling Pinterest boards that daydream of an impossibly perfect life. Except it’s 1904 and she has a Chinese vase filled with roses and a mess of pearlescent fabrics lying around. The hat is a black tornado that obscures her eyes but they’re not important. She is an object of beauty to be bought, possessed, and exhibited just like her vase, hat, and clothes. Baudelaire’s woman but cast in a softer light.

So, across the pond, what did Chanel do that placed this lady in another era? Chanel wanted to simplify what she saw as “enormous loaves” and create a more simple, streamlined look. Her hats were not that radical compared to contemporary designs. But she build the social connections that placed her hats on the heads of the right people and in the magazines the wealthy women were reading. Her own unconventional lifestyle reflected the spirit of the hats and she became a personal brand.

Even if they weren’t that original, Chanel’s hats toppled the s-curve. A less extravagant hat soon lead to proportions that didn’t require a restricted waist and skirts that covered the ankles. If all Chanel’s customer could do was shop and lunch, at least she could do so in comfort.

Side note: Long hair and big hats had their advantages. You could take out one of the hat pins needed to keep everything in place and stab the eye of your attacker. Convenient, just a little messy.

Raise Your Flag

In honor of July 4th, we’ve selected iconic and contemporary works of American art that play with red, white and blue.

• Jasper Johns’ Three Flags is not a patriotic gesture. He painted flags because they are a familiar image and the viewer can interpret it as he or she wishes. The flag is there so you can focus on the sculptural quality of the canvas, as the red, white, and blue pigments float in thick wax. Johns reverses traditional perspective by increasing the size of the stars and stripes as the paintings recede into the distance.

• Claes Oldenburg’s Braselette is a combination of plaster, chicken wire, and enamel that still looks messy and heavy. It was part of his Store series of commonplace objects made both utterly alien and strangely familiar. This work is a perfect example of his investment in art that was “coarse and blunt and sweet and stupid as life itself.”

• Dan Flavin’s Untitled is just a bunch of fluorescent lights that you could get at a hardware store. Like the previous two artists, Flavin takes an ordinary object and makes you question its ordinariness. For him, artificial light is as expressive a medium as paint and sculpture.

• Yolande van Heerden’s New England Patriots Sign is made from recycled license plates.

• Andri Cauldwell’s American Bulldog stands in front of a Coca-Cola case in New Mexico.

• Paul Buford’s 1963 Impala is a watercolor that captures the car’s beautiful light detailing and polished surface.

• Rene Gibson’s Longhorn Cow Skull has a mosaic flag covering its face.

• Stefanie’s Desert of Anaheim is part of her series of photographs of delightfully kitschy vintage signs.

• Cindy’s Mug shows its stars and stripes with glaze that looks like it’s been around the block.

• Diana Gierat’s Cuffs are long leather flags with a rustic surface and silver gunmetal snaps.

Stars and Stripes

They don’t make signs like they used to. So here’s to the quirky aesthetic of vintage Americana.

• Saskia Pomeroy’s No Time Left is the child of vintage circus posters and Matisse’s paper cut-outs.

• John Margolies’ Photographs from Roadside America documents the billboards, neon lights, and other oddities attracting your attention as you drive across the country. He captures a charming kitschiness that’s often lost in slick, big-city advertising.

• Lo Cole’s Prattle of Parrots extends their graphic plumage into red and black stripes.

• Yumalum’s Yes fixes your doubts with retro typography.

• Susana’s New York Print superimposes an eclectic combination of lettering over a map of the state.

• Tim Campbell’s Torn Flag print focuses on the stitching and smudging of the stars and stripes.

• Kareem Rizk’s Hair Dryer is a digital collage of a vintage salon treatment layered with found papers and textures.

• Neil Edwards’ G’Day is a screen print with a Warhol-esque cowboy available in four different colors.

• Jenny’s Eat Print depicts a vintage diner sign against a blue sky.

• James Brown’s Top Hat is classic London attire printed in his studio in East London.

Back at the Beach

Before we get to the shore, let’s get our kicks on Route 66.

• Robert Cottingham’s American Alphabet draws on the legacies of Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, and Walker Evans to take a close, photorealist look at Americana. He takes each letter out of its original message and reveals a whole other alphabet of diverse shapes, shadows, and colors that constitute the world of signage.

• Mark Goings’ Mike’s ’66 Falcon depicts the sleek, fluid surface in watercolor. He crystallizes a snapshot of ordinary life so that the blue sky, white walls, and sharp shadows seem too real, too perfect, and turn into a suburban fantasy.

• Annie Prangs’ Surf Bags are made of vintage and recycled fabrics in a colorful stripe pattern that’s tailored to your preferences.

• Karen’s Sea Glass pieces are collected on the coastal beaches of North East England. This particular trio consists of translucent plum, blue, and golden colors.

• Kyle Goodwin’s Wave Sculpture suspends the crest in glass through a process of sand-carving and heating.

• Matthew Allen’s Hull, part of his Borrowed Light series, captures a surfer riding a wave that transitions from blazing orange to cool blue.

• Stefanie’s Surf Bowl captures a classic vintage sign in Oceanside, California.

• Choisette’s Sloane Towel is made of pure linen that’s absorbent, dries fast, and doesn’t stick to sand – perfect for a day at the beach.

• Colleen Gardner’s Coat Rack is made of a wood surfboard painted with blue and white stripes.

• Melanie’s Summertime Shorelines is a set of four photographs that depict California beach snapshots with a vintage tint.

Holy Smokes

Smoking cigars and the boxes they came in used to be an art form. Fortunately, many of these diverse containers are being reinvented for more practical purposes.

• William Holbrook Beard started out as a portrait painter, but his realistic depictions of animals were so successful that no one remembers him for anything else. His painting A Good Smoke is a good example of how he would place his subjects in a human, often humorous context.

• This Tobacco Tin dates back to the turn of the century and would have been used as a lunch box when the cigars were all smoked.

• This Cigar Box Guitar is made out of an ouija board and is perfect for creating that classic delta blues sound.

• Meredith’s Docking Station juxtaposes modern technology with a bit of the old world – a vintage cigar box from the Dominican Republic.

• Anne Reeves’ Purse is made out of a vintage Cuban cigar box with a gold and red label.

• Gabe Williams’ Stereo fits speakers into a cigar box that you can connect to your iPod, phone, or computer.

• Barbara Temple’s photograph of a Box of Cigars stands next to a cocktail and cigar for a composition straight out of the Wild West.

• This Purse attaches a bamboo handle to a vintage cigar box.

• Theresa Marr’s Sketchbook has covers made out of a deconstructed King Edward cigar box.

• Kristy’s Cigar Box Guitar is customized to your choice of cigar box and other details.

Spring Flowers

We wanted to pay tribute to the light, breezy atmosphere of spring with washes of watercolor, pressed flowers, and silk.

• John Singer Sargent’s Corfu: Lights and Shadows captures the play of leaves on a whitewashed stucco building. Touches of zinc white give the illusion of merging of fleeting shadows merging with the chalky surface.

• Macoto Murayama’s Gerbera is part of his Inorganic Flora series of digital illustrations that dig deep into the structure of plants. He dissects his specimens with 3D models that allow access to complexities invisible to the eye.

• The Valentino Fall 2013 Collection loosened up Delftware by applying blue and white patterns on light silk gowns.

• This Necklace by Ahoy Ahimsa suspends a real hollyhock petal from an antique brass chain.

• May Hiddleston’s Still Life depicts an orchid in layers of blue and violet watercolor washes.

• Karen Faulkner’s Petals is a shower of falling lavender flowers in watercolor.

• Dianne’s Pendant preserves and magnifies a bouquet of lobelia, alyssum, yellow clover, and forget-me-nots in resin.

• Jessica Sherriff’s Earrings diffuses an image of lilac flower silhouettes in lucite. Her Bangle displays an image of alium in perspex acrylic, giving the lilac colored petals a watercolor effect.

• Louise van Terheijden’s Lavender Dots is a watercolor of blue and golden yellow pebbles arranged in a neat square.

• Svetlana’s Scarf is a lightweight silk and wool blend with lilac nuno felting and forget-me-nots.

Bird Watching

John James Audubon was the man. He was self-taught, painted birds better than anyone then or since, and was environmentally conscious before it was popular. So, in his honor we selected a few colorful birds, some of which escaped Audubon’s catalogue.

• A new exhibition about John James Audubon’s watercolors of birds is on view now at The New York Historical Society. Audubon was obsessed with giving birds a life of their own on the page, depicting them in the middle of tearing apart prey, building nests, and showing off their individual personalities in their natural environment. His diaries indicate that he often thought of birds in human terms and vice versa. For example, he observes that “a full grown man with a scarlet vest and breeches, black stockings and shoes for the coloring of his front, and a long blue coat covering his shoulders and back reminds me somewhat of our Summer Red Bird.” For him, the company of birds was infinitely more rewarding and interesting than the company of people.

• Barbara Franc’s Birds are constructed from recycled and discarded materials, echoing Audubon’s concern about the effects of industrialization on the environment.

• Diana Beltran Herrera has created hundreds of Birds out of colorful bits of paper.

• Tami Rodrig’s Earrings are tiny birds made of red-painted silver with a egg shell fragment for the wing.

• Bridget Farmer’s Robin is an etching in rust-brown tones, and you can take a look at how it was made here.

• Dolan Geiman’s Red Robin sits in a forest of old newspapers, magazines, and hymnals.

• Patrick and Mara’s House Bird is made of plywood painted with the markings of an American robin.

• Jessica Flanagan’s Glass Bird has a vermillion red body and white cloud-like wings.

• Jenny Mendes’ Wall Bird is a fantastical creature with a blue head, orange body, and constellations for wings.

• This Burd by Upcycle Pdx has smooth red feathers made of papier mache.

• Terri Axness’ Cardinal has a flaming red body with raku metallic glazes and a copper tail.

Madame X

• Who was Madame X and why did her portrait cause such a scandal? Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau already had a reputation for parading around Paris in lavender-tinted powder and body-hugging outfits. When John Singer Sargent submitted her portrait to the official Salon of 1884, the crowds and critics thought it was both horrifying and exciting. Was it because the strap on her bodice was falling over her shoulder (a detail that Sargent later re-painted to stand upright)? Yes, but there were plenty of nudes in the exhibition as well. Why would a fully-dressed woman attract so much criticism? She wasn’t a nude model or a prostitute, and that was the problem. Her portrait reflects her position in French high society and she isn’t coy about it. The theatrical pose and haughty look do not apologize for her elite status. The outraged public was just jealous.

• An exhibit recently opened at the Savannah College of Art and Design displays eighty-one of the best Little Black Dresses, from Chanel to the present.

• L.A. designer Mary Huang’s Continuum project is a web app that allows you to design a customized black dress. The app helps you sketch out the silhouette based on your measurements, and the design is then manufactured and shipped to your door.

• Angela and Meghan’s Clutch twists black silk into an elegant knot that fans out into a dramatic ruffle.

• Demet’s Little Black Dress has an asymmetric collar that adds flair to a classic design.

• This Art Deco Comb by EmmJeyEss Vintage is made from pieces of a 1920s flapper headdress.

• Jen’s Necklace combines quartz gemstones, black onyx, and round coral stones for a geometric, Art Deco-inspired contrast.