Counter-Couture: Handmade Fashion in an American Counterculture is on exhibit at the Museum of Arts and Design on Columbus Circle in NYC through August 20. The context from which this art emerged was civil rights activism, women's rights activism/feminism, and an extended, illegal war. Young people were protesting social and political injustice.
As we find ourselves cycling around these same topics again, this exhibit offers some delicious food for thought, including the invitation to consider the role of art and art-creators in healing a broken world.
(Several other museums around the country are offering exhibits with similar themes, and are listed at the end of this article.)
Curated by Michael Cepress, the extraordinary exhibition debuted at the Bellevue Arts Museum, Bellevue, WA, Sept. 2015 - Jan. 2016. The exhibit features over 150 authentic garments from the American counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s.
Michael Cepress is an artist, fashion designer and educator who has exhibited his works as well as lectured nationally and internationally as an authority on the historical importance of fashion as an art form.
Meryl Ann Butler: Thanks for visiting with us, Michael. Can you share with us what inspired you to create this exhibition?
Michael Cepress: This is an era and moment in history that has always been endlessly fascinating and inspiring to me. As an artist and fashion designer, finding Alexandra Jacopetti Hart's book Native Funk and Flash completely blew me away and showed me an entirely new way to think about clothes.
The fashion, the style, the music, the politics, the countless dynamic social movements of this period embody what I feel are essential values for us to live by: to celebrate the joy and beauty in one another, to work hard to find our truest and most authentic selves, and to band together as a community to lift one another up and be a force of positivity in the world.
I devoted myself to over ten years of research to find these clothes, meet these artists and share their story because I feel people today need to see this all now more than ever before.
John Sebastian's Performing suit: Cape, jacket, pants, c. 1967, tie-dyed cotton, velvet:
John Sebastian is known as the founding member of the Lovin' Spoonful and for his impromptu performance at the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, 1969. In the late 1960s Sebastian lived in a Volkswagon tent-camper outside of Los Angeles. His artist-friend "Tie-Dye Annie" taught him tie-dyeing, and Sebastian promptly dyed every piece of clothing he owned, including this outfit.
Jumpsuit for Wavy Gravy by Jahanara Romney, c. 1970, cotton, fabric collage. Wavy Gravy was the unofficial MC at Woodstock and wore an incarnation of "Jumpsuit" for the occasion.