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Counter-Couture: Hippie Funk & Flash, and the Summer of Love -- What We Can Learn

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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.)

Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), NYC
Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), NYC
(Image by Meryl Ann Butler)
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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
Michael Cepress
(Image by Curtis Bryant, NYC.)
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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's hand dyed performance ensemble
John Sebastian's hand dyed performance ensemble
(Image by Meryl Ann Butler)
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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.

Jumpsuit for Wavy Gravy by Jahanara Romney, c. 1970, cotton, fabric collage.
Jumpsuit for Wavy Gravy by Jahanara Romney, c. 1970, cotton, fabric collage.
(Image by Meryl Ann Butler)
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Mama Cass Elliot Dress. c. 1967, unknown artist.
Mama Cass Elliott's hand dyed performance dress
Mama Cass Elliott's hand dyed performance dress
(Image by Meryl Ann Butler)
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Dyed panne velvet, applique. Courtesy Rock n Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Cleveland OH. Cass Elliott was a member of the Mamas and Papas, their hit songs include Monday, Monday, Dedicated to the One I Love, California Dreamin,' and Music Speaks Louder than Words. The appliqued sunburst on the front of the bodice encircles the glyph for Virgo, Mama Cass' astrological sign.

MAB: What do you hope will be the take-away for visitors, Michael?

MC: My greatest wish is that people experience Counter-Couture and see that they themselves can do the very same thing these artists did over 40 years ago. We can all use our own gifts to create the world we want to see, and to use our own style as a way of showing the world our truest colors. When we set aside our worries and fears and instead dive headlong into the pleasures and magic of life, so much good can grow! This show is about using one's own talents...artistically and otherwise...to liberate ourselves and set an example of what freedom and looks like.

MAB: Well as a Boomer and designer I'm delighted to hear you say that! I loved the exhibit, not only the individual pieces, but the overarching themes and the entire method of displaying all of the pieces was a work of art in itself. You did a great job! Thanks for visiting with us, Michael!

Alexandra Jacopetti Hart has had a long career as a fiber artist. She was one of the originators of Folkwear Patterns, and authored the iconic, Native Funk & Flash. She has also had a thriving career as a weaver of tapestries for residential and corporate installations, and her work has been included in numerous museum exhibitions.

Alexandra Jacopetti Hart
Alexandra Jacopetti Hart
(Image by Alexandra Jacopetti Hart)
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Meryl Ann Butler: Thank you for visiting with us, Alexandra. I treasure my copy of Native Funk and Flash, which I have had for several decades. What inspired you to write it?

Native Funk and Flash (cover)  by Alexandra Jacopetti Hart
Native Funk and Flash (cover) by Alexandra Jacopetti Hart
(Image by Alexandra Jacopetti Hart)
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Alexandra Jacopetti Hart: My dear friend Jerry Wainwright was photographing a lot of Rock 'n Roll stars for their publicity shots and album covers. I said, "Hey Jerry, I'll bet you see a lot of very groovy clothing on them in their performance drag. You should do a coffee table book of photos." He replied, "No, you have the eye for that; you should do it."

No contest then, we embarked on creating the book. We saw Scrimshaw Press' "Handmade Houses" when it came out and knew they would understand what we wanted from our book, made an appointment with them on a Friday morning to show them what we were up to, and they were thrilled. Just the right thing to follow "Handmade Houses." A great contract was in Monday's mail and everything ever after went better than imagined. It has been a magical ride.

MAB: That's wonderful! The embroidered ensemble by Mary Ann Schildknecht was amazing, can you share a little of the story behind it?

Embroidered Ensemble by Mary Ann Schildknecht
Embroidered Ensemble by Mary Ann Schildknecht
(Image by Meryl Ann Butler)
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AJH: Mary Ann's story of crossing the border into Italy with illicit mind-altering drugs (probably pot), being jailed for what I believe was at least a year, and learning to embroider from the nuns who visited her in jail resonated with the many of us who were also illicitly smoking pot in those days. Her determination to create to save her soul, having learned so well how to stitch a perfect satin stitch, and tearing up her bedsheets to make them from, is one of the very inspiring stories for funk-and-flash beginners.

Mary Ann's shirt was the most spectacular story for the times, though Kaisik Wong's work was perhaps the greatest design work.

Kaisik Wong: L-R: Evening Ensemble (1970), Red Ray (from the Seven Rays series, 1974), Kaisik Wong in Metallic Lightning-bolt Headdress (1974),  Metallic Lightning-bolt Headdress (1974)
Kaisik Wong: L-R: Evening Ensemble (1970), Red Ray (from the Seven Rays series, 1974), Kaisik Wong in Metallic Lightning-bolt Headdress (1974), Metallic Lightning-bolt Headdress (1974)
(Image by Meryl Ann Butler)
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MAB: Yes I was so inspired by Wong's visionary ensembles! And I loved seeing your Day and Night jeans skirt in "person"!

Day and Night skirt by Alexandra Jacopetti Hart
Day and Night skirt by Alexandra Jacopetti Hart
(Image by L: Jerry Wainwright; C, R: Meryl Ann Butler)
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AJH: That was something I had to hustle up as quickly as I could. An exhibit of things in the book was gathered together by Inez Storer to travel a circuit of Western museums and I was expected to speak in several locations at that time. I suddenly realized I had nothing of my own stitching to wear at these appearances, having put it all in the exhibit! Much of that skirt is patched because it went together so much more quickly than embroidery can be accomplished. Wish I could still get into it!

MAB: Many of us made skirts from splitting our jeans and adding a big wedge in the front and the back, I guess maybe it's time to add wedges to the side seams, too! Ha!

Former Founding President of Studio Art Quilts (SAQA, 1989), the late Yvonne Porcella published her first book, Five Ethnic Patterns, in 1977, (which I had in my collection by 1982.)

L. & C.: Patchwork dresses by Yvonne Porcella, R: Renaissance Cowboy Dress (1971) Victoria Bradshaw
L. & C.: Patchwork dresses by Yvonne Porcella, R: Renaissance Cowboy Dress (1971) Victoria Bradshaw
(Image by Meryl Ann Butler)
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MAB: What do you hope will be the take-away for visitors from the Counter Couture Exhibit?

AJH: I like to think that the values of those times: the environmentalism; the simplicity of life a where you grow some of your food, avoid chemicals, and make space for direct and creative relationship with others and with the earth; making earth-friendly decisions about resource use, consumerism, and how time is spent -- all the conscious choices that can help us live more caring, helpful, related, and friendly lives with individuality and creativity--that these values are contagious and shore up finding one's way in these modernly difficult times.

MAB: I love that! Thanks for visiting with us, Alexandra!

AJH: I feel so honored by this year's unexpected attention to the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. The MAD exhibition fits so well into the timing. Meeting Michael Cepress, its instigator and curator, was a kismet kind of event, as it eventually led to this extraordinary culmination which we can both be proud of. Thank you as well, Meryl Ann!

Nina Carisi's visionary textile and mosaic art is in notable collections, including The Grateful Dead's Phil Lesh and the late Jerry Garcia.

White embroidered Top (1973) by Nina Carisi
White embroidered Top (1973) by Nina Carisi
(Image by Meryl Ann Butler)
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Nina arrived in San Francisco in 1973, promptly bought a Mexican Wedding Shirt at a garage sale and went to work embellishing it. The next thing she knew, her friend Susan Jackson invited her to bring her work to be photographed for Native Funk and Flash , which Jackson was also in.


Designer Birgitta Bjerke (100% Birgitta), L-R: Red hands bathing suit (1968) wool, acrylic; Heather Daltry Coat (1968) wool, inset Birgitta Bejerk.

L-R: Red hands bathing suit (1968) wool, acrylic; Heather Daltry Coat (1968) wool, inset Birgitta Bjerk.
L-R: Red hands bathing suit (1968) wool, acrylic; Heather Daltry Coat (1968) wool, inset Birgitta Bjerk.
(Image by Meryl Ann Butler)
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The late Laurel Burch dealt with a painful bone disease all her life, experiencing over 100 broken bones in her 61 years, yet still produced a huge amount of fabulous artwork.

Current and vintage works by Laurel Burch: L: Various newer works, see attributions at bottom of article; R: three necklaces of mixed metals and found glass beads (1970, 1969 and 1971.)
Current and vintage works by Laurel Burch: L: Various newer works, see attributions at bottom of article; R: three necklaces of mixed metals and found glass beads (1970, 1969 and 1971.)
(Image by Meryl Ann Butler)
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While she was a young single mom in San Francisco Laurel made and sold street jewelry to help support her little family. She hammered junk metal on the back of an old frying pan until it was flat, then fashioned the pieces into exotic necklaces. In 1969 a shop in Ghiradelli Square started selling her jewelry and the former high school dropout was launched in what would become a multi-million dollar business.

She noted in a 60 Minutes Interview aired shortly before her death that someone had asked her if she had ever tried to paint her pain. Her response was, "why would I want to do that? I want to share things...that lift people! I want (my art) to convey hopefulness and brightness..."

"I just want to take magic everywhere, and put magic on everybody!" she said.

View of Columbus Circle from Robert, the restaurant atop the Museum of Arts and Design
View of Columbus Circle from Robert, the restaurant atop the Museum of Arts and Design
(Image by Meryl Ann Butler)
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Counter-Couture: Handmade Fashion in an American Counterculture at the Museum of Art and Design through August 20, 2017.

Hours: Tue, Wed, Fri, Sat, Sun: 10 am -- 6 pm, Thu: 10 am -- 9 pm. Closed Mon and major holidays

2 Columbus Circle. New York, NY 10019

info@madmuseum.org

212-299-7777

Related Exhibits in CA, NY and NM:

The Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll is on exhibit at the De Young Museum in San Francisco, hrough August 20, 2017. The exhibition includes iconic rock posters, photographs, interactive music and light shows, ephemera, avant-garde films and costumes and textiles, Including Alexandra Hart's Phoenix Jeans from the cover of Native Funk & Flash.

The De Young is in Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr., San Francisco, CA 94118, open Tuesday--Sunday, 9:30 am--5:15 pm.

Phoenix jeans by Alexandra Jacopetti Hart
Phoenix jeans by Alexandra Jacopetti Hart
(Image by Jerry Wainwright)
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Art We Wear: Culture & Expression 1960s to Now is at the Bolinas Museum in Bolinas, CA through August 13. Nina Carisi's Logo Shirt done for Jerry Wainwright and Alexandra Hart's Yamantaka jeans are on display, as well as works by Laurel Burch, 100% Birgitta, and others. 48 Wharf Road, Bolinas, CA 94924. Hours: Friday 1:00 - 5:00, Saturday & Sunday 12:00 - 5:00.

Jerry Wainwright's Logo Shirt by Nina Carisi
Jerry Wainwright's Logo Shirt by Nina Carisi
(Image by Jerry Wainwright)
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Yamantaka jeans (detail) by Alexandra Jacopetti Hart
Yamantaka jeans (detail) by Alexandra Jacopetti Hart
(Image by Alexandra Jacopetti Hart)
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The Hippies multi-media exhibit at the West County Museum in Sebastopol, CA has been extended to Labor Day due to the popularity of the show. Museum Director Jan King said, "This is the most well-attended exhibit in the history of the museum." Hart's first freeform embroidered garment made for her younger sister, Rebecca, modeled here by Rebecca's daughter, Soral Frew, is in the ehxibit. 261 S. Main Street, 707- 829-6711. It is open Thursday -- Sunday, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Alexandra Jacopetti Hart's Hart's first freeform embroidered garment
Alexandra Jacopetti Hart's Hart's first freeform embroidered garment
(Image by Alexandra Jacopetti Hart)
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Alexandra's artwork, including this tapestry, Nebulae, (from the collection of Jacqueline Levy) will be on display in the A Line Can Go Anywhere exhibit at John Cohan Gallery in New York beginning Sept. 7.

Nebulae tapestry by Alexandra Jacopetti Hart
Nebulae tapestry by Alexandra Jacopetti Hart
(Image by Alexandra Jacopetti Hart)
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Voices of Counterculture in the Southwest is at the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe through Feb 11, 2018. The exhibition spans the decades of the 60s and 70s exploring the influx of young people to New Mexico and the subsequent collision of cultures. Through archival footage, oral histories, photography, ephemera and artifacts, the exhibition examines this cultural revolution and asks how these forms of rebellion inform the ways we think about contemporary social and political questions of what it means to be an engaged citizen. Works on exhibit include wearable art by 100% Birgitta. The New Mexico History Museum is at 113 Lincoln Avenue, Santa Fe, NM. 505-476-5200. Hours 10 am to 5 pm daily

Wearable art pieces by Birgitta Bjerk (100% Birgitta)
Wearable art pieces by Birgitta Bjerk (100% Birgitta)
(Image by New Mexico History Museum)
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Laurel Burch's contemporary work shown above can be found at these links:

Laurel Burch giraffe fabric

Laurel Burch bag

Laurel Burch mug

 

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Meryl Ann Butler is an artist, author, educator and OpedNews Managing Editor who has been actively engaged in utilizing the arts as stepping-stones toward joy-filled wellbeing since she was a hippie. She began writing for OpEdNews in Feb, 2004. She became a Senior Editor in August 2012 and Managing Editor in January, (more...)
 

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