This post originally appeared on the blog August 10, 2012:
I was running paging slips yesterday for some rogue titles that had eluded the initial morning runs whennnnn... I came across a book that contains the above illustration. Wait a minute. Fabric collage? Check. Done by English schoolgirls? Check. Of Bonnie and Clyde? Oh, you'd better believe it! Note the waylaid officer of the law, sprawled to collage stage right. Note the featureless faces of the famed bandit couple, her cigar, his tommy gun. Really? We spent a lot of time doing still lives of sneakers in my middle school art class, but grisly tableaux of 30's gangsters in felt? Definitely a class on which I would have liked to have sat in.
The odds that two sixties' instructional manuals on non-paper-based collage work should catch my eye without any prior hunting and pecking for them seem small, but, as you'll see in this post, are not entirely unheard of. Introducing Fabric Collage, by Margaret Connor, was shelved two books down from a book I was actually looking for.
Inside, the book showcases the work Ms. Connor did with the "Needlecraft Department of a Leeds Secondary School". What a class! What a department! Ms. Connor's accomplishments include membership in the Embroider's Guild, several city exhibitions both with and without her pupils, and a collection of poetry (she is large, she contains multitudes). While the writing style can be saltine-cracker-dry, I have to give the lady her due in that she and these kids have created some ne-e-e-e-at fabric pictures.
First off, rock concerts. Popular subject for obvious reasons.
Probably the best illustration in the book. I mean, wait. These are monkeys...dressed as THE MONKEES. Doing some kind of deranged frug. Two pages of text are dedicated to describing the creative process involved in making this dream a reality. "An imaginative girl...suggested that a good picture might be made by portraying the Monkees (a pop group enjoying great publicity at that time), quite literally, as monkeys!" Ms. Connor goes on extol the virtues of this thirteen year old fabric maverick, slowly piecing together the components and making design decisions. "Contrary to the practice of the Monkees group who all dress the same in shows, these fabric monkeys were arrayed in different shirts." It's the little things that count.
In the same vein, this piece is called "Dance Hall". "Two girls, who were inseparable companions...wished to interpret a scene from the interior of the local dance hall...[The girls describe the outline of the piece, what's in it, etc] The writer secretly quailed at the thought of the girls trying to represent all this in fabrics, but respected their ability, and did not wish to dissuade them from the attempt." Yes, the whole book is written like this. I thought at first the authoress was "quailing" (a word I have GOT to use more often) at the rock-show setting, before realizing she was referring to the level of difficulty making all the separate components of the girls' vision come off. So maybe she hates the Merseybeat. Or maybe she's just into simple, straightforward design ethic. In either case, I think the girls in question acquitted themselves of their task admirably. The band looks great! The dance floor! What about the dance to the far right who appear to be wearing a bikini with a sheer net dress over it?! Daring, gals. Daring.
From the text: "An amusing picture called 'The Surprise Catch' [above] was created by two fourteen year old girls, and showed a surprised-looking mermaids with sequinned tail, being caught in a net by an equally surprised-looking fisherman!" True, true. I was surprised at the nearing PG-13 amount of nudity in this collage, but I so love the mermaid's Twiggy eyes and long hair that I'll put away my prudishness for now and enjoy her Dollybird looks.
Underwater scenes seem to be popular-- here's a pair of fish. Doesn't the pattern on the fabric for the lower one look kind of like scales?
What! What is happening here! Titled "Underwater Adventure", this piece has a skin diver stabbing what looks like a beluga whale/shark hybrid as his companion exits a sunken ship to the right. More like..."Underwater Horror Nightmare With Death". It took me a minute to realize that the item in his hand is indeed a knife, and he is doing violence upon the major marine life in front of him. Definitely one of the pages I wish was in color, this is what Ms. Connor would no doubt call an "imagination collage". Jeepers!
The comparatively safe subject matter of these pictures include a elven domestic scene and a trip to whatever the British equivalent of a state fair is. A carnival? A fete? I like that in the first picture, the elves keep an elf-sized snail as a pet. Nice to know the minute scale we're talking about here.
Ms. Connor's own work, seen here above and below, really does use incredible detail to get across the effect of the patterns in the design scheme. I love the city scape above and below, with is cooling towers and smoke stacks blowing breathy plumes of smoke into the skyline above the plaid accented buildings.
The picture below reminds me of William H. Johnson or other Harlem Renaissance painters' figural use of simple everyday life scenes of housework or play. The muslin background gives the picture an interesting texture, and can you see all the little labels piled up as the foundation? Killer.
I promise my next post will be less Girl Scout craft inspired...or will it? :)
Found a few trinkets this last weekend at estate sales and goodwills...will try after the weekend's haul to combine lots and share some pictures. Til then!
Postscript: The authoress of this book took a moment to comment on this post when it originally ran in 2010! You can see her comments here. Still one of the highlights of my career as a blogger. :)