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Folk Couture: Translating Emotion into Wearable Art



Written by Heather Stewart, Marketing Intern


threeASFOUR, Untitled, 2013, laser-cut patent leather over white spandex power mesh; Elizabeth Hooten (Cresson) Savery (1808-1851) and others, Friendship Star Quilt, 1844, cotton and linen with ink, 83 1/4 x 80 in., Collection American Folk Art Museum, Gift of Marie D. and Charles A.T. O’Neill, 1979.26.1 Installation photograph by Gavin Ashworth.


What happens when you ask 13 designers to explore the American Folk Art Museum in New York and translate works of folk art into wearable art? You get Folk Couture: Fashion and Folk Art, the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens’ newest installation, running October 7 through December 31, 2016. The designers are a mixture of established names and emerging talents. Each were asked to create an ensemble that was inspired by 100 pieces from the permanent collection of the American Folk Art Museum.

Initially, high fashion and folk art seem like an odd pairing. Folk art is largely defined as works created outside the mainstream, while fashion aims right for the heart of it. “Fashion is cannibalistic,” says Alexis Carreno co-curator of the collection. Fashion has often found inspiration in unique and unpredictable sources. Folk art often does too. Scraps of clothing fabric may become a quilt, for example. Folk art is not created to be purely aesthetic, but captures a moment in time and is made from materials on hand. This challenge meshes the constraints of folk art with the intricacy of high fashion, and the two worlds collide beautifully.

Painted wooden folk art sculpture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Artist unidentified, Sacred Heart of Jesus, c. 1900, paint on wood, 65×4 in., Collection American Folk Art Museum, 1992.30.1.


The designers, John Bartlett, Michael Bastian, Chadwick Bell, Fabio Costa, Creatures of the Wind, Gary Graham, Catherine Malandrino, Bibhu Mohapatra, Ronaldus Shamask, Yeohlee Teng, threeASFOUR, Koos van den Akker, and Jean Yu chose pieces dating from 18th to the 20th centuries. Inspiration came from an eclectic mix of quilts, textiles, carvings, and even a book of tattoos. The designs will be displayed together with the pieces that influenced each designer to allow viewers the chance to study the connections.


Hand-quilted white ensemble on mannequin inspired by folk art quilt.

Fabio Costa (b. 1983), Agnus Dame (detail), 2013, hand-quilted nylon, raw silk mesh, cotton fiber, Japanese raw silk yarn, and Japanese bamboo yarn, with stuffwork, Photograph by Mete Ozeren.


Folk Couture explores the way that artists can inspire each other and reinterpret emotions. The designers were provoked by the pieces and the end result is dramatic and fascinating. Each ensemble compliments the folk art it was inspired by, and encourages visitors to discover new ideas about art and fashion. Folk Couture hopes to start a conversation about inspiration and the creative process. Come for the ensembles, but stay for the chance to learn about the impact folk art has had on them.

To learn more about each designer and his or her process, you can visit the exhibition’s webpage. The Cummer Museum’s website also contains information about other opportunities to engage with this exhibition.

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