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Contemporary Takes on the Dress

Born out of the desire to add a sculptural element to an existing solo show, this exhibition came together organically at the onset of a worldwide pandemic and lockdown. Touching base with colleagues in the early days of a new reality, gave clarity to a collective inclination to create dresses for the purpose of telling personal stories.

Nine artists, working respectively on each piece and communally toward the greater exhibition, created an immersive study into individuality, semiotics, joy, sorrow and humanity. Each dress is a visual narrative drawing from observation and experience. The hope, as you reflect on this retrospective, is that you find a piece of yourself in one or more of these dresses.

2 - JULY 27

Leanna Leithauser Lesley
Black and Tan Fantasy


For four years, Doke Ellington and his orchestra played at the veranda of an Old South set in the famed wealthy "whites only" Cotton Club. The plantation theme played out in actuality every evening with the club's strict segregation policy as Ellington tirelessly wrote scores to be performed nightly by his orchestra and the clubs exclusive 'Tall, Tan Terrific" dancers. Racial abuse and exploitation were forms of direct discremination for every performer at the Cotton Club.

Simultaneously, Ellington quietly devoted his services to the NAACP and its racial equality activities, while using his national exposure via the Cotton Club radio show to elevate the perception of the culture behind jazz music. His battle for social justice was personal. That same year, he wrote his famous Black and Tan Fantasy score which completely challenged what was then called jungle music with a sophisticated fullness of heart and heaviness of mind, giving the piece its beauty. By using African blues based expressions, he hints at the unsettled state of the human soul.

This piece is a freehand needlepointed, free motion stitched and hand sewn commentary. the beauty of the Art Deco movement and the 1920's Harlem jazz music scene is set against a backdrop of race riots, prohibition, mobsters, and exploitation. The symbolic use of safety pins is my desire to protect and secure these jazz paragons from the harm inflicted by the very people who crashed in on them.

Sarah Jane Shaw
Certain Decay


"Work in this project began in the spring of 2020. Hampered by the state of the world, and only able to create using what was at hand, I found the overgrown, hidden trail behind my home an endless supply of materials which fed my imagination. Using a well loved dress form from the 1930's era as the foundation, I began creating a garment from the items I found on my concrete trail.

Gradually adding other treasures including porcelain doll parts scavenged from the estate of a doll maker and twisted branches gathered after heavy storms, lead me to the idea of combining the decidedly human-made dolls with an overgrowth of the natural world. Additionally, the viewer is presented a sense of dark whimsy reminiscent of the haunted house in a child's story.

Much like the ecosystem of a tide pool or the micro worlds of forest moss, this piece is home to various creatures and their secrets. The viewer is invited to gaze with childlike curiosity and wonder as the dress aims to capture and show a slow, quiet magic - the same magic that allows a tree to recognize her daughters through the mycelial web in fungi's placement at both the beginning and end of a life cycle.

This dress speaks to an eerie comfort found in the certainty of decay and the inherent regrowth which follows. Going forward, this piece will be included in a greater "Mother Nature" series highlighting the divine feminine."

Alvina Zendejas Montes Hill
Gown Alvina


Hola, mi nombre es Ma. Alvina Zendejas Montes Hill, me hace ilusión participar en el diseño de vestidos para este evento. Al diseñar este vestido, me inspiré en México, que es mi país natal. La tradición textil tradicional es muy extensa, colorida y utiliza diversos materiales para formar una prenda. El vestido que he creado, tiene bordados a mano, estampados de pintura, y es un vestido largo. He utilizado los colores azul, negro, dorado y ocre, en telas de algodón, en la forma. Mi idea pero siempre la realidad, juego con las combinaciones y quizás al final acaben en otra afinidad, ya que la creatividad siempre sale de mi mente con soltura. 

Hello, My name is Ma. Alvina Zendejas Hill, I am excited to participate in the design of dresses for this event. When designing this dress, I was inspired by Mexico, which is my favorite country. The traditional textile tradition is very extensive, colorful and uses various materials to form a garment. The dress that I have created, has hand embroidery, paint prints, and is a long dress. I have used the color blue, black, gold and ochre, in cotton fabrics, in the form. My idea but always reality, I play with the combinations and maybe in the end they end up in another affinity, since creativity always comes out of my mind with ease.

Michelle Reynolds
Interconnected: Remnants of Cloth and Nature


My dress symbolizes both loss and a sense of hope in an age of environmental disregard. I have a desire to retreat into a garden and go on lone excursions, finding nature vignettes wherever I go. Communing with nature reveals the complexities of relationships - between creatures and habitats, plants and animals, man and nature - I'm always seeking to understand and find my place in nature's web.

Reality meets mythological and biblical. Snakes are woven into the themes as symbols of health, regeneration and renewal. Slithering through the scene, they become beacons of hope and wishful thinking as I ponder the perils of the earth. I long to mend the wounds, nurture connections to the natural world, and foster conservation ethics.

The assemblage of remnants and threads helps tell a cautionary tale. Machine sewn and hand stitched, stored wall and staffs are pieced and patched, and sutured with stitches of heavy string to symbolize interconnections in nature. Even though connections in nature have been forged over long periods of time, the processes are ongoing. Life is fragile. Natural systems and the ties that bind can unravel in moments.

Humans have drastically changed the Garden of Eden. Climate change, pollution, and degraded ecosystems are a few of the perils caused by their sins. The warnings and wisdom from scientists go ignored as the symbols of health and spirit look on. I hope for a new age of enlightenment. I am ready for mankind to take responsibility, slow the trajectory of destruction, and suture and stitch the wounds of the Earth.

Erin London


Sometimes profound moments come from the mundane, like finding wisdom in a line spoken on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I look to bring the power of story to discarded items, weaving nostalgia and personal symbols

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