Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Little Bits of Millinery

On Location: An interview with Stephen Jones
by Victoria and Albert Museum
Milliner Stephen Jones talks about his life, work and style. Produced for the exhibition 'Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones' 24 February - 31 May 2009 at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Betty Nelson-Daniels

           Every time I see one Betty Nelson-Daniel's wonderful Mocking-Birds in one of the fine craft galleries across Canada and the United States they never fail to amuse me and bring a smile to my face.
Each figure is designed from a variety of coloured and textured materials collected over the years, spontaneously placed, creating a completely unique piece each time.
To those who view them, they possess dramatic qualities, mimicking vestiges of human attitudes.     

     The artist uses a variety of media and techniques to create her mockingbirds and is always exploring new and unusual materials.  Wire and papier-mâché provide the basic shape while textiles, ribbons, feathers and other adornments are layered on to round out the piece. Colours and costume materials defy description and come from a wildly imaginative visual sense coupled with carefully guarded access to scraps of exotic fabrics-and-feathers. Components include antique lace, fine leather and minutely detailed trimmings from France and Italy. "There can be as many as 24 different supply sources for a single figure," Betty says. Vintage glass beads and unusual materials such as moose hair give Betty's mockingbirds a sense of heritage.  Each one is an individual work of art.

     Nelson-Daniel's creations are not just birds. They go one step further. They imitate humans - mostly ballet dancers - which reflect the artist's own fascination with theatre, movement and fantasy costume design. They pose. They strut. They leap. Their beaked heads are always in evidence, while their wing tips (transforming into hands) are often shielded in elaborately cuffed musketeer gloves. Most also wear soft-soled boots, favourite footwear of the male dancer.

     There's a slightly sinister quality to these graceful creatures whose dangerous beaks and piercing eyes contrast sharply with their flamboyant pose and dress. Well, haven't balletomanes always found the devious Odile a bit more interesting than Odette, the perpetually put-upon virgin? And where's the impact of the traditional fairy tale without a witch or sorcerer?

     Nelson-Daniel doesn't want to be perceived as an eccentric. She's not. She is, in fact, a highly focussed woman who simply believes natural talent should extend beyond self-indulgence and commercial satisfaction. She never uses an assistant or apprentice. Each piece is personally executed, signed and dated." An astounding number of Mocking- Bird owners have told her that the charming figures give them a sense of peace and a connection to nature's intrinsic mysteries. Add to this the fact that objective spectators, like myself, find her work absolutely and incredibly beautiful and looking forward to the next time one of them will surprise me with a new and delightful mischievous expression looking at me from the window of another gallery.