Criminally Inspired Costumes
“I think that when we look at a human face, there is some sort of interaction that goes on. Some faces are so dear and appealing, and some aren’t. But I don’t think that happens when we look at animals.”
Whatever her moral failings, there is no denying that the spiritualist has a somber elegance. The bodice and peplum of her charcoal and brown ankle-length dress look like a coat of armor donned for battle. Her pleated collar and apron suggest Puritan modesty. This woman is dressed to impress otherworldly powers. Yet the fancy white ruffled petticoat peeking from her ankles is unsettling, as though the dignified outer vestments may not accurately reflect what is underneath. Then of course there is the odd halo of black stars suspended over her head and the Bible and candlestick on the table; the candlestick is tipping, as though held by an unseen hand in defiance of gravity.
The spiritualist is a twelve-inch-tall paper sculpture inspired by a real woman, a con artist who worked as a conjurer of the dead in late-nineteenth-century New York. The woman fleeced gullible customers out of large sums by telling them that deceased family members, or sometimes Jesus himself, needed cash, which could conveniently be left with her to pass on to the cash-poor in heaven. The woman was eventually arrested and her crimes reported in the newspapers, which is how Patty Grazini discovered her.
had never seen Patty Grazini’s costumed paper figures before meeting Grazini at her home studio and seeing the enchanting, astonishingly detailed figures up close. Even from a few inches away, Updike says, “it’s hard to believe they are paper. And it’s hard to describe Grazini’s art. She is part costume designer, part sculptor, part social historian.” She also reviews The Eloquent Silver Curve, showing at the Tacoma Art Museum, and International Art Jewelry, at the Forbes Galleries. Updike is a Seattle-based arts writer.
This article in its entirety appears only in the print magazine.
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Smithsonian Craft Show
Women Working Words-Facèré
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