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The Stories Behind What’s Printed on the Fabric of Your Life

Anything that prompts me to see the everyday world in a new way, I love. Usually, photographs that capture the unexpected beauty in the mundane are an immediate draw: the fresh lime-green vine tendril twisting around a fence; a building abstraction in which line, plane and color are juxtaposed anew; piles of detritus that take […]

Print courtesy of the Goldstein Museum of Design.

Print courtesy of the Goldstein Museum of Design.

Anything that prompts me to see the everyday world in a new way, I love. Usually, photographs that capture the unexpected beauty in the mundane are an immediate draw: the fresh lime-green vine tendril twisting around a fence; a building abstraction in which line, plane and color are juxtaposed anew; piles of detritus that take on a pattern or jumbled color palette on closer inspection.

Lately, a textile exhibition at the Goldstein Museum of Design has opened my eyes: Printed Textiles, Pattern Stories. In this show, curated by Jean McElvain and Kathleen Campbell, fashion, storytelling and cloth meet to shed new light on what we wear and why. Most of us aren’t prone to donning pattern or prints, am I right? When in doubt, wear black. Or white. The Seekins method. The more adventurous do go in for stripes, plaids, paisleys—sometimes all at once. (Bravo!)

Those bold souls aside, I’ll bet most of our wardrobes are print and pattern deficient. Moreover, when we do find something we like, and will wear, or will put on the wall or on top of the bed, who knows who actually designed it? We’re all familiar with William Morris and Marimekko. But in most cases, the print designer, and the methods by which the print was produced, are left to obscurity.

Printed Textiles, Pattern Stories aims to enlighten. The exhibition is divided into sections that succinctly explain such techniques as block printing, etching, roller printing, screen printing and digital printing. Custom and hand-crafted work vs. industrial mass production is discussed. In the show, the use of printed textiles goes beyond couture and everyday dresses to include such archival items as commemorative tea towels (the Brits love this stuff), handkerchiefs portraying historical events, and a hilarious kitchen cloth printed with the nine-day diet (every day begins with grapefruit and black coffee).

Want to know when the plain white t-shirt gave way to printed slogans? What a repeat is? What the Works Progress Administration has to do with textile production? Printed Textiles, Pattern Stories will show you. Just as each length of printed fabric or “yardage” hanging on the wall has stories to tell about its design, production and use, so do these textiles inspire the viewer to notice pattern and prints—whether worn by passersby, or in rugs, upholstery, art or nature—with a fresh perspective.

Printed Textiles, Pattern Stories is on view at the Goldstein Museum of Design on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus through August 25. For more: http://goldstein.design.umn.edu/exhibitions/.

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Camille LeFevre is a Twin Cities arts journalist and dance critic.

Viewfinder posts are your opportunity to “show & tell” about the everyday arts happenings, interesting sights and sounds made or as seen by Minnesota artists, because art is where you find it. Submit your own informal, first-person responses to the art around you to editor(at)mnartists.org, and we may well publish your piece here on the blog. (Guidelines: 300 words or less, not about your own event/work, and please include an image, media, video, or audio file, and one sentence about yourself.)