A couple of weeks ago, Jon and I saw the movie Phantom Thread. It’s wonderfully strange and beautiful. It’s the story of a relationship that goes dark places I would never have imagined and speaks to the power of vulnerability. It’s set in the 1950’s home and work space of a fashion designer, played by Daniel Day Lewis and his lover played by Vicky Krieps.
There were sensuous scenes of fingers pushing pins though fabric and women hemming dresses by hand, the thread being pulled though the fabric making the most satisfying sound. There were dress forms and cloth-covered work tables that I had a visceral reaction to. I imagine creating one of those tables in my studio.
When I saw Georgia O’Keeffe’s sewing kit at the exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum today, it felt more intimate than even her worn out flats and hats, that were on display.
These are tools that I know so well. How the thread fits thought the eye of the needle, how the fingers hold the button while sewing it on the fabric.
The exhibit Art, Image, Style is mix of O’Keeffe’s painting, her clothes (many which she designed or were designed for her) and black and white photographs of her taken by famous photographers.
In some she is wearing the clothes that are in the exhibit.
It’s the first museum exhibit where I was conscious of how well it was curated. The choice of objects and mix of mediums gave me a new depth of understanding of O’Keeffe. It added to what I experienced at her home and studio in Abiquiu, New Mexico.
In a one minute video O’Keeffe talked about how it was all of her, not just her paintings, that made her the artist she is. She even said she could have been a better painter than she is and it might not have mattered.
Because of the exhibit and what she said, I took this to mean that her persona was just as important to her art as her painting. That she brought her art to all aspects of her life. And it was this and her ability to take what was offered to her, and luck that made her the artist she is.
O’Keeffe’s art was present not only in her paintings, but in the way she dressed, in the things she surrounded herself with( functional or decorative), in her garden at Abiquiu, how she grew, harvested and cooked her food and in how and where she posed for a photograph.
Everything was considered. She lived her art.
When we were at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe there was a box with paints and brushes that O’Keeffe used when painting outside. Her sewing kit seems humble, compared to them. It looks like it was used at most to make repairs, to sew on a loose button.
But maybe her sewing basket was hand-made and the black pin cushion (not the standard red tomato) was made from a scrap of one of her dresses. The buttons saved from worn out clothes or collected, like the rocks on her window sills.
Still, those needles and thread probably only went as far as stitching up a fallen hem or replacing a hook and eye. They never helped create a masterpiece like her brushes or the sewing machine of the tailor she hired to make her dresses.
And yet, when I picture Georgia O’Keeffe tying off the knot at the end of her thread, cutting that thread with her teeth, (I don’t see a scissor in the basket) or making the invisible stitch on a hem, I see as it would be in the movie Phantom Thread.
An intimate, sensuous, creative act. Humble only in its function.