Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Bridal Suite

Talk to any professional artist or designer you can find (seedy bars and discount grocery stores are good places to look) and chances are they will agree that inspiration is probably the most misunderstood ingredient in the murky chowder of creativity.

In movies, inspiration looks much like the manic half of manic depression. The artist runs amok in montage, flinging paint around in a large, white studio while loud bits of Mahler (or possibly the Pointer Sisters singing "I'm So Excited") flood the soundtrack. He is hyperkinetic, unfettered, unstoppable. He is not the person you want living in the apartment upstairs. But he can't help himself...he is inspired.

I admit that occasionally, out of nowhere, the Inspiration Fairy socks you in the gut with a full-grown idea so damned good it almost lifts you right off the barstool. But if you intend to make a living from your ideas, and you only sit down to work when that happens, you'd better have a rich uncle or a back-up plan in something nice and stable like accounting or dog grooming.

Inspiration (for me, anyhow) is less like a lightning bolt than like being constantly pecked by a flock of unfocused chickens. Here a peck, there a peck, until the combined pecking reaches critical mass and you can't take it any more and you scream, "Stop, chickens! Stop! Stop!"* and you sit down and draw the cartoon.

This can be every bit as unpleasant as it sounds.

The only way to avoid going mad, which usually happens to artists in movies shortly after the Pointer Sisters stop singing, is to learn to love your chickens. Think of the pecking as their way of alerting you to little details that will move you along, by slow inches, towards something good and whole and new.

And now I want to show you some drawings of old wedding dresses.

That sounds like a non sequitur, I know, but the old wedding dresses were inspiring. Everything you've just read was intended to lead up to them. But then I introduced the chicken motif, and it hasn't come out where I thought it would, and it's almost dinner time so I'm not going back and rewriting it. Sorry.

Inspiration at the Chicago History Museum

This is my second year as a member of the Chicago History Museum, which not so long ago was the Chicago Historical Society. In the old incarnation, it was just as clubby and dusty as it sounds–mostly of interest to the people around here who have major streets named after them.

After a grand renovation and expansion, however, it has become one of my favorite places in the city. Along with a first-class permanent exhibit about the Great Fire of 1871 and several rooms of Lincolniana unmatched by anything at the Smithsonian, they have frequent and splendid shows of items from the textiles collection.

The latest is called "I Do! Chicago Ties the Knot," and it's a doozy. Wedding gear from the mid-19th century (when Chicago sprang, almost overnight, from the mud) to the present day, including bridal gowns, corsetry, going-away attire, and men's costumes–including a pair of matching tuxedos worn by a gay couple, thankyouverymuch.

Oh, and there's a perfectly preserved 120-year-old top tier from a wedding cake, just for good measure.

They don't allow photography in the exhibit, but I spent a fun afternoon there, sketchbook in hand, drawing interesting details under the puzzled eye of the guard.

Here are a few. I plan to go back soon and collect more.

I would write something about the chickens here if I could think of a good tie-in, but it's Thai delivery night and I want my panang curry.







*If it's near Christmas and so they happen to be French hens, I suppose you could scream "Arretez-vous, poulardes, s'il vous plaît!" If they're German chickens, I got nothing, but that almost never happens.


Fujiyamamama said...

Aaah. One of my favorite museums, and I love their collection of clothing, it is SO fabulous!

Julie Schuler said...

If they are German chickens then- Bitte aufhören, Hühner!
That's a pretty apt description of all the mini-inspirations that beset one on a creative journey. I like to think that I snuffle them out, like a sexy truffle pig.

JelliDonut said...

I swear I see sheep in the shoulder capelet.

Madame Leiderhosen said...

How cool is that?!
Would you mind if I try a bit of embroidery with one of your sketches? I could use the practice and you have a sincerity of line I might be able to follow. Maybe after a glass of red.
Thanks for infectious inspiration.

Emma Ouini said...

that "path of beading..." looks like a couple of napping lambs! Adorable.

Alwen said...

After the Chicago fire, it was rebuilt with millions of board feet of Michigan white pine.

You're welcome.

sunnysideellen said...

The monogram looks a bit like chicken feet.... Does that help?

Anonymous, too said...

My late parental units retired to a little farm in the Ozarks. All their chickens learned that "SHAKE AND BAKE!", screamed somewhat off-key, meant BIG trouble if poultry behavior did not improve 100%.

And a silk crepe wedding dress with pearl beading from Marshall Field & Co.? Just more proof that Macy's never could compete with MF&Co. It's like Penney's trying to compete agains Saks or Nordstrom's.

Anonymous said...

I see sheep in the shoulder capelet, too.

Spiminarian said...

Such gorgeous patterns. I love your random love for vintage wedding dresses. However, it is not helping my current unneeded obsession with wedding obsessions. Neither is Say Yes to the Dress.

Did the dresses have veils? Were any of them knitted/crocheted/tatted? I'm determined to crochet my own veil. I should probably start soon.

Leigh said...

I was inspired to look at the Chicago History Museum's web site and found they have photos of some of the I Do! items on Flickr:
Very cool!

Paper Tiger said...

The brocade pattern looks like breasts.

(I'm clearly not a sexy truffle pig.)

... said...

Get out of my head! said...

I laughed out loud at the chicken reference! Mine (the real ones) tend to cluck and whine at me (yes, chickens whine...especially spoiled ones hoping for treats) when they see me in the window or out in the yard. We only have one that pecks; ironically, her name is Lovey.

Toss your metaphorical hens some metaphorical grapes and they'll love you for life :)

Mel said...

I don't think I'd be so nice if I were being pecked by German chickens. I'd likely go with "Geraus, verdammten Hühner!"

My verification word for this is "ulahelic", which sounds like it should describe the curvature of one's tongue.

Anonymous said...

You were making chicken scratchings at the museum--there's your chicken tie-in.

Mary G. in Texas

Freyalyn said...


Seanna Lea said...

Chickens, eh. I have a little pad that I sketch on when I have an idea for a shape I'd like to make, but most of these don't make it to the room with the yarn in it. I have to get better about using my inspiration when it comes around. Right now the only inspiration that sees fruition is ice cream.

Barb in Georgia said...

Thank you for brightening my day, Mr. Quirky.

Roxie said...

Being pecked by the chickens of inspiration? Inspiration tends to affect me like a swarm of mosquitos. Here a sting, there a sting. Swat and swear and carry on until the itching becomes so unbearable that I finally stop what I'm doing and indulge in an orgy of scratching. And ohhhh, the bliss of a well-scratched itch!

Gerri in St Paul said...

I loved that museum as a kid.

I think I need some German chickens pecking at me--they would make sure I got something done and moved on.

Anonymous said...

Put your index fingers at the sides of your mouth where top and bottom lip meet and pull gently while saying, "Die Hühne picken"

Cracks me up every single time!!

And somehow this fits into the chicken-wedding dress thread.


stix06 said...

I'm going to be in Chicago all by my lonesome for 2 whole weeks and the Chicago History Museum just hit the top of the must see list! Thanks, Franklin! Anyone know of a friendly yarn shop in the Schaumburg/Elk Grove Village area?

Samina said...

While accounting is generally a stable profession, it's not always nice. Come see my office during tax season if you want proof.

Emily said...

"Arretez-vous" is pretty formal, for addressing chickens, n'est-ce pas?

The Inspiration Fairy...ha! Reminds me of writing papers, back in the day. I'd procrastinate until the last possible moment, then sit down and go through something I can't even describe...akin to childbirth or maybe which said paper would start off in one direction & then end hours later with perfectly developed arguments arriving at something I never saw coming. With lots of discarded scraps along the way.

My mother was a composer. She went through the exact same process. If nobody ever commissioned her works, she'd never have written a thing. The idea of ever writing a paper again...well, I hope it never comes up.

That said, I also know people who live for the creative's like an ongoing compulsion for them. Lucky people. But that doesn't guarantee excellence, I can tell you that!

nana said...

"Ihr verrueckten Huehner, aufhoeren!" would be something, our mum would call out to us two wet hen sisters, when we were pecking at her too much, so maybe there is your german utterance for the mad chickens pecking at you :-)

I love this idea of taking pictures at the museum.
Would have done the same, and will do over and over again when in museums.
The faces, and wafting over words from conversations of people watching me do it are priceless.

Juliane said...

I was looking forward to handing you a sentence to call the German hens, but unfortunately, there have already been others before me.
I second nana's proposition: "verrückte Hühner" - crazy hens are the perfect way to address your chickens of inspiration.

By the way, I love the "path of beading" on the shoulder capelet and the last sketch of the ornament on the silk lace overskirt. And I, too, thought that the brocade pattern looks like breasts.

Gail said...

I heard one of the curators at a costume symposium at the Met talk about this exhibit -- aren't the dresses amazing! The detail and the workmanship on the dresses is also so amazing. I've mounted so many dresses of this type, and I am always blown away.

Thanks for sharing your fine eye for detail!

Lynn said... "gists" it as "Halt, Hühner! Halt! Halt!", but I like what the others said, far better.

Kristen said...

Russian, should you ever find yourself in the company of ex-Soviet chickens: Перестаньте, курицы! Перестаньте! Перестаньте!


Natalie Servant said...

I love the sketches. I finally started a sketch book of my own last week & I'm mostly enjoying it. I just hate the thought of messing up the lovely pages with garbage, but I am persevering.

Deb W said...

I am struck by the similarity of the suspenders monogram to that of painter Thomas Moran. He became so identified with his paintings of Yellowstone National Park, that he adopted 'Yellowstone' as his middle name.
No, I don't have an encyclopedic memory - I just saw a short documentary about him the other night on PBS, and mentally noted the clever way he incorporated the 'Y' into his monogram.

William said...
I found this follow up on Flickr that you might wish to look at.

geogrrl said...

That's not a bad description of "inspiration". Usually I start by obsessing over one particular detail and the rest builds from there, but it takes some time to crystallize.

I find that for technical writing it takes some slogging and initial writing before the whole thing comes together and I "see" it.

The preliminaries are always painful.

floatingink said...

Definitely sheep in the capelet. Dare I say I see a bit of Dolores in there?

Eileen said...

Want to loan me those chickens? I need to finish a hat and a beaded headpiece (20s style) very soon.

And now you've given me another museum for The List. (Thank you.)

nance Thacker said...

I will learn to love my chickens.
I will learn to love my chickens.
And all this time I thought I was the only one with a flock of unfocused, pecking, chickens of inspiration.

Karen said...

You know what's worse than chickens pecking at you? When they stare at you! It's the creepiest thing. A friend of mine has a pack of chickens in her back yard here in Yonkers (don't ask) and they always walk up to you and just stare. My ravelry icon is a photo of one of them staring at me (karent if you want to get stared at too.)

Yvonne said...

The path of beading looks like little lamb's faces.

And I was chased down the road by chickens once. It wasn't pretty.

brokeknits said...

Thanks for posting this. I'm going to remember the chickens when, as usual, the dissertation is getting me down. It's a German chicken.

Anonymous said...

I see sheep in the shoulder capelets as well.
Would you consider a knitted lace with a chicken design?

Anonymous said...

I love your sketches! And I too noticed the sheep face. I have nine hens in my back garden. All different personalities! Just a couple are annoying. I watch them for inspiration and wind down from my office job. Great eggs too.

ColorJoy LynnH said...

It looks like sheep to me, too. My first thought!

I've been to many museums in Chicago, but have not heard of this one before. Thanks for that lead!

Chicago is only 4 hours by car, maybe I'll have to pop down for a day and see this exhibit. It sounds incredible.

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