Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Book Review: History of Beauty

There is no singular definition of beauty. Through history, the concept of what is considered beautiful has evolved and that changing ideal has been documented by artists, poets and authors. In my quest to understand the concept of beauty, I read the book "History of Beauty" by Umberto Eco.

This monumental tome seeks to answer the questions: What is beauty? What is art? What is taste and fashion? Umberto Eco explores the changing concept of beauty in Western civilization from the ancient Greeks to the present time through extracts from literature, poetry and philosophy as well as paintings, sculptures and photographs.

The seventeen chapters documenting the history of beauty include:
1. The Aesthetic Ideal in Ancient Greece
2. Apollonian and Dionysiac
3. Beauty as Proportion and Harmony
4. Light and Color in the Middle Ages
5. The Beauty of Monsters
6. From the Pastourelle to the Donna Angelicata
7. Magic Beauty between the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries
8. Ladies and Heroes
9. From Grace to Disquieting Beauty
10. Reason and Beauty
11. The Sublime
12. Romantic Beauty
13. The Religion of Beauty
14. The New Object
15. The Beauty of Machines
16. From Abstract Forms to the Depths of Material
17. The Beauty and the Media

One of the most fascinating parts of the book are the comparative tables which visually illustrate and summarize how the concept of beauty has evolved through art over time. For example on the comparative table for "Clothed Venus", the ideal woman is presented from the seventh century BC in the form of a sculpture called Auxerre Kore (Musee de Louvre) and moves through each century to 1960 with Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita. Included on this table are some of my favourite artworks such as:
Raphael's La Donna Velata (1514, Galleria Palatina, Palazzo Pitti)
Francois Bouchers Madame de Pompadour (1756, Alte Pinakothek Museum)
Egon Schieles Seated Woman with Brent Knee, (1917, Narodni Galerie)

Other comparative tables include: Nude Venus, Nude Adonis, Clothed Adonis, Face and Hair of Venus, Face and Hair of Adonis, Madonna, Jesus, Kings, and Queens.

One of the most surprising things that I gleened from reading this book is that ugliness is a requirement for beauty. It is in fact the contrast between the two that allows us to recognize beauty. "William of Auvergne said that variety increases the Beauty of the universe, and thus even the things that strike us as unpleasant are necessary to the universal order, including monsters." (page 148)

This is a scholarly book that presents a comprehensive analysis of the ideals of beauty as presented through art and literature. Richly illustrated and written in elegant prose, it should be read by every serious student of art and fashion.

"A beautiful thing is something that would make us happy if it were ours, but remains beautiful even if it belongs to someone else." (page 10)

Title: History of Beauty
Edited by: Umberto Eco
Translated by: Alastair McEwen
Publisher: Rizzoli, New York (2004)
Category: Non-fiction, art
Number of Pages: 438

Monday, July 27, 2009


Details of orange paper dress ensemble from 1966, copyright Ingrid Mida 2009
Mixed media (Paper, ribbon, thread)

Details from blue paper dress ensemble from 1966 copyright Ingrid Mida 2009
Mixed media (Paper, ribbon, thread)

Unlike the prevailing view in the contemporary art world, I believe that art does not need to be provocative or ugly to have meaning. Earlier this spring, I created an artwork (for a prestigious competition) in which I wrestled with my soul over whether or not I could produce shocking and ugly work. After many sleepless nights, beauty won out. I knew then that I would not be one of the chosen. I've tried to make peace with that and decided to share selections from that submission.

This is my artist statement from the work which is called "1966".

Our choice of clothing conveys unspoken messages about our self-image and our place in society. My artwork, which uses paper as a medium to represent the ephemeral nature of fashion trends, examines the meaning inherent in women's clothing.

With the birth of the feminist movement in the 1960s, women began to question their traditional roles as wives and mothers. Fashion mirrored the social and cultural upheaval of that decade and women were freed from the constraints of highly structured clothing.

In 1966, the year that the phrase "women's liberation" first appeared in print, the disposable paper dress was created as a marketing tool. These cheap and sexy dresses were an instant hit and symbolic of the new levels of liberty women were achieving in the workplace and at home. Bikinis, representative of new sexual freedoms, often came in ensembles with matching dress, hat, and shoes, and were sometimes even worn as bridal wear.

This work called "1966" celebrates a pivotal year in our recent history in which there was a convergence of the women's movement with fashion.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Exhibition Review: Judy Chicago in Thread

Although Judy Chicago cannot sew and does not know how to do needlework, she has made a career out of art created by women volunteers using traditional forms of handwork such as embroidery, tapestry, quilting and cross-stitching. Perhaps best known for her landmark project The Dinner Party (1979) in which she presented a table set for dinner with an imaginary guest list of famous women from history, Chicago established feminist iconography as a subject worthy of a professional art practice.

What if Women Ruled the World: Judy Chicago in Thread opened at the Textile Museum of Canada on February 11, 2009 and continues until September 7th. Curated by Allyson Mitchell and co-produced with the Art Gallery of Calgary, the stated intent of the show is to offer a retrospective of Judy Chcago's textile-based art from 1971 to today. The question posed by the thematic title of the show is supplemented by two other questions: "Would God be Female? and "Would there be equal parenting?"

The exhibition is organized around Chicago's projects including The Birth Project (1985), The Holocaust Project (1993) and The Resolution Project (2000). As well, there is one work from 1971 and a mixed media piece from 2000 called Find it in Your Heart.

To see a Judy Chicago textile piece up close is a lesson in innovation in mixed media. Unimaginable combinations of paint, embroidery, applique, quilting, macrame, crochet, beading, printing, cross stitching, and needlepoint all come together in a swirl of vibrant colour and energy. Although the effect is anything but subtle, the considerable hours of work that went in to the creation of such intricate handwork is evident.

My favourite piece called Earth Birth is an image of "bringing forth light, a visual representation of early creation myths that posit a female deity as a source of all existence." This air-brush painting and quilting on fabric by Jacquelyn Moore Alexander and Judy Chicago from 1983 has a muted palette of black, silver and blue. The elegant refinement of this piece is unique compared to the other works in the exhibition and undoubtedly that is why it has singular appeal for me. I prefer subtlety of message and an elegance of line and colour which are not tenets of Chicago's work.

Other highlights of the exhibition include two videos about Chicago and her cadre of volunteers. To hear an artist speak about their work adds to the depth of understanding one has about their art. In this case, since there are sometimes hundreds of volunteers involved in a Judy Chicago project, these unheralded women were finally given a voice.

In Resolution: A Stitch in Time, directed and edited by Kate Amend and Johanna Demetrakas (2000), Judy Chicago and the women volunteers explain the collaborative process on The Resolution Project. According to Chicago, she wanted to create life-affirming images based on proverbs that state basic human values since "proverbs are the way different generations pass on their wisdom". Many of the volunteers expressed joy and a sense of community in working to complete Chicago's artistic vision. As well, some treasured the sense of purpose that it gave them "to work on something bigger than themselves" and "to have their work displayed in a museum".

In a video about The Birth Project directed by Vivian Kleinnam Productions (1985), Chicago said that there are very few birth images in the history of art and she wanted to reclaim history for women. She used the birth process "as a metaphor for creation in the largest sense". There were 150 volunteers who used a variety of needlework techniques to create 84 pieces related to all aspects of birth of which nine of those pieces are displayed.

Twenty artworks are exhibited in the retrospective of Judy Chicago's work at the Textile Museum. The singular element that does not fit with the curator's intent is the 1971 photograph called The Red Flag in which a woman removes a bloody tampon from her vagina. To me, this photograph is representative of art that a strident feminist produces for shock value alone. This ugly and disturbing photograph is not textile art and has no place in the show even though it is represetative of Chicago's early explorations in feminist iconography. The extensive range of the textile-based artwork that is on display at the Textile Museum is proof that Judy Chicago is capable of expressing meaningful and positive messages through her art. Without this photograph, the answers to the questions "What if Women Ruled the World?" and "Would God be Female?" would have been self-evident. Instead, I left the exhibition uncertain of what I wanted the answer to be.

When Women Rule the World
February 11 - September 7, 2009
Textile Museum of Canada
55 Centre Avene (St. Patrick subway)
Toronto, Ontario

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Launch Gallery

Launch Gallery in Toronto asked me to fill their sculpture vitrine with my mixed media pieces for the balance of the summer. Here is an up close look at some of my work on display for sale there.

18th Century Hats by Ingrid Mida copyright 2009 (Fabric, embroidery thread and beads)

Blue Ballgown by Ingrid Mida copyright 2009 (Paper, ribbon and thread)

Red Ballgown, copyright Ingrid Mida 2009 (Paper, ribbon and thread)

Sculpture Vitrine at Launch Gallery

Somehow it seems that everything looks better under glass. A while back, I actually had a customer who wanted to buy the blue paper ballgown and I refused to sell it because I could not figure out how to mount/display it. I should have asked if she had a glass cabinet! Now I'm thinking that it would look beautiful under a bell jar.

Launch Gallery
410 Adelaide Street West, Toronto
Adelaide and Spadina 416-504-7910
Hours: Monday - Friday 12- 6 pm or by appointment

Monday, July 20, 2009

Book Review: A Vintage Affair

There is nothing like a long, lazy weekend and I took full advantage of it! I lounged about like a lizard, drinking in sunshine and reading a luscious novel about vintage fashion.

In the novel A Vintage Affair, Phoebe leaves her post as the expert in vintage fashion at Sotheby's Auction House to open her own London shop called Village Vintage. Phoebe's excitement at fulfilling her dream is tinged with sadness of the recent death of her best friend and the subsequent breakup of her engagement with her fiance. One day she meets an elderly woman named Therese with a dress collection to sell and stories to tell. Phoebe's feels a connection with Therese and Phoebe's life takes an unexpected twist.

"I went over to the shoe display and took out a pair of 1930s silk brocade slippers, embroidered with yellow roses. 'I look at these exquisite shoes, and I imagine the woman who owned them rising out of them and walking along, or dancing in them, or kissing someone.' I went over to a pink velvet pillbox hat on its stand. 'I look at a little hat like this,' I lifted up the veil, 'and I try to imagine the face beneath it. Because when you buy a piece of vintage clothing you're not just buying fabric and thread -- you're buying a piece of someone's past." (page 18)

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I've read so many scholarly non-fiction books about fashion this year that it was a pleasure to relax into a story. I suppose one could call this book "chic-lit" but it also has an element of depth brought to the story by Therese and her experiences of the war. I also enjoyed the accuracy with which the elements of the fashion world were conveyed. Of course, as all such novels generally do, life for Phoebe is neatly wrapped up by the end of the book in a way that real life never is, but that was just what this weekend called for.

Title: A Vintage Affair
Author: Isabel Wolff
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers Limited 2009
Category: Fiction
Price: $22.99 paperback
Number of Pages: 423

Friday, July 17, 2009

Le Week-end

I'm hoping for a long and lazy summer weekend....

Judith of StudioJudith sent me this beautiful mixed media postcard which seems like the perfect way to welcome in the weekend. Judith is an incredibly talented artist and interior designer and if you haven't read her blog, you are missing out on a dose of enchanting imagery and exquisite prose.

Bon weekend mes amis!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Book Review: Old Clothes, New Looks

Old Clothes, New Looks is a collaborative book about second hand clothing. Approached from a multidisciplinary and cross-cultural perspective, the contributors to this scholarly book examine the historical, cultural and contemporary significance of second hand clothing.

To my surprise, I learned that the trade in second hand clothing has been in existence "as long as the manufacture of cloth and garments." (page 2) Historically, the textiles in garments were so valuable that items were rarely discarded. They were either reused or sold. The trading of second hand clothing was the means by which poorer people could acquire better quality garments, as well as the method by which the original owner could release the value of their investment in the garment. "Much of the value in garments was founded on the quality of the fabrics used in their construction, the weight, weave, finish and substance of the cloth, plus the presence or absence of braid, lace, buttons or accessories." (page 41) In the first part of the book, the historical importance of second hand clothing in Florence, England, Australia, Ireland and Europe during various time periods is considered.

Through time and across cultures, the trading in second hand clothing has had an impact on fashionable norms. In the second part of the book, contributors address the second hand clothing trade and dress practices in Zambia, India, the Philippines, and Hong Kong.

The last part of the book deals with how vintage fashion has been incorporated into contemporary fashion culture. Wearing vintage is now considered an expression of individualism and connoisseurship. Upscale vintage fashion boutiques, on-line vintage websites and the refashioning of second hand clothing by such designers as Lamine Kouyate and Martin Margiela has made vintage accessible to the fashion connoisseur.

This book is not for a casual reader who is interested in fashion. It is a scholarly analysis of second hand clothing from various perspectives and includes original research. Given the stratospheric cover price, I suspect it was written for university level courses on fashion history. While I enjoyed the book, the quality of the writing was somewhat uneven. The best parts were written by Dr. Alexandra Palmer (Vintage Whores and Vintage Virgins), Hazel Clark (Second Hand Fashion, Culture and Identity in Hong Kong), and Carole Collier Frick (The Florentine Rigattieri).

Title: Old Clothes, New Looks Second Hand Fashion
Edited by Alexandra Palmer and Hazel Clark
Published by: Berg 2005 (New York)
Category: Non-fiction
Number of pages: 255
Cost: Canada $120

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Hats Off to my Friends and Supporters

18th Century Hat #3 by Ingrid Mida (Mixed Media, 3x5) copyright 2009

In the past several weeks, I've been surprised by the extraordinary level of support and encouragement shown to me by my many friends. I'm not sure what I've done to deserve such gifts, but I'm deeply grateful. And for that reason, I'd like to give a hats off salute and a big thank you to the following people:

Author Elena Vidal of Tea at Trianon for writing a post called Ingrid Mida Fashion Plates on July 13, 2009 about my 18th century inspired textile based artwork.

Jewelery Designer Joy Jones at Cupid's Charm for showcasing my fashion plates on her website in a post called Meet the Artist on July 13, 2009.

Artist and quiltmaker Tristan Robin Blakeman at Enchanted Revelry for sending me supplies and instructions on how to do ribbon embroidery.

Master embroiderer Susan Elliot at Plays with Needles for sending me a package of ribbon embroidery needles (which strangely are unavailable in Toronto) and patiently answering my many questions on supply sources and techniques.

Interior designer Judith Thibault at Studio Judith for her impromptu gift of a mixed-media postcard and her daily dose of encouragement.

Artist Laura Bray at Katydiddy Designs for her many tips on how to better sell and market my work.

18th Century Hat #2 by Ingrid Mida (Mixed Media, 3x5) copyright 2009

I am just blown away at the generosity and kindness shown to me by these blogging friends. As well, there are other friends (non-bloggers) like Josie M. and Michele C. who continue to support me and encourage me in my work. As a giver, I somewhat uncomfortable in receiving gifts but I am truly grateful for such thoughtful friends. Thank you hardly seems enough and for once my words fail me. I'd like to share several quotes about friendship to express how I feel.

In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame with an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.
Albert Schweitzer

Some people weave burlap into the fabric of our lives, and some weave gold thread. Both contribute to make the picture beautiful and unique.

Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay awhile and leave footprints on our hearts and, we are never, ever, the same.
Floria Weeln

18th Century Hat #1 by Ingrid Mida (Mixed Media, 3x5) copyright 2009

Monday, July 13, 2009

Flowers and Plumes at Atelier Bruno Legeron

Photo by Ingrid Mida, 2009

While some people might argue that haute couture is an unnecessary luxury in this tough economic climate, there are many artisans who make their living working behind the scenes to bring a couture collection to life. This includes ateliers like Bruno Legeron who make silk flowers and plumes for such couture houses as Dior, Givenchy, and Chanel.

While in Paris, I visited the atelier of Bruno Legeron, who is one of three flower and plume makers left in France. When his grandfather purchased the atelier many years ago, there were several hundred ateliers making flowers and plumes. Twenty years ago, there were about 30 ateliers.

The charming Monsieur Legeron walked through all the steps in crafting a silk flower by hand. Each petal and leaf is cut from silk, hand-dyed, and crafted into a flower. The number of petals and leaves depends on the type of flower. Monsieur Legeron spoke so lovingly and passionately about the process of creation, that it was an incredible gift to watch him bring a piece of fabric to life.

Photo by Ingrid Mida 2009

Monsieur Legeron said that he was too busy creating flowers and plumes to have married and has no heir to pass the business on to. One can only hope that he can endure the recession and that one of his talented workers will someday be able to take over the business of creating beauty!

Photo by Ingrid Mida 2009

Bruno Legeron
20 rue des Petits Champs
Paris 75002

P.S. Elena at the lovely blog Tea at Trianon has written about my fashion plates today. I created three new plates using 18th century hats for her post.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Nature's lace: The Spider Web

Spider webs are nature's lace.
Their delicacy, fragility and ethereal qualities have inspired my latest artwork.

Photo source:

For some time, I've wanted to add spider webs to my fashion plates to add a suggestion of decay and an element of whimsy. The interesting thing about trying something new is that I have to make a conscious decision to accept failure as part of the learning process. In other words, I have to be willing to destroy my art and I had to work up my courage.

Along came a spider... A mixed media work by Ingrid Mida, copyright 2009

I was pretty excited after my first attempt. It took about two hours to create one quarter of a web but the metallic thread was so fine that it will not show up in a photograph.

On my second attempt, I added some beads and even then the spider web is still very difficult to see in a photograph. I've been debating whether or not to post my efforts at all. But in person, the effect is just as I hoped for - delicate and other-worldly. It doesn't dominate the piece but adds a soft shimmer from the metallic thread and the beads. You almost don't even notice it until you look more closely. However, I am quite disappointed in how it photographs and am contemplating making a web in black embroidery thread just to better photograph it.

Click on the close-up photo to better see the web!

Sadly my next effort will have to wait. I've cut my hand badly (who said art was relaxing?) and it will need some time to heal.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Christian Lacroix: On Fashion

Talent does not always equate to success in the worlds of art and fashion. And yesterday, one of the greatest fashion talents Christian Lacroix staged what is likely his last haute couture collection at the Musee des Art Decoratifs in Paris. Forced into receivership in May, Lacroix has been looking for a buyer to rescue the fashion house and unless he finds one, the beautiful clothing shown yesterday will likely never go into production.

That prompted me to pull out the book "Christian Lacroix: On Fashion" from my library of fashion and art books. This exquisite book is filled with pages and pages of gorgeous haute couture confections, some of which look as if they could have been worn in the 18th century. And perhaps in this world of casual dress where people wear jeans to the opera, Lacroix's talent was not sufficiently appreciated.

I was particularly taken with a chapter of the book called Cobwebs where Lacrois says "From sketch to dress, from fabric to lace, thread is another running theme. It is both a motif and a form of writing; the bare bones of fashion, a glittering spider's web that has no wrong side or right side when it becomes a transparent dress." (page 171).

I've been researching spider webs myself for my artwork (spider webs are nature's lace!) and I will be posting images of how I've integrated this into my fashion plates later this week. Needless to say, I found Lacroix's work breath-taking in conception and execution.

Title: Christian Lacroix, On Fashion
Text by: Christian Lacroix, Patrick Mauries and Olivier Saillard
Photographs by Gregoire Alexandre
Publisher: Thames and Hudson, 2007
Price: USA $65 Canada $71.50

Monday, July 6, 2009

Lace-making in Bayeux, France

During Louis XIV's reign, his finance minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert undertook to develop and support the luxury goods industry within France. Because Colbert valued retaining monies spent on the purchase of luxury fabrics within France, he helped establish and/or improve existing textile and fashion related manufacturing in the country. These efforts established Bayeux as a lace-making centre.

Bayeux lace is characterized by its delicate patterns based on historical patterns and comes in white, ecru or black.

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

At its peak, Bayeaux and surrounding villages had in the order of 5000 workers creating bobbin or needle lace. Today there are less than a dozen artisans who create hand-made lace.

Leading the revival of hand-made lace is Marie-Helene Salvador who runs the Atelier du Centre Normand de la Dentelle aux Fuseux in Bayeux. At this centre, she teaches and supervises those who wish to learn the craft of lace-making.

When I stopped in for a visit to observe the lace workers, I was impressed with the skill, dexterity and focus required to create such delicate handwork. I had no idea how the lace-makers knew which bobbin to manipulate and which needle to remove. After seeing them in action, I had a whole new appreciation for the level of craftsmanship in handmade lace. And it didn't surprise me that the beautiful black lace shawl on display took 20 women approximately six months to make. (Sadly no photos were allowed!). Madame Salvador has received national honours for her efforts to revive this dying art.

At the neighbouring museum, Musee Baron Garard Bayeux, there is an extensive collection of Bayeux lace on display including lappets, shawls, collars, cuffs and ruffles. As well, I was delighted to find one of my favourite paintings by Francois Boucher (1702-1770) called The Cage on display as well.

To read more about lace, please see my earlier posts on the subject including:
The Establishment of Lace Making Industry in France
The Lace Sleeve Ruffle

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Long Weekend in Bayeux

Happy Fourth of July weekend to all my American friends and customers! If you cannot get away, join me on a mental vacation to the French countryside in Bayeux, home of lace-making and the Bayeux tapestry (which will be subjects for future posts).

Bayeux Mill, Photo by Ingrid Mida, copyright 2009

Stained Glass Window in the Bayeux Cathedral by Ingrid Mida, copyright 2009

Angel inside the Nave of the Bayeaux Cathedral by Ingrid Mida, copyright 2009

Streetscape in Bayeux, Photo by Ingrid Mida, copyright 2009

Carved wooden door in Bayeux, Photo by Ingrid Mida, copyright 2009

Rose in Bayeux, Photo by Ingrid Mida, copyright 2009

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Romance of France at La Pastorale

Today is Canada's birthday and it seemed fitting to announce that a selection of my fashion plates will now be carried at La Pastorale, a French country lifestyle boutique in the heart of cottage country in Owen Sound.

La Pastorale, which was recently featured in the July issue of Canadian House and Home magazine, is a boutique filled with beautiful home decor items. The owner, Pamela Smith, opened the romantic, light-filled shop two years ago and took her inspiration from her travels through France. La Pastorale ships across Canada.

I have to thank my fabulous friend Josie for putting us together and even offering to be my delivery person! Such is the power of friendship! Thank you Josie!!!!

I created a selection of French fashion plates (12x12x3) featuring 18th century fashionable ladies with their dogs called Jolie Femme Avec Le Chien on French toile for La Pastorale. Each plate is hand-beaded and one of a kind.

La Pastorale
790 Third Avenue East
Owen Sound, Ontario