Recently I checked a book out from the public library called 100 Paper Objects, the book contained anything from handmade books to large-scale installations. Some of the items in the book were kitschy, others looked clearly like a class project though they were all made extremely well a few things made it into the reference file. Most items were organic in nature, which usually I tend to gravitate toward and a paper dress and bonnet covered in a dirt brown color. These items called up a cacophony of remembrances, such as the paper dress my mom had made for a Spring Festival my sister Lisa was in for school. A conversation about the paper dress a friend wore when she was a child and a trip to buy dresses from the downtown, John Wanamaker department store when I was small.
It‘s thought of as cheating to take an idea from someone else and redo it and I must give a respectful nod to the artist who initiated this project. Still I throw caution to the wind in this case because I was touched so deeply and I hope that the inspiration will inspire others. I later felt justified when I viewed the show at the Pearlman of the printed wearable and saw a dress made for a child with war symbolism printed on it. I begin the Child’s Dress project. First, what do I want this dress to look like? Second, what kind of paper should I use? Third, why am I making a child’s dress?
The child’s dress references Black people’s hopes and dreams. I collect children’s toys, tea sets, cradles, doll chairs, dolls and other small things. These items represent the hopes and dreams of childhood. For some they are the luxuries parents who are busy buying clothes, shoes, medical appointments and food wish they could afford. I decided to create a formal cap sleeved dress, including a bow, with plentiful gathers. I recalled the dresses purchased for my girls and passed to other children needing a graduation dress or fancy Christmas outfit. Much to my chagrin, my kids grew to dislike the style in their preteen years; I lamented the loss of their youth. Children look so well cared for in their Sunday Easter clothes.
Since I decided on the dress with lots of gathers, I knew it would be a challenge to create a paper version made from a pattern. Luckily, I was already researching types of paper for woodcut printing and was reading a book titled the Japanese Woodblock Print Workshop by April Vollmer. I decided that with my limited budget the best choice to be a Japanese paper, one that did not look like it came from Japan since the piece would directly reference the hopes of African descended people. I went toward Gami Unryu, which comes on a roll, thus plentiful, and made with long mulberry fibers so it is strong. Once I got into the store, the Kozo was cheaper and wider so I went with that. Other considerations were a desired luminosity, absorbency and of course archival; it will go through the press then be dyed. This paper had all the needed attributes.
Parents dream for their children they wish for their children to go beyond their own accomplishments. Our dreams are manifested in the purchases made for the smallest members of our families like, sneakers or phones. In trying to come up with a more universal theme among African descended people I came upon the idea that we all wish for our children to have long thick hair. This ideal is convergent to the European concept of beauty. I recall once calling my young daughter a pretty princess, she responded, “I’m not a princess. Have you ever seen a princess with a braid in the back of their hair?” It is not surprising the current styles in hair are weaves or long hair braided into the natural hair, manifestations of an unrealized dream of beauty. My plan is to print hair onto the dress. We will see…