viva la victoriana

Posted by on Mar 28, 2009 in Illustration | 2 comments

I’m always up for a spectacle and when I heard from Tracy Quimby at Victoria Mansion that a performance artist would be dressing from corset to cape, I had to be there.

As part of the NEA’s Big Read initiative, Victoria Mansion had chosen The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. All kinds of book discussions, film screenings, and lectures are happening around this book.

I met up with two Victoriana fans in the front row of the PMA auditorium: Lex Golubow, a former student and recent MECA grad. She came dressed in her best Victorian outfit and ready to get a good look.

Lex often came to class in some kind of costume. She modeled for my representational illustration class at the McClellan wing of the Portland Museum of Art. I always draw alongside my students, just to recognize the challenge I am asking them to make. This sketch of Lex became part of a class graphic novella called “The McClellan Incident.”

Later on in that class, Lex made this scratchboard illustration of a Victorian lady dressing, diligently researched and intricately detailed.

So I knew she would show up in style last Saturday.

My other cohort was Scott Dimond, art historian and impressario. He has given lectures on illustration history in my classes, bringing in a battered vintage suitcase crammed with ephemera from distant times.

This is one of my favorites:

I’m picturing the typesetter here, having fun with this silhouette.

Since Scott has a kangaroo fetish, I made this pastel for him, in that innocent age.

And here is the sketch HE did:

So, back to the event…

Kandie Carle did not disappoint! She was funny and informative, all while sweeping about the stage with turns of both elegance and humor. She told the audience that everyone wore corsets, including children and men. It was considered a foundation, underwear, a structure to promote proper bearing and posture. But it took two to get one on. Here she brought up a willing “maid” from the audience. Add grunts here.

It was NOT easy to sketch all this action. They were not posing, but acting. I did
10 quickie sketches. Here are a few:

Miss Kandie dressed in a lovely silk gown she sewed from a vintage pattern found in Delineator Magazine, a popular publication from the 1890’s.

She talked, as she dressed, about the accessories as well. Like the fan: a tool for coded communication. At a ball, single women were accompanied by chaperones to protect their reputations. The fan held across the brow dramatically could say: we are being watched. Ah, subtle arts at work.

After a brief intermission, she was joined by Marc Casslar of the Vintage Dance Society, who discussed his fashions and their protocols. He said a man was “naked without his walking stick.” Who knew?

Then, they demonstrated a full dance card of polkas, waltzes, and a mazurka!

At this point, I had to put my pencil down and just gape. Spare Parts provided the musical accompaniment.

As usual, didn’t see the end. I had to dash like Cinderella for the ferry. But when history can come alive at events like this, we all benefit. It reinforces my goal to bring students to draw at places like Victoria Mansion; they’ve kindly hosted my class. Here is MECA senior Sarah Couming’s sketch of fellow classmate, Peter Selmayr in his costume.

Megan Walker draws an ornate bed in this photo.

This is Kate Hastings’ drawing. It captures an impatience with time, no matter what the era.

All this documentation has primed me for the upcoming book discussion at the island library followed by a screening of The Age of Innocence, a 1993 film version directed by Martin Scorcese.

Scott Dimond said, “The cult of manners then must have been suffocating. I know that life was no better then, but I left believing that we live in an impoverished age.”

Well, viva la victorian!

2 Comments

  1. Oh jezz. I was not expecting to see myself in this post. 🙂
    I love the Kangaroo pastel piece. If only such a place existed.

  2. i want to take your class jamie!
    thanks for your comment! dying to see that photo of andrew 🙂
    miss you + love you,
    mati

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