PORTLAND — Inherent in the structure of a garment is the story of its purpose, time and place. “Refashioned,” on view May 21 through July 31 at the Portland Museum of Art, examines these stories in the work of three contemporary artists.
Lauren Gillette, Anne Lemanski and Angelika Werth use the configuration of an article of clothing or hairstyle as an armature for historical narrative. Their work begins with the desire to communicate details of a life revealed in the conventions of outward appearance.
“Refashioned” is the third in a series of exhibitions called “Circa” that explores compelling aspects of contemporary art in Maine and beyond.
Gillette, of York, is a miner of information—researching and gathering information about her subjects, conducting interviews and poring over source material. Over a period of months and even years, she documents her findings on found leather jackets to assemble a biographical portrait. The lining, cuffs, zippers, collar, buttons, patches and pockets inside and out are covered like the pages of a book with accumulated imagery and text.
Some of her subjects are famous cultural figures: Patty Hearst and Sammy Davis, Jr. for example, while others are lesser-known individuals or simply people she has personally known to be influential or to lead passionate lives. From trench coat to bomber to blazer, the style of each jacket is matched to the person it describes. Like motorcycle jackets that may signal affinity to a particular culture and group of riders, they are at once protective and revealing.
In her series of 12 hand-felted dresses titled “Madeleines,” Werth, of Nelson, B.C., has tailored garments for notable women throughout history. In a twist of character and deflection of social restrictions, their historical dress styles are altered to accommodate the woman’s participation in a particular sporting activity.
Using a combination of silk and merino fibers with bits of old lace undergarments, Werth has constructed boxing dresses for Marie Antoinette and Marilyn Monroe and fencing dresses for Joan of Arc and Josephine de Beauharnais, the first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Imagining the women in the game is an act of reinterpreting history and the iconic roles these characters have become known for: seduction and excess, courage and integrity, wealth and martyrdom. Their costumes juxtapose the ultra feminine body with the accoutrements of traditionally masculine and potentially violent activities.
“A Century of Hair,” by Lemanski,of Spruce Pine, N.C., chronicles women’s hairstyles of the 20th century, recreating one signature look from each decade. Lemanski begins each piece by constructing a wire frame onto which she stitches a culturally significant, reclaimed or period-appropriate material.
The 1940s look, titled “For the Boys,” incorporates World War II ration stamps and vintage pin-ups. “The Professional Woman,” with men’s red and navy ties, marks the 1980s surge of women into previously male-dominated fields.
In each work, Lemanski recounts the challenges and advances for women of the day, from the need for birth control, to the invention of the vacuum cleaner. “A Century of Hair” is a historical timeline and cultural commentary on women’s identity evidenced in the shape of their hair.
The museum at Seven Congress Square is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday; and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students with ID, $4 for youths ages 6-17 and free for children under 6. Admission is free from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday.