How five Pratt students from the 1960s started an art movement through a shared passion for crochet

Jean Williams Cacicedo, Sharron Hedges, Marika Contompasis and Janet Lipkin as students and at Off the Wall: American Art to Wear at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (courtesy Jean Williams Cacicedo)

In the late 1960s, a group of students from the Pratt Institute began crocheting their class homework. The technique was not part of the curriculum and as they inspired each other, they helped start a new artistic movement. Wearable Art, also known as Artwear or Wearable Art, grew out of the decade’s anti-establishment counterculture and reconsidered what art could be. Rather than static objects designed to be displayed in a gallery, the movement’s creations were meant to be worn as living art.

Pratt’s five students came from different disciplines, studying painting, sculpture, graphics, and industrial design. Yet they shared a passion for how textiles, long marginalized from the fine art, could offer unexpected materials for visual expression. Together, Jean Williams Cacicedo, BFA Beaux-Arts ’70, Marika Contompasis, BID ’69, Sharron Hurdles, BFA Art Education ’70, Dina knapp, Graphic Art and Design ’70, and Janet Lipkin, BFA Beaux-Arts ’70, learned techniques that were not taught in their regular classes. Recognized as the pioneers of the Art to Wear movement, the five alumni of Pratt were presented this year in Off the Wall: American art to wear at the Philadelphia Museum of Art as well as an accompanying catalog of Yale University Press.

View of the installation Off the Wall: American Art to Wear at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with works by Marika Contompasis, Dina Knapp, Sharron Hedges and Janet Lipkin (courtesy Janet Lipkin)
View of the installation Off the Wall: American Art to Wear at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with works by Marika Contompasis, Dina Knapp, Sharron Hedges and Janet Lipkin (courtesy Janet Lipkin)

View of the installation Off the Wall: American Art to Wear at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with works by Sharron Hedges (courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art)
View of the installation Off the Wall: American Art to Wear at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with works by Sharron Hedges (courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art)

Pratt in the 1960s was rich in cross-pollination between departments as students tested the limits of their disciplines. “Textiles were still decades from being considered art, but Pratt still offered us a place of adventure. So when a friend learned a new technique, others learned it too, ”Hedges said. “This is how I ended up with an eight foot wooden cubic frame with a crochet rope net inside for Sculpture, how Marika built a wire lounge chair with embroidered skin for it. industrial design and how Janet sewed and crocheted a doll for Graphics. “

Contompasis was one of the few women to take her industrial design classes and was interested in how she could bring a “female perspective to design” as the textile arts were traditionally performed by women. Her chair was shaped like a flower with pieces of knitting and crochet extending outward, inviting the model to wrap itself in the petals. His job was very different from that of his classmates, but the faculty of industrial design, including his teacher Guillaume Fogler, supported his experiment with Cacicedo, Hedges, Knapp and Lipkin: “We were really encouraged to use whatever was available. That’s what we did and we all started to learn these techniques with fiber and apply them to our work.

Jean Williams Caciedo,
Jean Williams Caciedo, “Chaps: A Cowboy Dedication” (1983), hand knitted, crocheted, felted and dyed in mohair wool, wool jersey and Dacron (courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, pledged gift from the Julie Collection Schafler Dale, photo by Otto Stupakoff, © Julie Schafler Dale)

Cacicedo had learned to crochet from a neighbor while spending the summer at his family’s home on the Jersey Shore. Although it started out as a hobby to pass the time, Cacicedo was enamored with the creative potential of crochet and how it was similar to drawing in its use of stitches in space to create lines, shapes. and shapes. And because crochet was portable, didn’t require a machine, and could involve just about any flexible material, it offered limitless possibilities, perfect for the radical spirit of the 1960s. “The political atmosphere of our nation was challenged, our values ​​drifted away from those of our parents and we were thirsty to explore new ways of thinking, ”said Cacicedo.

Back in Pratt, she shared her new chain stitch and single crochet skills with her roommates, Lipkin and Contompasis. “We shared so much of our thoughts and attitudes about art and life and in non-competitive ways,” Cacicedo said, adding that “none of us really knew that we were creating what is defined today as the movement of the American studio Artwear “. Their friends Knapp and Hedges were also learning textile techniques themselves and they all began to work together to understand how fibers and the body interact.

Janet Lipkin,
Janet Lipkin, “Flamingo Jacket” (1982), hand-dyed wool and angora, machine-knitted and padded (courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, pledged gift from the Julie Schafler Dale Collection, photo by Otto Stupakoff, © Julie Schafler Dale)

“We were mentors and peers to each other,” Lipkin said. “When one of us discovered a new concept, it inspired each of us to grow and develop our own styles. They broke new ground with color and organic shapes, layering crochet in intricate textures. When these pieces were worn, a person not only wore clothes, he turned into a living sculpture. They could change the way a person felt and the way the world reacted to them. “The courage we had in young artists at Pratt allowed us to explore a technique that was not used in works of art and continue to make art,” Lipkin said.

Dina Knapp,
Dina Knapp, “See It Like a Native: History Kimono # 1” (1982), cotton, polyester, plastic and wallpaper, applied and transferred by Xerox (courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, pledged gift from the Julie Schafler Collection Dale)

After graduation, the five artists stayed connected even as they dispersed across the country to pursue their own practices. Each has played an important role in transforming the art of clothing in motion. Hedges and Knapp stayed in New York for a while, then Knapp moved to Florida. Her detailed hook included “Mushroom jacket”Which enveloped the wearer in shapes resembling roots. She has also had a long career in the performing arts, most notably as a wardrobe mistress for the Florida Grand Opera. She died in 2016.

Now working in North Carolina, Hedges has created elaborate pieces for home and fashion as well as textile design. His dramatic coats of the 1970s and 80s used bright colors and expressive shapes to transform the wearer into something otherworldly, like the vibrant butterfly wings of “Morpho“or the swirling colors of”Midnight Sky (Julie’s Coat)»Produced for Julie Schafler Dale, whose New York gallery was an important showcase for the Art to Wear movement.

Sharron Hedges,
Sharron Hedges, “Morpho” (1984), crocheted and knitted rib, wool yarn and wool jersey lining (courtesy the artist, Julie Schafler Dale Collection)

Several members of the group moved to California, including Lipkin who created dynamic crochet pieces that immerse wearers in color and form. One of his first works after graduation, the 1970 “African mask, ”Is now in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and completely consumes the wearer in a hand-dyed coat of hand-spun wool, leather and wood. She also spent time in Africa and later learned machine techniques to model her works, such as her 1980s coats which responded to global destinations of Mexico To Tibet.

Janet Lipkin, “African Mask” (1970), wool, leather, wood (courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of Muriel Kallis Newman, photo by Otto Stupakoff, © Julie Schafler Dale)
Janet Lipkin, “African Mask” (1970), wool, leather, wood (courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of Muriel Kallis Newman, photo by Otto Stupakoff, © Julie Schafler Dale)

Contompasis taught at colleges such as San Francisco State, University of California, Berkeley, and University of California, Los Angeles, and continued to study new techniques, including two-dimensional images in the wire before get started in high-end mesh. In partnership with her brother and former student of Pratt Charles Contompasis, she founded MA + CH in 2002. The studio focuses on the entire sustainable design process, from dyeing entire garments to producing and shipping the parts. Cacicedo also moved to California and made a stint in Wyoming, using a variety of techniques in his work that emphasizes handmade textiles. His mythically inspired art spans from the great wall hangings and sculptural objects to portable parts, like his 1978 “Rose petals”Jacket with appliquéd petals and knitted sleeves that is now part of the collections of the de Young Museum in San Francisco.

Cacicedo said: “Pratt made me discover possibilities thanks to its academic diversity of disciplines and its teachers who encouraged learning the basics and surpassing oneself. The friends have continued to share their artistic knowledge over the years and remember how the creative environment on campus inspired them to make art like no one had done before. As Hedges said, “Pratt fostered curiosity over pedantic lessons and his teachers allowed us to take risks, go into unfamiliar spaces, bring out the images in our heads, go with it. imagination. “

Norma D. Ross