by Marene Gustin
We love a pretty frock, and with this heat, what’s better than a dress of airy tissue paper?
Even if you can’t touch them—let alone try them on—it’s worth strolling through the gallery at Houston Center for Contemporary Craft just to view the whimsical and artistic creations in The Paper Runway juried show this summer.
Here you’ll find ball gowns of handmade paper, a suit made from used lottery tickets and dental floss, a jacket of tea bags and animal hair, and even papier-mâché-like high heels that Manolo would flip for.
The exhibit, featuring nearly 50 works by paper artists from around the world, was organized by the Robert C. Williams Paper Museum in Atlanta, Georgia. But why put fashion and paper together?
“Paper isn’t mysterious,” says Gwynne Rukenbrod, HCCC curator. “We see paper every day, everywhere around us. You can go to Michael’s and buy all kinds of paper to create with, and you don’t have to be a blacksmith or glassblower to make art with it. Paper is accessible.”
Accessible, yes—durable, not so much. When the exhibit arrived in Houston, the archive boxes had been damaged and some of the works had been crushed. But, being paper, they weren’t hard to fix.
“Because they were paper, we could just steam and iron them out,” Rukenbrod explains.
Any fashionista will love Betsy Dollar’s Little Black Dresses that come with empowering messages and even little paper labels. The ephemeral blue cocktail dress Dancing with the Stars by Jennifer Davies and Nancy Eisenfeld, made of plastic netting, kozo pulp, ribbon, tulle and thread, certainly looks as if Sarah Jessica Parker could waltz it down the red carpet.
And, lest you think paper isn’t practical for fashion, there is some clothing in the exhibit that is actually wearable.
A whole wall is devoted to artist Deepak Shrestha of Tibet who makes traditional Himalayan shifu clothing from plant fibers made into long paper sheets. Stylish, cool, and very environmentally friendly. (Why is there no Houston boutique selling these?)
And a real blast from the past is the section of the show featuring Hallmark paper hostess dresses from the early ’60s. A quirky Mad Men treat, these sleeveless shifts were actually made and marketed to party planners with op-art patterns to match napkins and paper plates made by Hallmark. Sold for mere dollars, these dresses were meant to be disposable. Spill your cocktail? No worry, just toss the frock after the party is over. And, in case mid-century women weren’t paying attention, the label actually spells it out: Do Not Wash.
But most of the exhibit is more art and less Americana. Some of these creations, from hats to wedding gowns, are simply made to be admired. Made from coffee filters, banana leaves, and magazine pages, they are truly flights of fantasy from talented craft artisans. And while you can’t purchase the items in the gallery (well, you can find some vintage Hallmark paper party frocks on eBay), you can snag some paper origami jewelry from local artist Marguerite Belkin in the gift shop. Or maybe you’ll be inspired to create your own.
The Paper Runway
When: Now through September 4.
Where: Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, 4848 Main Street.
Wherewithal: HCCC is open in the summer from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is free. Info: 713/529-4848 or www.crafthouston.org.
Marene Gustin is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.