Visual Arts

Woman's Work

I'm not a "girly" girl. I don't like pink, and I'll take my dingy brown Doc Martens over high heels, hands down. So admittedly I wanted to cut and run when I first spied Kathleen Holmes' collection of metal, glass and ceramic sculptures at Scottsdale's Cervini Haas gallery. Six dresses stood on white pedestals like an army of starched doll clothes marching to find their owners. But overall it's a charming little exhibition, and though obviously geared toward a more feminine aesthetic, it's worth examining if only for Holmes' creativity in construction.

Take Earl Grey Gown, for example. The upper portion of the sleeveless dress was crafted from a rusty piece of found steel and inset with a porcelain teapot from Holmes' personal collection. Dust gathered in the crevices of the teapot niche, as if the dress had been kept in a dusty attic for years. The billowing ceramic skirt was coated with remnants of crocheted doilies painted in hues of soft yellow and china blue. By using found objects associated with traditional women's roles in a modern, nontraditional way, Holmes pays homage to her feminine ancestors while still asserting her own individuality.

Each of the figures follows the same basic formula, with the addition and subtraction of decorative elements like brass bees, letter beads and broken teapot pieces. Holmes' ingenuity really shines in the glass elements. In House Dress, a simple piece of vintage lace was imprinted onto the molten glass, leaving behind a delicate block pattern of valleys and ridges. Metal "windows" affixed to the amber skirt are an affectionate, playful visual representation of the frumpy garment worn by '50s housewives.

The exhibition feels limited because of its gender specificity, in the same way that generations of females were limited to sewing, cleaning or baking. By incorporating lace doilies, teapots and other elements of traditional "woman's work," Holmes forces the fairer sex to confront a part of our heritage that most of us would prefer stay buried in the past. I applaud her effort. After all, she did get me to step out of my Docs and into my grandmother's shoes, if only for a fleeting moment.

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Wynter Holden
Contact: Wynter Holden