Join Us On The Journey: Collaboration for Cause

The journey to Fashion Week 2017 with Nolcha Shows has been an amazing one. Once making the decision to participate in this awesome event, I immediately began following Nolcha and the immensely talented designers featured at their shows. Wren and Roch in particular caught my eye with their elegant leather bags and accessories. Their unique designs which feature spikes and finger grips on clutches are both beautiful and unexpected. Beyond this it is their very impressive mission and the meaning attached to their collection which makes them so special.  In an effort to raise awareness for sexual assault, Wren and Roch partners with various organizations which raise funds, educate, assist and empower those who have been impacted by sexual assault. Recently, they have launched a “Carry Your Courage” campaign to help lift the stigma of guilt and shame surrounding rape and abuse.  As a licensed therapist, this platform resonated with me immediately. Almost on a daily basis I meet with people who have been hurt by sexual assault.  I knew I wanted to do anything I could do to help support and expand their mission.

 

One morning, Teri, my very talented business advisor and confidant woke up with the most amazing idea! What if a couple of my sculptures included some of their pieces? I loved the idea and honestly we believe that it was divinely inspired. We reached out to Laura and Karen to see if they might be interested in collaborating with us, they were honored. Their first question was, “what do you need from us”? The conversation continued as we worked together to select the bag and accessories which would be featured. Coincidently or maybe not, the color of bag chosen matched the bronze patina which I had already selected. Two days later, a sample bag and cuff arrived so that I would have something to work from. Last week, I finished their BEST FRIEND- Ray of Moonlight purse as well as Tan Hide and Seeing Spots cuffs. Our new friends were pleased. Delilah will be featured carrying Ray of Moonlight and wearing their Tan Hide cuff.  Jade will be wearing their “Seeing Spots” cuff. We are very proud to assist Wren and Roch in promoting their very special mission.

 

To learn more about Wren and Roch, visit https://www.wrenandroch.com/.

Join Us on the Journey: Nolcha Four travel to Philly – There are molds to be made!

No weekend adventure would be complete without a trip to a foundry located in downtown Philadelphia (time to have molds made of the Nolcha Four)!  I left my home in Virginia around 7:30AM after carefully strapping my precious cargo (sculptures) into my Nissan Rogue with a complicated intertwining of bungie cords and wooden shims.  Keeping these creations secure for the long trip was paramount. Normally, my husband accompanies me on one of these adventures, but he had other business to attend to.  Thankfully, my dear sister-in-law Marla volunteered to make the pilgrimage with me.  As we traveled north, I found myself incessantly checking my rearview mirror not for law enforcement, but for the condition of my precious cargo. The further north we went the bumpier the roads became. Yes, we have an infrastructure problem in this country!  Poor Delilah began to bounce like a preteen on a trampoline while Marla chanted “don’t look back, don’t look back”! I began practicing all the deep breathing techniques that I have been teaching my clients for years in order to maintain my composure.

 After hours of bumper to bumper traffic, we arrived at our destination. Luckily, I have worked in similar urban neighborhoods of Richmond, Virginia, so Philly was not a complete shock.  In the midst of what appears to be a war zone, complete with plastic covered windows and smashed up cars lining the streets, stands a 100-year-old three-story building, which in days gone by, was a fabric manufacturing plant. This is the new home to Stratton Sculpture Studios whose owners are in the process of renovating this “historical site”.  I chose Stratton because they came highly recommended by an artist friend of mine and are noted for their meticulous work. Julia and Shane Stratton are classically trained artists with 40 years of experience between them.   Notably, Julia is a patinist which means she is an artist who specializes in the patination (coloration) of metal.  I want to work with the best artist I could find in order to bring my fashion line to life. Meeting with Julia and Shane was an absolute pleasure. They were extremely kind, helpful, and generous.  When I originally sent them photos of the piece “Carry Your Courage” (formerly named “Catwalk”) Delilah was empty handed, not carrying anything! Now, here I was showing up with a sculpted Wren and Roch purse which was not accounted for in their original quote. I shared Wren and Roch’s mission to raise awareness for victims of sexual assault.  I inquired about the additional cost and was happily stunned when they said “no charge, no problem”.  Just goes to show that when you support good causes, good things happen! I am happy to report that all four figures made it to Philly no worse for the wear, and will be making their way to California in about three weeks for casting.

Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair

I have never been to an Ebony Fashion Fair, so having the opportunity to attend the Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of EBONY Fashion Fair exhibit at The George Washington University Textile Museum was the next best thing. Last year, I spent hundreds of hours researching Eunice Johnson and Ebony Fashion Fair for my sculpture “Esther”.  Reading about Ebony Fashion Fair is one thing, but to see these beautiful creations by some of the top fashion designers in the world in person was nothing short of breathtaking! Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Jean Patou, Alexander McQueen, and the list goes on. Many of the haute couture pieces featured were one of a kind designs purchased by Mrs. Johnson for Ebony Fashion Fair. For over fifty years Ebony Fashion Fair was a traveling fashion extravaganza that toured the country bringing high end fashion to African American women everywhere.  Fashion Fair was not about selling clothes, but rather was about exposing African American audiences to the world of high fashion. It was intentionally replete with images of beautiful successful, well-heeled African American women and served to elevate in the minds of its viewers what was possible. These theatrical shows were considered the event of the year in communities throughout the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean.

The first part of the evening event included a guided tour of the collection by the curator of the collection, Ms. Camille Brewer. Ms. Brewer did an outstanding job of telling the story of Ebony Fashion’s beginnings and provided much antidotal information about Mrs. Johnson and Johnson Publishing Company.

The second part of the evening was even more interesting as it featured a lecture by Shayla Simpson, Ebony Model and Fashion Fair commentator. Ms. Simpson gave poignant insight into the world of fashion and the pivotal part that Ebony played. Starting initially as a model, then commentator, Ms. Simpson eventually became a buyer under Mrs. Johnson’s tutelage. Listening to Ms. Simpson speak was utterly fascinating. She eloquently weaved a story that pulled you in and kept you there! She talked about her buying trips to Paris with Mrs. Johnson. Initially, being a rookie, her job was to cover the lesser known shows and report back to Mrs. Johnson what she should buy. After approximately two years of making recommendations and Mrs. Johnson never purchasing a thing she picked out, she was utterly bewildered. Finally, she asked about it and was told that this was a part of her being groomed for the big shows. Subsequently, she went on to attend all the major shows in Paris, Milan, London, and New York and was a major buyer for Ebony Fashion Fair. 

This experience provided me with an even greater appreciation of not only Ebony Fashion Fair, but of the Fashion Industry as a whole.

Meet the Nolcha Four: Henry

The inspiration for Henry is the result of hours spent researching 1950’s fashion. I was awestruck by beauty of this period’s fashion. The models are gorgeous and the clothes are breathtaking, but it’s the fashion photographer who brings it all to life. The lighting, the poses, the vantage point, and the accessories all work together like musical instruments in a finely tuned orchestra where the fashion photographer is the conductor. Without the genius of the photographers, the beauty and the elegance of the fashion would not have been conveyed.

 The fabulous fifties produced some extremely talented fashion photographers, but one in particular caught my eye, Henry Clarke. His legendary work is nothing short of spellbinding!  It was not just the art of the photography that impressed me. It was Henry's story that fascinated me even more. Henry started out as a window dresser at the I. Magnin department store in California in the 1940’s. It wasn’t long before he decided to pack up and move to New York City to work as an accessory and background assistant with Conde’ Nast.  While working there, Henry witnessed some of the greatest fashion photographers of the time, Beaton, Penn and Horst. It did not take long before Henry was smitten by the photography bug.  He was so inspired by Beaton’s work inparticular that he borrowed a Rolleiflex camera and just began taking pictures. Henry had made up his mind to become a fashion photographer.

 Henry did not have an economic advantage or college education.  As a young child, he and his parents lived a somewhat nomadic existence, moving from place to place throughout the United States until finally settling in California. Henry had some formal training, enrolling in a course at the New School for Research, but was in large self-taught.  He continued working for Vogue for 25 years traveling the world photographing some of the most famous and elegant women of the time.

The wonderful lesson and example in all of this is that Henry made up his mind on what he wanted to do with his life and he just did it!  He was single-minded and focused in developing his craft.  He was also noted as being kind and respectful of the women he photographed which was not typical of the time.  If that isn’t inspirational, then I don’t know what is! 

Throughout my research, I came across only one picture of Henry in which he was holding a camera on the cover of Life magazine.  He spent his life behind the camera making other people look beautiful.  That is what fashion photographers do.  In creating this piece, I wanted to recognize the genius of what I call the unsung heroes of the fashion industry, the fashion photographer.   This piece is named “Henry “, in honor of Henry Clarke and is dedicated to all fashion photographers past and present.  

Meet the Nolcha Four: Jade

Initially, when I created Jade, I did not have a specific inspiration in mind other than to create a beautiful work of art showcasing fashion at its finest. I absolutely love designing the clothes and the accessories for my sculptures.  Sculpting Jade’s ankle-wrapped gladiator sandals and faux fur stole provided me with hours of blissful artistic expression.  There is no doubt that Jade is, sensuous, captivating, and downright delectable.  Her expression is mysterious and sultry; she is, in a word, “hot”.  She pulls you in and makes you want to know what she is thinking. 

As wonderful as all of this is, I kept asking myself what was her true purpose beyond being beautiful?   Usually, I have this figured out ahead of time, but this time I did not.  While there is nothing wrong for beauty for beauty’s sake, I wanted more for her.  My intention for the pieces that I create to for them to serve a higher purpose, benefiting the greater good in some fashion.  Whether that is to pay tribute to a particular person or to promote a worthy cause or raise awareness for something important, the piece must transcend beyond its physical form.

So, what was Jade’s purpose?

It was not long before I found out.  While conferring with Laura and Karen of Wren and Roch, it was clear that Jade was to help serve their mission of raising awareness for sexual violence and assault by wearing one of their beautiful leather cuffs “Seeing Spots”. This accessory is strong and bold; a perfect symbol of personal empowerment.  I loved creating Jade but, even more so, I love the higher purpose she represents.

Meet the Nolcha Four: Esther

I have never met Eunice Johnson, but honestly wish I could have.  Eunice was, bar none one of the most influential women of the 21 century.  She was an entrepreneurial visionary whose drive and ambition changed the fashion industry for African American women everywhere. Her contributions are legendary. Volumes have been written about how she brought high fashion to communities across the nation by launching Ebony Fashion Fair, while simultaneously raising millions of dollars for various charities. This is in addition to creating Fashion Fair make up, and founding Ebony and Jet magazine. Eunice used fashion to break down cultural barriers and raise expectations of what was possible.  Everything she did, she did with world class style, glamour and panache.

Aside from her huge contribution to the world of fashion, what interests me most about Eunice, is Eunice herself.  I do not have to have known her to know that she was blessed with the unique ability to motivate, empower and impart a sense of hopefulness in others.  She must have been hugely optimistic, believing in herself and others and in her sense of mission. She was able to build relationships with unlikely partners and find creative ways in which to accomplish her goals. She was a brilliant woman who viewed obstacles as opportunities.  One antidotal story tells of her collecting press releases from around the country referencing specific designers in the Ebony Fashion Fair. She used this information to help persuade these designers of the benefit that could be had by partnering with her.

It is a combination of all these traits that inspired me to create Esther.  It is my hope that the beauty and stance of this piece evoke a feeling of the strength and self-assurance, traits which Eunice possessed in abundance. This sculpture is dedicated to the memory of Eunice Johnson. A truly remarkable woman, whose legacy lives on.

Meet the Nolcha Four: Carry Your Courage

A couple of months ago, I sent my son Collin a few pictures of some pieces that I had been working on. A text came back and reads as follows:

“Mom, I just love what you are doing, but you need to REALLY spice it up!  Check this out, now this is ‘bad ass’.”

What arrived next was a vintage 1950s photograph of a woman eating lunch with her cheetah!    While dining with a cheetah is very chic, a hot fashion model walking a cheetah is even better! This visual gave me the inspiration not only for this piece, but for a whole new fashion series; a collection which would be modern, sleek, and edgy.

From the beginning, I knew that this would become a signature piece with a special purpose. I had not sculpted an animal before, much less one paired with a human figure. I was so pumped up about this challenge that I could not wait to get started. I tried to find a cheetah to model for me, but no such luck, not even on Craig’s List! Instead, I used a plethora of reference photos and garnered input from other artists experienced with animal sculpture.  Ultimately, I sculpted three different cheetahs in various sizes before getting the look right and the proportions correct. When the cheetah was finished, he looked strong, powerful and determined, and needed a name to match.  I came up with a short list of names and per usual, polled my family and friends in an effort find the perfect name. People are pretty much used to this by now and seem to really enjoy giving their opinion about what names they like or don’t like.  After mulling this over for a week or so, I decided on the name Thor. Thor is an old Norse name which means “Thunder God”. Now, how perfect was that?

While working on Thor, I worked on his companion Delilah simultaneously. Delilah came together almost effortlessly. Everything about her-- her facial expression, her pose, and clothes projected an image of supreme confidence combined with style and panache. She exuded an attitude of fearlessness and sensuality. This was exactly what I had envisioned. Although stunning in her mini bandage dress and sexy ankle wrap stiletto sandals, I felt that something was missing. She needed something, but what?

It wasn’t long before I found out. Just about the same time that I was finishing Delilah, the opportunity to work with Wren and Roch presented itself. While conferencing with Karen and Laura, a light bulb went on. I figured out what Delilah needed! Delilah needed to be a part of their Carry Your Courage campaign in support of victims of sexual assault and abuse. She needed to carry one of their beautiful bags and wear one of their leather cuffs. Ultimately, we decided on the BEST FRIENDS-Ray of Moonlight purse because of its beautiful texture and color, as well as their tan hide cuff for the same reason.

Delilah and Thor are moving forward together, perfectly in sync. Thor bravely leading the way, Delilah steering him with her head held high carrying her beautiful bag. This piece, which is called “Carry Your Courage” is dedicated to the fine ladies of Wren and Roch, Karen Hansen and Laura Rachlin for the outstanding work they are doing to educate and empower others.

Bayanihan Spirit

It all started on a Friday evening about two years ago. My dear sister-in-law, Marla, and I were sitting at the island in my kitchen having a glass of wine discussing the goings on of the week. I noticed that she was more animated than usual and wondered what was going on. It wasn’t long before she pulled from her purse a very old and worn diary. I was instantly curious. She told me while going through her Grandfather’s WWII memoirs she found his war diary. The diary revealed this poignant story.

 

While serving with the USAFFE 2nd Lt. Albert Bacani was captured by the Japanese just weeks prior to the Bataan Death March. Bacani was beaten and tortured. The Japanese soldier who was in charge demanded that he give up everything in his pocket but when Bacani offer up the rosary that his mother had given him before going off to war, the soldier folded it back into his hand and told him to keep it.   By some miracle, that his writing doesn’t disclose, he escapes from his captors and is rescued by a Filipino rice farmer and his wife. By the time he made it to their thatched hut, he was dying of malaria and dysentery. Despite the fact that he had contagious diseases and if caught by the Japanese for harboring a fugitive for which they would be executed on the spot, they made the courageous decision to bring this stranger into their home and nurse him back to health. Because of their unselfish decision to come to his aid, Bacani went on to live to the age of 102 years old and was the first Filipino World War II veteran to receive financial compensation he so richly deserved.

 

I was completely captivated by this amazing story and knew that I needed to capture the essence of this epic in sculpture form. I immediately went to work.  I had done figurative work before, but this would be the first time that I would attempt three figures in the same vignette. My goal was to capture the split second that the rice farmer and his wife made that pivotal decision to save Bacani’s life.  I worked on this piece on almost a daily basis for four months. Throughout this process, I researched Filipino culture and the role that the Filipino’s played in the war. Initially, I thought that what the rice farmer and his wife did was extremely unusual but, to my great surprise, discovered that for Filipinos to take in perfect strangers during the war was, in fact, not uncommon. What this rice farmer and his wife did, as did so many others, demonstrates the epitome of the Bayanihan Spirit. Stay tuned in another blog to find out step by step how this piece was brought to life.

Along For the Ride

The following is a guest post by Marla Miranda, a first-generation Filipina, describing her experience of coming along for the Ride and collaborating with me on Bayanihan Spirit.

I laughed hysterically as I stretched out on Laurie’s deck furniture cushions arranged on top of industrial-sized trash bags spread on the floor of her studio. When I regained my composure, Laurie slathered cold, wet, and gooey alginate all over my face. She said she was fresh out of Filipina models and that because I work all day, she needed to life cast my face so she would have something to work from in between patients.  Alginate is a material normally used to make dental impressions, but can also be used to make molds of other body parts, among other things! This gave a whole different meaning to lying down on a therapist’s couch.  Then again, this is no ordinary therapist!  When you enter Laurie’s studio, you never know who or what magic will happen.  As a sculptor, she brings with her all the sensitivity from her practice as psychotherapist when she brings forth stories in clay, molded by her hands.    

Lying there on the floor, I thought about how just weeks before, we sat at her kitchen island on a Friday afternoon, wine glasses in hand sharing  the events of our lives.  I told Laurie that I was going through my grandfather’s belongings which included his fragile World War II diary.  It contained an entry about his capture and escape from the Japanese just prior to the Bataan Death March.  Malaria and dysentery had almost consumed him but he was desperate to return home to his wife and two young children.  Traveling for weeks on end through rice fields and blistering sun, he could not take a step further and collapsed at the nipa hut of a rice farmer and his wife.  This couple took him in, despite grave risks to their own safety, and nursed him back to health.   Their actions were the epitome of the ‘Bayanihan’ spirit.

 “Bayanihan,” I explained, “is that Filipino instinctive sense of unity with one’s fellow man.  We are not alone in the world.  We all have each other’s backs in our moment of need.  We are a community.  That though the Philippines is made of 7,107 big and little islands, its people are ONE and ‘no man is an island entire of itself’.”  Laurie smiled, eyes sparkling, and said, “This is my next sculpture!”

So there I was on her studio floor, alginate mold goop all over my face, breathing through a straw so Laurie could have a model with Asian features to work with. When alginate is backed by plaster, it’s not your typical beauty mask treatment on a Saturday!  Never having done an Asian piece before, this sculptor always wants to get it right.  Ever get that feeling when you know something happening is going to be extraordinary?  That was my feeling as I lay on those cushions, very still, breathing through that straw and happy I was along for the ride.

Join me in coming blogs while we journey through the making of this special piece as Philippine history and culture come to life!