Wearable Art Earns a Higher Profile With Gallery Owners and Museums

CAN a piece of cloth be considered art? Can a shawl wrapped around the shoulders make an artistic, as well as a fashion, statement?Yes, if it comes from the looms of Randall Darwall, decorative arts experts say. Sitting before a loom in his studio on Cape Cod is not unlike facing a canvas where colors and forms begin to emerge from a painter's brush, Mr. Darwall says. "What I'm after is a kind of depth to the textile and an apparent sense of atmosphere in much the same way an abstract painter isn't creating a landscape, but an environment that the viewer can be pulled into." Darwall's "wearable art namely silk scarves and shawls priced from $160 to $600 - is nationally known for its rich texture and intricately woven colors that seem to shift and glow under the light. His works have been exhibited in art galleries and in museums such as the American Craft Museum in New York. "He is a glorious colorist. His pieces look like Monet paintings," says Carol Sedestrom Ross, senior vice president of the American Crafts Council in New York. The luminous quality of Darwall's cloth comes from intimate knowledge of the yarns, he says, and from methods and dye techniques not possible in commercial production. He enjoys the "unpredictability. I'm trying to see what color does through weave structures - it's the hide-and-seek of what happens when threads cross each other in complex ways," he says. Interviewed at the "Crafts at the Castle" show in Boston recently, where he was selling his wares, Darwall told of a time when cloth used to be worth its weight in gold. Today, "because of the industrial revolution and the relatively effortlessly way in which we can now weave miles of cloth, it's all been brought down to a real 'run-of-the-mill' level, no pun intended," says Darwall, who lives in Bass River, Mass. "I'm trying to get people to realize that cloth can have that kind of spiritual, emotional, and artistic content." Hand-weaving is slowly gaining acceptance within the fine-arts community, Darwall says. Artistic objects that can be worn or used are becoming more fashionable. "The art world is legitimizing something we [craftspeople] have known for a long time, and that is, if [art] fits into your everyday life, than it has that kind of ability to spiritually elevate everyday life."

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