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March/April 2004

All Dressed Up:
The Sculpture of Kathleen Holmes

In an unprecedented demonstration of cooperative scheduling last fall, three galleries in Greater Boston simultaneously showcased the art of Southern-born artist Kathleen Holmes. The collaborative exhibitions, which opened in early October, provided a unique opportunity to view one artist’s work in a variety of scales, media, and settings. For all three shows, which featured Holmes’s signature sculptural format—the archetypal dress—the artist incorporated symbolic elements of education, literature, and language, taking her theme from the Kniznick Gallery, which is part of the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts.

With its great, open space, the Kniznick Gallery, which showed six larger-than-life sculptures, is a perfect setting for these more massive pieces. The very size of the works creates a feeling of strength combined with the comfort of a mother figure. After hearing a story on NPR [National Public Radio] about the Taliban restricting the education of women, Holmes was inspired to create AlphaBetty, a crochet-covered dress standing more than six feet tall and wrapped with an assortment of large letters. Holmes explains that the alphabet becomes nothing more than decoration when learning is denied. The metal bodice, inscribed with blank, dotted lines, reminiscent of elementary-school penmanship paper, further emphasizes her message.

Holmes creates her sculptures much like a seamstress, cutting patterns and using wire thread to “sew” the galvanized sheet-metal bodices, which rust to the look of soft suede.

Her doll-sized collection, on display at Boston’s Arden Gallery, was complemented by the subtle colors of Lynda Lowe’s paintings, which adorned the gallery walls. As with the larger pieces, most of the smaller forms consisted of crochet-embellished skirts and metal bodices the color of burnt sienna.

“The wheels are literally turning,” says Holmes of her structure called Something to Say, which gave its name to the exhibition. In this sculpture, a sleeveless dress stands atop an impressive stack of three large books supported at each corner by small rollers. To represent the volumes women have to say, Holmes selected relatively huge volumes, which she then repainted and epoxied. The skirt is made, like many of her sculptures, of paper, epoxy, and a fragment of old crocheting. Piercing the bodice, a rust top with tiny letter buttons running down the front, is a quill pen, looking like an arrow that has found its target.

Explaining that she comes from a long line of women who created needlework and noting that their heritage, along with their art, is disappearing, Holmes feels that by collecting pieces of crocheting and reusing them in a new incarnation, she is rescuing a lost art and the heritage of all women. There is an identifiable universality to her works.

Other miniature dress forms were on display at Boston’s Chappell Gallery, known for its exhibits of art glass. Although the exhibition here was rather sparse, the glass forms are most intriguing. A Woman of Letters—a creamy white, short-sleeved dress wrapped with a spiral ribbon of buttons and tiny letter beads—appears to have the texture of crinkled silk; Holmes casts her glass structures from fabric-covered forms. While A Women of Letters is solid glass, many of the glass pieces are hollow, allowing light to permeate the translucent material, giving it a luminous, ethereal quality.

The variety offered with these three simultaneous exhibitions not only enriched the viewing process but also demonstrated the breadth and scope of the creative process.

—Barbara Rizza Mellin

Barbara Rizza Mellin, the former editor of ArtsAround Boston, is an art historian who writes frequently about arts and travel.

An exhibition of work by Kathleen Holmes will be on view at Chappell Gallery’s New York City location February 26 - March 20.

AlphaBetty, 2000; 78 by 50 by 36 inches. Courtesy of the Brandeis University Women’s Studies Research Center.

A Woman of Letters, 2003; cast glass, buttons, wire; 16 by 9 by 6 inches. Private collection. Photo: James Dee. Courtesy of Chappell Gallery, Boston and New York City.

This profile first appeared in:

Mar/Apr 2004

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