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
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.
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.
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