A Wearable Medley of Cultures
Indigo-dyed batik from Japan, turkoman camel tassels from Uzbekistan,
pumpkin seeds and raffia from the United States, sheisha mirrors
from India, tapa cloth from Samoa, Masai earrings from Africa,
molas from the San Blas Islands, kilim carpet from the Middle
East, and hand-screened silk from Thailand. Such diverse elements
come together as wearable art by Ruth Funk.
|Square-cut coat, 1999; Etruscan cloth with trim of
cotton velveteen, batik cotton, Indian cotton shibori
pieces, fiber panels from Samoa Islands, shells, bamboo
and wooden beads, cotton tassels and yarns, cotton netting;
cotton batik lining; 51 inches long. Photo: Randall Smith.
Model: Angela Eldridge.
Funk began making outfits for herself in the 1980s
after retiring from a career as college administrator, gallery
owner, and professor of art and interior design. Thirty-eight
of her jackets, vests, purses, and necklaces were exhibited
last fall in "Fashion, Fun, & Fantasy: Creative Garments
by Ruth Funk" at the Maitland [Florida] Art Center.
Funk's jackets and coats begin with a basic square-cut
or Othello coat pattern. Her artistic touches come into play
during the embellishment of each garment. Whether she uses
dried mushrooms from a local Oriental market or glorious antique
French fabric donated by a friend, she seldom plans her creations
in advance. Each garment is the culmination of an evolutionary
design process. Like characters who come alive to their authors,
designs reveal themselves to her as she works.
Each creation possesses its own unique flavor:
glamorous, sophisticated, tribal; Latin, Japanese, Polynesian.
A single garment may contain collected objects from a number
of different cultures. What's important to Funk is that all
parts make a synchronous contribution to the whole--that the
fabrics, spacing, colors, and textures remain true to the
spirit of the garment.
While she uses her machine to stitch heavy areas
and to complete straight seams, her finishing and decorative
work are all hand done. Tassels, buttons, puffs, and other
special touches are applied to side slits in her jackets.
On some pieces, she uses netting to give visual depth. One
garment contains hundreds of hand-applied French knots. Another
is made of material she's created by chemically transferring
postcard designs from color prints onto fabric. She finishes
the inside of each of her pieces; in fact, some of the linings
are as colorful and inventive as the exteriors of her garments.
Funk stashes her collection of materials in upright
cubbyholes lining the walls of her one-room, in-home studio.
This kaleidoscopic convergence of materials reflects her own
eclectic background. A Dallas, Texas, native, she majored
in art at Texas Women's University. She attributes her understanding
of "how things go together" to additional training in occupational
therapy. Extensive travels further expanded her knowledge
of textiles and cultural artifacts.
A painting student of Hans Hofmann in Province-town,
Massachusetts, Funk learned silkscreen and block printing
in Nantucket, Massachusetts, and was co-owner of a contemporary
art gallery (327 Gallery) in Albany, New York, in the late
1950s. After a stint as Director of Education at the Albany
Institute of History and Art, she retired as Director of the
Interior Design Program at Russell Sage College in Albany.
She now lives in Melbourne, Florida.
Her re-engagement with sewing during retirement
echoes the passion she had as a child for making clothing
for her dolls. Though that was some years ago, each garment
Funk produces today reflects a child's sense of play: of freshness,
of experimentation, and of delightful innovation.
- Sara Snyder Crumpacker
Sara Snyder Crumpacker is a management consultant
who has written for magazines, books, newspapers, and professional