Art review: Millinery and crayon batiks at Box Gallery

By Dorothy Shinn
Beacon Journal art and architecture critic

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Dancer No. 2, serigraph (No. 5 of 15) by Lawrence A. Walker
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I once heard an art teacher criticize a student for being less than intelligent by snarling, “Your head isn’t there just for wearing a hat.”

Some milliners might beg to differ, especially since that teacher was at the time wearing a beret.

Hat fashions come and go. In the past few decades, they’ve mostly gone. Few women wear them anymore. But since we’ve become fascinated by royal weddings, fabulous female hat fashion has begun to make something of a comeback.

It’s not there yet, and handmade millinery is still as scarce as hen’s teeth in most of North America. I’m told in England that millinery shops are plentiful, and supplies are easy to come by, if not cheap.

That’s where the four artists whose work is in Millinery as Sculpture come in.

Paula Singleton, Donald Wasson, Dee Hall and Lee St. Marie have formed the Millinery Arts Coalition and are, if not militantly, at least diligently promoting the notion of women wearing hats once again.

Three of the milliners in this exhibit are from the Cleveland area, and Singleton is from Akron.

Wasson teaches millinery at Virginia Marti College in Lakewood, one of the few places in the United States where it’s possible to get a certificate in the millinery arts. The other three have been his students.

They’ve created 30 hats to exhibit as sculpture for their show in The Box Gallery, on the third floor at Summit Artspace through July 27.

The hats are perky, profane and prodigious, but best of all portable, and yes, they can be and have been worn.

Most successful to my eye are the ones called fascinators, which at one time meant a few feathers and/or flowers attached to a headband and worn at a sassy angle on the head. These are a bit more substantial, in most cases abetted by the use of a silky strawlike material called Sinamay as the base.

Sinamay is a milliner’s favorite, since it’s easily dyed, tied, sewn and manipulated, almost like cloth.

Knowing absolutely nothing about millinery, I appreciated the hats made of Sinamay, especially the fascinators, even if today’s fashion for long hair doesn’t really suit them, or any hat for that matter.

Even in the days when almost all women let their hair grow long and hats were in fashion, women put their tresses up and off the neck when wearing hats, one of the points of hat-wearing (especially the large ones) being to emphasize a lovely long neck and dainty profile.

These hats are said by their makers to be like sculptures, but to my eye not many could actually be seen as that at first glance. And even though any of these could be worn, it would take more fashion sense than today’s youth have to wear them with flair. You could say it would take using your head for something other than wearing a hat for that to happen — by a lot.

Walker’s batiks

Lawrence Walker’s exhibit is in the tiny side gallery to the side of and behind The Box Gallery. (They really ought to name it, perhaps something like Shoebox.)

Walker’s work is absolutely amazing. An art teacher for Akron Public Schools and the University of Akron for more than 30 years, he has a masterful and commanding knowledge of nearly every art technique and method out there, and since his retirement in 2000, has been using that knowledge to create his own work.

His main body of work in this show is crayon batiks, and he has created some of the most professional-looking batiks I’ve ever seen.

An aficionado of Binney & Smith’s Crayola crayons, he used them in his classes and later in his own work.

“I find it’s the crayon that has the most pigment in it,” he confided. “I also use Prismacolor pencils and Prismacolor art sticks — they have plenty of wax in them.”

Walker said he used crayons to make batiks in his classes. “It’s an exercise that most art teachers know about, but I’ve tried to carry it to another level to make a legitimate fine art medium out of it.”

He’s succeeded, it seems, even though he’s only been at it for two years.

“Prior to that I was only doing acrylic painting and a few sculptures. But I found many people really liked them, so I started pursuing” the batiks.

Walker’s innate sense of good design, no doubt helped by a degree in graphic design, allows him to compose pleasing, balanced images with plenty of activity going on to keep the surface lively.

He draws his design in pencil, then finishes it with a Sharpie marker because they’re waterproof. Then he puts down as heavy a layer of crayon as he can get. When it’s all done, he crumples the surface until the wax cracks, then he paints the surface completely with waterproof black India ink.

“The ink goes into the cracks and the paper is then washed off,” he explained. “Sometimes the big ones have to go into the bathtub. Then I wipe it with a natural sponge to get all of the excess ink off, then blot it and dry it with clean newsprint. After that I lay it down on clean newsprint and iron it out, and the excess wax comes off.”

He also has a couple of acrylic paintings of this show that are fairly impressive and a few serigraphs that are instant reminders of Pablo Picasso’s work in the 1950s.

Already, four of Walker’s 13 crayon batiks have been sold, an unqualified success for an artist who said, “I knew I wanted to start producing artwork of my own instead of teaching it as soon as I retired.”

Better late than never.

Dorothy Shinn writes about art and architecture for the Akron Beacon Journal. Send information to her at the Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640 or dtgshinn@att.net.


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