Friday, February 24, 2012

Vera Neumann Paints

Okay, show of hands...who's heard of Vera Neumann? I'll wait while you think it over. No? Don't think you have? Well, have you ever been out thrifting and run across a brilliantly colored, wildly geometric or abstract floral scarf signed with a little ladybug and the simple word "Vera?" Then you've heard of Vera Neumann, whether you know it or not.

I ran across a scarf like that--bright blue strawberries with green leaves on a gauzy white background. It was quirky and colorful and made me happy--I mean, come on! Blue strawberries? Wonderful! Then I found the signature. And I thought, "Where have I heard that name before?" It sounded familiar but I couldn't quite place it...So, off to the library I went!

My blue strawberry scarf, a Verasheer by Vera product

I found a wonderful book about her, "Vera: The Life of an Icon" by Susan Seid. And let me tell you, more women artists need to know about Vera Neumann! She was so inspirational!

Her career spanned FIVE DECADES, between her label debut in 1942 and her death in 1993. She designed wallpaper, bedding, tableclothes, dishtowels, Mikasa china, dresses, blouses and, of course, scarves. And every single thing she created was based on an original artwork--she painted everything she sold before it was silk-screened onto the fabric. And sister did it all on her own! Well, with the help and support of her loving husband. BUT all the art was hers. All the product ideas were hers. The innovations. And all at a time--the 40s, 50s, 60s--when women were still fighting for equality and against discrimination. She worked her way up from silk-screening small runs of her designs literally on their dining room table to a owning a multi-million dollar company whose products and designs graced the homes of thousands of American women--and even the White House!

And what makes me happiest about her story is that for her, it was all about the art. She really believed that art should be accessible for everyone, not just the rich. That's why she never stopped placing her designs on everyday household linens. That's why she priced her scarves lower than any comparable designs--according to the book, Vera's scarves cost between $2 and $10, while Geoffrey Beene and Pauline Trigere scarves were upwards of $25.

And her designs were wide-ranging. She used Japanese sumi-e techniques and watercolors and sketches, and her favorite subjects were all colorful and bright, suns and flowers and plants and geometric patterns inspired by her travels and the folk art and traditions she encountered--but nothing was too mundane to be beautiful. She put bunches of carrots on some products, sketches of eyeglasses and tennis rackets on others. (And blue strawberries!) A quick trip to Google or an Etsy search will bring up literally hundreds, possibly thousands, of different designs from Vera's long and extremely prolific career. If you've never done so, I really recommend perusing them! There are whole Flickr groups devoted to Vera textiles, even.

Just a few of Vera's designs...

I sometimes ask myself WHY I create. What's the point of art? And someone like Vera Neumann helps to answer that question for me--art is to be beautiful. Art doesn't have to have a point other than that. It can just be bright and wonderful and let even your dishtowel make you smile. Thanks, Vera!

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