How five 1960s Pratt students started an art movement through a shared passion for crochet

Jean Williams Cacicedo, Sharron Hedges, Marika Contompasis and Janet Lipkin as students and at Off the Wall: American Art to Wear at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (courtesy Jean Williams Cacicedo)

In the late 1960s, a group of Pratt Institute students began crocheting their class assignments. Technique was not part of the program and as they inspired each other, they helped start a new artistic movement. Art to Wear – also called Artwear or wearable art – grew out of the anti-establishment counterculture of the decade and reconsidered what art could be. Rather than static objects meant to be displayed in a gallery, the movement’s creations were meant to be worn as living art.

Pratt’s five students came from different disciplines, studying painting, sculpture, graphic design, and industrial design. Yet they shared a passion for how textiles – long marginalized from the fine arts – could offer unexpected materials for visual expression. Together, Jean Williams Cacicedo, BFA Fine Arts ’70, Marika Contompasis, BID ’69, Sharron Hedges, BFA Art Education ’70, Dina Knapp, Graphic Art and Design ’70, and Janet Lipkin, BFA Fine Arts ’70, learned techniques that were not taught in their regular classes. Recognized as pioneers of the Art to Wear movement, Pratt’s five alumni were featured this year in Off the Wall: American Art to Wear at the Philadelphia Museum of Art as well as an accompanying catalog from Yale University Press.

Installation view of Off the Wall: American Art to Wear at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, featuring works by Marika Contompasis, Dina Knapp, Sharron Hedges, and Janet Lipkin (courtesy Janet Lipkin)
Installation view of Off the Wall: American Art to Wear at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, featuring works by Marika Contompasis, Dina Knapp, Sharron Hedges, and Janet Lipkin (courtesy Janet Lipkin)

Installation view of Off the Wall: American Art to Wear at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, featuring work by Sharron Hedges (courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art)
Installation view of Off the Wall: American Art to Wear at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, featuring work by Sharron Hedges (courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art)

Pratt in the 1960s was rich in cross-pollination between departments as students tested the boundaries of their disciplines. “Textiles were still decades away from being considered art, but Pratt still provided us with a place of adventure, so when a friend learned a new technique, others learned it too,” Hedges said. . “That’s how I ended up with an eight foot wooden frame with a crocheted rope netting inside for Sculpture, how Marika built a wire lounge chair with painterly embroidered skin for Industrial Design and how Janet sewed and crocheted a doll for Graphics. ”

Contompasis was one of the few women to take her industrial design classes, and she was interested in how she could bring a “feminine perspective to design”, as textile arts were traditionally done by women. Her chair was shaped like a flower with pieces of knitting and crochet extending outward, inviting the person seated to envelop themselves in the petals. His work was surprisingly different from that of his classmates, but the industrial design faculty, including his professor William Fogler, supported his experimentation with Cacicedo, Hedges, Knapp and Lipkin: “We were definitely encouraged to use anything that was available. So we did, and we all started learning those techniques with fiber and applying them to our work.

Jean Williams Caciedo, 'Chaps: A Cowboy Dedication' (1983), knitted, crocheted, felted and hand dyed in mohair wool, wool jersey and Dacron (courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, pledged gift from the Julie Collection Schafler Dale, photo by Otto Stupakoff, © Julie Schafler Dale)
Jean Williams Caciedo, ‘Chaps: A Cowboy Dedication’ (1983), knitted, crocheted, felted and hand dyed in mohair wool, wool jersey and Dacron (courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, pledged gift from the Julie Collection Schafler Dale, photo by Otto Stupakoff, © Julie Schafler Dale)

Cacicedo had learned to crochet from a neighbor while summering at his family’s Jersey Shore home. Although it started out as a hobby to pass the time, Cacicedo was enamored with the creative potential of crochet and the way it resembled drawing in its use of stitches in space to create lines, shapes and patterns. forms. And because crochet was portable, didn’t require a machine, and could involve just about any flexible material, it offered limitless possibilities, perfect for the radical spirit of the 1960s.” Our Nation’s Political Atmosphere was in question, our values ​​drifted away from those of our parents and we were hungry to explore new ways of thinking,” Cacicedo said.

Back at Pratt, she shared her new chain stitch and single crochet skills with her roommates, Lipkin and Contompasis. “We shared so many of our thoughts and attitudes about art and life and in a non-competitive way,” Cacicedo said, adding that “none of us really knew we were creating what is defined today. like the movement of the American studio Artwear”. Their friends Knapp and Hedges were also learning textile techniques and they all started working together to look at how the fiber and the body interact.

Janet Lipkin,
Janet Lipkin, “Flamingo Jacket” (1982), hand-dyed wool and angora, machine-knitted and stuffed (courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, promised gift of the Julie Schafler Dale Collection, photo by Otto Stupakoff, © Julie Schafler Dale)

“We were mentors and peers to each other,” Lipkin said. “When one of us discovered a new concept, it inspired each of us to grow and develop our own unique styles.” They innovated with color and organic shapes, layering crochet into intricate textures. When these pieces were worn, a person was not just wearing clothes, they were transformed into a living sculpture. They could change the way a person felt and the way the world reacted to it. “The courage that we young artists had at Pratt allowed us to explore a technique that wasn’t used in artwork and still make art,” Lipkin said.

Dina Knapp,
Dina Knapp, “See It Like a Native: History Kimono #1” (1982), cotton, polyester, plastic and wallpaper, applied and transferred by Xerox (courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, pledged gift from the Julie Schafler Collection Dale)

After graduation, the five artists remained connected even as they dispersed across the country to pursue their own practices. Each has played an important role in transforming wearable art into motion. Hedges and Knapp stayed in New York for a while, with Knapp later moving to Florida. His detailed hook included his “mushroom jacket” which enveloped the wearer with root-like shapes. She also had a long career in the performing arts, including as a costume designer for the Florida Grand Opera. She passed away in 2016.

Now working in North Carolina, Hedges has created elaborate pieces for home and fashion as well as textile design. Her dramatic 1970s and 80s coats used bright colors and expressive shapes to transform the wearer into something otherworldly, like the vibrant butterfly wings of “Morpho” or the swirling colors of “Midnight Sky (Julie’s Coat )” made for Julie Schafler Dale whose New York gallery was an important showcase for the Art to Wear movement.

Sharron Hedges, “Morpho” (1984), crocheted and knitted rib, wool yarn and wool jersey lining (courtesy the artist, Julie Schafler Dale collection)
Sharron Hedges, “Morpho” (1984), crocheted and knitted rib, wool yarn and wool jersey lining (courtesy the artist, Julie Schafler Dale collection)

Several members of the group moved to California, including Lipkin who created dynamic crochet pieces that immerse wearers in color and shape. One of his first works made after graduation, the 1970 “African Mask,” is now in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and completely consumes the wearer in a hand-dyed coat of wool, leather and hand-spun wood. She also spent time in Africa and later learned machine techniques to mold her works, such as her 1980s coats that catered to global destinations from Mexico to Tibet.

Janet Lipkin, “African Mask” (1970), wool, leather, wood (courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, on <a class=loan from Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of Muriel Kallis Newman, photo by Otto Stupakoff, © Julie Schafler Dale )” height=”757″ src=”https://www.pratt.edu/tiny_mce/plugins/imagemanager/files/janetlipkin-africanmask.jpg” width=”810″/>
Janet Lipkin, “African Mask” (1970), wool, leather, wood (courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art, on loan from Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of Muriel Kallis Newman, photo by Otto Stupakoff, © Julie Schafler Dale )

Contompasis taught at colleges such as San Francisco State, University of California, Berkeley, and University of California, Los Angeles, and continued to study new techniques, including two-dimensional images in the front wire. to get into high-end knitwear. In partnership with her brother and former Pratt student, Charles Contompasis, she founded MA+CH in 2002. The studio focuses on the entire sustainable design process, from dyeing entire garments to producing and shipment of parts. Cacicedo also moved to California and spent time in Wyoming, using a variety of techniques in her work which emphasizes handmade textiles. Her mythical-inspired art has ranged from large wall hangings and sculptural objects to wearable pieces, such as her 1978 “Pink Petals” jacket of appliquéd petals and knitted sleeves that is now part of the collections of the de Young Museum at San Francisco.

Cacicedo said, “Pratt introduced me to possibilities through his academic diversity of disciplines and his professors who encouraged learning the basics and seeing beyond.” The friends continued to share their artistic knowledge over the years and remember how the creative environment on campus inspired them to make art like no one had before. As Hedges said, “Pratt encouraged curiosity instead of pedantic lessons, and his teachers allowed us to take risks, to move through unfamiliar spaces, to bring out the images in our heads, to go with imagination.”

Christopher S. Washington