No one knows what the body can do. -Spinoza

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Alaskan Art and Red LaCroix

"Wake" by Byron Birdsall

I grew up in a home filled with art by Alaskan artists, and images of the American West. Rie Munoz and Byron Birdsall were two of the main artists featured. Between the two of them they presented charming and stylized images of Alaskan life, and representations of aspects of nature, respectively.

Part of my parents' personal legend includes how cash poor they were the first several years of their marriage. They commercial fished in Western Alaska off a little town called Naknek, and though they lived very month to month in terms of pay checks, they always had to ensure they'd come up with the cost of a family's worth of plane tickets out to the remote area. If a season went well, they'd come back from it with a boost to their bank accounts that would help for the rest of the year, and also replace gear they'd need for the following season.

One summer, years before I was born, the story goes, they'd purchased their plane tickets but had only $80 left to their names. They'd skrimped through the entire year and lived off the minimum to get by feeding their family. On the way home from work one day they stopped in a little shop area for something they needed, and happened upon an art print of a stylistically "Asian" scene. Both of them fell in love with the image. They were facing a summer long fishing season of hard work at the end of a year of living bare and decided suddenly they would get the print to reward themselves. It cost $75. They flew out to Naknek for fishing two days later with $5 in their pocket. When they (rarely) tell the story now they laugh because of how the print instigated a life long process of investing in art, but prints radically different in style than that original splurge.

"Determined" is one of the characteristics that readily describes any member of my family. Eventually their hard work led my parents to be able to more easily afford to purchase art prints they enjoyed. Many of them really do greatly increase in value, as well, so selling prints years after purchase would serve as aesthetic appreciation turned to financial gain. As their process of collecting art grew my mom became known for her ability to locate hard to find prints. She'd accumulate knowledge of boutique size art galleries that sold the artists she enjoyed from all over the United States. Then she'd call about to inquire after a print, and also gather the names of additional galleries along the way. When we traveled she'd investigate yellow pages for more galleries we could visit.

A family friend graduated from college, took on serious buisness minded employment, after retiring from the more Peter Pan style life of successfully climbing Mount McKinley, and climbing throughout the Rockies. To reward himself for his turn towards financial security he decided he wanted to own Byron Birdsall's print "Wake." It had been released though years before and was near impossible to find for sale. So, the friend called my mom and asked if she'd find it for him. It took half a year of searching, but she located the print and within a matter of weeks it was at his home all the way over in Iowa, a state in which few have heard of the artist. I recall the process of her getting the print clearly. It hung on our wall briefly, because the gallery had sent it to us in Alaska, and while sorting out packing needs for reshipping my parents figured they might as well see what they thought of the print too. In less than a week of them shipping it on to our friend in Iowa, my mom was on the search for a second one that in less than a year would hang in my parents' home. It is still one of their favorite prints and dons the living room wall. My parents love being on the water and when they're away from fishing it gives them a sense of what they're missing.

I realized last night in the middle of trying on a just-altered-to-fit-me red strapless Christian LaCroix dress I searched for for over two years because I couldn't afford the original retail cost (approx. $4100), and then couldn't afford the sale price either (the lowest I saw it reduced retail for was $1125), that I've gotten good at finding clothes I want, even if it takes 20 some months, and that my mom is in someway to be thanked for that. My hunt for accoutrement includes knowledge of various boutique style shops, and what they tend to sell, internet resources, and sale or discount sites from all over the world. When I spot something I've decided I want I just keep looking systematically until I find it. It hadn't occurred to me before this week that this process is an updated-to-the-internet-age version of my mom's quest for art. The other night a friend responded to my revelation of this comparison with the comment, "You two are hunters."

My parents likely passed on another characteristic they didn't anticipate, and perhaps wouldn't be pleased to realize. When I found the LaCroix finally after such a long time it cost only $50 less than what I had to spend until my next pay period. It was such a shock to finally locate the dress I wasn't going to pass up the chance to secure it. When it arrived it was a full European size too big, which I'd expected, and it was missing the belt that was shown with the dress on the runway. But it turns out in Flagstaff we have a talented seamstress, Pam, that altered it for me.

Yesterday when I picked the dress up she told me a story about completing the work on it. Pam was trained as a couture/vintage dress maker in Washington D.C. She had some questions about aspects of the dress so she called her teacher, who she has stayed in contact with these couple of decades since, to get some advice. Her teacher is currently in Paris serving as translator for a couture pattern maker that is teaching a class on pattern making. When Pam described the dress to her teacher, the woman asked who'd made it. Pam answered, "LaCroix" and also emailed a picture. The teacher responded, "Oh. I'm having drinks with their seamstress tonight. I'll ask him for his recommendations." It turns out my seamstress Pam, was basically in consultation (through her teacher) with the man that helped prepare the dress for the RTW 2007 runway show because he works for Christian LaCroix. When she told me the story she had goose bumps.

Having found this dress I recognize, I live in a town where there will never be occasion to wear it. Perhaps I must treat it like art and display it in home for a time.

The Dress my Sister Said Makes Me Look Like an "Exquisite Cake"

(Christian LaCroix Dress with Jimmy Choo Shoes Complete with Hair that Needs to be Cut Real Real Bad)

To answer a question some of you no doubt have: I found it for $300, and it's authentic.

1 comment:

  1. You look like you're wearing the drapes from a bordello. In a good way, of course. I think you can find plenty of places to wear that!