Sunday, September 2, 2007

Dress Me Slow, I'm in a Hurry

Evergreen Museum and Library
Baltimore, MD
October 25-27, 2007

Project Coordinator, Kelly Cobb
featuring Micheal Simmons on flamenco and classical guitars and mandolin

As the 2007 artist-in-residence at Evergreen Museum and Library, I was invited to make a site-specific work inspired by the house museum, its collection and history. I was fascinated by Evergreen's idiosyncratic patroness Alice Garrett, who, in addition to being an esteemed art patron and high profile wife of a diplomat, sang, danced and staged lavish productions she called Songs in Costume during the 1920s in an in-home theater designed by Ballets Russes set and costume designer Leon Bakst.

As I researched Alice's archives, I discovered that while she was a consummate entertainer, Alice was not a very good singer or dancer and was deeply conflicted about her artistic aspirations. As an artist who has developed a performance form based on my passion for the music, obsession with costumes and an untrained stage persona (rather than undisputed vocal talent and acting skills), I felt a powerful affinity with Alice and developed the piece around our similarities and differences. Dress Me Slow was my own version of Songs in Costume. I sang songs drawn from Alice's repertoire of Irish and Spanish folk songs; wore costumes I designed and handmade inspired by the intensely colored costumes Bakst created for Alice; and shared monologues exploring Alice's conflicted artistic aspirations and my own ambivalence as a artist.

Throughout the piece, I was in a constant state of changing from one costume to another to suggest the multiple identities Alice navigated in her life—ambassadress, socialite, social reformer, art patron and performer.

The Irish costume was inspired by the Irish selkie, or mermaid. The belt suggests the ubiquitous Irish seaweed, with the brown i-cords on the belt, around my neck and in my hair referencing the ropey kind of seaweed. The "gloves" riff off cable-knit Irish fishermen sweaters.


The Spanish costume is a traditional flamenco dress rendered in a confection of red, purple and hot pink. It was inspired by a painting in the house by Miguel Covarrubias depicting Alice dancing the flamenco and a photo of Baltimore opera singer Rosa Ponsel as Carmen.  The ruffles were hand died prior to construction and the bodice was hand painted.

I embroidered the lyrics of one of the Spanish folk songs I sang on the ruffles.


The Exotic costume was inspired by Leon Bakst’s boldly colored, wildly patterned designs for the Ballets Russes.

Under the guidance of Kelly Cobb, a Fiber Instructor at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), I designed the fabric from drawings I made of plants and birds on the grounds of Evergreen. Kelly taught me how to hand paint the designs onto silk for the harem pants and Turkish vest in the style of Leon Bakst. MICA Fiber student Hanna Brancato screen printed the sheer scarf as well as a theatrical backdrop in the design. All scarves were hand dyed.

(Photos: Aaron Igler)

Gradation dyeing the Spanish costume at MICA

Silk painting fabric for Exotic costume

(photos: Kelly Cobb)

Dress Me Slow, I'm in a Hurry (video excerpt)