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My guest artist for this season is Hanna Rose Shell and her book: Shoddy: From Devil’s Dust to the Renaissance of Rags—
AAS: Hanna, before we start, tells us a little about you and how this books came about.
Hanna: I am a lifelong textile lover, and thrifter, as well as a historian, filmmaker and professor at the University of Colorado Boulder. My first book, published in 2012, was about the history of camouflage Hide and Seek: Camouflage Photography and the Media of Reconnaissance, and emerged out of my fascination with relationships among animal skins, textile prints, and photographic technology. I made a film about the international trade in secondhand clothing (called Secondhand) and it was while working on that that I first discovered the amazing entity called shoddy. That was the kernel for my book Shoddy: From Devil’s Dust to the Renaissance oof Rags, as well as accompanying photographs and installation work.
AAS: So often, technology (or some “other”: government, science, the media) is demonized. It seems to be an effort to shift some internal conflict into some blame. Blame doesn’t really work for me in my personal development; so, I am personally drawn to an inner element of being human. Many of my mentors have indicated that everything can be used as a tool for transformation and growth. Life is messy. Transformation, it seems, is possible when we embrace our awkward history and recycle it into our transformational process. We become more human and less automaton. For me, it is practicing and living this kind of acceptance that separates the integrity of true art from a convenient formula of “pretty” craft finely perfected in technique, which has its place and purpose as well. Art sings within my heart and soul.. Hanna, I am drawn by the statement in your prologue: “This book’s purpose is not only to challenge and provoke, but also to reveal the hidden graces of the shoddy world, beauties, both terrible and tender.” How would you like people to approach your book?
Hanna: I hope, above all, that my book, and my approach to this unusual and long-overlooked material shoddy, can give people a new perspective not only about the clothes they wear, but also about some of the deeper parts of their own identity. I want people to think about the manifold ways the past can be recycled into the present.
AAS You talk about the world of shoddy, elements can be applied to what we read in the media about the excess of our modern culture. You state: “The result of excess, among other things, was a new genre of and possibilities for salvaged clothing.” Do you envision shoddy as a source of renewal of environmental issues today?
Hanna: Absolutely. I truly hope that the history of shoddy - in all its beautiful and ugly glory - can provide some inspiration as people try to navigate how to balance the realities of capitalism with the need to produce clothing in a way that is both environmentally and ethically responsible.
AAS: How would shoddy be different from the thrift clothing that exists today, or would it simply augment the industry?
Hanna: It is very hard to shred and respin the vast majority of fibers people wear today. Most clothes are made of cotton and synthetic fibers, neither of which retain sufficient tensile strength after wear, and breaking down in a grinding process. What IS possible, is a kind of pressing or variation on felting of these materials. And this is indeed a process which I refer to as modern-day shoddy. It’s what we see in, for example, moving blankets (also referred to as emergency blankets).
AAS: Are there measures in lace today to protect workers from the dust?
Hanna: In terms of the dust alone, wearing proper masks can certainly prevent the kind of lung damage that was for so long prevalent in the industry. Though as we know, people don’t always wear masks when they should. Certainly, since the early decades of the shoddy industry, various levels of filtration have been added, so as to sequester away as much fibrous dust as possible.
AAS: Do you feel that the shoddy world of today can be protected from the political rhetoric of the past?
Hanna: I got so fascinated while I was writing the book in the political rhetoric that became connected to the shoddy industry. What a surprise it was that so many different important politicians and political theorists would have decided to use “rags” and this strange material made from shredded up old clothes as a metaphor for everything from the evil of capitalism to the dislike of immigrant communities. I feel like that power is amazing, that old clothes could have such big political meanings for people. I guess I’d say that I hope that, perhaps, at some point shoddy could be re-connected to political rhetoric, but to a political rhetoric that is, hopefully, more forward looking.
AAS: This book is well written and researched and is penned with an artistic flair of impassioned drive and light. The audience base is varied. The historical analyst will enjoy well documented historical developments of the material through history, including the interlacing of Civil War events with the textile and its philosophical corollary. The technical engineer will savor the illustrations, descriptions and photographs of the drag picker, the devil, as it was called, and will appreciate the political intrigue that developed from its inception; and how the design travelled across the Atlantic to the US. Political scientists will discover all of these aspects intertwined with shoddy discourse from Oliver Wendell Holes, Disraeli, and exchanges from Marx and Engles. Even medical aficionados will be able to read about contagion concern from medieval times through the late 19th century. As a textile enthusiast, I am very interested in an environmentally “new” material to be on the lookout for in the marketplace and how to introduce it in ecological themed tapestries. Philosophically, the book stirs my imagination and has me questioning the use and application of shoddy in my studio. The photographs are exquisite. Selections include Civil War documents, New Yorker cartoons, heaps of shoddy in fields and samples on display. This book is a fusion of diversity. As Hanna Rose concludes:
“And shoddy as an economic structure and cultural logic—in ways Marx had anticipated and in ways he might not have --- helped to form connections of international commerce that persist today”
Textiles have impacted history and culture throughout time. They celebrate our ethnic diversity on this planet, and at times, influence the development of cultures and discriminate the classes. This is an in-depth reflection of who we are, where we came from and what the ramifications of this study are on future generations.
by Esther Sadeh
The blooming of Kalaniot brings me to HAIFA, Israel’s port city which sits along the Mediterranean Sea. The city spreads from the port to the mountain, where I was pregnant with my first son Eligar, and when my husband and I lived, on Carmel Mountain. At the time, my husband was working on his Master’s degree at the Technion, and I worked as a Travel Agent. The view from the mountain was wonderful, specially in the springtime. The fields had Kalaniot blooming in vibrant red, pink, purple, and whites. I remember walking in the flowering fields with my husband, friends, and later the stroller in the fields. Later on, as my husband and I journeyed to France there were amazingly similar views and memories of life and the colorful Kalaniot that bloom throughout the Mediterranean Sea countries. I love the name Kalaniot as it has Kala, a bride of bright colors, a delight to our soul.
This brings me to Tel Aviv where I spent my childhood. Tel Aviv was in the beginning of my history, abound with fields of flowers, especially during spring, and walking with my friends on the fields, and bringing Kalaniot to my mother. We named the British soldiers Kalaniot, because of the red beret they wore.
In Israel, one of the most popular songs at the time was Kalaniot by Shoshana Damari, who had a deep and dramatic voice, which was also a reminder of how successful Yemenite Jews acclimated and contributed to Israel’s culture. When Natan Alterman (composer) and Moshe Vilensky (song writer) introduced the song Kalaniot, it became an international sensation. It was song filled of a small world of flowers that tie together in the web off life, the peoples of the Mediterranean region.
That time in history saw many immigrants who came to Israel, specially the Jews from Yemen.
It felt like the unification of the country was underway: myself of Poland heritage and Yemenites of Damari all listening to her accent made a feeling of ONE. No wonder that period was a unique time.
And the song: Kalaniot (Anemones) Kalaniot by Alterman and Vinesky
Link to Shoshana Damari: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oaL7mllWVG4
Kalaniot of dew and grace /charm
The evening comes, the sunset on the hill burn
I am dreaming and my eyes see
the proud descended young girl descendent
To the valley, and it blazes with fire of kalaniot ( anemones).
She’ll pick flowers to put in a bundle,
And in the path covered by dew to Mother she rushes-
Calling out to her:
Look what I brought in the basket.
Subset on the hill will blaze and gp out
But kalaniot will always boom.
Storme will thunder and roar greatly
But kalaniot will always bloom.
Years pass, the sunset blazes again
The girl g grew, her beauty is endless,
Going the Vally with heart chosen
And again kalaniot bloom in it.
Her heart chosen extend hands to her
And she’s laughing and bedewed
She whisper to him between the kisses
Look what I gatherer in the basket.’
The does of love will be forgotten
But kalaniot always bloom.
For the vows are light as smoke,
But kalaniot are always the same.
Years passed, suns blazes in the hill.
The girls is grandma already friends
Her granddaughter goes to the garden’
And again kalaniot bloom in it.
And the girls calls to her: “look grands what I Brought you”
In conclusion, the song is my Life, I love it, may the kalaniot remind us of the relationship between us and nature and beauty. No wonder I always surround with images of Kalaniot (painting, murals and the flowers). Kalaniot, Kalaniot…
On Eagle’s Wings:
By Esther Sadeh
I’m flying on Eagle Wings… dreaming and listening to my brain. I stop and enjoy it. I was listening to Rabbi Marc, and I was inspired by the beautiful poem he read on Eagle Wings. I can’t be more lucky that Rabbi Jack, also, composed a song on Eagle Wings, which I love. In Hebrew, Va’essa Otchem al Kanfei Nesharim Ve’avi etchem ally, and in English before you on Eagle Wings and brought you to me (from Torah Parashat Yitro). If you believe in next world (Olam Haba), I probably would be a bird. No wonder in my teens I was a Bird Watcher. No wonder I was attracted to Willy (my husband) because he always preached YOU CAN DO IT no matter of obstacles you meet. I hear Willy, my late husband, saying it to us now.
As an adult and being in the world of business I fell in love with Jonathan Seagull’ book, which is a story that is timeless and inspirational. It is the story for people who follow their hearts and make their own rules, and for people there is more living than meets their eyes. How many people in life doing are doing this? Probably rare and very few.
I imagine to continue for a few more years after surviving health issues. Though, I cannot wait to become a bird. I probably will enjoy flying high, enjoying the view of calm, beautiful sceneries, like nature in the mountains, which I love. These days, days with Covid 19, I am learning how to live differently. In my apartment, I’m going deeper into myself, going deeper in my Compassionate Listening, exercising almost every day by computer, trying new recipes, talking by phone to more people, expressing my love to my family and friends, and of course to have new hobbies including writing stories Life is too short. I realize that one of these days I‘ll be closer to Willy (my husband). But more important to see all of you from above with love flying high.