Posted by: christinelaennec | August 12, 2014

The Colourful World of Kaffe Fassett

One of my objectives in going to Bath was to see the exhibition “The Colourful World of Kaffe Fassett” currently on at the American Museum in Britain.  Kaffe Fassett, in case you aren’t already aware, is a Californian who came to Britain in the 1960s to pursue a career as an artist.  (Kaffe rhymes with safe, by the way.) He has had links with the American Museum, which focuses on American decorative arts, for the past fifty years.  He first came to draw the exhibitions in the museum.  His artistic career soon widened out from drawing and painting, to murals, mosaics, knitwear, quilting, needlepoint, fabric design and all manner of exuberant and crafty uses of colour.  This was a wonderful chance to see his creations close up.

The exhibition is in a separate building from the main museum.  In front there stands an enormous tree decorated with lanterns and pompoms:

Hundreds of pompoms and lanterns on a huge tree in front of the building housing the exhibition.

Hundreds of pompoms and lanterns on a huge tree in front of the building housing the exhibition.  American Museum in Britain, Bath.  August 2014.

The minute you step in the door, you know you are in for a colourful experience:

The shop at the entrance to the exhibition.  The letters spelling out Kaffe's name were made of stuffed fabric!

The shop at the entrance to the exhibition. The letters spelling out Kaffe’s name were made of stuffed fabric.

The first thing to greet you is a kind of facsimile of his studio area:

A Kaffe Fassett "studio area" greets the visitor.

A Kaffe Fassett “studio area” greets the visitor.

The exhibition is organised thematically and by colour.  There is a room showing creations inspired by flowers and vegetables:

Room of vegetable- and flower-inspired designs.

Room of vegetable- and flower-inspired designs.

It was great to be able to get right close up to these needlepoint hangings – to notice that in fact not every single square of the canvas is covered by wool, and yet the effect is so full, almost three-dimensional:

Flower needlepoint wall hanging.

Flower needlepoint wall hanging and needlepoint pillow.

Most things in the exhibit were, understandably, marked “PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH”.  However, there was one corner – and it was very busy as so many visitors lingered there – where you are invited to touch.  I’d heard that Kaffe Fassett doesn’t bother too much about making the wrong side of something look as neat as the right side, and I must say that these samples of works-in-progress confirmed that idea.  How tremendously freeing!  Just paint with wool and nevermind the mess on the wrong side!

"PLEASE TOUCH!"

“PLEASE TOUCH!”

There was a wall of quotations:

Quotes wall

Quotes wall

In a section of red colourways, here are some knitted garments above needlepointed cushions.  Years ago I made Michael a waistcoat in the sawtooth pattern of the v-neck jumper below:

Red!

Red!

I really enjoyed seeing the interplay of colours and shapes:  pinwheels and stars in the quilt, pinwheels on the cardigan, stars in the pullover…

Blue!

Blue!

There were display cases showing some of the objects that have inspired his designs.  On the wall behind the case you can see a painting he did of the colourful vases that are inside the case.

Objects which have inspired Kaffe Fassett; insights into the design process.  Behind the case you can see a painting he did of the colourful vases that are inside the case.

Objects which have inspired Kaffe Fassett; insights into the design process.

I was so glad that we were allowed to take (non-flash) photographs inside.  I spent some time there looking at everything, but also photographing everything.  I had that feeling of being slightly giddy and overwhelmed, and unable to really focus properly at the time – and it was comforting to think that I could go back and look at my photos later on.  (Does this happen to anyone else?)

Mosaic pots at the entrance.

Mosaic pots at the entrance.

As I left I noticed the lovely mosaic pots either side of the door.  I remembered being amazed at discovering a gorgeous Kaffe Fassett mosaic on an outside wall of Highland Stoneware in Inverkip.  He’d incorporated broken pieces of their lovely painted stoneware into the mosaic.  I saw it in 2001 – I’m not sure if it has withstood the ravages of Highland winters.

One of the things I like the most about Kaffe Fassett is his generosity in sharing his design principles. There are no injunctions on his patterns saying you cannot sell something made from them at a church bazaar.  (Though I understand very well why designers put such conditions on their work.)  I once heard him speak in Aberdeen, and he said that his fondest wish was to empower people to use his ideas as a starting point for their own creative explorations.  In this respect, he reminds me of Elizabeth Zimmermann, who encouraged knitters to “be the boss of your knitting”.   I was happy to know that he would be pleased that I adapted his colourway for my Hopeful Stripy Shawl.

If you want to find out more about this exhibition, there is a video at the bottom of this page of the American Museum in Britain website.

I hope you’re having a colourful week, one way or another!

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Responses

  1. Love Kaffe Fassett. Thanks for the pronunciation!

  2. Wow, now that really was full of colour and texture. You really did bring it all alive, I felt as if I was walking along with you. Very impressive…

  3. Thanks for all the pictures, what a colorful world !!!

  4. There is also an exhibition of his work in aberdeen at the moment. He must be very prolific. I visited it with someone who was an enormous fan of his in the eighties(& nineties?) which was quite educational for me!

  5. Ah ha! This is like the Aberdeen exhibition on steroids! 😉
    Clearly you need to come and see that one too, for scientific reasons.
    It looks as if it is possible to immerse yourself in the colours in the Bath version. Aberdeen’s version contains the same elements but the formal gallery setting makes it… colder? More objective? You will have to make your own mind up!
    And thank you for the pronunciation. My husband thought Kaffe must be a girl because I was calling him “Kaff-y” like “Kathy” – oops!

  6. Planning to get to Aberdeen perhaps when/if I get the blue badge! He visited here in Fraserburgh was a friend of our famous dress designer Bill Gibb.

  7. This is fabulous! What an explosion of colour! Thanks for letting us see 🙂

  8. It’s so right to say what you saw is like the Aberdeen exhibition on steroids! I was in Aberdeen last month and it was wonderful to see the exhibition there, but it’s true that version was a bit colder. We didn’t get the wonderful effect of his studio. I’ve loved Kaffe Fassett for a long time, and he is wonderfully liberating.

  9. I’ve loved his stuff for a long time. I was inspired by his amazing mosaic on the walls outside his own front door to try mosaic in my own garden (seen behind my granddaughter in the photo taken in our garden in my blog) I love the colours he uses, they are so vibrant. You are very lucky to have had the opportunity to see this exhibition in Bath, I wonder if there is any chance of it travelling nearer us? Great photographs, thanks for sharing. x

  10. Glorious! I have loved KF’s work for years but will not get to this exhibition, so thank you very much for sharing your photos. What an astonishing, exhilarating colour sense he has.

  11. What a fabulous experience , I love his work, so thank you for sharing, you must be enamoured to have travelled so far. I think it is fantastic work, he had such a good eye for colour and design, and his work would fit into so many settings. Bath is on my hit list for places to visit, we have only driven through it so far.it also is good that you have had a little time to yourself, to recharge your batteries and just simply ” be” and enjoy life. I love your blog and you really make me think and evaluate what is really important in life x

  12. Ohhhh, this post is a special treat! Thanks for sharing Kaffe’s wonderful use of color, Christine! I am still reading through his book, Dreaming in Color, and savoring the visual experience….that is somehow more than visual! xx

  13. Thank you everyone (and Susan, for your kind words about my blog). For many years I’d heard his name said “Kaff-y” but in his autobiography (Dreaming in Colour, which Gracie is currently enjoying) he says its Kaffe to rhyme with safe. So now we all know. Funnily enough, though, the staff at the museum all said, “Fas-SETT”! Whereas I would say his last name to rhyme with “facet”. Does anyone know the answer to this further conundrum?!

    Clearly he has had a huge influence on ordinary creative people on both sides of the Atlantic. As you say, Flora, he is wonderfully liberating. Sometimes you see someone wearing something that you just know they made from one of his designs, or from their own take on it. Marksgran, you will have to do a post about mosaics, if you’ve done some of your own. I’m very impressed by that.

    I’ll let you know if I get to the Aberdeen exhibition!

  14. Hi Christine. Thanks for the wonderful tour of the American Museum – I never knew it existed. Curiosity got the best of me and after learning (from you) the correct pronunciation for “Kaffe” I googled to see if I could see what I could find regarding “Fassett. Here’s the wikipedia link: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaffe_Fassett which says his name rhymes with “safe asset”. There are a number of confirmations of this so I’m assuming it’s correct.

    • Thanks for that, Lynda. I will remember “safe asset”!

  15. Wow. I am not familiar with Kaffe Fassett but I will be now. His work is so much along the lines of things I am drawn to. And now I think I know where Jane Brocket (english author of quilting books, etc.) has gotten her inspiration. I’ve just searched his name on Pinterest and begun pinning ideas. 🙂

    • Yes, I’d say Jane Brocket (amongst others) has been influenced by Kaffe Fassett’s designs and very democratic approach to crafting. I’m glad if you’ve enjoyed learning a bit more about him.

  16. The Bath exhibition looks amazing! And I’m so glad I saw your post earlier this week, as it reminded me that there was a Kaffe Fassett exhibition at Aberdeen Art Gallery too – but it turns out it was ending very soon, so luckily I got to see it on the last day! 🙂


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