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:
The minute you step in the door, you know you are in for a colourful experience:
The first thing to greet you is a kind of facsimile of his studio area:
The exhibition is organised thematically and by colour. There is a room showing creations inspired by flowers and vegetables:
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:
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!
There was a wall of quotations:
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:
I really enjoyed seeing the interplay of colours and shapes: pinwheels and stars in the quilt, pinwheels on the cardigan, stars in the pullover…
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.
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?)
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!