Article courtesy of the New Jersey Herald April 9th – http://www.njherald.com/20180218/lace-todays-artists-enjoy-yesterdays-craft#
Lace: Today’s artists enjoy yesterday’s craft
Photo by Warren Westura/New Jersey Herald – From left, Kim Czerwinski, of Dover, Del., listens to Bobbin Lacemaker Beth Harpell, of Fredon, explain how she is re-creating a piece of 300-year-old Belgian Binche lace during Lace Day.
By Katie Moen New Jersey Herald
With the invention of each new mechanized shortcut, once-marketable skills like handcrafted lace making have retreated further and further from the realm of industry.
Instead of fading into irrelevance as they might have done, however, these skills, kept alive by passionate people who believe wholeheartedly in the value of the human touch, have been able to evolve from a capital necessity to a treasured pastime that perfectly combines historical appreciation with modern creativity.
Earlier this month, the members of the Lost Art Lacers of North Jersey club gathered at the Harmony Lodge in Andover Township for a local convention dedicated to the love of all things lace.
The event, deemed Lace Day and attended by approximately 50 people, afforded lacers from around the region the opportunity to share ideas, try out new techniques and draw inspiration from antique pieces and patterns.
“I love thinking about the things that people dedicate their time to,” said club treasurer Lee Daly, tracing her finger over a sample of 18th-century Orenburg lace on display at the event. “Hobbies are so incredibly personal, aren’t they? I realized a long time ago that I hate cooking, so I just never do it. On the other hand, I will happily sit perfectly still for hours and work on a tiny piece of lace. I know that not everybody would want to do that, but there is something absolutely wonderful about belonging to a group of people who have that same spark for it that I do.”
The Lost Art Lacers was founded in 1976 by Newton resident Norma King, a lifelong lace enthusiast who sought to find a way to share her passion with others.
Today, said Daly, the club has about 60 active members.
“We keep busy,” Daly said. “We host classes and workshops throughout the year, and we like to take the show on the road. You’ve probably seen us over at the county fair, Millbrook Village (in the Delaware Water Gap), Coursen’s Corner (in Fredon) … you name it. One of the best things about being a part of something like this is getting to share it with the rest of the community.”
One of the club’s newest members, Beth Harpell, of Fredon, said she became fascinated with lace after passing an advertisement for Lace Day several years ago.
“I grew up in a ranch-style house in the ’60s, so I have no idea why I have always been so interested in antiques, but they just fascinate me,” said Harpell. “A few years ago, I saw a sign for this event and thought ‘oh, how cool!’ But I missed it. I saw the advertisement the day after it had already ended. I was disappointed, but I decided to reach out to the Lacers anyway.”
From the date of her first Lacers meeting, Harpell said, she was hooked (pun possibly intended).
“It looks so much harder than it is,” she said. “Lace making is one of those rare activities that wakes up every part of your brain. There is a definite logic and pattern to it, but it’s also creative and beautiful. At the moment, I’m working to re-create a piece from a pattern that hasn’t been used in over 300 years. It’s like living history — not only do I get to appreciate the antique look of something, but I also get to physically learn about it in a way that makes it much more meaningful.”
While the basics of lacing may be easy enough to learn, perfecting the skill takes patience, practice and, said Lost Art Lacers member Devon Thein, a whole lot of time.
Thein, of Livingston, is a volunteer docent who helps oversee the antique lace collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
“For many, many years, lace was the ultimate status symbol,” said Thein, who brought pieces from her private collection, made up of handcrafted items dating back as far as the 1600s, to display at the Lace Day event. “People used to have a much deeper appreciation for the time and effort that went into making it, and because it was so difficult to make well, a good piece was considered an absolute luxury. It was more valuable than jewelry in some cases.”
To peer over her collection for even a moment is an experience that sets the imagination loose. Who made this? Where did she live, and what was her life like? Who did she sell it to? How did they wear it? Did they pass it onto their children, or did it sit untouched for generations in a cedar chest? Every piece, Thein said, has its own rich history.
“These were not homecrafts like you would think of them now,” she said. “Lace was an industry in and of itself, and there was a lot of money to made in it. The industrial age changed all of that in a big way. It became harder and harder to tell the difference between lace that had been made by hand and lace that had been made by a machine, so the demand dropped off pretty radically.”
Today, though, Thein said, the ability to make something by hand has become almost as much of a commodity as the pieces themselves once were.
“We’re able to look at and appreciate these pieces in a very different way now,” she said. “It can take more than a year to make a piece of lace no longer or wider than your forearm. With the way that production has sped up over the years, it’s not logical to expect people to wait that long now for something with a practical application to it. It’s easy enough to look at these pieces and appreciate them for their historical significance, but when you think about them as art, as something that someone poured their own creativity and dedication to, that is something else altogether.”
In September, Thein will act as curator to an exhibit at the Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton entitled “Lace, not lace: contemporary fiber art from lace techniques.”
“To the best of my knowledge, this will be the first show of its kind,” Thein said. “The idea is to combine antique displays with modern art created using historical techniques. People are making these incredible new things using methods that have been around for centuries, and this exhibition will be intended to showcase the fact that these old skills still have a very valuable place in the modern world.”
In order to bring in as many unique pieces as possible for the exhibit, the Hunterdon Art Museum, which operates as a non-profit organization, has set up a fundraising drive to help offset costs.
To learn more about the Lost Art Lacers and to see photos of some of the work that its members have done, visit www.lostartlacers.org.
To contribute to the Lace Fund at the Hunterdon Art Museum and to see some of the pieces that might be on display during September’s exhibition, visit www.hunterdonartmuseum.org and click on The Lace Fund.