men make quilts / women make sculpture
ROBERT PAULY and CYNTHIA O’BRIEN at General Fine Craft, May 8 – June 17 2018
Born in Montreal, Robert Pauly is a maker and collector of art and objects. He studied Fine Arts and Theatre at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia) before making his home in Clayton, Ontario with jewellery maker Barbara Mullally.
Since 1960 he has created sculptural works, jewellery and wearable art using a myriad of materials and techniques. Eclectic is an apt description of Robert’s approach to art making: he’s an experimenter driven by curiosity, the desire to design and make things by hand – with a healthy mix of respect for tradition and irreverence for the status quo.
Robert’s studio in Clayton is an emporium of delights: boxes and boxes of vintage fabrics and millinery notions, cocktail hats and boustiers, collections of jewellery, beads, stones and pottery. Not to mention a vestibule with all four walls completely patterned in colourful buttons.
His interest in fabrics (especially vintage) lead him to the world of fashion. In his own words:
“I’ve always had an interest in fashion: as a costume designer, a sculptor, a jeweller. I love the exuberant creations that grace the fashion world runways at times: Galliano, McQueen, Westwood. I love to see the hats that accompany the dresses, hovering between fashion and sculpture.”
Pauly has become well-known for his hat designs (fascinators, cocktail hats, etc.) many of which are custom-made for individual buyers. Milliners are rare in Canada and he has studied with some of the best to learn this unique craft.
He has simultaneously been mastering quilt making processes, drawing inspiration from the rarely shown, one-of-a-kind quilts that women usually made just for themselves. Quilting of course has a long and important history in women’s work. Beyond the practicality of sewing cast-off scraps of fabrics into bed covers and wall hangings, quilting was usually as a group activity. This gave women a safe place to gather, connect, be creative and tell their stories through quilt making.
Pauly’s approach is playful and shows no fear of using vibrant colours. With vintage and new fabrics, he alters patterns with unusually beautiful results, such as his ‘postage stamp’ quilts which require sewing together thousands of one-inch fabric squares – to dazzling visual effect. Some follow traditional ideas of quilting (Farm Quilt and 9-Patch) while others feature rows of colourful stripes that are akin to colour field paintings. All are interestingly contrasted by machine sewn top-stitching in organic and geometric patterns.
His extensive knowledge of historical work and techniques plays beautifully with modernist ideas, making Robert Pauly’s quilts truly contemporary artistic expressions.
Necklaces with semi-precious stones, pearls, amber, beads, gold and antique clasps:
Carved Tagua necklaces:
I have been a practicing and exhibiting artist since 1960, focussing primarily on sculpture and assemblage. My combined love of sculpture and fashion led me to want to work with fabrics, feathers and decorative elements, so I began making hats and art quilts.
Originally from Montréal, I studied Fine Arts and Theatre at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia). I learned millinery at Sir Sanford Fleming College’s Haliburton School of the Arts and through Karyn Gingras, owner of Lilliput Hats. I live and work in Clayton, Ontario with jewellery maker Barbara Mullally.
I’ve always had an interest in fashion: as a costume designer, a sculptor, a jeweller. I love the exuberant creations that grace the fashion world runways at times: Galliano, McQueen, Westwood. I love to see the hats that accompany the dresses, hovering between fashion and sculpture.
Millinery in Canada is not widespread. I try to source as many materials as I can within Canada but most items come from the US and Europe, particularly England. Wherever we go, I look for sources of supplies and particularly for the bits and pieces of vintage decoration that have become a trademark with me. This hunt takes me to antique dealers and even charity shops, ever stalking an elusive prey – the vintage hat decoration!
I make all of my hats and bases for fascinators and cocktail hats by creating and blocking the base form on wood hat moulds. The bases are in a range of materials, depending on the style and season: sinamay, straw, felt and buckram. The shaped forms are then rimmed with wire, bound with grosgrain ribbon, covered (if appropriate), lined and finished with a wide variety of materials including vintage silks, flowers, feathers and trim. My silk flowers are made, petal by petal, using antique French flower irons that use heat to permanently shape petals and leaves. I have a large collection of these antique tools: each petal shape and leaf is particular to one kind of flower, for example rose and geranium.
If you are going to wear anything other than something for warmth or protection, you will be noticed. My cocktail hats are unique; I only make one of each, as I would with other sculptures.
- R. Pauly, 2014
See Regional Contact interview with Robert Pauly: http://ottawa.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=915559