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Paper chase; Fashion challenge dresses up show of dead-tree art.

Byline: Nancy Sheehan

A group of fearless fashionistas rocked Worcester's version of "Project Runway" last night. About 25 local contestants took the paper dress challenge and turned utterly inelegant disposable hospital johnnies into works of wearable art, then bravely strutted their stuff at the Worcester Center for Crafts.

The occasion was the opening reception for a new exhibit in the craft center's Krikorian Gallery. Called "Pulp Function," the show looks at all aspects of paper as a medium for art and includes jewelry, sculpture, vessels and wearables. Last night's paper dress challenge was one of many events to be held in conjunction with the show, which runs through May 26.

Regulation paper hospital gowns were issued to all who wanted to participate in the challenge. "We originally thought that dresses would go out only to artists, but it has really become a community event," said Patti Sims, head of the fiber arts department at the craft center. "There are people who don't usually do something like this and just decided they're going to give it a try. It's a great way to get people into crafts."

Lisa Barthelson was one of those paper-fashion newbies.

"I'm a working artist and I work on paper all the time, but I don't work on hospital gowns," she said, dressed in her fetching creation, a red-trimmed black-and-white paper frock with a double flounced skirt. "That was a little bit different for me, and I had a bunch of other friends who were going to do it, so we thought, `Let's give it a try.'"

The task was more difficult that she had anticipated. "The challenge is that a hospital gown is disposable for a reason. It's flimsy," she said. "When I tried to put printing on it, it sort of disintegrated." Barthelson had to do her printing on separate pieces, then sew them onto the gown. Her persistence paid off. She won second place.

Shawn Powers, 24, designed a stunning studded, form-fitting black dress that was modeled by his sister, Jessica Rennie, 19. "I wanted something futuristic, sophisticated, modern, edgy. Something a little fashion forward," said Powers, an aspiring fashion designer. "Of course you can only go so far with paper, but I tried to take it as far as I could." He took it all the way to first place.

Third place went to another young designer hopeful, Zachary Allen of Worcester, who created an ultrachic dress with a short full skirt and a brightly decoupaged bodice. Allen is a senior at Burncoat High School and his creation was modeled by classmate Perpetual Hayfron.

Among 12 finalists was Rachel Robinson, 18, of Worcester, who designed an eye-catching yellow dress out of phone book pages. What about the hospital johnny? "I spray-painted it black and it's all underneath peeking out," she said, pointing out a black ruffle trim along the neckline and hem.

It was TV that fueled her fervor for making fashion out of paper. "I saw an episode where they did that on `Project Runway,' and I love that show. I love everything about it, and I needed to do it," said Robinson, who will attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York in the fall. She will study accessory design.

What's it like wearing a paper dress? We asked Emily Boyle, Robinson's roommate, who was pressed into service for the event. "Rachel's really creative and she's always making cool stuff, so she kind of just showed up in my room, and said, `Hey, I'm making a paper dress, and I volunteered you to be my model,'" Boyle said. "But it's actually cool, and it's surprisingly comfortable because it fits me very well."

The 12 finalists will display their dresses in the craft center lobby throughout the "Pulp Function" exhibition. The top three winners will be offered a minishow of their artwork at the craft center.

Judges were Meg Savage, jewelry designer and major fashionista; Bill Wallace, executive director of the Worcester Historical Museum; and Karon Shea, owner of Shea Model Management in Worcester. Criteria they were asked to consider, both serious and silly, included originality, quality of execution, creative use of materials, outfit worthy of knockoff (by a real designer), ability to transcend the paper physical exam dress's limits, and wow factor.

"It was the toughest decision in the world," said Kathy Jellison, interim executive director of the craft center, after the sequestered judges returned with a list of winners. "I've never seen such blood, sweat and tears from three people in my life."

The "Pulp Function" exhibition features fabulous paper dresses among other objects fashioned out of what we usually think of as a throwaway medium. A standout is a piece called "The Bride," by Mia Hall. Made from white paper towels, it is a gorgeous wedding dress from the front. Go around back, however, and a trap door between the headless mannequin's shoulder blades tells a different story. "You can see inside it has all sorts of cleaning products," Sims said. "It tells a little bit more of a story about marriage, perhaps, what's looming ahead of her. It's the whole beginning of the marriage ceremony: In sickness and in health, till death do us part, or until I get tired of cleaning up after you."

Is "The Bride" about the artist's wit or is it about a message? "I found two different articles written about it, and one was written by a man and one was written by a woman," Sims said. "The man talked about how humorous it was, and the woman focused on the social comment that it made, so every viewer sees what they want with it."

What was the idea behind issuing the paper dress challenge with the show?

"It was a way to engage people a little more deeply in the exhibition," said Christine Proffitt, first vice president of the craft center's board of trustees. "This is a blockbuster show. It's organized by the Fuller Craft Museum (in Brockton). It's curated by Lloyd Herman, director emeritus of the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. We're thrilled to bring it to our audience, and we thought, as a way to further engage the public and generate excitement around the exhibit, we would present a paper dress challenge as part of the public opening."

The exhibition represents the first time, but not the last, that the Fuller Craft Museum and the Worcester Center for Crafts will collaborate on a project. We may not have seen the last paper dress challenge, either.

"Everybody made clothes as a kid. Everybody took home ec and everybody made paper bag dresses or costumes as kids. But how often do you get to do that as an adult?" Sims said. "This event is fun but it's creative. It pushes people to come and see what else we do here, so it should be, hopefully, the first annual one."

Pulp Function events at WCC

"Spitballs, Paper Dolls and Cut-ups"

When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., tomorrow

Cost: Free; designed for families

Where: Worcester Center for Crafts, 25 Sagamore Road, Worcester

What: Tour Pulp Function, then visit the studios to put your creativity into action with activities such as papermaking, origami, cutting, mosaic murals from recycled paper, furniture from cardboard, paper jewels and designer paper clothes

Information: (508) 753-8183

"A Stitch in Time Tea Party"

When: 2:30 to 5 p.m., Sunday, May 4

Cost: $35 per person; tables of four

Reservations: Corinne Barber at (508) 753-8183, ext. 3016, or e-mail cbarber@worcestercraftcenter.org

Where: Worcester Center for Crafts, 25 Sagamore Road, Worcester

What: Guided tour of Pulp Function, afternoon tea and storytelling

Pulp Function-related workshops and gallery talks continue through May 23. To learn more about the programs visit www.worcestercraftcenter.org. Pulp Function, the exhibition of artwork made from paper organized by the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton and curated by Lloyd Herman, director emeritus of the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, ends May 26.

Source: Worcester Center for Crafts

ART: PHOTOS

CUTLINE: (1) Models show off paper dresses designed by, left to right, Susan Kellogg, Zachary Allen, Sarah Sanchez and Carrie Crane at the Worcester Center for Crafts last night. (2) Jessica Rennie models the winning dress, designed by Shawn Powers.

PHOTOG: T&G PHOTOS/STEVE LANAVA
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 18, 2008
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