Grace Johnston began her college career as a fashion design student at Virginia Commonwealth University. But, she says, “I transferred out of the Fashion Design department because I felt that it limited my creative abilities. I guess I see myself more as an artist than a fashion designer, though I make clothing all the time and have since I was ten. Clothing, garments, and the body are my main focus here in the sculpture department. I want people to see clothing as art, not just something that you wear to cover yourself.” And, as the first-place winner of this year’s Uncommon Thread Wearable Art Show she did just that.
The show featured two entries by Grace: “X-Travagant X-pansionism”, a snug, floor-length gown with a retractable peacock bustle inspired by Marie Antoinette, and the winner, “Curtsy: Exoskeleton”, a short, hourglass-shaped frock constructed of wooden hoops with a lifting mechanism. Though the “peacock dress”, as Grace refers to it, has won prizes in the past, the “curtsy dress” is actually an artistic mistake reworked for entry into Uncommon Thread.
“I wasn’t pleased with the project,” says Johnston, “because it was just an inanimate object, not something that actually served a purpose. I transferred from to the Sculpture department at the beginning of this year, where our first assignment was to make something out of wood. I decided I wanted to make a series of rings that sat inside of each other that could collapse and expand. Well, I had never worked with wood before and didn’t realize that was really a terribly hard idea. Wood likes to be straight, not bend. But still I did it, hating every minute of the project, and came out with the finished product. I had already thought about applying to FORCE and decided that I could turn this silly wood project into something much, much better. So I kind of went off of the original project, knowing that it could expand and collapse, and worked that in as a design element of the dress. I also have an endless fascination with corsets (some of my other art features them) and the odd ways that women’s bodies have been restricted over the years, so I decided to work with all of those ideas, and voila: happy accident!”
In order to pull off the curtseying mechanism, Grace worked right up until the day of the show. “I literally assembled it four hours prior to the show,” she says, “I could see it in my head and knew how it would work, but I had never had the dress operable until the day of the show. Thank god I have a mechanical mind! Also, I had never seen the curtsy dress on a person until my model, Julie, tried it on. I was so pleased when I saw it on her because it looked amazing. but once again, I just formulated the idea in my head and was lucky enough that it worked out once it was on a person.” In the end, the piece more than just “worked out”, “Curtsy” allowed Grace take her bow as the first-place winner.
This article is intended for print publication in Marquis Magazine.