Staff spotlight: Rebecca Elliot

Rebecca Elliot, assistant curator of craft, design, and fashion.

‘Art can be a source of joy for people, and I like to make those experiences happen’

Rebecca Elliot is one of the creative minds behind the new exhibition Craft in the Laboratory: The Science of Making Things and lead author of the catalogue by the same name.

 

Rebecca Elliot is the assistant curator of Craft, Design, and Fashion at The Mint Museum. Her journey with art has taken her around the globe, from her student days studying abroad in London and frequenting the British Museum, to her jobs at the Cranbrook Art Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and finally to the Mint in 2012, where she’s currently the assistant curator of craft, design and fashion. Here, Elliot shares a glimpse into her life inside the museum, from the glamorous (handling 18th-century men’s suits and thrifting with iconic fashion designer Anna Sui) to the decidedly unglamorous (copy editing and emails). — As told to Caroline Portillo. Lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

I grew up in central Ohio in a town called Delaware, Ohio, about 30 or 40 miles north of Columbus. I loved to read fiction and liked writing. I loved art, especially drawing. My sister and I — she’s three years older than me — would have coloring contests. I even tried to design clothes. I would play with my Barbies and have them do fashion shows. For me, it was more about Barbie having a job, a career, and wearing stylish outfits.

For undergrad, I went to Smith College, a women’s college in western Massachusetts. I took art history during my sophomore year, and then I spent my junior year studying abroad at University College London, where I took a lot of art history classes. UCL was close to the British Museum and I would often go after school. In London, I also visited the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the Victoria & Albert Museum, and the Tate Gallery. It was really cool actually seeing the scale of the paintings and what the texture looked like, knowing what it felt like to stand in front of it, and noticing what other people did when they were there. That’s when I first started thinking about working with museums. The interface between the art and the public was interesting to me.

Here’s a snapshot of a recent day in my life. First, I helped Annie [Carlano, the Mint’s senior curator for craft, design, and fashion] lay out the jackets from two 18th-century gentlemen’s suits for a Zoom call with a curator from the V&A in London. Because I’m the copyeditor for all the Mint’s exhibition texts, my afternoon was spent answering emails and reviewing exhibition label proofs. I spent the evening on one of my hobbies: ushering for a show at Actor’s Theater. I enjoy theater, and ushering is a great way to help out and see a show for free.

I love thrifting and actually got to join fashion icon Anna Sui on a thrifting expedition. Anna was in Charlotte in November last year for the opening of The World of Anna Sui at Mint Museum Randolph. After lunch, we ventured to Sleepy Poet Antique Mall. I have admired Anna Sui’s style ever since her clothes started appearing in my favorite ’90s teen magazine, Sassy. I was thrilled when I got to join her entourage and go thrifting in Charlotte. I walked around with Anna and Vogue’s Senior Fashion News Editor Steff Yotka, observing which items they gravitated to and occasionally commenting about things that reminded me of Anna’s style. I was with them as Anna found and inspected a tablecloth — the three of us unfolded it together — and decided it was worth the $20 price. It’s fun to know that I was there when she found a small souvenir to take back and enjoy in her home.

Speaking of Sleepy Poet, I made a point to go there just before they moved out of their old location, knowing there would be bargains. Sure enough, I found a Heywood-Wakefield wood headboard and footboard, possibly mid-century modern, for $25. Whenever I’m thrifting or antiquing, I look for interesting mid-century modern items. I like old stuff, decorative stuff, fashion, and art.

When I’m visiting a museum, I nerd out. I look at the objects and the labels — how are they written? Would I do it the same way? I look at what objects are next to each other, how they play off each other. I look at what’s in the room, how the wall colors are, the pathway.

I love working at a museum because museums give people so many different kinds of experiences. Art can be a source of joy for people, and I like to make those experiences happen. Art can also be something that makes people uncomfortable, that makes them question and think about things they may not have before. We are facing many difficult issues, everything from the environment to social justice to politics. The work I do matters in those areas. We’re not trying to be political, but we are trying to make society better.

Curator’s Pick: “Baseball Pitcher” by Ott and Brewer

Curator’s Pick: Baseball Pitcher by Ott and Brewer

Curator of Decorative Arts Brian Gallagher discusses this modeled sculpture of a baseball pitcher, made at the Trenton, New Jersey ceramics manufactory run by Joseph Ott and John Hart Brewer. In 1873, they hired the Canadian-born sculptor Isaac Broome to create a prototypical American work for their firm to display at the Centennial International Exposition that opened in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, May 10, 1876. This sculpture is made of Parian, a type of porcelain that has more feldspar in its body than conventional porcelain and is fired at a lower temperature. These conditions give the Baseball Pitcher its ivory color and smooth, marble-like texture.

Curators’ Pick: “Farol” by Elaine de Kooning

Curator’s Pick: Farol by Elaine de Kooning

Jonathan Stuhlman, PhD, senior curator of American Art at The Mint Museum, discusses Farol, Elaine de Kooning’s 1958 painting inspired by bullfights she attended Sunday afternoons in Juarez, Mexico. “Farol” refers to the movement made by bullfighters, sweeping their capes out of the way as the bull charged by. The piece captures the motion, energy, and action of the fight itself. Although long overlooked, the work of de Kooning and her other female Abstract Expressionist colleagues has recently received greater attention thanks in part to exhibitions like Women of Abstract Expressionism hosted at The Mint Museum hosted in 2016.

Curator’s Pick: “Figures Eight” by Doris Leeper

Curator’s Pick: Figures Eight by Doris Leeper

Jen Sudul Edwards, PhD, chief curator and curator of contemporary art at The Mint Museum, explains the significance of works by mid-century modernist Doris Leeper. Leeper, who worked in painting and sculpture, hints at her interest in the three-dimensional in the painting Figures Eight. Leeper was born in Charlotte in 1929 but moved out of state. She maintained a presence in North Carolina, however, participating in the Mint’s juried competition series Piedmont Exhibition.

Curators’ Pick: “Autarchy” by Formafantasma

Curator’s Pick: Autarchy by Formafantasma

An intriguing installation created by the design group Formafantasma in its studio in the Netherlands, Autarchy explores the idea of how we might make functional vessels for the home from locally sourced, natural materials, while paying homage to the craft of baking and cooking. Autarchy is an outstanding example of the way in which designers and makers think and work like scientists, researching and experimenting with materials and formulas to create, solve problems, and achieve amazing results. This piece was made especially for The Mint Museum with the assistance of Mint staff and is on view in the Craft + Design permanent collection galleries at Mint Museum Uptown in the installation Craft in the Laboratory: The Science of Making Things.

Curators’ Pick: “Bracelets” by Marcus Amerman

Curators’ Pick: Bracelets by Marcus Amerman

Marcus Amerman, a multimedia artist who is best known for his pictorial beadwork that combines Native American tradition with imagery from contemporary popular culture, designed and created these two cuff bracelets depicting the Dalai Lama and agents Mulder and Scully from the television hit series X Files. Amerman grew up in a family of artists and learned beading at age 10 from his Choctaw aunt who had married into the Hopi tribe. In 1982, he drew upon the multitude of cultural influences he had experienced to create his own style of beadwork.

The bracelets are on view in Craft + Design permanent collection galleries and the Craft in the Laboratory: The Science of Making Things.

The Mint Museum from Home is Presented By Chase.

Curators’ Pick: “Weathervane” by Brent Kington

Curators’ Pick: Weathervane by Brent Kington

Assistant Curator of Craft, Design, and Fashion, Rebecca Elliot offers insight on the sculpture Weathervane by artist-blacksmith Brent Kington, part of a series of sculptures inspired by the weathervanes of Kington’s youth in Kansas. With nothing but gravity holding the two parts together, Weathervane is able to spin, but also to pitch and roll slightly in a breeze or if touched. While the sculpture is meant to be enjoyed indoors rather than to gauge the wind’s direction on a farm, it alludes to nature with the two differently sized disks representing the sun and moon. 

Weathervane is on view in the Craft + Design permanent collection galleries as part of Craft in the Lab: The Science of Making Things.

The Mint Museum from Home is Presented By Chase.

Works by artist My Loan Dinh that explore the human condition

In My Loan Dinh’s series “(Re)constructing the space in-between,” objects, covered in eggshells, appear fragile; but they are strong — strong enough to break glass. “I reach for these tools not only to break barriers, but also to build, forge, and construct new paths towards freedom and equality. Many things, like stones and bullets, can shatter glass. I am here to build,” Dinh says.

‘Broken, but in one piece’

Charlotte artist MyLoan Dinh explores the human condition – and the search for home

By Page Leggett

MyLoan (pronounced “mee-LAHN”) Dinh has been working with an unusually delicate medium: eggshells.

The Vietnamese-American artist, who splits her time between Charlotte and Berlin, uses them to encase objects — passports, hammers, boxing gloves. “With boxing gloves, you think of fighting,” she says. “I love the idea of pairing things that are complete opposites. There’s a tension there — a deeper meaning that starts a conversation.”

People might see the eggshell mosaics and think of the destructiveness of violence or the fragility of life. But for life to begin, the egg has to be open, to be broken, Dinh says. And brokenness is part of being human.

“I like creating something whole out of fragments,” she continues. “I like this idea that even though we might be broken, we’re in one piece. We’re going to be OK.”

The MInt Museum_MyLoan Dinh
MyLoan Dinh, United States (born in Vietnam), 1972– . “Off White,” 2019. Boxing gloves, eggshells, acrylic. Museum purchase made possible by the Charles W. Beam Endowment Fund.

From coop to kitchen to studio

Working with eggshells is tedious and time-consuming. Dinh starts by procuring eggs. She has to boil the eggs, crack and peel them. Then, she methodically places each tiny piece onto the object with an adhesive. She uses a stick pin or a needle; her fingers are too big for the job. Once the entire object is covered, she fills in with even tinier shell shards. She doesn’t want too much of a gap between fragments.

Each object gets covered in five or six protective layers. Something fragile has been made durable.

Some of the “eggshell art” was featured in Dinh’s installation for Constellation CLT — an exhibition series that spotlights local artists — this spring and summer at Mint Museum Uptown.

“I think it’s wonderful that museums are starting to look for artists in their backyard,” Dinh says. “There’s a lot of talent here. And why not expose the community to those artists? It’s wonderful that part of the community can now see themselves in these spaces.”

The part of the community she’s referring to: Asian-Americans. “When I was growing up, I couldn’t see myself in a museum setting because I didn’t have any role models,” she says. “I couldn’t name a single Asian artist. I saw some Asian art, but it was more like artifacts. So, this Constellations program is really amazing.”

‘A place we can call home’

She and her family were on one of the last ships out of Saigon in 1975. Dinh was 4. She has no memory of her homeland but still feels connected to her culture.

Her story is deeply personal, but there’s a universality to it. “Everyone deserves safety,” she says. “We all deserve the same basic human rights, the opportunity to live in dignity and to somehow find a place we can call home.”

Finding her way to safety was harrowing. For six days, they were forbidden to dock because the ships belonged to the now-defunct South Vietnamese government. “We were stateless,” she says.

The U.S.S. Kirk was the first, and then dozens of former South Vietnamese Navy ships, cargo and fishing boats lowered the Vietnamese flag and raised the American one. That was just the beginning.

Dinh’s family went to three different U.S. refugee camps before a Lutheran church in Boone agreed to sponsor them. “We’re still in touch with the pastor and his wife,” Dinh says. “At the time, there was this — not really, anti-Asian hate — but fear. People were afraid for different reasons: Would we be able to adjust? Were we Communists? Half the congregation wasn’t sure should they take us in. The minister told them, ‘As people of God, we have to.’”

They came to Charlotte because there was a bigger Vietnamese population here and it’s a bigger city. Dinh’s parents wanted to find their community.

Dinh herself has found a large creative community here. She and her husband — Till Schmidt-Rempler, a former dancer and choreographer — frequently host musicians, poets, storytellers and dancers in the 1935 log cabin that’s home to the couple and their teenage daughter. (Their son is working toward a PhD in art history in London.)

Evolution of an artist

Dinh’s work has evolved a lot since she first picked up a paintbrush to create what she calls “representational, figurative work.” It didn’t take long for her to expand her subject matter and media; she experiments to stave off boredom. In recent years, she’s been diving into storytelling.

“I began revisiting stories about what my family faced when I was growing up,” she says. “Much of that stuff, you just push away. You focus on your survival. You don’t want to bring it up because you think: ‘I’m resilient, I need to move on.’ But I felt it was time to pull it out slowly because of this shift in America, this racial reckoning.”

She doesn’t consider herself a political artist, but rather an artist concerned with social justice.

She hopes viewers see that concern in her work. “I think it’s good to let viewers enjoy the pieces for what they are, but I also like the idea of them reading my artist’s statement to understand why I made the piece. My message is that we need to find a way to share space with each other.”

‘My daughter ate it’

Dinh doesn’t always use food in her art — although she has coated everyday objects in candy conversation hearts — but she was inspired to create an installation last year using a ubiquitous Asian dessert.

“I created a fortune cookie installation the day after six Asian women were murdered [in Atlanta],” she says. “I just made it, held it in my hand and photographed it for social media. And, when Jen [Sudul Edwards] said she wanted to show it, I had to tell her: It was a real fortune cookie, and my daughter ate it. But I can get more.”

There are six fortune cookies in that little installation, she says, one for each of the six women murdered. The fortunes have numbers on them, and they are real telephone numbers to an actual hotline, Dinh says.

With her eggshell art, Dinh is a purist. She leaves the shells the colors nature intended. But she wanted dark brown eggs for several pieces — and went searching.

“There’s a chocolate brown egg that comes from a fancy French chicken called the Marans chicken, she says. “I joined a Facebook group of people who raise chickens and asked if anybody had Marans chickens. They were so responsive; I’ve been getting eggshells in the mail. Chicken people are really good people.

“You never know where you’ll find your community. And community is really another word for ‘home’.”

Page Leggett’s writing appears regularly in The Charlotte Observer, Business North Carolina and SouthPark magazine. Besides writing, her other great passions are travel and art collecting. The first art lessons she took were at Mint Museum Randolph.

This story previously published in the Winter 2021 Inspired member magazine.

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  

‘Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?”

By Rubie Britt-Height, director of community relations at The Mint Museum

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1963) was a major American icon whose life, though cut short far too soon, profoundly impacted the state of our country in the 1950s, 1960s, and today. He was an American clergyman, activist, and leader in the American Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a federal holiday that marks the birth of this profoundly courageous leader who addressed the challenges existing in the United States relative to poverty, racism, and war.  

The Mint observes the official Martin Luther King Jr. holiday throughout the month of January with goals ongoing throughout the year to invoke dialogue and transformative programming, exhibitions, and equity for diverse artists, vendors, and staff. The museum is committed to its mission, vision, and strategic plan, of which diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) are a part.  

Throughout 2022, the Mint will provide members and guests opportunities to view and have dialogue about meaningful works of art, attend performing arts programming, read historical nuggets about artists of color, and recount through socially conscious works of art the ongoing challenges identified by Dr. King’s speeches, writings, and sermons that continue to illuminate “the dream still deferred” in many ways.  

Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech spoke metaphorically and strategically to an environment that blighted African Americans, with the hope of a transformed country of equity, equality, justice, and fairness. 

The Jim Crow Museum notes that “the civil rights movement reached its peak when 250,000 blacks and whites gathered at the Lincoln Memorial for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which included the demand for passage of meaningful civil rights laws when Dr. King, Jr. delivered his famous speech.”  Among those words, throughout his ministry are many other notable quotes that raise our consciousness and speak to courage, community, and commitment to a better America for all. 

Here are just a few of his thought-provoking and enlightened perspectives as one influenced by his Christian faith, Ghandi’s non-violence philosophy, and his commitment to balance the scale of humanity in America: 

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” 

“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” 

“Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.” 

“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but it comes through continuous struggle.” 

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” 

“The time is always right to do what is right.” 

“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” 

We invite you view this curator video featuring Senior Curator of American art Jonathan Stuhlman, PhD, about the painting Selma by artist Barbra Pennington that focuses on the events that unfolded 55 years ago in Selma, Alabama. 

A Q&A With André Leon Talley

André Leon Talley and Oscar de la Renta at Book Signing, Rizzoli Books, New York
Created: July 2005
Shareif Ziyadat, © Shareif Ziyadat/Getty Images

Q&A with legendary fashion icon André Leon Talley 

The curator of the Mint’s exhibition The Glamour and Romance of Oscar de la Renta and star of the fashion world spoke to the Mint’s director of public relations and publications in 2018 just before the opening of the exhibition. Following is the article that published in the Winter 2018 INSPIRED member magazine.

By Leigh Dyer  

CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT HOW YOU GOT TO KNOW OSCAR DE LA RENTA? 

My first meeting with Oscar was in December 1975, when he and his first wife, the late Francoise de la Renta, invited me at the last minute to their table for two at the annual Met Costume Institute dinner. It was held in December in those days, and it was a very small, intimate society dinner and celebrity-filled. Diana Vreeland had spoken so highly of me to the de la Rentas that he simply made space for me at his already seated table. 

 WHAT WERE YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF HIM? 

My first impression and my lasting impression, was he was a great man of impeccability, elegance, well-groomed, and polite. He also had a wonderful charm and smile. His whole being simply exuded a natural nobility of goodness and sunshine, warmth, laughter, and generosity. All the real things that matter. I miss him every day and his second wife, Annette, was also a close friend of the first Mrs. de la Renta. They both love beauty and comfort, nothing over the top, as the late Bunny Mellon said, “nothing should be noticed.” 

 WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MEMORY OF HIM? 

 I loved watching Oscar dance and sing. He was the best dancer and did the best merengue. He was so soigné, even dancing. And swimming, in his native Dominican Republic. He also had a voice that was as rich and warm as his heart. He was kind, but he also had a wicked sense of humor, loved telling the anecdotal historical narrative of French high society in fashion-for example he went to some of the famous Paris society balls. And I loved him telling the narrative of those glamorous women. 

WHY DO YOU THINK HIS DESIGNS WERE SO SUCCESSFUL AT CONNECTING WITH THE PUBLIC AND POPULAR CULTURE? 

 His designs impact everyone, from the 8-year-old girl to the 80-year-old grand dame. I fondly remember a young girl being brought by her parents to de Young in San Francisco for the retrospective on Oscar, and she was so impressed by the pale pink tulle dress and hat and veil, inspired by Madame Bovary. It was actually a wedding dress in a Pierre Balmain collection in Paris, designed beautifully by Oscar. So romantic, so rich in romantic history. Oscar always wanted to make women beautiful; he didn’t care about being an artist, he wanted to make dresses that were worn and admired by the women who loved them. Embedded in every bow and every nuance of taffeta flourish, every flounce of velvet edged in sable and embroidery, was his sense of romance. The body of work from his beginnings at Lanvin Castillo to his early youth in Spain anchor him in the historical context of romantic and glamorous design. He loved so much to realize clothes that were exuberantly baroque in surface, yet weighted in elegant simplicity. 

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS HIS MOST IMPORTANT LEGACY IN THE FASHION WORLD? 

There are three designers I think of who have left a lasting mark in the realm of modern fashion that is romantic: Oscar de la Renta, Valentino, and Yves Saint Laurent. All three of these titans of talent, I know or knew personally. In the hands of each, a dress, a coat, or a suit became a poem! 

CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH LONGTIME MINT SUPPORTER MARIANNA SHERIDAN? 

I worked closely with Marianna and she was quiet, yet fiercely passionate about Oscar de la Renta. She loved the designer so much, she had a family home built in the Dominican Republic. I always looked forward to her e-mails with another glorious find. She frequently would seek my advice on if she should or should not acquire certain looks, but she was somehow drawn to the glorious pieces that always reflected the best of Oscar’s designs. Under her direction, the de la Renta archives became a wonderful resource, a literal goldmine of offerings in every category. We were friends, and I had a deep respect for her dedication and her work. She had a love of beauty, luxury, and elegance.  

WHAT ARE YOU HOPING THAT VISITORS TO THE EXHIBITION WILL COME AWAY WITH? 

I hope visitors wi11 take away a breathtaking sense of Oscar’s love of texture and fabric, color, and complex layerings of details of the world of couture conceits. Romantic ruffles and the glory of Spain’s culture in the arts, and flamenco, the bullring, and the idea of the warmth of the sun in Sevilla on a beautiful day is somehow in the very cut of the cloth. More than anything, he was a true romantic and loved life, and he showed that in his love of gardens, garden motifs, flowers. 

THIS EXHIBITION HAS COINCIDED WITH THE PREMIERE OF YOUR NEW DOCUMENTARY, “THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ANDRE.” 

I am proud the documentary opens at the same period this spring as the exhibit. Kate Novack, director, narrates brilliantly my humble beginnings in Durham, N.C. and how I soldiered through the “chiffon trenches” for decades to arrive at the heights of my career, landing at Vogue for nearly two decades. I am still aligned to Vogue as a contributing editor and consider Dame Anna Wintour a close friend. She has supported me throughout my career and I am blessed to have her [in my life]. The documentary received the Whistler prize last December at the Whistler Film Festival, as World Documentary. 

 It’s a great honor to curate this, my third exhibition since Oscar de la Renta died. I considered Oscar one of my close friends and I think of him every day as I do so many wonderful people who have passed away: Yves Saint Laurent, Diana Vreeland, Andy Warhol (who gave me my first job in fashion in 1975), and Azzedine Alaia. I am also proud of the books I published in collaboration with SCAD in Savannah, Georgia, published by Rizzoli, Little Black Dress and Oscar de la Renta: His Legendary World of Style.