Cate Fitt, a.k.a. knitfitt, has been a member of Etsy since 2007 and is an experienced critic, curator and juror. She earned her MFA in fiber in 1978, later receiving an artist’s fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Through the years, she’s been a maker of one-of-a-kind hand-painted clothing, pottery, jewelry, and linocut and monotype prints. She lives in a little house close to the James River with two whippets named Moose and Peach.
Back in the bad old days of the 1970s, when art history and the professional art world were completely dominated by a good old boys network, some women couldn’t — or wouldn’t — stomach vain attempts to conform to such a norm. These women (and I was among them) sought role models who might have been there all along but were hidden from view because they were not included in books or museum exhibitions.
For some of us, Florine Stettheimer (1871 – 1944) was a treasured find. Her technique was clearly modern, very witty and insightful, but there was no mistaking her paintings for those by her male contemporaries. Her colors were sweet and the women she depicted were her mother and sisters, not the impersonal or devouring sex objects of Picasso or Matisse. I also loved the way the three sisters, Florine, Carrie and Ettie, dressed with great flair and a sense of personal style. They patronized such couturiers as Paul Poiret or The House of Paquin and wore exotic fabrics with elaborate embroidery. For this collection, I have tried to imagine what they might have chosen if they were shopping on Etsy today.
1. Every serious painter needs a good paint box.
2. Alfred Steiglitz might have asked Florine where she got the Antler Purse so he could surprise Georgia O’Keefe with one of her own.
3. This dress would be a triumph at one of the sisters’ salons, attended by such sophisticated friends as Man Ray and Elie Nadelman.
4. I hope her friend Marcel Duchamp would have been amused by this Ready Made tee shirt.
5. This tableau of the Seven Deadly Sins wearing the greatest fashions of a hundred years ago could almost be mistaken for a portrait of the Stettheimer sisters or inhabitants of Carrie’s famous doll house at the Museum of the City of New York.
1. The painting “Heat” (1919) commemorates Florine’s mother’s birthday on a day so hot that the sisters have wilted into languid odalisques and abandoned their knitting. Meanwhile their mother, from an older and corseted generation, sits upright, sewing basket close at hand.
2. What better clothing to wear on a dreadfully hot day with no air conditioning than a loose hand-embroidered cotton dress?
3. Creating a breeze with this hand-dyed fan might help pass a very hot afternoon.
4.These birthday candles would make any cake festive.
5. Perfect for holding small embroidery or mending projects, this Chinese sewing basket would be right at home in the Stettheimers’ 58th Street mansion.
6. The flowers on this knitting bag are as colorful and exuberant as one of Stettheimer’s still lifes.
1. “Picnic at Bedford Hills” (1918) depicts a day of languid entertainment in a pastoral setting (note the hay wagon and fields in the distance). The sisters, their friends and two tiny dogs have gathered for an elegant picnic of lobster. Duchamp is helping Carrie set out the food on a flowered cloth.
2. One of the sisters could easily have worn this dress to stay cool on a summer day.
3. Perhaps this parasol is similar to the one Florine is holding.
4. It is my fantasy that their meal ended with delicious lollypops.
5. A generous basket like this is necessary for all picnics.
6. The little poodle in this etching reminds me of the dogs in the painting.
1. “Four Saints in Three Acts,” an opera with libretto by Gertrude Stein, score by Virgil Thompson and an all African-American cast, created a sensation in 1934. Stettheimer designed the sets and costumes in cellophane and lace. Her studio and bedroom had been the testing territory for cellophane as a furnishings material.
2. An elegant bracelet formed from a strip of film negative.
3. And a hat made from colorful wires scavenged from old televisions.
4. A colorful and refreshing necklace of lava and cinnamon to wear to the latest avant garde performance.
5. Or the detritus of hurricanes.
Florine Stettheimer’s work and life are inspirational to me even today. She was so clear in her vision and in her commitment to her art. I am grateful to her for helping me on my life’s path of discovering deep meaning in traditional “women’s work” and finding ways of expressing contemporary insights and commentary without sacrificing beauty and humor. Almost all of Stettheimer’s work is held in collections in the Northeastern United States. Her “Cathedrals of New York” is on permanent display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Picnic at Bedford Hills” is in the collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. “Heat” is at the Brooklyn Museum.