Claire Watson’s “With Kid Gloves” by Linda Frost

Claire Watson’s unusual glove sculptures were on view at Art Sites gallery in Riverhead, NY during my recent visit to Long Island. Taking advantage of the opportunity to see unusual textile based work by an artist unfamiliar to me, I took time out from beachcombing to visit this exhibit.

Watson’s art is formed from ladies gloves that are taken apart and then reconstructed and altered. Doll parts and doll-making techniques are incorporated along with additional seams to form lines and shapes that change the original glove into an entirely new creature. The resulting forms are stuffed with sawdust and presented as discrete (and often unsettling) objects.

Circumferee by Claire Watson
In making these sculptures, Watson hopes to suggest flesh (and its fragility), preoccupations with its containment or disclosure, and escape through role-playing and costume. She says she thinks of women’s traditions of handwork and long hours spent in sewing while she is working on these pieces, and also is reminded of dolls and toys. The artist has said that the shape of each sculpture comes from the gloves themselves- the extent to which they were deconstructed and then rebuilt evolved as the piece developed. In some cases, Watson made the gloves from sewing patterns. Other times, they came from the collection of gloves that she has accumulated.

Neither and Both by Claire Watson

I was quite fascinated by these sculptures, as each piece seemed to fool the eye as it traveled along the piece. There were legs that morphed into a hand, or fingers that attach to a doll’s head instead of a hand. Some pieces invited longer study, to discover clever construction. My favorite work of the exhibit was a piece that had gloves where each finger ended in its own tiny-gloved hand. Metaform by Claire Watson

Also on display at this gallery was Claire Watson’s most recent work called “Familiars”. The sculptures in this exhibit begin with kitchen and household tools that have been transformed with polymer clay. These pieces start with sock darning eggs, wooden rolling pins, wooden spoons and mallets. These items were selected both because they are made to be grasped or touched by the human hand, and also because their shapes suggest parts of the human form.
The polymer clay that encases these wooden objects is flesh colored doll-makers clay which gives each piece the appearance of human flesh. The sculptures’ shapes have only a vague suggestion of human form or human body part. The abstraction of each piece is intentional, according to the artist, as she hopes the work will not suggest an exact form or use for the underlying tool, but instead will suggest mystery of functions that are no longer part of our common knowledge.

In a fitting summation of her work, Claire Watson’s artist statement includes the following thought:
“Language and art are tools, and playthings. I make objects to see what they will look like, but mainly to give form to ideas that can’t be put to words, and names to images that arrive in the imagination wholly unexpectedly.”

Claire Watson, a resident of Water Mill, received a BFA from the University of Texas at Austin, and an MFA from Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Rome and Philadelphia. She received a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in 1990-1991, and is a 2007 Fellow in Sculpture from the New York Foundation for the Arts.


7 Responses to “Claire Watson’s “With Kid Gloves” by Linda Frost”

  1. 1 claire watson July 3, 2008 at 7:00 am

    I’m very grateful to Linda Frost for bringing my work to the attention of visitors to Ragged Cloth Cafe. I also greatly appreciate the feedback in the responses to her article. I’ve not thought of myself as a textile artist, having worked in a variety of mediums, in fact think of myself as relatively inexperienced with textiles and sewing techniques, so I’m especially pleased to have these comments from the experts. Your “thread” has left me with a great deal to think about. Thank you!

  2. 2 DEL June 13, 2008 at 11:39 am

    Clairan – The items you refer to are “merkins” which at some time in the past were wigs for a woman’s pubic area. The exhibit was in Kansas City, MO, for 1997 Surface Design Symposium. I thought they were wonderfully witty, but some viewers found them disgusting. Each to her own, eh?

  3. 3 June June 10, 2008 at 1:51 pm

    I also see that my dyslexic proofreading-challenged brain made a whole batch of errors in the above message. I’ll clean it up. It’s that kind of day.

  4. 4 June June 10, 2008 at 11:53 am

    Clairan said : “Isn’t it a wonder that our imaginations can be so transforming and liberating?”

    I was just thinking the same thing, only in reference to Terry’s observations about the kind of mind that can see these transformations. It’s one part of visual art that grabs the viewer, I think — taking something we think we know and seeing in it new visual possibilities. And when those possibilities are tied to interesting ideas that reflect both the old and new, well, that’s one definition of art, I suspect.

    I get claustrophobic thinking about gloves — and girdles. Imagine how insane I would have been with chastity belts!

  5. 5 Clairan June 10, 2008 at 5:52 am

    “To see them now as escape rather than containment bemuses me.” Jusst as many women artists use corsets as the basis for art about confinement and freedom — sexual or otherwise. There was recently an exhibit of art by women in FiberARts that was like chastiy belts, I can’t remember what they were called. I’ve seen more than one exhibit in Australia based on high button shoes. Isn’t it a wonder that our imaginations can be so transforming and liberating?

  6. 6 terry grant June 9, 2008 at 9:24 am

    I am fascinated by the kind of mind that sees these transitions from one form to another. It seems a very special kind of creative impulse. I wish I could think of other examples, but I know I have been confounded by this thought before. Besides the cleverness of the work, it is quite beautiful, IMO. The skill she employs in the sculpting of body parts from the leather of the gloves is what makes it really work. You don’t get distracted by puzzling out what those things are supposed to be–clearly legs, torsos, whatever, then you can puzzle out the transition and how that happens.

  7. 7 June June 5, 2008 at 4:06 pm


    These are fascinating sculptures. I’m interested in the way she provides intellectual scaffolding for highly sophisticated use of ordinary materials: “Watson hopes to suggest flesh (and its fragility), preoccupations with its containment or disclosure, and escape through role-playing and costume. She says she thinks of women’s traditions of handwork and long hours spent in sewing…”

    The first image grabs me both for its morphing from one thing to another (as your analysis points out) but also because of the oval form that is made from the morphing. It seems to be a seamless (forgive the pun) integration of a number of ideas.

    Using gloves to suggest flesh is ingenious, although perhaps it is post-1950 to imagine gloves being “role-playing.” I remember when gloves were still absolutely necessary for church- and prom- going, and prior to that they were essential for all ladies. It was a way of declaring your financial class — ladies wore gloves whenver they went out — and there were strict etiquette rules about when they could be removed. My memory of gloves (which were mostly from the 50’s) is that even the smooth cotton ones felt confining. I wore them but lost them, dirtied them, hid them — all the ways a 10 year old can sabatoge something her aspiring middle-class mother wanted her to be. Not that I minded being a lady — I just hated wearing gloves.

    To see them now as escape rather than containment bemuses me.

    I am also impressed that Watson got a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant — this is really an honor and difficult to achieve. It tells me again that some textile art is making it in the fine arts world.

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