Monday, September 5, 2011

Monday Spotlight On: Elizabeth Ogden of Southern Carnival

Elizabeth Ogden, the craftily talented milliner behind SouthernCarnival, is a native of Mobile, Alabama. Her family moved in and out of the Mobile Bay area with her father's job. She always considered Mobile home and she spent her formative years with her nose pressed against the glass of the City Museum's Mardi Gras display. Many a custodian was troubled by the amount of her drool they had to wipe off the display cases that were filled with the sparkling crowns and ermine lined robes that so captured her imagination.

Elizabeth came to the world of handcrafts and textile design out of necessity and obstinacy. In a world dead set on minimalism and function over form the only way to satisfy her childhood fantasies of opulence and grandeur for everyday life was to make it herself.  She currently resides up the road a bit from Mobile in the beautiful city of Demopolis, Alabama.

Venetian Gold Carnival Mask

Tell us three other things about yourself:
I'm a little crazy, but "fun at parties" crazy not "straight jacket" crazy.
I'm stubborn, almost to a fault.
Most people are amazed at the things I make, but not because of the things themselves. Their awe typically arises from the fact that I do it all while raising 5 children that are still school age.

Not having known that fact prior to this interview, I  too am awed. What’s your medium and how did you get into it?
I don't think I have one specific medium. Really, anything that will sit still long enough to be manipulated into something else is fair game for me to use. I work in sugar, chocolate, textiles, paper, feathers and wire too. But typically not at the same time.

However, to satisfy my compulsion to constantly make pretty things I have had to focus. I do have a rather rich, vivid and highly detailed fantasy life where money is no object and I live in an oasis of endless supplies. Sadly I have yet to find the mythical Garden of Arts and Crafts where rhinestones grow on trees and the rivers run with silk damask. In an effort to turn my one woman craft fair into a business I've had to pare away at all that I can do and get down to a single theme that still is multifaceted enough so that I've got the diversity to keep me interested.

Peacock Feather Large Fascinator

I think I have done that with my Mardi Gras theme. Most people don't realize, unless they live near New Orleans or Mobile (by the way, Mobile is home to the oldest Mardi Gras in North America and was celebrating Carnival before New Orleans was even a city), that Mardi Gras is a year round event. The balls and the parades are what most people see, but there are countless events all year long leading up to the grand explosion of irreverent glitz and glamor on Fat Tuesday.

A lady needs a mask for the ball, but she's also going to need a fancy hat or fascinator for the garden tea that happens six months before the ball. Mardi Gras also is one of the few places where costume and fashion are expected to mix and so I can let my imagination run wild.

That sounds like a place I need to visit.  There aren't enough fancy hats and fantasy where I live. What’s your favorite thing you’ve made?
Usually it is whatever I'm working on at the time. Every mistake I've learned from and every skill I've mastered goes into the next thing. So whatever I'm currently working on is the culmination of all that I have done or the beginning of a new skill. Right this hot minute I'm focusing on adding veiling to my line of feather fascinators and cocktail hats. While I have every intention of creating classic looks, I also want to push it so that I'm doing something that is unique, but in a good way. Unique in a good way is harder than it looks.

White and Purple Feather Fascinator

You live in a small town, way deep in the South.  From where do you take inspiration?
Any where and every where I can get it. But, for the most part nature, specifically the flora.

Name one piece of art you wish you’d created and why?
Anything wildly commercially popular with a big fat copyright and trademark on it. Oh that I owned Mickey Mouse, then perhaps I could finance the expedition to find the Garden of Arts and Crafts.

You could probably finance expeditions for the entire crafting community of Demepolis then.  What are you doing when you’re not crafting?
Mostly when I'm not crafting I'm doing something horribly mundane, tedious drudgery and the like. Occasionally I have the good fortune to have time to read a good book.

If you had to give up your medium and pursue another, what would it be and why?
Hands down, ceramics. I do some sculpting in paper mache and the process is so joyful. It is like magic and conjuring forth something from almost nothing. Fired ceramics have such permanence to them and they function in ways that other mediums do not. No matter how well I sculpt in paper clay a paper vase will never hold water. Ceramics offers a way to use art in every day ways that other mediums just can't. I'm currently plotting to procure a kiln in the foreseeable future.

Tell us about a time you were making something that came out better than expected and how it happened.
I am the queen of "happy accidents" so there are far too many times that something turned out better than I thought it would.

Green Swirls Venetian Mardi Gras Mask

Who is one person living or dead, famous or not, who you wish owned one of your creations and why?
I wish my sainted grandmother, whose been gone 10 years now, could have one of my hats. She came of age during a time that ladies still wore hats. In fact, for most of her life she wouldn't have been caught dead at the grocery store without a hat on. I didn't get into millinery until a few years after she past away. I would love to be able to take my Grandmother to a ladies' lunch sporting hats that I made.

How would you explain how to do what you do to an eight year old?
I've taught a few classes in various mediums to a range of ages. I think that the simplest explanation is that no matter what you are making, it's all a trick. You just have to know the trick and when to use it.

What’s your favorite part of the process?
The "ta-da" moment when I'm done.

One random thing you think people should know.
That our ability to accessorize is what separates us from the animals.

Jester King Mardi Gras Mask

Your shop address/facebook/Twitter/blog/website. Etc.

And, of course, the final question, which is usually the most interesting. What did you want to be when you were ten?
From my earliest memories right up until the age of 10 I wanted to be a florist, because heaven was working with flowers all day. At the ripe old age of 10 I saw a TV movie about Downs Syndrome children and how their condition was caused by an extra chromosome. I decided then and there that I would be a doctor and learn how to sew the extra chromosome back to the others and cure Downs Syndrome. I later realized that being a doctor requires a lot of time spent with sick people and their bodily fluids. I further realized that I was far too prissy for that, no matter how noble the idea.

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