If two heads are better than one, then four sets of hands are doubly so. When the pressure is on and a museum is awaiting your results, then they’re heaven-sent.
“We did six months’ worth of work in about six weeks. We were working right up until the day we installed it,” Rachel Wright said. “It is exquisitely crafted but it is a lot of late nights and long, long weekend hours.”
The frenetic foursome unveiled their labor’s fruit — a pair of hers and his royal costumes of unique design that transcend artistic statement. They show the greater sum of creative collaboration’s parts.
Wright is an artist and art instructor at the University of South Alabama. Her website lists her cities of exhibition as New York (including the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum (Smithsonian Institution), Chicago, New Orleans, Mobile, Pensacola, Birmingham, Charleston and Panama City, Fla.
Wright’s work is primarily sculptural and employs a variety of media such as glass, clay, iron, wood and wax. But it’s her astounding fabric work that no doubt prompted a call from Mobile multimedia artist Lillian McKinney earlier in 2014.
“Lillian contacted me saying she and John Ross Thomas had been asked to do something for the Mardi Gras exhibit at the [Mobile] Museum of Art, then John Ross moved away and she wanted assistance,” Wright said. The duo widened the lasso.
They contacted Jillian Crochet. Her massive knit heart at 2014’s Temporal City Festival was exactly that to the show, overpowering and vital.
“Jillian put in probably more work than anybody on this project. She’s a trooper, man. She is hardcore,” Wright said.
Adrian Vaughn was also invited to take part. The University of South Alabama student, who is studying theater, hair and make-up brought a lot of figurative hats to the table.
“While we were working on the project she was in rehearsals for ‘Addams Family,’” Wright said. “She played Morticia and was amazing!”
They decided to centralize operations at Wright’s home studio/domestic cat habitat.
“We took over the studio, the dining room, the kitchen, the living room, the garage,” Wright said, “I think we had four sewing machines going at once.”
“And of course, one of my cats, Peanut, made it a point to lay on every single piece of fabric,” Wright laughed.
First came brainstorming. Then a pow-wow with drawn designs from each and a mixture of ideas.
“We were standing in this fabric store when Adrian told me this idea about the delta, this amazing map of the delta, the different colors of the water and how that could be the train,” Wright recalled. “That became completely different from our original design. It was very organic. It was a synergistic kind of thing and there was no way those pieces would have happened if any of the four of us had worked on it individually.”
A pre-Lenten experience proved an epiphany.
“I was just watching the cleanup crew and this huge mass of people and all these guys wearing these crazy, spacey orange vests with knee-high boots and the big street cleaners and I don’t know how many gallons and gallons of water just purging the streets,” Wright said. “I was fascinated with all that water and all that junk, the beads and the throws and the stuffed animals. So we started talking about water and catharsis and cleansing.”
Vaughn conjured the delta and water’s integral role to landscape and culture. Wright said “it all spilled out of that.”
The result was “Delta King of Detritus.” His collars are made from bristles plucked from the mechanized street sweepers, fastened in a harness by another collaborator, Matthew Patterson.
His majesty’s adornments include crawfish bags and old Mardi Gras beads. They even implemented historic documents.
“The two maps – the one on the queen’s train and the one on the king’s vest – they’re old maps of Mobile that we got from the History Museum of Mobile,” Wright said. “We went into their archives, dug through all of their maps and photographed them. A company printed them onto fabric.”
The queen’s bodice is made of white to-go cups. Spent paper bags make faux-leather limbs on her clothes. Her identity is arboreal.
“(Queen) Virginiana, the Latin name of the live oaks indigenous to this area, Quercus virginiana,” Wright said. “We liked the idea of the virgin tied into the white and the gold.”
Good art has risk, some in more literal sense. Perhaps the most perilous collaboration came late.
“The tree branches, my husband cut them down the night before,” Wright said. “He got up on the roof and then dragged those in.”