Something to STRUTT about

Something to STRUTT about
St. Catharines Standard

“Good thing I brought my drill.”

Fonthill’s Sherry Wilkinson rifled through a reusable shopping bag looking for her tools.

We had just pilfered an armful of used hardback notebooks from a reporter’s desk in The Standard newsroom and Wilkinson decided they would fit perfectly together to make a belt.

My job? Drill holes in all four corners of each book so we could lock them together with wire.

While Wilkinson armed her sewing machine with an industrial needle, I revved the drill motor and prayed the holes would be limited to paper – not the table, or more likely, my finger.

STRUTT, the annual wearable art show in St. Catharines, takes place Nov. 19 at the WS Tyler building. The event has entered its 12th year and features a fashion show of wearable art, aerial artists, hip-hop dancers and a live band. This year, organizers are encouraging attendees to make and model their own wearable masterpieces.

“This is a celebration of the absurd,” said Stephen Remus, director of the Niagara Artists Centre. “We want everyone who is at STRUTT to be part of STRUTT. To be part of the absurd.”

Which begged the question: How difficult could it be to whip up an art ensemble?

I am decidedly unskilled in the visual arts (couldn’t sketch a stick man to save my hide) so I enlisted Wilkinson’s help to conceive of and create a piece for QMI Agency reporter Grant LaFleche. He’ll sashay down the catwalk in our creation on Saturday.

We had a subject. Next, we needed a concept.

“It has to be something truly original and unique,” said Wilkinson as she strolled through the newsroom, peeking under desks for interesting material. “And it has to have a purpose – to entertain, educate or pose questions.”

Wilkinson has perfected the wearable art formula. The artist, high school teacher and sewing machine maven from Fonthill, has created pieces for STRUTT for five years and helps her art design students at E. L. Crossley Secondary School create submissions for the show. This year, two of her pieces – Drag Queen and Para Daia – will be featured in STRUTT.

Drag Queen is a saucy mini skirt and belly shirt fashioned from cigarettes.

“We’re going to have a man wear that one,” she laughed.

Para Daia is slightly more intellectual. Wilkinson used a green parachute to create a woman’s evening gown.

“The name comes from the theory that everything in the universe will fall into cyclical events,” she said. “The spheres work together and perpetuate for survival.”

Our idea proved much less cerebral.

Wilkinson usually spends 35 to 40 hours on one creation. We had four hours.

“It’s amazing what you can create by cutting stuff apart,” she said, picking up a stack of phone books.

The newsroom didn’t provide many items suitable to be scissored – with the exception of newspapers, of course.

“Newspaper clothing is so overdone,” she said.

So we used the yellow pages instead.

Our concept: a notebook slinging reporter with a phone book page trench coat, notebook belt (complete with holster and pen) and a fedora constructed with Tim Hortons coffee cups.

Wilkinson settled behind her sewing machine and began stitching the phone book pages together with black thread.

“Anything can be sewn,” she said when I balked at the idea of putting needle and thread to paper. “It’s all about the needle.”

I took to piecing together a fedora out of a dozen used, and washed, Tim Hortons coffee cups. Wilkinson cut slits in the paper to achieve the curved rim before I returned to my desk, armed with the flattened cups, newspaper strips, a glue gun and two rolls of duct tape.

I felt like a renegade kindergartner ready to get crafty.

Wilkinson started creating art at a young age but didn’t experiment with three-dimensional works until she was a student at Brock University. Some professors pushed Wilkinson to broaden her mediums.

“So I got angry and started working with three-dimensional artwork,” she smiled. “I love it.”

Now, Wilkinson encourages her own students – who she speaks about with visible pride – to think carefully about what they’re creating. Eight of them submitted a piece to STRUTT and one was accepted.

“Introducing wearable art is a great way to introduce marketing and how we cloak ourselves to conform,” she said, folding a corner of yellow paper into a lapel. “It encourages them to push beyond commercial fashion.”

STRUTT is certainly one way to avoid the commercial.

Some of this year’s pieces offer cheeky interpretations of commercial items, others require audience participation and some provide commentary on the mundane.

One, titled Domestika Warrior Princess, features a woman’s outfit made from domestic items and includes crayon bracelets and a sword made from a spatula.

“What’s fun about that is you have big celebrational moments but then you can take it down and have these slow and special moments,” said the show’s artistic director Deanna Jones. This is the first year a live band will provide the soundtrack for the runway performance. “It’s going to be a wild party with the fashion show as the main (event).”

Last year, STRUTT sold out and organizers had to turn people away. But now, they’re prepared with a 35,000-sq.-ft. factory space.

“I remember when it was in the old NAC building. It was small and we didn’t have lighting,” laughed Wilkinson. “There was a couple who wore only leaves and they painted their bodies green. It has become much more intelligent.”

More thoughtful perhaps, but still off the wall – if the scheduled stilt walkers, roller girls and the Standard’s notebook-toting paper trench-coated reporter has anything to say about it.

Back in the Standard newsroom, the four hour allotted time had crept to a six-hour sewing, duct taping and glue gunning marathon.

I peeled dried hot glue off my hands and Wilkinson leaned back in her chair as our model Grant stood in a Michelin man pose, his yellow paper trench coat crackling with each muscle movement. The arms will be attached on Saturday, while the coat is on, to avoid tearing the fragile fabric.

“Best we could do in a few hours,” Wilkinson shook her head and chuckled.

Creating a magnificent wearable art piece wasn’t nearly as easy as I expected, but the most difficult part is still to come: Making it down the runway in one piece.