Recently, on my way to a meeting at the Kaiser Center, I stopped in the
second-floor lobby to admire an art exhibit featuring works made by
K-12 kids using recycled materials.
“Re-create,” sponsored by the city of Oakland’s Public Works Department and curated by the Museum of Children’s Art, made me smile. Corks, plastic, fabric - so many discarded items came together in whimsical and creative ways.
Coincidentally, during the same week, I came across a photo of another work of recycled art and this one took my breath away.
It was a Golden Book Gown, made of those classic children’s books that made publishing history when they were first introduced in 1940. Affordable (at 25 cents) and durable (a new concept), Golden Books, published by Random House, were charmingly illustrated and an instant success. From “The Poky Little Puppy” to Mother Goose stories and fairy tales, more than two billion Little Golden Books have been read all over the world.
But Ryan Jude Novelline was unfamiliar with Golden Books when he was given an assignment as a junior at the Rhode Island School of Design. An illustration major, he wasn’t even in the fashion department when he was directed to create a work of fine art that could function as fashion. The use of traditional fabric was prohibited; the material had to be recycled.
At first, Novelline considered using paper dolls. Then his mother suggested the books that she herself had grown up with: Little Golden Books.
Novelline found Little Golden Books at a Salvation Army store and from a bookseller on eBay. He began experimenting, sewing four pages of books together to make sure they held together well enough. He sewed strips into panels and used the gold foil spine material for the bodice. Choosing to make a princess-style ball gown was the easy part. The construction was anything but: Novelline spent nine days doing the painstaking sewing. The result is a work of art that the American fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger has called “amazing.”
Because Novelline used duct tape to assemble the gown, it was heavy - and huge. He needed help moving it to the school, where it was displayed along with the works of other students. It didn’t fit into the elevator, but the dress finally made it to the stage and was shown on a model. Surprisingly, his teachers weren’t impressed.
“They weren’t expecting something like this,” Novelline said. “And they didn’t know how to categorize it.”
The gown was ultimately voted out of the final school show for the year. And that’s when the story gets interesting.
A photographer whom Novelline had asked to document the gown at the show didn’t come through with great shots. But while surfing the Internet, Novelline came across other photos taken by someone in the audience. For $50, he bought the rights. He sent one of the photos and a note to Random House. It then hit the social-media channels and in four months went viral. American news sites, those in Vietnam and Chile, Glamour Magazine in Italy ... they were all, well, enchanted by the Golden Book Gown.
“The level of interest just exploded,” Novelline said.
Now that Novelline has graduated from RISD, he’s planning his next creative move. He would tell me only that he’s working on another dress that will be different from the gown. It will, however, be made of a sustainable fabric with the lowest possible environmental impact. He hopes to develop a line of accessories to go with his new piece.
the meantime, Novelline has re-launched his website
(ryanjudenovelline.com). There you can see detailed photos of the
Golden Book Gown and other creations. And the Brazilian publisher
Editora Moderna will showcase his work in a book designed to
introduce children to the world of contemporary art.
Children getting turned on to appreciating and making art out of recycled materials? With more than 200 kids participating in the recent “Re-create” project, we can safely say that Oakland’s on it.