Modern Threads: Fashion and Art by Mariska Karasz is the first exhibition on fashion designer and fiber artist Mariska Karasz in nearly 40 years and will be on view at the Georgia Museum of Art until April 15.
Karasz (1898-1960) began her career as a designer of modern clothing for women in the 1920s and for children in the 1930s. After World War II, during the rise of American Studio Craft and Abstract Expressionism as art movements, she began working with fibers as an artist, creating abstract embroidered wall hangings.
“Karasz’s work existed in both the realms of fine art and household craft, both the gendered domestic spaces of the home and the privileged space of the gallery,” said Ashley Callahan, the Georgia Museum of Art’s curator of decorative arts.
Karasz exhibited her embroideries in museums and galleries across the country, in more than 60 solo exhibitions during the 1950s. She also authored the book Adventures in Stitches: A New Art of Embroidery in 1949 and worked as guest needlework editor at House Beautiful in 1952-53, introducing artistic embroidery to a vast domestic audience. She is credited with encouraging a revival of needlework in America and initiating a creative approach to the field.
Karasz was born in Budapest, Hungary, and first learned to work with needle and thread as a young girl. When she arrived in New York in 1914, she developed her skills as a dressmaker and established a reputation as a designer and maker of fine clothing, first for women and then for children.
The women’s clothing she designed in her small custom studio incorporated traditional embroidery from Hungary and modern appliqués, similar to Henri Matisse’s cutouts, of abstract designs and stylized, natural motifs, often inspired by the folk arts of her native country.
She began creating modern clothing for children soon after the birth of the first of her two daughters in the early 1930s. In these designs she emphasized washable and durable materials constructed to allow unrestricted movement and facilitate children dressing themselves. In the mid-1940s, after a divorce, a studio fire and World War II, Karasz consciously reinvented her career. While still using her chosen medium, she approached textiles in a manner more closely related to a fine arts tradition, creating embroidered wall hangings.
Her earliest embroidered pictures are representational images—portraits, landscapes, still lifes—while her later works quickly evolved into a more sophisticated, often playful, abstract style, similar in spirit to Paul Klee’s paintings.