The Making of the Crow King

Twitter has its uses. On June 5, I ran across a tweet from The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, announcing a design contest: “The Met’s 150 Years of Creating”. Voting opened today to the public and runs through August 12. Winners of the popular vote will be judge by a jury, and the winning entrant will have their design developed into products for The Met Museum Gift Shop in April 2020.

I am one of 190 entries. It’s the biggest contest I’ve ever entered and although I don’t expect to make it to the top ten, it’s a real feather in my cap just to be on The Met website. I hope you will VOTE for the Crow King!

The deadline for submission was in 6 days, so I spent an hour combing the manuscript collections and found three pieces, which I narrowed down to this one after learning its back story.

The Kalila wa-Dimna is a series of allegorical tales written in Sanskrit during the 4th century as a teaching tool for three young princes. It was translated it into Arabic 300 years later, in a style so lucid it is still considered a model of Arabic prose. Called Kalila and Dimna, after the two jackals who are the main characters, the book was written mainly for the instruction of civil servants. But it was so entertaining that it became popular with all classes. Arabs carried it to Spain, where it was translated into Old Spanish in the 13th century. In Italy it was one of the first books to appear after the invention of printing.

I was a storyteller once, with a fondness for 13th century history, and a traveler to both Spain and Italy, so this piece made an emotional connection with me. It reminded me of another allegory – the Monkey King from Journey to the West (a Chinese work). I find allegory to be not only amusing, but a powerful teaching tool as well.

http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/453116

Anyway … I cropped the folio and made a color copy for reference, and several black and white copies for templates. And, with time rapidly ticking down, I began.

At first, I was going to apply the birds in one piece, but I decided to apply them individually to get better spacing and more dimensional detail. The foliage lent itself well to individual ‘stalks’ as well, which wrap around the rest of the cuff.

As usual, I changed the materials several times, trying several wools before settling on a rust suede leather to mirror the background of the folio. At that point, I also decided to mount the Crow King to the crown of the hat rather than the cuff. And of course, all the materials are rescued from previously used clothing, and remnants from other costumers’ cutting room floors.

The birds are appliqued in leather which is padded to make them more dimensional, held in place with whip stitch which I covered over with couching. The leaves are ultrasuede and will become dimensional, as they will naturally curl at the edges with wearing. I added brass beads to the tips of the foliage and a gold wire crown to the King Crow, as points of difference from the original – to leave my mark on the piece rather than making a carbon copy of someone else’s work.

I finished the hat 4 days after starting it. Oddly, the very next day, as I was walking to work, I was buzzed by a crow in a part of town where I’d never seen crows. He buzzed me so close that his feathers brushed my hair, and then circled around and did it again! He landed on the closest lamp post and cawed at me until I was a block away. I’ll leave it up to those who read this, to offer their own interpretation of that event …

14 Comments on “The Making of the Crow King

  1. Oh this is wonderful! And yes, it’s an honor to be included but I certainly think you’re in the running!

  2. What a wonderful true story of the hat’s journey! And I’m sure the crow knew what you were doing. They’re very smart. Your workmanship and research are top-notch, and I hope you win!

    • The Crows Know : ) Thank you for your compliments and your vote. I’m just so appreciative of this opportunity to have my work seen by this broader audience, that winning is secondary.

  3. As always Heather, your work and research are amazing. You have my vote!

  4. Oh you’ve done it again! You’ve used your gifts so well! Thank you for sharing!

    • Thank you Kathleen! I hope you will share the post (and the chance to vote) with others! It’s not often we get to determine what will next show up at The Met’s Museum Gift Shop : )

  5. Stunning and practical ! You have my vote and my hopes that your hat will be in the Met Gift Shop 🙂

  6. Beautiful work. My son Hans shared this with me and I , in turn , have shared in hopes of generating many votes for you. xoxo

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