Chicago fashion designer Maria Pinto has partnered with the Field Museum to display her own designs alongside the museum's own artifacts. | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times Media
‘FASHION AND THE FIELD MUSEUM COLLECTION: MARIA PINTO’
◆ Sept. 14-June 16, with museum hours of 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily (except Christmas)
◆ The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
◆ Basic museum admission, $15 for adults, $12 for ages 65 and older and students with valid identification,
$10 for ages 3-11
◆ (312) 922-9410; fieldmuseum.org
Updated: October 15, 2012 9:18AM
“Museums have always been part of my respite,” fashion designer Maria Pinto said while walking to the Field Museum’s conservation laboratory, where items are examined, documented, photographed and prepared.
These days, museums are also part of her resume. Opening Sept. 14, the exhibit “Fashion and the Field Museum Collection: Maria Pinto” features 25 Field Museum artifacts alongside eight of Pinto’s designs.
The exhibition grew out of a lecture in 2010.
Alaka Wali, the museum’s John Nuveen curator and director of the Center for Cultural Understanding and Change, approached Pinto about speaking to the women’s board.
The discussion featured Pinto’s designs alongside body-related museum artifacts — chosen by Pinto not because of any scientific reasoning, but simply because each inspired her.
The discussion was a success and spurred Wali to work toward something more permanent.
Two years later, Pinto heads inside the conservation laboratory to inspect artifacts before they get installed in her exhibit.
She gestures to details on a Sudanese ceremonial sword, its baby crocodile case sheathing the weapon as if swallowing it from blade tip to handle.
Pinto plans to display the sword alongside a crocodile-skin armor vest from Cameroon, an ancient Japanese gauntlet and a hippo-skin shield from Ethiopia.
“We’re spoiled as designers these days,” Pinto said about readily available materials, “but these cultures used what they had, and created such beauty.”
Pinto said she took great pains in choosing each piece in the show.
She dug through the museum’s collections — all securely stored in a giant vault — and photographed items she enjoyed.
As part of her editing process, she storyboarded them like a fashion collection.
“If it was up to me, we’d have 300 pieces,” Pinto said, her chestnut eyes lighting up.
“Editing was so hard. I can’t always explain what I chose. It was subconscious.”
The armor display will also contain one of Pinto’s creations — a deep emerald green alpaca jacket with horn buttons from her fall 2009 collection.
The coat to a women’s suit, the jacket emulates a cavalry frock with buttons stacked in a long, precise vertical row.
“I’ve always considered what we wear as a kind of armor,” Pinto said. “Because of that I’m attracted to things that are literally armor.”
“The craftsmanship in Maria’s work is amazing, even under a microscope,” said conservationist Shelley Paine, who inspects each object and keeps it safe while on display for 10 long months.
“We all have that piece [of Pinto’s] we want to run away with,” she added with a grin.
While Pinto’s work is a natural fit for the history museum, the exhibition style is wholly unique.
“I wanted music that takes [the artifacts] out of the context of history,” Pinto said, “contemporary but not clubby.”
Add dramatic dim lighting (also a
necessity due to the light-sensitive artifacts) and a veritable fashion show emerges.
There are seven groupings of wearable items, including two cases of accessories, top gray custom mounts (“white is too clinical,” Pinto said).
Compelling objects include a seal-intestine raincoat (“you want to wear it,” Pinto said) and a Brazilian ensemble made from bark.
There is also Pinto’s shearling pants displayed next to shearling Inuit hot pants.
There’s an artifact from every content except Europe, and many are on display for the first time.
As for what Pinto hopes viewers get out of it: “I want them to say ‘This is very different from what I’ve seen at the Field.’ ” And, markedly, from the fashion world.
“Fashion is over after you do it. At the end of the day it’s done. You move on. You can’t move on fast enough.” Pinto said with relief. “This is different.”
Madeline Nusser is a local freelance writer.