Knit to This
Sara Berman’s Closet
I’ve written of my interest in orderliness (often unfulfilled), and of organizing closets in particular. Dealing with stuff, and thinking about times when there was not so much stuff to deal with, has been a frequent topic of rumination for me.
I have detailed, comforting memories of my grandmother’s bedroom closet. So much space between the few garments she owned, so tidy, and with a smell of soap. Her dresser drawers, in which the yellowed lining paper was visible between the neat stacks of underthings.
Once, when she allowed me to go rooting in those dresser drawers, I found a photo of a dashing man under the lining paper. I asked her about it, and learned, with wide eyes, that Grandma had had a first husband who looked like a movie star (and also that he was not a good man). Another time, I unwrapped a mysterious bundle in the bottom drawer and found a desiccated kid-leather doll from Grandma’s childhood, naked and mummy-like, with a china bisque head. That doll still occasionally surfaces in a bad dream, but I cherish the memory as an ever-fresh, piercing connection to the past.
My sewing circle sister Maira Kalman, known to readers of this site as a prolific knitter of One-Piece Baby Kimonos for her granddaughter, and known to the world for her brilliant writing and painting, has collaborated with her son Alex Kalman to present an unusual work of art: they have reconstituted their mother/grandmother Sara Berman’s Greenwich Village closet in the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum, right next to the dressing room of the wife of an 1880s industrialist.
One closet: two videos. Up top is a video by the Met, which notes that Sara’s notebook contained knitting patterns for the sweaters she made for the family dog, Pete. (Sara was afraid of Pete, but nevertheless, she knit him lovely sweaters.) The New Yorker magazine also made a very beautiful video about the exhibit, which uses photographs to echo Maira’s style of visual storytelling.
Also, Judith Thurman wrote this piece on The New Yorker’s blog.
When anybody mocks me for my passion for closet-organizing, I will present Sara Berman’s Closet in my defense. The way we treat the simple objects of our everyday existence can express a great deal.
Sara Berman’s Closet will be at the Metropolitan Museum through September 5, 2017. Go see it if you can.
Arabella Worsham’s dressing room (1882) is in the next gallery over. It’s not bad, either.