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Exhibitions and Events

Fashion-inspired exhibition at Matthaei Botanical Gardens features living dresses

By Joe Mooney

Artist Mary Mattingly pushing a sculpture of her personal belongings at the Port Newark Container Terminal. Photo courtesy ART21.

The University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens turns to the world of couture for inspiration for the holiday exhibition Avant Garden—Weaving Fashion and Nature Together.

Avant Garden explores the role of plants as the source of raw materials for textiles and the inspiration for fashion’s designs, colors and shapes. The exhibition will also highlight plants from Matthaei’s conservatory collection and their historical and cultural roles as they relate to cultivation, sustainability, textiles and dyes.

A highlight of the exhibition is a collection of six custom outfits created from plant materials such as ferns, succulents, bromeliads, moss, tree bark and others.

“We wanted to take the exhibition in a truly different and creative direction and challenge staff here to create costumes using only plant material,” said David Betz, the gardens’ visitor engagement manager.

Succulent cocktail dress. Courtesy the University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum

Succulent cocktail dress. Courtesy the University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum

As with all of the exhibitions at Matthaei, Betz says that Avant Garden “makes use of the amazing collection of plants we have right here in the conservatory.”

Avant Garden is the brainchild of Matthaei’s events coordinator, Allison Correll, who refined the concept for months before bringing it up at an exhibition brainstorm meeting.

“It’s a ‘Project Runway’ idea,” Correll said, “in the sense that we challenged ourselves to create the outfits from one set of materials—in this case plant materials only.” At the same time, she said, “it allowed us to highlight the long-standing but sometimes subtle role plants have in shaping our ideas of fashion. And that includes not just textiles made from plants but also colors, patterns and designs that the world of plants gives us.”

Complementing Avant Garden’s plant theme is “Nature by Design,” a display of community art in a variety of media including paintings, photographs, sculpture, ceramics and others. Family and kids’ activities are also planned throughout the exhibition.

Both exhibitions are free and open to the public from Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016, to Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017.  Matthaei Botanical Gardens located at 1800 Dixboro Rd. in Ann Arbor, and is open 10 a.m–4:30 p.m daily, with extended hours until 8p.m. on Wednesdays.

Matthaei Botanical Gardens will also host an artisans market 10-4:30 p.m. Sunday, December 4, where fine art and hand-crafted items will be for sale by local artists.


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