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821 Pacific Ave. Tacoma ,Washington

7/20/2017 interview by Lisa Kinoshita, party by Nicholas Nyland
MINKA: Hi Sheila, what’s the forecast in Edison today?
SHEILA KLEIN: Overcast and cold, 65.
M: 65 is cold? You’re getting jaded living part-time in Buenos Aires! How long does
it take to get to your studio?
SK: From my house, just a few steps.
M: What’s the view from your window?
SK: Long view. There are fields, mountains, and in the distance, islands. We don’t
see much built stuff. In BA [Buenos Aires], it’s the opposite.
M: You’re an artist who has had major commissions and exhibitions around the
world. But today, we’re talking about design on a more intimate scale, and your
clothing line, New Trade Route. How did you get into fashion?
SK: I have made things my whole life, and the range of my work has always been
multifaceted. I don’t make divisions between the areas I pursue. In terms of scale,
I have often said that I will make either a pillow or a planet! However, specifically
getting into fashion — I started out being interested in costume and theater. I made
parts of my clothes from the time I was very young, including ping pong ball ear-
rings, and eccentric outfits.
M: Nicholas [Minka co-owner Nicholas Nyland] and I first met you in the tiny, ridic-
ulously hip town of Edison, near La Conner, where we spotted you holding court one
day with great animation, on a street corner. You were (literally) having a sidewalk
sale of the most beautiful, simply constructed tunics and garments, all in the same
unbleached white, loosely woven cotton. They weren’t priced for a sidewalk sale, at
$150-275 each. But women were like moths drawn to the flame, they couldn’t get
enough, trying them on right there in the street. Tell us about these amazing pieces.
SK: First, the cloth: It’s made on the outskirts of Buenos Aries in small ateliers or fam-
ily-owned factories, on old looms from Europe. The structure of the fabric is basically
a knit, and it’s unique to Argentina as far as I know. It’s made for domestic use — tea
towels, cleaning, etc.; but while it’s made for a household purpose, I recognized it as
being amazing for clothing. Much of my work is about transformation; in this case,
I’m looking at this material in a fresh way, and playing up its characteristics in the
garments. I use the selvedges and the fringed edges as features, with zero waste.
M: Let’s talk about the place you most prefer selling your work, out on the street.
You pick a street corner in Edison (population: 133), lay the clothing on a bench or in
bins, and start bantering. It’s interactive...I was slow in deciding to try something on,
and you ordered me to take off my shirt and put it on over my sports bra! [laughs]
SK: Part of what I enjoy about this project is the intimate personal exchange be-
tween people and the performance of trying things on in the street. It’s meant to be
a performance. I spend a lot of time alone working, going many days without leav-
ing the farm, buzzing around between my studio, office, garden, etc. I love getting
dressed up and going to town – it’s social!
M: Please describe your portable “shop” on the main street of this little Western town.
SK: My portable setup is basic “vendadora ambulante” - it consists of baskets, a
blanket and a mirror. And, if I’m in a street other than Edison, a tarp. Being on the
street is a performance; it allows me to be a part of my community. It’s always a lit-
tle bit unnerving, exciting, even a little bit scary, even though I’ve been embraced by
this little village. I’ve been living in the area for 22 years, and as Edison has grown
and attracted the attention of many people, it’s been a really great way to be a part
of it. I feel as though I’m having office hours in my community; I’m very accessible.
Many people come and chat with me from the local community. So being there is
not just about selling; it’s also about public and private space, as I’m creating a new
space with my portable stage. I’ve always had a romance with the street and street
vendors; it’s probably something deep in my soul.
M: There’s an exuberant touch of the carney, of seduction, in your approach; seeing
who will go home with a purchase. By the way, your pieces look great on every body
shape - men as well as women.
SK: I love the fact that these pieces can be worn by a range of people, casually or
dressily. In fact, one of them is called All Day Gown. You can go shopping, go to a
party, go to the beach, and then take off your underwear and sleep in it — the best
nightgown you’ll ever have! The pieces can be preppy, hippy, fashionista, nautical
or elegant, and people make them their own. They are great for layering. They are
exceedingly comfortable, and durable.
M: It’s true. And the clean lines make a great backdrop for big jewelry and acces-
sories. I love the fabric, which is slightly clingy; it is so lightweight and functional, but
also as luxurious in its way as a waffle-weave spa robe. I wish you would make a
headwrap: some kind of scarf/turban/headband/bonnet that is stretchy and can be
worn a million ways.
You are selling your pieces now in the US and Latin America.
SK: The production is really small in both cases; if I have 100 pieces, it’s a lot. Every-
thing is made in the best possible way, and is garment-washed. It’s really great for
me to have a platform in Argentina and to contribute to the economy there.
M: Is there any connection between your large-scale artwork and your desire to
drape the human body? You have said of your work as a public artist: “Yes, I still
want to dress the world...I get interested in the interconnectedness of things...uncov-
ering the architectural underpinning of all objects.” Years ago, responding viscerally
to the monotony of the urban environment, you started decorating buildings with
larger-than-life jewelry. These gigantic adornments invest a feeling of humanity to
bland highrises, inviting the viewer to come close and connect.
“Traffic Necklace” is a monumental art installation you made using actual traffic
lights to represent blinking gems of emeralds, rubies and topaz. That piece adorned
the facade of the Aladdin Hotel, in Las Vegas. By wrapping the structure in the em-
brace of a necklace, you invigorated a spiritually exhausted environment while at the
same time acknowledging iconic Las Vegas personalities such as Liberace and Zsa
Zsa Gabor, all with great humor and bravado.
SK: I had the idea for making the traffic signal jewelry when I was living in L.A....I
had already made a ring, “Urband”, which was shown in Los Angeles, and so a
necklace was in order.
M: You are working on a public art project for Tacoma in the same vein, through the
Spaceworks program – a giant string of pearls that will drape an edifice in a gritty,
historic part of town, South Tacoma Way. So cool...
M: You have lived and worked around the world, yet chose to settle near Edison,
a rural town exactly halfway between Seattle and Vancouver, BC. How does the
isolation feed your creativity?
SK: I initially lived in this area in the 1970s, and have many friends from that time-
frame here. Living here and in Buenos Aries is the perfect combination; I love the
dirt of the earth and the grit of the street.