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Chi Lives: Dana Easter's material issues



Dana Easter's Hyde Park apartment looks like a museum. African masks and paintings cover just about every inch of available wall space; statues and sculptures sit in corners and on small tables. Near one corner of the room is a wooden CD rack, handmade and imported from Africa, and in another there's a magazine holder wrapped in brown leather and decorated with seashells and leather strips. At a glance it could be an African drum.

Most of the art objects are gifts collected and imported from Africa, but a few were made by Easter herself. She's been interested in art and clothing design since her childhood in Baltimore. Her father was a tailor, and her parents allowed her to attend classes at the Maryland Art Institute. But they didn't think of art as a worthwhile profession, so to please them Easter obtained a degree in business from Morgan State University and worked as an insurance underwriter for several years. Eventually, though, art took over her life as well as her apartment.

Weekend partying in New York is what started her career. She recalls that when she was living in Baltimore, she'd design and sew every week so she'd never have to appear in the same outfit twice. Friends noticed her clothes and she began to design for them.

In 1981 Easter's job transferred her to Chicago and she decided to take some textile courses at the School of the Art Institute. By '86 she had quit her insurance job and begun to make sculptures as well as clothing. She works with a variety of materials that she collects and keeps in a storage room. She throws nothing away and sees a creation in everything. She once made a six-foot-tall mummy from chicken wire and old strips of cloth she had lying around. In her apartment stands a black woman's torso that's got a distributor cap for a head and braids made of spark-plug wire. Its breasts axe covered by a strapless bra of small seashells, pearls, black beaded earrings, and an assortment of faux stones.

Most of Easter's clothing designs axe one of a kind, because she gets her fabric in tiny quantities from odd places. One of my favorite coats (I bought it from her) has sleeves made from curtain material that reminded Easter of the Ashanti tribe; the bodice is made from upholstery fabric that reminded her of African mud cloth. "There were only a few yards," she explains, so there's only one coat.

Easter shows her "Dana's Wearables"--an assortment of jumpers, dresses, coats, and jackets at her apartment/studio in Hyde Park. For an appointment call 288-4002.

--Barbara Newell

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Chip Williams.

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