ALEXANDRA HART | West Sonoma County
On the outskirts of Sebastopol, weaver and embroiderer Alexandra Jacopetti Hart lives and works in a guesthouse overlooking a garden. The back room is her sewing studio, which is filled with hand-woven tapestries and embellished garments that transform the space into a shrine to texture and color spanning multiple decades. Alexandra began her craft back in the 1960s, first as a fiber artist in Berkeley, and then as a designer for Folkwear Patterns, a company she founded with friends Ann Wainwright Funsten and Barbara Garvey in the 1970s that produced iconic costume patterns for ethnic clothes. On her studio wall hangs a black, pink, and gold Afghan nomad dress with which she designed for Folkwear. Alexandra’s studio is layered with the history of her own art and craft.
At age 19, Alexandra moved from Utah to California to find people with similar creative interests. Well-versed in sewing, weaving, and embroidery, she integrated into artist communities in the Bay Area in the 1960s, including the Berkeley Experimental Arts Foundation. During that time, she felt that people were paving their own countercultural paths, regardless of social norms and expectations. To Alexandra, that life could be discovered intuitively rather than adhering to a set of rules mirrored the creative expression she found in freeform embroidery. When her partner Roland Jacopetti needed his jeans repaired, she patched them, embroidering the denim with bright colors and patterns. That hand-sewn, eclectic embroidery became an expressive and spontaneously generated art form that would come to represent the collective aesthetic sensibility of that era.
In 1973, Alexandra teamed up with photographer Jerry Wainwright to make a book that chronicled interesting fashions and styles. Together, they interviewed and photographed people who were "making the most interesting, embroidered expressions on ordinary items," coining the term "funk and flash" to describe the innovative, sometimes outrageous, idiosyncratic style of personal decor.
In 1973, she teamed up with photographer Jerry Wainwright to make a book that chronicled interesting fashions and styles. At the time, Jerry shot print media and rock-and-roll album covers, while Alexandra was working with weaving apprentices at the Baulines Craft Guild, which she helped start. Together, they interviewed and photographed people who were "making the most interesting, embroidered expressions on ordinary items," coining the term "funk and flash" to describe the innovative, sometimes outrageous, idiosyncratic style of personal decor. It was important to them to investigate not just the art itself, but also the way that it was manifest in ordinary lives. In 1974, they published the book Native Funk and Flash: An Emerging Folk Art, which sold out quickly and later became a cult favorite among the creative community. It has since been memorialized in several museum exhibits and art collections.
This quote from the first page of her book explains Alexandra's philosophy and desire to create the book. "This collection of contemporary folk art comes mainly from the San Francisco Bay area, but it is representative of a much more generalized return to home-decorated functional objects. It comes from my own point of view - as an observer of its emergence and development, as a folk artist, and as a participant in the culture from which it springs. Many of us have hungered for a cultural identity strong enough to produce our own version of the native costumes of Afghanistan or Guatemala, for a community life rich enough for us to need our own totems comparable to African or Native American masks and ritual objects. The native funk and flash in this book tell us something of that hunger and what we are doing to fill it, as well as something of the meaning of those artifacts from other places and times. My hope is to make the consciousness behind these folk expressions more understandable and accessible to others and to stimulate people to experience for themselves the joy and fulfillment of making their own art for themselves."
These days Alexandra still flashes on, embroidering occasional “power pieces" for friends. In a different kind of exploration, she recently co-published a book entitled Age of Actualization, which examines cultural attitudes toward aging. In it, she urges individuals to discover what it means to age on their own terms. Though the 60s have passed, it’s clear that the boldness that characterized Alexandra’s first foray into the Bay Area carries on, as she empowers others, both old and young, to rediscover what she calls “the threads we hold in the great tapestry of life."