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Love, Squared

Mon, 02/05/2024 - 14:34
A silk square that celebrates life, love, and art. Amy and John Wickersham, married for 42 years, recently collaborated to create a wearable piece of art that showcases a merger of their creative sensibilities.
Jaime Lopez

Fortunately, for harmony at the breakfast table, Amy and John Wickersham, Sag Harbor artists, were both selected to collaborate on a scarf-designing project. 

The married couple were chosen by Echo New York, a Manhattan-based, family-run manufacturer and marketer of fashion accessories that include scarves, bags, beachwear, and home designs. To celebrate the company's centennial it launched Echo100, an initiative that invited 100 creators from around the world to design silk scarves in tribute to Edgar and Theresa Hyman, who founded Echo Scarfs on Sept. 27, 1923, the day they were married. 

For each uniquely designed Echo100 scarf, only 100 pieces would be produced and sold for $195 each, of which $100 would be donated to a charity of the creator's choice.

"I thought this sounded like a great project," Ms. Wickersham said the other day, seated in her Sag Harbor living room, exuding a glamorous, fashion-forward vibe. Her husband sat off to one side in an armchair, mostly exuding the aura of a smiling and sweet-natured husband. 

"John and I thought we would try to bring together our two sensibilities. But, you know, it wasn't just to make a beautiful art object -- it was to make a wearable scarf. And that was a little bit challenging because some of the inclinations we both have, artistically, are not necessarily things that would translate to a wearable item." 

What are their artistic inclinations? 

Ms. Wickersham: "I would describe mine as process-driven abstract. I really love to work with different materials and put them together in ways that are seemingly inventive. So, I started using dyed silk and applying it to canvas, which felt like a new way of making paintings. Today, I'm making sculptures from Styrofoam. The overall theme is that I love to work with different materials and put them together in unexpected ways."

Mr. Wickersham: "Well, it's figurative, almost like photographs, if you will. I try to capture people at a moment's notice -- my impressions of them at a moment in time. So, it can be in an airport, the subway, or anywhere, really. If there's someone that stands out and I'm thinking about something when I see them, I do a pencil sketch very quickly and then later I transfer that to an iPad and then I go through this coloring process on the iPad and paint it."

To merge their divergent styles and produce a wearable work of art, one ground rule was quickly established. "I claimed the role of C.E.O. of the scarf project," Ms. Wickersham said, laughing.

"And I agreed with that," said her husband of 42 years. 

Of the two, Ms. Wickersham is the trained artist, having studied fine art at the University of Denver. After graduating, she returned home to Chicago and worked as a graphic designer. "Because I could actually get a job doing that," she said, but added that she always identified as a painter. 

The couple met in 1979, in Chicago, but moved to Kansas City, Mr. Wickersham's hometown, where he began a career in publishing. In 1990, the family, which by then included two young children, relocated to New York City, where Mr. Wickersham joined Bill Communications as the president and chief executive officer. Ms. Wickersham, meanwhile, pursued her art in earnest, participating in shows around the city and building her reputation. 

In 2013, they moved full time to Sag Harbor, where Ms. Wickersham paints in a sunlit backyard studio while her husband works remotely for a global investment bank and makes his art at the kitchen counter. They've collaborated on shows at the John Jermain Memorial Library, GeekHampton, and Folioeast pop-ups, but in their downtime they delight in being around their 2-year-old grandson, Cassius, who lives in Montauk with his mother, their daughter, the actor Emily Wickersham, and her partner.

It was during a particularly dull business meeting a few years ago, while Mr. Wickersham was listening to "this Scottish guy drone on and on," that he picked up a pencil and paper and began to sketch. "Rather than listen to him, I -- for the first time in my life, really, because I hadn't drawn anything before -- I started sketching him. And I thought, 'Oh, this isn't terrible. It's not so bad.' And that kind of exploded into . . . well, I have books, and books, and books of sketches." 

Today, his trove of sketchbooks is filled with doodles of observed figures at the library, or sitting by a swimming pool, at Guild Hall, at Nick and Toni's, or during a ferry ride. Mostly, he said, he is drawn to older people. "I like the way they dress, I think it's more surprising. And they have more wrinkles -- there's just more going on with older people, and I like that because my work is about imperfection."  

Well over a year ago, Echo New York contacted the couple, inviting them to collaborate on the scarf project. Artists from across the globe and the creative spectrum -- fine artists, a dancer, an actor, an illustrator, a calligrapher, a fashion journalist, a food writer, an entrepreneur, a "serial dreamer," a National Geographic photographer, and even a physician -- were chosen to create unique silk squares that would highlight each one's expressive statement. The release of each design was staggered, beginning late last year, with the Wickershams' creation becoming available on the Echo New York website on Jan. 16, in plenty of time for Valentine's Day. They have already sold over 30. 

The Wickershams chose The Church in Sag Harbor as their nonprofit of choice. "We thought The Church was particularly appropriate because it's related to art creation," Ms. Wickersham said of the multidisciplinary arts space, where she recently completed a residency. 

"We both know Eric [Fischl] and April [Gornik] and it's amazing what they've contributed to the community. So if we can do this little thing," Mr. Wickersham said, before his wife added, "If we can contribute in some way, it's a statement of appreciation. But, also, we're part of the community, so there's an element of taking responsibility -- to help in its preservation and continuation."

"So, if we can sell at least half our scarves, it's $5,000 to them. And if we sell out, it's $10,000," Mr. Wickersham said.

Their design process began by using a not-so-blank canvas: a piece of artwork created by Ms. Wickersham -- a rectangle of dyed silk squares on paper, which they resized to a 35-by-35-inch frame. Within a few of the colorful squares sit overlays of the artful doodles created by Mr. Wickersham, as well as a few by his wife. The line drawings are quirky renderings of people showcasing kooky hats or hairstyles, a few objects, and some animals. 

The result is an almost kitsch spin on the silk scarf, with a playful, uplifting hit of color and line-drawn fantasias. It's as though the most ladylike of fashion accessories from yesteryear had pinged back into fashion, looking utterly modern.

With the finished article draped across the living room sofa, the couple took turns pointing to the renderings scattered about, explaining their relevance. 

"This was a woman I saw at Guild Hall."

"This is our daughter's dog."

"The naked woman --" 

"Oh, that's me," Ms. Wickersham said, laughing. "And then I did this one, and this one, and this one."

Her husband perked up. "Which one?" 

"This one with the hair," she said, pointing to a female with a gravity-defying hairdo.

"No, hang on, honey, I did that one," Mr. Wickersham said, putting the record straight.

"Oh, right, right," said the scarf C.E.O. "You did do this one. Sorry about that, claiming your work."

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