The way that people influence their surroundings through art and design is a fascinating lens through which to view culture and history. Visual arts, including architecture, illustrate how cultures meld and shape one another’s histories and values as they come in contact. Pattern making, in particular, is found in every culture as a way of recording and making sense of the patterns of life. This project seeks to highlight the interconnectedness of cultures by examining the history and cultures of three European countries through the lens of pattern design. Field research was conducted in Italy, Romania, Spain by visiting museums, natural and historic sites, talking with locals, and examining art and architectural styles through sketching, photography, and a series of memoirs. The culmination of this project is a line of coordinating, but distinct, wallcovering designs that represent each of the three countries. The collection illustrates the individual yet interconnected natures of these countries, emphasizing the beauty of being distinct yet connected.
Watercolor Study - Boats
“All that glisters is not gold” (Shakespeare, 1600). Wandering the maze of streets and canals this quote came to mind. Certainly the city didn’t glitter. The buildings were old and crumbling but still possessed a sort of dignity. The canal water was murky and dull but had a distinct light green tint I had never seen before in water. I had heard from a lot of people that Venice was a bit of a let down. I heard it was dirty and smelly and not worth my time. I still went though. I went with the hope of finding a city of unpolished gold. What I found was iridescent hand-blown glass, colorful hand-marbled papers, passionate craftspeople, charming accordion music echoing through the alleys and streets that weren’t even streets. The idea of canals as roads captivated me. It made me feel like I was in another world, one that still had a little mystery and magic. It seemed as if book characters and not mere people were walking the streets. I felt like I was strolling through some grand story in the telling.
Watercolor Study - Ripples
As I approached this first pattern, I was inspired by the rippling patterns of glass and paper.Venetian hand-blown glass and marbled papers have been coveted commodities for centuries. Talking to craftspeople, I was impressed by how directly these peoples’ lives were shaped by design. The businesses are generally passed down from father to son. Each family’s trade shapes the life of the new generation before it is even born. All time is spent mastering the craft, and one’s very existence is tied to the art.
Italy - Full Repeat
This pattern highlights the beautiful rippling waters of Venice punctuated every now and then by a gondola. The organic shapes provide a subtle sense of movement, while the contrasting linear shapes of the boats add interest. Together with the historical texture, subtle hues, and unusual view, the pattern creates a sense of spontaneity and mystery. It invites viewers to step in and take a closer look.
“A color, a texture, or a pattern can become very personal, like a Proustian key to a place in one’s memory” (Hicks, 2010, 13). This project became just as much a study of how these cultures affected me and my design as it was an exploration of the cultures themselves. Writing memoirs played a key role in design development because they allowed me to pinpoint the places and patterns that elicited the greatest emotional response. By writing experiences into a story, and romanticizing them just a bit, I’ve found that it allows me to identify the keys that unlock meaningful memories. The descriptions of each country are a combination of traditional research, field observations, and my own personal impressions. The intent is to provide background information on each country and then paint a picture of how the patterns of a culture influenced the view of an individual and how they were then translated into new patterns with lives of their own.
Watercolor Study - Trees
Romania was the first foreign country I visited. Before I left, I knew it as little more than the land of vampires, gypsies, and where Charlie Weasley studies dragons. In the cities, I discovered a country deeply scarred by Communism, a people suspicious of strangers, and a culture still heavily influenced by tradition. Despite Westernizing influences, Romania has incredibly deep-rooted pagan traditions that are still practiced today. Folklore and superstition are still a large part of many rural Romanians’ daily lives (Hitchens, 2017). Rituals of driving away evil spirits, divining the future, and inviting blessings from good fairies are still practiced if not out of belief, for the sake of tradition. I remember one particular car ride through the mountains of Transylvania, passing fur-clad shepherds with their flocks, gypsy camps, tiny villages that looked straight out of a storybook, all the while hearing the howling of wolves. I felt that this place was still wild and untamed. It was full of mystery. It felt like fairytale stories could be taking place just beyond the misty trees I was zooming by.
Watercolor Study - Dancing Bears
On a sultry summer evening, a friend and I were walking to the town square. Faint music could be heard from the direction we were heading. Upon arrival, we discovered a craft market had been set up on the cobbled streets in front of the palace. Men and women dressed in the traditional garb of their region sold brightly-colored odds and ends. Girls in white dresses wearing crowns of yellow flowers danced among the crowd. Performers dressed as creatures from folk legends tiptoed on stilts through the hoards of people. It was summer solstice and the fairies had come to town. Out in the country, or la tara, many Romanians live simply and some still practice traditional folk arts that have been passed down for generations. On special occasions, they will dress up in traditional Romanian costume. Around holidays, people will come from la tara to the towns to sell their wares at markets called targs. Craftsmen create intricately patterned stoneware, delicately carved wooden dishes and boxes, meticulously embroidered cloth goods, and hand-made masks. Romania is still very regionally distinct between the areas of Transylvania, Walachia, Moldova, Banat, Maramures, and Dobrogea. Those divisions can be seen in the different patterns and colors used in folk arts (Hitchens, 2017). Much like the Scots and their tartans, different patterns represent a different regional heritage. The patterns are a way of communicating one’s place in the world.
Romania - Full Repeat
The overall design of this pattern is defined by the trees while a closer look reveals the creatures within. Each scene is inspired by a Romanian folktale or song. The effect is a light and airy forest scene with bits of stories woven between the trunks. The varying shades of green help add depth to the pattern despite the white background. The soothing repetition of trees is a nice contrast to the mysterious characters hiding amongst them.
Spain - Day
Fritjof Capra, an Austrian-American physicist once said, “. . . understanding of life begins with the understanding of patterns” (Capra & Luisi, 2014, p. 94). Although he was speaking with regard to physics, this statement holds true when applied to the relationship between culture and design. Understanding patterns, both figurative and literal, can help one see how humanity fits itself into the fabric of the world. Life operates in ebbs and flows, undulating patterns that often go unnoticed. A pattern is a natural or orchestrated repetition of elements. There are infinite types of patterns. Patterns in time, events, sound, behavior, objects, and nature. For those who have an eye tuned to the patterns of the everyday, existence takes on deeper meaning as they attempt to replicate and abstract those patterns (Hicks, 2010, p. 14). It gives one a sense of place and meaning. Throughout history, man has made visual patterns to explain the patterns constantly occurring around us. Pattern making has long been a way of conveying meaning (Gordon, 2011). From the tombs of the Egyptians, to the tattoos of the Maori, to the temples of the Romans, to the tapestries of Europe, to the mosaics of the Middle East, to American pop-art, pattern making plays a role in every culture. They are used to record religion, genealogies, seasons, moon phases, histories, politics, superstition, hopes, beliefs and values (Gordon, 2011, pp.202-245). Man-made patterns document and give context to the patterns of life.
Watercolor Study - Orange Sprig
When I remember Spain, the tangy taste of oranges always comes to my lips. One of my first interactions with this country came while living in Romania. In the winter, grocery stores would have crates upon crates of Spanish oranges still on the branches. They were a bright bit of warmth to an American struggling to survive the frigid Romanian winter. My first visit to Spain was in the winter. Orange season. We spent the majority of our time in the south exploring streets lined with mandarin trees and driving past orange orchards on our way to cliff-top castles. I still miss the freshly squeezed orange juice served at every café. Although my association of Spain with oranges may seem extreme, many landscape architects will also think of oranges when they think of the Iberian Peninsula. The Patio de los Naranjos, is a courtyard filled with 98 orange trees that dates back to Moorish times. The garden is known for its ingenious irrigation system and perfect, striking simplicity of the regimented lines of orange trees. One architect friend of mine described it as the most beautiful garden he had ever seen.
Watercolor Study - Buildings
Before visiting Spain, I used to associate red with the country famous for its bull fights. However, now after exploring bits of this Mediterranean region, I think of blue. The reason is a little town near Alicante called Altea. This collection of houses is known for its whitewashed walls, blue roofs and doors, winding streets and hilly terrain. This is the place that made me love Spain. One of the things that delighted me most about the town was the array of blue-painted tiles that seemed to randomly dot the streets and walls. These tiles known as Azulejos, are a painted tin-glazed ceramic tile used in Spain and Portugal. Although they are decorative, they serve the functional purpose of temperature control. The word is derived from the Arabic zellige meaning “polished stone.” Arabic influences can be seen in azulejos in their geometric and vegetal patterns. The style and pattern can be used to indicate the age of a building mapping cultural values and historic events. It was the blue of these tiles that inspired the color scheme of this pattern.
Spain - Day - Full Repeat
To play off Spain’s nocturnal habits there are two versions of this pattern. One to represent the daytime and one to represent the night. This has a light, sunny, energizing feel that is reminiscent of the sparky tang of oranges. The scene creates the sense of peeking through the branches of orange trees toward the beautiful city beyond.
Spain - Night - Full Repeat
This pattern has a moodier feel. The deep blue background contrasts strongly emphasizing the white buildings that were just a subtle hint in the previous pattern. The town represented is Altea, a city in the south of Spain known for its whitewashed buildings, blue roofs and doors, and winding cobbled streets. This pattern evokes the feeling of wandering Mediterranean streets in the moonlight, the scent of citrus heavy in the air and a warm breeze whispering through the leaves of orange trees.
Spain - Night
The visiting of the three countries provided insights on the interrelated nature of their cultures and design as well as their connections with each other. It illustrated how people and design influence one another. Not only did this study reveal insights on the macro scale of entire cultures and their designs, but it also showed on the micro level of how a culture can influence the work of a single individual. The observation of people, places and things revealed patterns that I could then translate into patterns of my own. The wall covering patterns ended up encapsulating many things. Pieces of history, art, folklore, botany, and my own personal impressions are all tied up and stored within those patterns. They are a visible evidence of how pattern is used to record meaning.