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Paula Streeter

Author: Heather Sauer | Image: Heather Sauer

“Empty Dresses,” a series of mixed-media artworks by Paula Streeter, a lecturer in art and visual culture at Iowa State University, is featured in New Letters Magazine, Vol. 84, No. 1, Fall 2017 (published in January 2018). This award-winning publication is the oldest literary magazine in the United States. The Fall 2017 issue includes eight of Streeter’s images on pages 49-56 and one on the cover — “Bruised” (colored pencil on toned paper, Empty Dresses: Handled, 2016). It also features an essay by Streeter, “Empty Dresses: An Introduction to the Art,” on page 47.

Streeter received an Iowa Arts Council Project Grant to develop “Empty Dresses,” which currently encompasses three series of two-dimensional representations of dresses that are symbolic of those worn by significant women in Iowa’s history. Each is executed in a different or combinations of handmade historic media including egg tempera, milk-based paint, encaustic, metal point, charcoal and tannin inks. Each piece represents a life-sized image of a dress from a different era, culture and/or significant event or individual from Iowa history.

The three series are titled “Empty Dresses: Childhood Lost,” “Empty Dresses: Handled” and “Empty Dresses: Historic Media.” The project is intended to reintroduce or, in many cases, introduce historic media as safe, relatively economical and environmentally friendly alternatives to making that nurture a sense of total creativity. Consideration has been given not only to rendering the materials, styles and details but also to light the form to contribute to each narrative and go beyond the physical representation of clothing to signify the courage, challenges and conquests of the women to whom they pay homage.

“Childhood Lost” is a series illustrating children’s dresses and experiences in charcoal, colored pencils, pastels, graphite and watercolor. “Handled” is a series depicting the hand engaged with the dress and executed primarily in color pencil and watercolor. “Historic Media” explores women in history as represented by their dress, rendered in egg tempera, metal point, encaustic, handmade inks and charcoals.