Last week, The Field Museum unveiled its newest exhibition. Design for a Living World features the work of 10 internationally known designers who were tasked with designing everyday items using sustainable materials.
Designer Paulina Reyes points out some of the remarkable features of a handbag she designed for The Nature Conservancy’s Design for a Living World exhibit.
“When you look at the bag on the inside, it curves to the shape of the handle,” she said. “So, it’s very clean on both sides.”
The Kate Spade designer traveled to Bolivia to work with three different raw materials produced by three separate communities, which she then used in her handbag creations.
The first of which involved a community of wood carvers in St. Ignacio. Reyes tasked the artisans with crafting the bag’s handles.
“Right now, a lot of the land has been sold to develop soybeans,” Reyes said. “So they’re really trying to keep the communities having some income from the forest. That’s why it was so important to create a product that utilized wood.”
For the body of the handbag, Reyes collaborated with a group of 30 women who worked with the Jipijapa palm tree.
“They don’t really have to cut the root to work with it. So, first they cut the Jipijapa with a machete,” she explained. “Then they boil it with lemon to bleach it and then they hang it to dry, and then after it’s dried white they pick some of the white Jipijapa and dye it with really bright colors.”
After the women taught Reyes to weave the material, she combined them with the hand-carved handles to create the finished Kate Spade bag.
“So, it was really just an amazing collaboration,” Reyes said.
The handbags she designed were just one of the products featured in the exhibit – which includes home décor, clothing and other items made using sustainable material.
“Really, Design for a Living World was developed to help people think about the products they use, where they come from, how they’re produced and what impact it might have on the planet,” said The Nature Conservancy Director Leslee Spraggins.
In total, The Nature Conservancy sent 10 designers to 10 places around the world to create projects that were not only sustainable environmentally, but economically and culturally as well.
Isaac Mizrahi designed a dress made from salmon leather for the project. When treated, the normally discarded salmon skin is extremely tough, flexible and eco-friendly.
Organizers say their goal for the exhibit is to showcase the collaboration between conservation and design, and hopefully inspire others to incorporate sustainable, eco-friendly objects into their everyday lives.
On display were giant knitting needles created by Dutch designer Christien Meindertsma, who worked on a project involving a flock of Panama sheep in Idaho.
“I made a really thick yarn out of the wool and with that yarn I knitted a modular rug,” remarked Meindertsma. “It’s like hexagonal pieces and they all have different stitches, as if you take a small piece from an area knitted sweater. So, the more sheep the bigger you can build the rug but you can still see the scale of one fleece.”
It took about 165 feet of the thick spun yarn to make the modular rug which Meindertsma knitted over the course of several months.
“These are 10 pieces. So, each piece is approximately what would come from one sheep’s fleece,” she explained.
And while the exhibit includes projects from all over the globe – from the southwest coast of Australia to the forests of China’s Yunnan Province – The Nature conservancy also wanted to include a design piece from Illinois.
Once again, designer Christien Meindertsma was tapped for the project which entailed making paper from pounds and pounds of some of Illinois’ plants from the Nachusa Grasslands.
“This is a book which is called 49 Prairie Plants and each page is made of one specific kind of plant,” Meindertsma said.
The plant names are laser cut out of the paper and all have different colors depending on the properties of the plant itself.
“So, if more people grew prairie they could cut it and make their own paper like Christine has done and we would have a local source for something that’s also very beautiful and helpful for the environment,” said Spraggins.
The exhibit, which made its debut at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York, is on its second stop here in Chicago at The Field Museum where it will be on display until mid-November.
For more information on the exhibit, click on the links below.