Friday, July 18, 2008

Sol Kent and his Sophisticated Needlework



As I was reading through the Fall 1994 issue of Veranda last night, I came across an article on the Atlanta home of the late Sol Kent.

Now, for those of you not familiar with Atlanta, Kent was the legendary fashion director of the late, great, and much missed Rich's department store. (You remember hometown department stores, don't you? Those stores that were owned by pillars of the local community? The ones that had clothing departments, book departments, bakeries and tearooms? The stores that were gobbled up by Federated and are now forced to wear the moniker "Macy's"? I thought you would remember!) Not only did Kent have an eye for fashion, he was a connoisseur of design and antiques as well.


He adored doing needlepoint, but homespun handiwork and corny canvases were not for he! In accordance with his polish and flair, Kent became proficient in creating geometric and graphic works of needle art. In fact, Kent avoided designs that had curves and round lines in them. His refined idiom included squares, rectangles, diamonds, and hexagons. Kent knew what he liked and he stuck with it for years.

Unfortunately, Kent is no longer with us, and I have always been disappointed that I never had the opportunity to purchase one of his pillows. I do remember many years ago when my mother told me about Kent and his passion for geometric needlework, and I believe this influenced my taste in needlepoint design. When I do find the time to engage in a little needlework, I seem to only work on geometric designs. These are the designs that speak to me, courtesy of Mr. Sol Kent.

(Image at top: A few of Sol Kent's canvases. Note how a few of the canvases feature a "XIX" and a "XI"- these are the nineteenth and eleventh letters in the alphabet, which are also Kent's initials.)




Kent's home was filled with his needlework. The framed canvas above the monkey sculpture was inspired by the work of artist Viktor Vasarely.


Here is a Kent creation which featured red accents.

(All images from Veranda, Fall 1994 ; photographer Cameron Wood)

23 comments:

  1. Thank you for the lovely post. He had an amazing talent. I love his pillows, surprisingly, because I am definitely a flower needlepoint pillow kind of girl.
    I also miss the local department store. Mine was Strawbridge's in Suburban Square. Even as a kid, we could walk to the store alone and buy a piece of chocolate candy or Monet bracelets or peds all in one stop.

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  2. Well, first I have to pause and say look at that leopard sofa and the seriously handsome home!

    I definitely remember when Kent would be in the paper every year, about this time, in conjunction with the fall fashion previews.

    He was definitely ahead of his time when we think of the Adler pillows -- although I'm sure I will offend some readers for making that comparison since Kent is lacking any kitsch and is so supremely elegant.

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  3. I generally hate needlepoint but adore these! His house is so chic! This is why you save old magazines: they feel like old friends with new surprises when you look back at them!

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  4. Marybeth- Is Strawbridge's now a Macy's?? Yes, almost everything you needed in one place. I should have mentioned that Dan Carithers, the prominent designer, used to be with Rich's Furniture/Antiques department!

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  5. Courtney- Remember the hubbub surrounding Fashionata? I think what makes Kent's geometrics a bit different is that they were subtle, esp. in his choice of colors.

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  6. BTC- I wish I could find canvases that were similar to Kent's designs. This is def. the type of needlepoint that I like.

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  7. Jennifer - I adore these, of course. The Studio, our needlepoint studio here in KC, has examples of geometric pillow some of which are stitched completely in cream colored wool. I'll snap an image for you the next time I'm there. Kent's home is so chic; you are lucky to have saved the pages.

    We are lucky enough to still have our local department store, Hall's, owned by the Hall family who also owns Hallmark. It's a treasure.

    Also, all the best needlepoint canvases are hand painted. Any good shop can have a canvas painted just to your design.

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  8. Patricia- Thanks for the canvas tip; sometimes it's hard finding what you want. Lucky you too to still have your local dept. store. Nice to know there are still a few out there!

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  9. Beautiful it goes without saying. You can find some of Kent's needlework pillow cover patterns in McCall's Needlework & Crafts, Spring 1979. I looked it up on a back issues site, the issue is (v.24#1) pg. 110, 182. I'd suggest going to a library and asking to look through back issues or even setting up an alert on ebay for when it is listed! I tried to scan it in for you but the pages are so brittle and discolored I had no luck :(

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  10. Can someone inform the less crafty? So this is needlepoint, done on solid canvas presumably with the design painted on?

    Makes those crappy pictures I did on a stiff mesh as a kid look ridiculous.

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  11. Jessica- I can't thank you enough for this info! I will be hitting the library next week! Thanks :)

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  12. ROK- I believe his work was also on mesh (called a canvas) and I know that he used the basketweave method (I can't really explain that to you since I'm not all that knowledgeable when it comes to needlepoint!). He also designed his own "canvases", so I'm assuming he or someone else painted the design onto the mesh. I obviously have a LONG way to go to get up to Sol Kent standards!!

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  13. you're so welcome! i saw this entry and recalled the piece and went trolling though my old issues. hopefully you can find it because it would make a fabulous follow up to this post!

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  14. The home is very elegant. That framed piece above the monkey is an incredible bit of work. I can't imagine... as my art director used to say to me.. "Oh no, you're not going to draw again are you?"

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  15. Geometric designs don't have to be painted onto needlepoint canvas, although I personally prefer this since counting is difficult for me. They can be done by following charts like those in McCall's already mentioned. Or you can just draw straight lines on the canvas (use a pale grey fabric marking pen that is colorfast) to set up the pattern.

    These were almost certainly done in tent stitches. That's the most basic stitch on needlepoint canvas. It is just a right-slanting line over the intersection where two needlepoint canvas threads meet. Like this /

    Very simple and soothing to stitch but an entire piece done this way needs perfect technique to make all the little /// stitches the same size.

    These are beautiful with classic simplicity. They would be magnificent in silk!

    Jane/Chillyhollow

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  16. Your stories are so well researched not to mention chic! Great stuff.

    Richard aka designerman

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  17. What a great article! I learn something always with you! I love geometric design-Feels art deco to me....

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  18. i have never heard of his work, so thank you so much for posting this! his work is obviously filled with history, and yet seem modern at the same time. i love the patterns!

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  19. Glad to see others are still needlepointing. I thought I was the only one!

    Check out my blog - if you love "southern" http://southern-ease.blogspot.com

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  20. I am home at my parents house in Vidalia, GA, for Christmas-I am lucky enough to get to be home for 10 days and so I have time on my hands to do absolutely whatever it is I want to do-Last night I went through the 1993-99 issues of Veranda that my mother has kept-I came across the Sol Kent story-I absolutely LOVE the wonderful needlework he did! I decided to google him tonight to see if he is still alive and where I could possibly find some of his pillows for clients--Sadly, I see from your post he has passed away--Have you ever come across any of his pillows in Atlanta??

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  21. I am glad to have found this blog relating to Sol Kent. I bought an old issue of McCall's Needlework & Crafts (Spring, 1979) and found the article on Sol and his needlepoint. Wonderful work! The article is titled "Plan-As-You-Go Needlepoint" and includes instructions for 3 Sol Kent Designs. Really wonderful and very "today".

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  22. I know this is an old post, but it's hard to keep up with all the fabulous things you post - thanks for that. I love needlepoint. My mother was kind-of a needlepoint freak. AND not the cutsy ones that you mentioned. One of the many things she did were all her dining chair seats, done in a very david hicks/jonathan alder geometric with wonderful colors that picked up the colors in her dining room - raspberries, pinks, lilacs, celedons - so fabulous. Think preppy chic a la 1974 - the real mccoy. The chairs and the covers now belong to me, unfortunately I live in San Francisco, and the chairs and covers are still in Cincinnati, with my Mother, sitting in her storage room patiently waiting for the day I come to give them a new home someday, as I have big plans for those chairs. In response to finding chic fun patterns - I love the ones that you posted - nothing better then those geometrics with a touch of chinoiserie. I have found there are a surprising number of great patterns out there. 2 that come to mind are silhouettes - hey are just like the classic silhouette paintings that have gained popularity in the last few years. There are literally tons of different themes, but all silhouettes - i could see a pile of those on a sofa. Also, and my favorite, are prints based on Charlie Harper's artwork. I'm sure you are familiar with his work - fun, mid-century artwork mostly animals animal themed. Tod Oldham did a book of his work a few years back. It's become my obsession. I've completed 4 and working on my 5th. All Charlie Harpers - different sizes etc. Again I can see piles of those on a sofa. My next venture are 2 large Charlie Harper's (approx 18" x 23") which I'd like to do the tops of 2 ottomans - similar to the ones that John Stefanides - you can see his work in a couple of his books - which I'm sure you have an have seen. It seems he has one room dedicated to his needlepoint work - chairs, pillows, throw rugs, and needlepoint topped ottomans - my inspiration for my future foray. I've also ventured into belts - most of my belts were done and given to me by my Mother - so great and chic. Not the cutsy nautical flags - one is an iguana, and another has a very chinoiserie feel to it - they are wonderful and I always get compliments. I think needlepoint is so great. It gives you something creative to do with your hands, is so easy, and in the end you have something you've completed to be proud of. Keep on needlepointing. I profusely apologize for this incredibly long comment, you just give me too much to write about. Make sure you check out Charlie Harper, and let me know your thoughts if you come up for air and have the chance.

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  23. Keith- Lucky you to have such a great collection of needlework! Those chairs sound divine!!! I'm not familiar with Charlie Harper so I'm going to Google him pronto!

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