We love it when people get creative with their books. But our latest discovery of re-purposed romance novels truly left us breathless. It's a stunning gown, hand-crafted entirely from the pages of romance novels. We immediately reached out to the piece's creator, Carrie Ann Schumacher, to get more information. Today the artist shares the very personal story behind the dress and how the project — like any good romance novel — moved from the spark of an idea to something truly beautiful.
When I came across a box of 50 free romance novels at the library where I was working, I initially had no idea what I was going to do with them. But something within them spoke to me, and I knew I had to take them. Otherwise, I would wake up with a brilliant, life-changing idea and be devastated that I didn’t have them. So naturally, into the trunk of my car they went.
I cannot recall exactly when or how it occurred to me to make dresses out of the books, but the idea didn’t arrive in that brilliant and life-changing flash I expected. Rather, it was a slow piecing together of several ideas. First, I had an art school assignment to make a piece that discussed the concept of “invisibility." This project made me question the visible versus the invisible within my own life, and in the lives of other American women. I considered the roles that romance novels, the beauty industry and the fashion world play within our culture; the three share definite commonalities, as they all thrive on fantasy and define femininity for many. I combined these worlds into one unwearable and fragile garment as a way to speak to the visibility and invisibility of different aspects of womanhood.
Creating dresses out of romance novels also enabled me to explore milestones of my own womanhood and merge them with the memories and stories of other women, creating a universal narrative. This past summer, while trying on wedding dresses for my upcoming nuptials, all I could think about was how I could recreate different aspects of dresses in paper. I knew at some point I wanted to try and create a wedding dress out of books, a feat I feared near impossible due to the fragile nature of the material.
However, the meaning of the wedding dress transformed when I lost my grandmother three months later. I began to make a dress shortly after her death, but the original intention of the piece changed when I somehow sensed that she was having trouble leaving this world. I started to wonder, “If you knew you were going to die, what would you wear into the next life?” And at that point, my half-formed dress took on a life of its own. It swelled to become a wedding dress on steroids, transforming into a garment for an ethereal queen, part floating dream, part regal mystery, part cyclical prayer. After a week of focused labor, it was done. I looked at it and wondered how it ever could have come from my hands.
I titled this sculpture "Alice and the Boy She Left Behind," because it is, above all else, a love story. My grandmother’s death devastated my grandfather and the work is a visual tribute to their love and his overwhelming grief upon her passing. Therefore, the romance novels are vital to this sculpture; there is no better material than the pages of countless other love stories.
I could not have foreseen what lay ahead the day I took that box of romance novels to my studio. Creating dresses from the books has allowed me to create my own fantasies and romances. As I release the finished artworks into the world, I hope they share these stories wherever they go.
- Carrie Ann Schumacher
Carrie Ann Schumacher's dress sculptures are on exhibit at Woman-Made Gallery in Chicago through June 21 and at Wellman Exhibit Hall in Hammond, Ind., from June 4 to July 15. Her work can also be viewed online here and here. You can also e-mail her with questions here. For more love-filled tales, check out our Everything Romance Page.