Jean Cacicedo was always interested in art but she found it difficult to relate to traditional art materials like paint and sculpture. When she discovered crochet in the summer of 1968, she was (pardon the pun) hooked. She is quoted in the book Art to Wear as saying that it seduced her, eliciting an emotional response from her. When the summer was over, she returned to art school and announced that she wanted to study crochet. She was told that she could pursue this line of study but that she needed to call it fiber art, not crochet, because she was at an art school after all. Whatever you want to call it, Cacicedo was quickly creating art with her hook and graduated in 1970 with her art degree. What’s interesting is that you can see in Cacicedo’s work how she was influenced by painting and sculpture as she created three dimensional wearable pieces that she “painted” with yarn. Her pieces are visually beautiful with great color and texture but more than that they are designed to tell a spiritual story, to evoke a feeling in whoever sees them. This artist is currently based in Berkeley, California.
Jean Cacicedo in Discovery and Design
The first time I saw the work of this designer was in Del Feldman’s book Discovery and Design. This book showed her gown above. The book doesn’t say much about it, other than that it was worked in a filet pattern and in wool. It seems to me that the “filet” described above is a version of tapestry crochet, not necessarily what I would call filet crochet. I love the shape of this dress as well as the colorwork.
Jean Williams Cacicedo in Art to Wear
1978 Tulip Coat by Jean Williams Cacicedo
Where I really learned about this designer is from her profile in the book Art To Wear. This is also where I saw my favorite Cacicedo piece, which is the 1977 dress called Transformation shown at the top of this post. That dress is a combination of knit and crochet work done in both wool and suede. This hints at where Cacicedo began to go with her work in the late 1970s, combining different types of needlework and different materials to create these terrific layered dresses and coats. You can see in the Tulip Coat above that the bulk of the work is knit and crochet but the flowers are felt.By the early 1980s some of her pieces didn’t include crochet at all but used related crafts like applique and working with felt.
1978 Cactus Coat by Jean Williams Cacicedo
I think that you can see a lot of maturity in the work that we see in Art to Wear compared to the piece we saw in Discovery and Design. I really like the Discovery and Design dress but in her later work Cacicedo really developed her own voice. By this time she had married and moved to Wyoming and was really deeply immersed in her creative self, drawing inspiration from the nature that surrounded her. Several of the coats from this time, especially the Transformations piece, were also influenced by an experience that Jean had being hospitalized after injury in a fire. She was seeking comfort and the coats are designed like soft, plush blankets to wrap and warm the body.
Chaps: A Cowboy Dedication by Jean Williams Cacicedo
Of course, Cacicedo had to make a living so in the early 1980s she responded to changes in market demand and started doing more graphic work. We can see that in the 1983 piece above called Chaps: A Cowboy Dedication.
Jean Williams Cacicedo: 21st Century
Jean Williams Cacicedo 2003 Petal Vest
Jean has been committed to exploring and sharing her cloth art for more than thirty years. Her recent work, which can be seen on her website, primarily explores the dyeing and shrinking fabric to create one-of-a-kind pieces including artwear and cloth art. She has had her work displayed in exhibits throughout the United States, Europe and in Japan. She is currently based in California and there has been a terrific celebration of her work in that area especially. In 2000 there was a retrospective of her work at the Museum of Craft and Folk Art here in San Francisco. It appears that the museum put out a 48-page book called Jean Williams Cacicedo: Explorations in Cloth to coincide with that exhibit although I haven’t had a chance to see the book myself. (By the way, that’s a terrific little museum that you should check out if you every visit my city!) Her work is in the permanent collections of multiple museums including San Francisco’s de Young Museum and the Oakland Museum of California. And of course, crocheters continue to embrace her. She was the 2003 Keynote Speaker for the CGOA’s annual Chain Link conference. She shares her knowledge by teaching classes and workshops. For example, in a few weeks she’s teaching a workshop in Tennessee called Three Dimensional Fabric: Drawn from Nature. Her website still has her name as Jean Williams Cacicedo but I’ve seen her referred to in another places as Jean Cacicedo Leach. Her work is really beautiful so I definitely suggest checking it out!
This post is part of a series on 1970s crochet designers