Missing, bulldozed, disappeared: a mining town is not the first thing that comes to mind when the subject is fashion inspiration.
Particularly when the place no longer exists.
Not so long ago, it was a thriving community: hundreds of people once lived in the company town called Uravan, named for the rich uranium and vanadium deposits of ore mined in the surrounding region.
The U.S. Vanadium Corporation built the town in 1936. “At one time,” according to the online memorial website Uravan.com, “over 800 people lived along its tree-lined streets, enjoying housing, schools, medical facilities” — even tennis courts, a rec center and a swimming pool — “provided by the company.”
Pauline Sherry grew up in Telluride, and took a high school field trip during as a junior for an AP Environmental Science class to the site of the West End town, which was razed in 1989 and is now a Superfund site.
She was struck by Uravan’s rich past, its history of life, death and destruction (uranium extracted from the surrounding hills was used to build the world’s first nuclear weapons for the Manhattan Project, conceived right down the road, at the Los Alamos Laboratory, during World War II).
“We heard from locals about the old town,” she recalled, “and it was insane to me. There was such a strong sense of community, and all of a sudden, for it to be gone, it was wild. Every year since then, it’s been in my head.”
Upon graduation, Sherry enrolled in the Savannah College of Art and Design, a school that offers artistic instruction across the creative spectrum — from visual arts to film and television, performing arts, sound design and fashion — and features a motto that, were it loosely translated from the Latin (Ars longa, vita brevis) might be “Let’s get after it!” (The literal translation is “Art is long, life is short.”)
Fast forward a couple of years and Sherry, whose concentration at SACD was fashion design, was on a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico.
“I still couldn’t get it out of my head,” she said of the disappeared mining town. She focused on “inspirational images” for a Oaxacan landscape she was working on, “but there were only about six colors,” she recalled. “Very neutral: a gray,” the gray of concrete, took her back to the concrete streets of Uravan.
“I really thought back to those muted, desert tones,” she said. “There were pinks and sands. There’s a juniper, and a dark, dark green. Oaxaca’s sidewalks were chipped and cracked, and tied in kind of perfectly with the story of Uravan, which is buried in layers of concrete. It’s an element that is really diverse. I wanted to explore it.”
The art school “encourages sketching, draping on mannequins and fabric manipulations” before senior year begins, Sherry said. She had her inspiration: the colors of a landscape, the texture of concrete, the evocation — “I keep calling it the semblance,” she said — of a place.
Sherry designed six looks, all of which utilize concrete in their design (see how she applies it to fabric, and see how surprisingly diaphanous it appears on live models, at paulinesherry.com). In one of the pieces, “concrete is so doused in the gathers that you can’t even move,” Sherry said. “More wearable looks” include pieces “where the concrete is applied pretty thinly, so the fabric is still moveable, and not rough. I also made a weave inspired by concrete.” There is no physical concrete in that design, she explained: “the pattern is based on a photo, and it’s adapted so the look of concrete would be picked up on a fabric.”
Sherry was lucky: she had friends who were willing to pose for a photo shoot wearing these pieces, and a video (also on the website) made of them wearing these clothes.
This was all before another sort of sweeping change arrived — this one from the novel coronavirus — and school was over.
“I was super fortunate,” said Sherry. “I was able to do a lot more than I would have, because I had the resources.”
The pieces are home in Telluride for the summer, along with Sherry, “except I gave one of them to my best friend, who’ll wear it at her wedding,” she said. “As for the school, they didn’t even require us to finish our projects. They nominated me for the International Design Award, and for a Runway Apparel submission,” but Covid-19 came on too quickly for projects to be completed, much less for awards to be handed out.
None of Sherry’s pieces are for sale in local shops, but she is open to working with potential customers who might be interested in owning one of these unique designs, works redolent of local soil and pavement and history that literally epitomize the phrase, haunting beauty.
“This collection looks at the surrounding environment and the transitions that have taken place,” Sherry says on her website. “Concrete is used as a way to memorialize the town and make the viewer aware that although it appears that Uravan is gone, it is and will always be there.”
Razed by bulldozers, and restored — raised up —by a local's vision into fashion.