Stephanie Smart: Maison de Papier. Reviewed by Claudia Barbieri

Stephanie Smart: Maison de Papier
Danny House, Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex

Reviewed by Claudia Barbieri

A stand-out Artist's Open House on the Brighton Festival 2017 art tour route is the Maison de Papier, or House of Embroidered Paper, created by Sussex-based artist Stephanie Smart. Consisting of nine haute-couture costumes made of paper and about 35,000 metres of thread, this exhibition is surely one of the most intriguing and original on the Festival circuit.

It is located in the Grand Hall of Danny House, a stately historic
pile oozing with history. Although seemingly off the beaten track,
this splendid Elizabethan manor house is just a 15 minute drive from Brighton in Hurstpierpoint. In its present incarnation, Danny House is an upscale residence for the elderly.

More than a classical art exhibition, Smart's show is an art installation. It is the fruit of the artist's year-long residency in the house, funded by Arts Council England.

During her year-long residency Stephanie has methodically researched
the histories of the building and its residents, and imaginatively incorporated their many different layers into her personal expression, using only the medium of paper and thread. The resulting nine 
life-size historic costumes dominate the house's great hall. These creations are built entirely using different paper techniques: a fan is made by quilling; a pair of paper gauntlets are richly decorated with embroidery; a pair of elegant paper bootees are remarkable for the exquisite detail. The whole installation is so engaging that you even want to read the lengthy explanations.

For Stephanie the challenge was to make something as technically demanding as it is beautiful and interesting: ‘My aim is to stretch the boundaries of art and create objects that are thoughtful and carefully constructed. I believe that craft, fashion and fine art can intertwine,’ she told this reviewer.

Stephanie spent her year in residence collecting oral histories and running craft workshops for the residents, who include men and women who fought in WWII. Snatches of all of this can be found in the

While preparing her installation the artist succeeded in getting

some of the house's residents not only to tell their stories but
also to dig out ancestral heirlooms such as christening dresses . These she has had beautifully restored and framed, setting them in juxtaposition with the meticulously created paper versions that they have inspired.

Stephanie studied decorative arts and specialised in glass until 2007 when, on a trip to Istanbul, she became enthralled by a paper Kaftan made for a sultan, that she saw in a museum. This was a turning point in her career: since then she hasn't looked back, researching the medium of paper and discovering new techniques such as quilling along the way.

‘A lot of it was trial and error and just figuring out what would
work. I restarted from scratch several times,’ she said. ‘I have incorporated text into some of the pieces – on one is a moving poem by a current resident.’

Each piece in the exhibition is related to another and a wonderful story unfolds. Not only is this art but also part of Britain's cultural and social history.

Stephanie Smart was Artist-in-Residence at
Danny House, where Maison de Papier was exhibited every weekend in May 2017 as part of the Artists Open House programme. 


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