Michele Oka Doner (American, b. 1945) and Nancy Gonzalez (Colombian, b. 1953). “Gleaner” Bag, 2006. Sterling silver and dark bronze crocodile skin. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Nancy Gonzalez, 2007 (2007.377.2).
Nancy Gonzalez, whose handbag designs are characterized by the unusual manipulation of exotic skins, collaborated in this example with Michele Oka Doner, a sculptor known primarily for such large-scale projects as her bronze and terrazzo floor installation at the Miami Airport. Gonzalez created the body of the bag with narrow bands of bronzed crocodile, while the handle by Doner appears to be a piece of decayed wood, perhaps driftwood, cast in sterling silver. Both the designer and the artist have re-imagined nature as a higher perfection. As if touched by Midas, the reptile skin and the gnarled branch, while still recognizable, have been gilded into an alternative, fixed, but more enduring beauty. The Costume Institute has an example of an earlier collaboration by Doner. The design, a simple linen dress constructed of one rectangle by Ronaldus Shamask, is balanced on the body by Doner’s silver necklace of atavistic and cosmic symbols. In both the dress and this bag, the scupltor’s work is an aesthetic, as well as a functional, intervention.
“I think the ‘Gleaner’ Bag was used by Eve to gather and transport her leaves, nuts, and seeds as she roamed throughout the Garden of Eden. Notice the silver handle is cast from a piece of wood worn from frequent use. Eve chose this branch because its curve allowed the hand access, and the width was a comfortable diameter for maintaining her grasp. The sac itself is a generous container, organic in shape rather than geometric. There were no right angles in Eden.”
—Michele Oka Doner