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July/August 2015
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American Denim—A New Folk Art, Presented by Richard M. Owens and Tony Lane, Text by Peter Beagle (1975)

PETER Beagle, right? The author of the magnificent novel A Fine and Private Place, right? You know who I'm talking about, right? Okay, we're on the same page (literally).

This book, though.… When I got it in the mail from Our Esteemed Editor, I pulled a Scooby-Doo until I saw who had written the text for it. Why, I had to ask myself, would a highly regarded fantasist want to write about embroidered dungarees?

His reasons, certainly understandable, are expressed here in his typical lovely and subtly brilliant prose: "…I would far prefer to march under the ensign of a pair of blue jeans embroidered with bright-eyed dinosaurs grazing on sequin flowers." Wow.

The book itself is profusely illustrated with examples of highly ornate designs and intricate needle-work, photos which both complement and run counterpoint to Beagle's words. Almost every conceivable image an artist (and don't misunderstand, there is some very good art herein) could splash against the canvas of a pair of denim pants, or a vest or a jacket, are depicted in beautiful detail. How could Beagle not have wanted to create the text for this book?

It's something more than just the art as art, though. Beagle, never one to think inside any given box, can find profundity in superficiality and elevates his subject above mere clothing to perhaps a higher purpose, a signal of sorts: "I think that even the captains of hovering UFOs, hesitant to land on this planet of legendary menace, would know that we meant them no harm."

Peter Beagle, right!

—Bud Webster

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