Student’s wooden hatbox featured in museum collection
Olya Surits talks family, Russian culture, and inspiration in the audio slideshow.
A UO student’s embellished hatbox created in an introductory, interdisciplinary art class is featured online in the Portland Art Museum’s Object Stories Collection. The collection invites people to tell stories about objects that matter to them, through images and audio.
Undergraduate Olya Surits developed the project in the Department of Art course ART 116 – Core Interdisciplinary Laboratory. Surits used a furry cheetah print hat as inspiration for the project, using birch wood to construct a traditional Russian hatbox to hold the hat. She acquired the hat two years ago and it “has been with me in so many places and is so special in many ways.”
Above: Olya Surits displays the Russian-inspired hatbox she made for ART 116 and which is now featured on a museum website.
Surits’ family, who is Russian, was the primary inspiration for the box. In her audio slideshow on the museum website, Surits says her mom and other family members wear hats regularly, and her mother has several similarly embellished boxes.
“I was thinking a lot about Russia and the significance it has in the way I make art now and what I’m interested in,” Surits says. “The women in my family are very flamboyant, crazy, and strong,” Surits says, “so when I look at [this hat] I think of those crazy ladies in my family and that they’re all queens in their own way. So it’s this royal thing to me.”
Faculty fellow and adjunct instructor Jessica Swanson was Surits’ teacher in ART 116. Swanson likes the story behind Surits’ hat and its connection to her heritage. The assignment, Swanson says, “was the ‘valuable package project,’ where I introduce product design approaches as well as the relationship between an object and its container, and ask students to choose an object that is significant to them and then make a package that is more valuable than the object.”
Surits says her best friend, Nina Rush, picked out the hat because “it’s absolutely ugly.” Surits views the hat more generously: “It’s only for the brave, it’s not just for anyone to wear. (But) the best part about this object is that everyone looks good wearing it, everyone who wears it feels awesome.”
Rush drew the floral design on the box, then Surits burned the design into the birch wood. The box is dedicated to both Rush and Swanson.
“[Swanson] really guided me this term in terms of sculpture and art making and she definitely helped gear this project onward,” Surits says, who is majoring in humanities with a minor in environmental studies.
A good friend once described Surits as a ‘sheep in wolf skin’ because of her tough demeanor – when in fact she is soft and sensitive inside. Surits switched this nickname around and titled her piece, “Wolf in Sheep Skin.”
Surits’ audio slideshow can be found here.
Story by Cari Johnson