Sara Penn’s Knobkerry: An Oral History Sourcebook
    SculptureCenter and New York Consolidated, 2021

    Sara Penn’s Knobkerry: An Oral History Sourcebook is the culmination a years-long oral history project, conceived and developed by writer and oral historian Svetlana Kitto, that begins to demarcate a potential sphere of influence for artist and designer Sara Penn (1927-2020) and Knobkerry, the store she founded and ran in New York City. This publication assembles fifteen long-form interviews with figures close to Penn and Knobkerry, conducted by Kitto between 2017 and 2020, including Sara Penn, Andrea Aranow, Charles Daniel Dawson, David Hammons, Joanne Robinson Hill, Kate Prendergast and Jane Barrell Yadav, Sana Musasama, Eric Robertson, Fumi Schmidt, Seret Scott, Elena Solow, Carol Thompson, Ken Tisa, and Paulette Young. It also includes extensive reproductions of archival materials related to Penn and the store, collected by Kitto in collaboration with Penn and a number of her close relations.

    From the early 1960s, Knobkerry traded in textiles and ethnographic objects, which Penn expertly transformed into coveted patchwork garments and arranged in elaborate and densely layered displays. In Penn’s hands, these items registered the local effects of globalization, including increased access to objects of international trade, eager markets for fashionable multiculturalism, and a conflicted relationship to American identity. Intimately produced with her singular expertise and craftsmanship, Penn’s work was publicly lauded, circulated, copied, and codified as the archetypal “hippie” style (though Penn referred to Knobkerry’s wares as “Third World Design and Art” in the 1960s) by celebrities and mainstream press outlets. At the same time the store served as an important physical and social space for a network of Black intellectuals, musicians, and artists, and for a broader subset of cultural and subcultural figures passing through New York – even as its brick-and-mortar storefront moved from the East Village to SoHo and then to TriBeCa, on a now-familiar path of rent crisis and gentrification.

    Published in conjunction with Niloufar Emamifar, SoiL Thornton, and an Oral History of Knobkerry.

    Sara Penn's Knobkerry: An Oral History Sourcebook is available complimentary when you visit Niloufar Emamifar, SoiL Thornton, and an Oral History of Knobkerry exhibition at SculptureCenter. The publication is also available to download for free from our website. If you wish to have a hard copy mailed to your address, there is an administrative fee of $15 plus the cost of shipping.

    Designed by Pacific.

    Sara Penn’s Knobkerry: An Oral History Sourcebook is co-published with New York Consolidated. A second companion volume with new critical texts will be co-published by SculptureCenter and New York Consolidated in summer 2022.

    Svetlana Kitto is a writer, editor, and oral historian. Her writing has been featured in New York, Ursula, Guernica, the New York Times, Interview, and BOMB, among other periodicals. She is the editor of the art publications 1996 by Matt Keegan (New York Consolidated, 2020); Talking to the Sun at Fire Island (BOFFO, 2019); Courage and Persistence: Art that Fueled the Fight for Women’s Suffrage (National Endowment of the Arts, 2020); and Adult Contemporary Volume 1 (2017). As an oral historian, she has contributed primary material to archives and exhibitions at the Brooklyn Historical Society; Museum of Arts and Design, New York; New York Public Library for Performing Arts; and the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, Washington, for which she conducted interviews with Robert Morris, Barbara Hammer, and Bill T. Jones. Since 2013, she has curated the reading and performance series Adult Contemporary, which has been presented at Storm King, CANADA, Hauser & Wirth, Performa, Printed Matter, and elsewhere. In addition to freelance writing and interviewing, she works as a writer and editor for the gallery Gordon Robichaux in New York.

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