The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2017

All Issues
MAR 2017 Issue
Critics Page

Sympathetic Magic

Feeling sick: put on that favorite pair of fuzzy pajamas. Date tonight: put on my best black jeans and favorite denim button-up shirt cause they look great. Tomorrow I will wear my black linen suit, the one perfectly tailored for me, and that slick tie for my job interview. This weekend, I am going to wear my lucky team shirt so I do well in the game.

Mark Newport, Sweaterman 5, 2008. Hand knit acrylic and buttons, 80 × 23 × 6 inches. Courtesy the artist.

There is no denying it, garments, uniforms, and costumes are forms of sympathetic magic. So imagine if you will:

I have been listening to the news too much lately. The terrorists, serial killers, bullies, and kidnappers worry me, steal my sleep, and give me bad dreams. When my daughter asks if she can ride her bike to her friend’s house, I get anxious. She is seven and the house is around the corner and she will have people there to watch her. But shouldn’t I go with her, to be sure no one does something to her? I need to protect her, my son, and my wife, but how?

I am an artist and teacher—I teach weaving. I don’t believe in carrying a gun or violence and I am not a big guy. But if my family needs protection, so do others and it is clear that the police are overwhelmed with all of the criminals—just listen to the news. Who else can protect us? What else can I do?

When I was a kid I bought comic books to draw the pictures I liked. Batman, Spiderman—they were stories of “normal” people taking a stand and protecting others. When they fight the bad guys, they wear costumes designed to protect themselves from physical danger and those they love from reprisal. Maybe I can do that too? All I would need is a costume, and since I teach textiles, I could make my own costume. It should be made of knit fabric so it can stretch as I move. I can hand-knit it because I know how, and I will use acrylic yarn because that is what my mom made sweaters out of for me when I was a kid.

The knitting is going slowly. It has been almost two months and I am almost finished. I think it will be finished this weekend. Tonight is the night. I pull the costume up over my feet and legs, then slide my arms and hands into the sleeves and gloves. Finally I get the mask on over my head. The costume is scratchy, very warm, and the eye-holes don’t fit over my glasses very well. I guess I will take the glasses off. Now time to button up the back… I can’t reach all of the buttons. I call to my wife and she comes in and buttons the rest of the buttons. It fits, mostly, but it is really scratchy and hot, and I can’t see very well.

“Be safe,” my wife calls out as I leave.


Mark Newport

MARK NEWPORT is the Artist-in-Residence and Head of Fiber at Cranbrook Academy of Art. His work has been exhibited internationally and is in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Arizona State University Art Museum, the Cranbrook Art Museum, and the Detroit Institute of Arts.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2017

All Issues