Thursday, March 6, 1997 | 11:59 a.m.
"What in the hell is that!" blurted the woman, stopping dead in her tracks at the sight of the thing.
The Rev. Ethan Acres was standing next to it, but there was little doubt about which of the two was causing her incredulity.
He laughed at her heresy, then corrected her religious geography. "Wrong zip code," twanged the Alabama-born minister, laughing again, black stubble poking through a shaved head.
The object that had rendered her question into an exclamation was "Saint Quentin's Hair Jacket," Acres' contribution to Friday night's wearable art auction and fashion show to benefit the Contemporary Arts Collective.
"It's sort of a strange mixture of carpet, foam insulation and about 45 10-inch nails driven through it, and red candle wax, which simulates the blood," says Acres, describing his 30-pound monster.
An ordained minister and an art instructor at the Community College of Southern Nevada, Acres merged his knowledge of biblical history with his love of art to create the world's first fashion tribute to a saint since Yves St. Laurent.
And if anyone ever deserved sainthood, it was poor Quentin, who lived in Rome and was exiled to France (nee Western Gaul), where he was killed.
"As a young boy," Acres says, "he would wear hair shirts, sort of in the style of John the Baptist. His father thought he was crazy, so he sent him off to a monastery, which was sort of the thing to do at the time."
Quentin became a monk and eventually a martyr during a revolution around the year 300.
"He was captured and tortured. He had hot nails driven into his body. He was stretched on a rack and beheaded. His head was thrown into a river, and three weeks later it washed ashore by a small village."
Where a blind girl tripped on it and fell, striking her head and miraculously regaining her sight. That was good enough for the Catholic Church.
"They made him a saint," says Acres, adding that Quentin is the patron of bombardiers, chaplains, locksmiths and tailors, and is invoked against coughing and sneezing.
California went the church one better and made him a prison -- San Quentin.
Thus the jacket -- which isn't hair at all but white shag carpet made to resemble hair ("It smells like hair," Acres assures) -- is an amalgam of Quentin's weakness for hair and his hideous death.
This, of course, begs the age-old question: Is it art?
Debatable. Some people think a crucifix drenched in urine is art, so why not a hair jacket? Is it wearable? Certainly -- provided you don't mind lugging around Frankenstein's corset and becoming a walking conversation piece.
Which is what the items created and donated by the 45 artists will make you. For instance, try walking down the street in Terry Stoltz's condom suit with matching hat and shoes, or in Jaqueline Purcell-Callister's see-through plastic dress ringed with photo strips of 40 sensuous women and one pierced penis, or in Lynn Stanford's suburban turban, a gold lame beanie with a big eyeball in the middle.
They are among the works up for bid in a fund-raiser for CAC, a nonprofit organization of Southern Nevada's contemporary artists. The event, titled "Hot, Hot, Haute! at the Atomic Lounge," will be held at Studio West at the Arts Factory.
Works by such notable Vegas artists as Mitch Crawford, Charles Morgan, Lee Sido, Jeffrey Vallance, Mary Warner and Bill Leaf will be on the auction block.
The photo studio, which sits on the second floor of a converted warehouse on East Charleston Boulevard and Casino Center, will take on the appearance of a late '50s Las Vegas lounge (vinyl chairs, sparkle ceilings) for the event.
It will feature local celebrities, elected officials and community leaders modeling the outfits and Vegas-style characters (Miss Atom Bomb, Elvis, Dean Martin) mingling with the patrons.
"The idea came up several years ago to have a wearable art show," says artist Helene Pobst, explaining how she and Jane Callister were set to put on the show until Callister accepted a teaching job in California.
The project has been in the hands of CAC committee member Phyllis Needham and many other CAC members ever since.
Pobst, who specializes in Las Vegas imagery, has contributed a fuzzy dice outfit with fake black and red fur, a 15-inch-high headpiece, a skirt and fuzzy dice to cover the chest area.
"This just goes along with what I've been working with over the last so many years," she says.
Like many of the artists, Pobst believes the concept of wearable art is a natural transition from fine art, and she says it is catching on in the United States. "Fun" seems to be the common expression among the artists.
"It's more fun than intellectual," Pobst says.
"I think it lends itself to the idea that art shouldn't be limited to a gallery space," says Heather Brandes.
She is contributing "a little red dress" with undulating photo strips in front and a female face descending from the neckline (black fringe acts as hair) in back.
"I think it's fun for the public at large," she continues. "The idea that someone would not have to walk into a gallery and still be able to see someone's work, is very appealing. It takes it out of the wine and cheese crowd."
"I think when artists have a chance to do something different," says Minnie Dobbins, "that it's valid to kind of rethink ordinary clothing and put it in context with your art and make it something beyond the ordinary. I have found it to be an art, in that I'm reaching beyond the bounds of what I normally do.
"It's kind of a fuzzy space you reach into, not certain what you're going to come up with. It's that reach that's so exciting."
Her fur visor, which she's dubbed "Evening Shade," is the antithesis of a visor's usual daytime function. The brim is lined with brown fur, and a "beaded and sequined and plumed and glassified exotic bird" -- from the peacock family, she says -- serves as a headpiece.
This is high fashion -- right up there with pearl strands and diamond earrings as the perfect accessory for a night on the town.
"I have a thing about fur," she says, explaining her design choice. "The sacrifice was made a long time ago by some animal, and I think it's kind of a reverent object. I don't feel as if it should be shunned. I feel as if it should be revered and made very special.
"I can see where you could take that the wrong way, with the animal rights groups, and I have to be very careful when I work with fur that I don't offend someone. I don't think you'll find it offensive. If anything, I mean to venerate the animal."
The fur visor is in fact Dobbins' second choice for the exhibit.
"My name is Minnie, and I had an idea for a (glass) miniskirt," she says. "I've been working in glass the last few years, but when you put it on, the glass fell off."
Says Needham: "The artists love it, even though many haven't worked in wearable art. Some of them are struggling with it, and they're seeking to retain their artistic integrity. This is part of a body of work, but it isn't something they normally do."
For Diane Butner, who works as a window dresser and contributed a transparent white slip with attached wind chimes and flat shells, bridging the gap between fashion and art wasn't a difficult task.
"For me, fashion is not such a huge transition to art. I think there are a lot of good designers that look to modern art and include it in their works," she says.
Stanford's suburban turban is a homage to Korla Pandit, the turban-wearing organist who spun exotic sounds on his Hammond in the '50s and has experienced a rebirth with the lounge-music boom of the '90s.
"In the early days of television here in Las Vegas, when there was only one channel, they used to fill air time with music -- 15-minute music videos, really," says Jim Stanford, Lynn's husband and CAC president.
And Korla Pandit was one of the featured artists.
"He wore a turban and had a jewel in the middle of it. Ironically and independently of each other, Lynn and I would watch Korla and wrap a towel around our head (all the kids would)," Stanford says.
In addition to the all-seeing eye, the turban is replete with figures Lynn Stanford describes as "scorpion women from hell" and gold and silver pipe cleaner twisted like antennae.
"Having this show is a nexus of a new Vegas art scene, where graphics, commercial fashion, social art and fine art are all combined," says Purcell-Callister, a photographer. "I think this is a start for Vegas. Anything that happened prior to this, which was almost all fine art, is in the past."
As for her see-through frock, Purcell-Callister is reluctant to part with it.
"It took so long to make, so I'll be bidding on it. I think it'll end up on a hanger on someone's wall, which is really a shame. I'd like to see someone wear it."