Imelda Marcos had her shoes. Eve Mannes has her handbags. Lots of them.
There are “gambling” bags. Butterfly ones. And some made of Japanese floral designed papers. No matter the design, all of them have Mannes’ signature trademark — chopsticks, upholstery cords, and imported paper.
But unlike Marcos, who was known for her extravagant and opulent lifestyle, including her special love for shoes, Mannes’ purse collection isn’t about accumulating things. It’s about the process of creating and giving back what has been given to her.
Mannes, a resident of Sandy Springs, grew up in New Jersey, the daughter of German immigrants who taught her through what they did — not what they talked about — to care for others and nurtured her need to create. As a kid, she could spend hours drawing, painting, sewing and never grow tired.
But by the time she entered Douglass College in 1962, her art had taken a back seat to biology, of all things.
If you think it is a strange thing for an artist to major in biology, you might think Mannes is even stranger. Or not.
I read somewhere once that science and art are but sides of the same coin, academic siblings of the same parents who share and learn from each other.
Truth is, Mannes just marches to a different drummer.
Two months after graduating from Douglass in 1966, she married the love of her life, Harvey Mannes, whom she met on a blind date, and went to work teaching junior high science while he served in the Army and worked to complete his medical training.
Harvey Mannes was finishing up both at Fort Sill, Okla., a far cry from the New Jersey neighborhood his wife grew up in, when Eve’s urge to create could no longer be denied.
“The landscape and Indian culture, especially the powwows in Anadarko, led me to create feathered capes, breastplates and headdresses,” Mannes said.
She also staged art shows with the officers’ wives she met on base. Art was taking center stage in her life again.
When the couple moved in 1976 to Roswell, Mannes, while thinking about what she was going to do with the rest of her life, hunkered down making feathered adornments and accessories she sold to Henri Bendel and Bloomingdale’s.
After three years of doing art presentations to architectural and design firms and garden clubs, and designing company lobbies, Mannes had made a name for herself.
In 1980, she opened her first gallery, Eve Mannes Gallery, in Atlanta.
“That’s when my adventure began,” she said.
It started small but the Mannes gallery would eventually become one of Atlanta’s premier contemporary art galleries, representing the likes of Nam June Paik, John Buck, Ed Paschke and Brower Hatcher.
Along with David Heath, Mannes is credited with installing nine additional sculptures from countries that had hosted the Olympic Games throughout Atlanta, lighting the BellSouth Tower and Nations Bank, and the Pierre de Coubertin sculpture in Centennial Olympic Park.
“In between, I was always making stuff,” she said.
And in between, she raised two sons. She mowed the lawn. She cooked. And dressed in fur coats and driving a beat-up Mitsubishi truck, she met with clients.
She did all that while serving on the board of the Contemporary, formerly Nexus, and Jerusalem House, a nonprofit that provides housing for low-income and homeless individuals and families affected by HIV/AIDS.
“At the end of the day, it’s always nice to be able to give back to the community, whether it’s a fundraiser dinner at our home or art tours,” Mannes said. “Personally you expend yourself so you can do that.”
In 2002, soon after her mother passed away, Mannes decided it was time to retire. She closed the gallery for good, but her heart for art wouldn’t stop beating.
“I am most happy when I’m creating and inventing,” she said.
These days, when she isn’t promoting art in public spaces, those moments happen with her four grandchildren, teaching them to knit, to sew or make art books. Other times, Mannes is busy helping spearhead Say-So, the conversational salon she founded in 2003 with Dot Blum and Judy Mozen to provide a platform for women to talk about issues important to them.
About two years ago, Mannes began riffling through storage bins in her makeshift studio and in an “aha” moment found herself gluing little tableaux and lacy frills onto plastic Target bags. She liked it, so days later, she created another one. And another. The styles varied and so did the colors and combinations of materials, but all had chopsticks.
She did this until finally she had more than 70 purses, not counting those she has gifted to friends.
Now she’s wondering what to do with what’s left of them. Sell them? Donate them to charity? Or just leave them be? If nothing else, they’ll remain yet another conversation piece in the Manneses’ home, so full of art that people have likened it to a museum.
That said, it isn’t unusual for Mannes to host fundraising dinners there and every chance she gets, an educational tour, proof Eve Mannes left the classroom a long time ago but she could no more leave teaching behind than she could art.
“People are either afraid to collect or do not know what to collect, how to install it or even how to live with art,” Mannes said. “It’s really a learning process.”
I read somewhere once that the arts and sciences are avatars of human creativity. Talking to Mannes, seeing her work, you get the feeling it must be true.