Thursday, February 5, 2015

Fiber Arts Show at Cherokee Arts Center

When you hear the word Quilt, what do you think of?  If a warm bed-covering is the only thing that comes to mind, get thee post-haste to the Cherokee Arts Center, where Executive Director Mary Akers has assembled a group show "Fiber Arts and More," that showcases the range of techniques used by local art quilters today.  But you have to hurry--it's only up through Feb. 12.

If you are wondering, "What is an art quilt?" listen up, and then look at the photos below.  In the 1970s, quilting underwent a resurgence that coincided with the nation's Bicentennial, the women's movement, and a wider revival of studio craft.  In 1971 the Whitney Museum in New York City mounted a hugely influential show called Abstract Design in American Quilts.  The quilts were hung on the wall and their vivid geometric patterns could be seen afresh, in the context of other recent art movements such as abstraction and color field work.  Since then, art quilt makers have explored the medium as a fine art, using dyes, paints, stitch, collage, digital printing, and mixed media to make work designed for the wall, not the bed.  They have altered traditional block patterns significantly, or stopped using them altogether in order to design their own compositions.  Quilt guilds encourage artists to learn together, often bringing in teachers and assigning "challenge" projects to develop members' skills.  There are prestigious juried shows of art quilts, and gallery and museum shows of quilts regularly break attendance records. Today quilting is estimated to be a $3.58 billion business in the United States, and it is huge in Europe, Japan, and Australia.
Virginia Greaves, Worn      Photo Molly Elkind
The effects of this movement are on view in the show in Canton, where many of the pieces reflect work done in guilds. The best-known maker in this show is Virginia Greaves, whose quilt Worn was inspired by a 1939 photograph by Dorothea Lange.  It is a technical tour de force, a painstaking translation into fabric and thread of Lange's photograph of a farm woman.  The details, values and shadows are handled so naturalistically that from across the room it is not clear whether you are looking at a painting or a quilt.  The artist's statement and title refer to how the woman's weariness is reflected in the condition of her dwelling.  Greaves' work sparked controversy in the quilting world last year; apparently many quilters were offended by her use of Lange's (non-copyrighted) photographs as source material for her quilts (Greaves's quilt version of Lange's famous photograph of a migrant mother and her children won a prize at the 2014 International Quilt Festival in Houston).  But artists have been borrowing from each other for centuries; using other works of art as inspiration is quite common in the wider art world.  (I myself am working on a series in tapestry that is inspired by a specific ancient icon painting; see this post.) I would like to see Greaves interpret and transform her source photographs in a more personal way that expresses more of her own viewpoint.  I look forward to the new work she is doing in collaboration with Leisa Rich that will be exhibited later this year.

To return to the Canton show, if I had to sum up the show with one word, it would be Joy.  These artists are having a ball exploring new techniques in their work.  I especially enjoyed the work of Ann Quandee.  She has an appealing loose approach, unafraid to let lines of stitch meander like drawn lines, revelling in free organic shapes, lush color, and contrasts of texture.  The quilt "Daylily" began as a doodle, we are told.
Ann Quandee, Daylily          Photo Molly Elkind

The work of mother and daughter Joyce Klein and Katie Klein also stood out for its playful exploration of color, texture, and composition.
Katie Klein, Flowers and Vines               Photo Molly Elkind

 Katie Klein's applique quilt, of wool, cotton, velvet and other fabrics is a cheerful update on the traditional applique quilt.  The exuberance of bold colors and shapes seem barely contained by the quilt's border.  Katie's mother Joyce showed two small, intensely textured red pieces.  (Apologies for the blurred image.) 
Joyce Klein, Seeing Red 1 & 2     Photo Molly Elkind
Not all work was two-dimensional. In three sculptural pieces, Crazy Patch Vessels, Patsy Eckman layered and pieced a variety of fabrics, linked them all with lines of complex embroidery, and attached small charms and buttons.

Patsy Eckman  Crazy Patch Vessels         Photo Molly Elkind
In conversation with Mary Akers, I learned that one goal of this show is to introduce folks in Canton and surrounding areas to the range of work being done in fiber arts today.  In this show she has made an excellent beginning.

P.S.  If you are interested in learning more about the process of designing your own original fiber work, check out this post about the workshop I'm offering at Southeast Fiber Forum, at Arrowmont craft school, in April.  

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