Wednesday, August 31, 2016

HGA's Small Expressions exhibit: Yep, more innovation

I've been sharing with you some of the work I saw in Milwaukee in connection with Convergence. The Handweavers Guild of America sponsors a biennial show entitled Small Expressions for fiber work under 15" in any direction.  This year it was on view at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

The Milwaukee Art Museum's Burke Brise Soleil winged sunscreen, designed by Santiago Calatrava.  
When we left the "wings" had closed and wedding parties were taking turns getting photos. 
This museum is a destination in itself, for its spectacular architecture and for its wonderful collection of modern art, the Mrs. Harry L. Bradley Collection.

But our first stop was to see Small Expressions.  I was struck by how each artist pushed her materials beyond their usual scope and modes of expression.  As I saw in ATA's unjuried small tapestry show, the small format seems to encourage risk-taking and inventiveness.

Tapestry weaver Rebecca Smith used wire and beads as well as yarn to create a woven relief that pulls you in close to explore changes in surface detail.

Rebecca Smith, Tapestry Relief, tapestry and bead weaving, 8 x 11 x 1"

Kelsey Leib transformed wool and wood into this trompe l'oeil bouquet.  

Kelsey Leib, Ghost, wet felting, 10 x 6 x 3"
As a former paper maker and occasional shibori dyer, I marveled at Barbara Chappell's relief piece made from linen paper yarn.  The restrained color palette allows the fine pleated textures to take the starring role.  What sort of spectacular butterfly emerged from this gorgeous cocoon?

Barbara Chappell, Entwined, handwoven, shibori pleated, sculpted, 7 x 6 x 2"
I studied this next piece for quite awhile, trying to determine how weaver Genevieve Moisan had incorporated brocade and mohair so seamlessly.  What fantastical narrative is unfolding here, between the hatted figure and the bird-woman?

Genevieve Moisan, Dark, brocaded Jacquard weaving, mercerized cotton, black mohair, orlec, muslin,
wooden stretcher, 12 x 15 x 1"
Here you can zoom in a bit to see the brocade weave in the ground.  I'm sorry the photo resolution is not as fine as it could be.

Genevieve Moisan, Dark, detail
My personal favorite, though, was this piece that surprised me by combining broken crockery and crocheted wire.

Mirva Kuvaja, Archeology, freeform crochet, copper wire, found porcelain pieces, 8 x 8 x 1"
Old broken dishes can be a well-worn path to easy sentimentality.  But the artist has left the shards as shards, rather than trying to crochet them back into some kind of wholeness.  They seem to have sunk to the bottom of their background in a random way that suggests the way they may have been found on the ground.  The small-scale intricate crochet, carefully fitted to each broken piece, seems like a tender act of mending/embellishment to me.

I see that in almost every case here I have focused on the artist's inventive use of materials, her innovative technique.  Fiber is a medium obsessed with materials, their textures and colors and malleability, so it is natural for us to be drawn first to these.  And yet I am always preaching to my students not to focus on technique alone, but to be sure they have something to say, that their image and concept are worth the viewer's time and attention.  Surprising use of materials may grab our attention at the outset, but visual delight and engaging ideas and stories will keep us looking.  In this I think these artists have succeeded as well.  What do you think? 


  1. Molly, I've learned so much about textiles and weaving from your blog. You've certainly expanded my ability to appreciate these things! Your descriptions of the pieces in the Small Expressions exhibit is so perceptive, they come alive for those of us unable to see the show in person. Thank you so much for enriching my understanding, and for writing in such a way that opens new doors to that understanding!

    1. Aw shucks, Lynn, I'm so glad you are finding these posts interesting! My goal is to make textile converts, one at a time!