Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Fiber art at the Textile Museum in DC

I was in Washington, DC last weekend and had the chance to visit what I think of as one of the shrines of my people:  the Textile Museum, now housed at George Washington University. The museum relocated a few years back from a lovely but cramped location in Northwest Washington, and I was excited to finally see the new digs.  I was not disappointed.  And it is an easy walk from the Foggy Bottom Metro stop! Yay!

The new space has three floors of exhibit space and also connects to the historic Woodhull House, which contains a collection related to the history of Washington, DC.  Artwork owned by the university is also on exhibit, but I have to confess only had eyes for two fiber shows that I had read about in various publications.

"Scraps:  Fashion, Textile, and Creative Reuse" spotlights the work of three designers to reduce and re-purpose the staggering amount of textile waste that the clothing industry generates every year.  Wall text in the exhibit states that apparel and textiles is the second-most polluting industry in the world, after oil!  Wow. 

Luisa Cevese founded Riedizioni ("re-editions") in Milan, Italy to produce new products using the selvedges cut from the edges of industrially woven sari silk.  She embeds these fragments in polyurethane to make colorful and eye-catching new products.  I loved the idea and the look of the tote bag pictured below:  so fun!  But when I examined one of the bags up close in the museum gift shop, I wasn't crazy about the heavy plastic feel, nor the $450 price tag. I wonder how ecologically friendly the production of polyurethane is and what the byproducts of that process are.  And how can enough people afford a $450 tote bag to make the process feasible, long-term? 

Luisa Cevese, silk selvedge waste (foreground),
Spread Textile, 8 Hours Bag, and Large Basket Bag

Reiko Sudo, with the Japanese textile design firm NUNO, also works with silk waste. She uses the outer covering of the silk cocoon that previously was discarded,  making it into yarn that can be woven on industrial looms.  She has also re-purposed the residue from the spinning process to make a kind of patchwork cloth-paper.  Her fabrics have a subtle, textured beauty.

Reiko Sudo, silk cocoon waste (foreground) and various products
I really fell in love, though, with the work of Christina Kim, the designer behind the Los Angeles brand dosa.  Her practice is based in reverence for handwork and a goal of zero-waste in the re-use of very fine cotton sari fabric.  She works with Indian craftspeople to piece scraps from sari production (first generation) into new cloth, embellishing it with embroidery and applique, and creating new clothing (second generation).  Scraps from this process are also collected and become small applique  circles on pieced yardage (third generation).  Even the small scraps from this process are collected and made into tiny amulets (fourth generation).  Some scraps are overdyed to unify them visually  before being constructed into garments.

Christina Kim, First-generation garments:
 Choga, Rabari jacket; and Recycled Jamdari Panel 
Here's a detail of the panel above:

Christina Kim, detail, Recycled Jamdari Panel 
I love the layers of translucent fabric and intricate stitching. 

Christina Kim, Second-generation garments: 
Fraulein dress, Eungie Skirt;
Third-generation garment:  Eungie Skirt (over-dyed)
Here's a close-up on one of the skirts:

Christina Kim, detail, Eungie Skirt

Christina Kim, Amulets,
hand-embroidered and containing a folded Hindu prayer
This was my favorite piece of all though:

Christina Kim, Tikdis Shawl
Over 600 small scrap "dots" are hand-appliqued to each shawl.
It is encouraging and exciting to see up close the work of pioneering textile designers to change the way we produce and use fabric.  They may even change our notion of what is beautiful clothing, widening it to include pieces with a frankly scrappy look.  I hope that as these efforts become more common, the processes become scalable so that the products can reach wider and broader markets.

This show is on view at the Textile Museum through January 7, 2018. 

Next time, I'll share my impressions of the larger show on view at the museum, The Box Project:  Uncommon Threads.  It was really wonderful!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

ICONIC: work in progress, and a show!

These days the term of highest praise is iconic.  Something (or someone) that is the latest, hippest, purest exemplar of its type is iconic.  The online Urban Dictionary offers this:
Similar to "classic," iconic is generally restricted to more recent, highly original, influential, or unique, works of art, artists, or performers. As such they are now well-established and widely celebrated in popular culture.
"Oedipus Rex" is a classic, but the original "Planet of the Apes" is truly iconic.
Unfortunately, like every over-used word, it will soon cease to mean anything.   Epic, anyone? Awesome

Overused or not, ICONIC is the working title of my 2018 show of tapestries.  Save the date:  the opening will be Sunday, February 25, 2018.  The show will run February 15-March 13 at Southeast Fiber Arts Alliance (SEFAA) in Atlanta. 

Lest it sound presumptuous to describe my own work as iconic, let me explain.  I've been obsessed for the past few years with a particular icon, the one pictured below, of Mary the mother of Jesus.  This is an icon in the original sense, a painting of a religious figure intended to enhance prayer and spiritual devotion.  For me, this image has sparked a whole series of tapestries exploring the meaning and influence of the mythic figure of Mary. 

Mary, detail of 6th c. encaustic icon at Sta. Maria della Francesca church, Rome
I am nearing the completion of this series now, having begun the seventh and final piece recently.  Here's my progress so far on Mary (yes).

Molly Elkind, Mary (Yes), handwoven tapestry in progress, (c) 2017
And recently I cut off the loom my largest, and most personal, piece in the series, called Mary (the anxiety of influence).   

Molly Elkind, Mary (the anxiety of influence), handwoven tapestry, (c) 2017
You can see photos and read about some of the other pieces in the series here and here.

Related to this series is another series I'm working on, loosely based on medieval illuminated manuscripts.  These texts were packed with meaning for their original readers, serving as prayer books.  Nowadays most of us cannot read the text, and we appreciate them purely for their decorative qualities, and perhaps for the insight they offer into a different world and time.

I find these manuscripts fascinating for the layout of the pages--those margins, either empty or packed with intricate decoration!  That profusion of pattern!  That beautifully lettered text, which contains some kind of sacred meaning, out of reach for most of us today.  The way the patterns, pictures and words are interwoven into one unified surface fascinates me.   

In my tapestry series I am experimenting with compositions that explore margins and centers, and with combinations of text, or text-like patterns, and abstract imagery.  Red Letter Day is part of this series.  I am starting a companion piece, tentatively titled Red Letter Night--it will have a dark background.

Molly Elkind, Red Letter Day, handwoven tapestry, (c) 2016

Here's a peek at the collage and some sampling I've done for Red Letter Night

And I have several small pieces in the series as well.  Here's one:

Molly Elkind, Huh?, handwoven tapestry (c) 2016

An icon provides an occasion and the means for contemplation, for meditation, a chance to forget oneself and one's daily life for a few moments and enter another deeper or higher reality. . . . Rather like what we have come to expect artwork to offer us.

What is iconic for you?

Friday, September 8, 2017

Fierce Fibers exhibit in Marietta, Georgia

I am pleased to be included in a juried show that opened last night at The Art Place in Marietta, Georgia.  The work of nine local fiber artists in on view, and the show offers a snapshot of the variety of work being done in fibers today, ranging from weaving to art quilts to fabric collage, silk painting, and freeform embroidery.

Here are just a few of the pieces that caught my eye.  I urge you to go see the show yourself and see all the work. The show is up through September 28.

Left to right:  artists and organizers:
Sharon Ahmed, Rebecca Reasons Edwards, Virginia Greaves, Leo Edwards,
Molly Elkind, Danielle Morgan, Devon Pfeif.
We are posed in front of Rebecca and Leo's piece Let Hope Rise.
Not pictured:  artists Deb Lacativa, Sandy Teepen, and Hellenne Vermillion
Top:  Molly Elkind, WTF and Huh? tapestries
Bottom:  Danielle Morgain, Into the Light Again, mixed media quilt

Deb Lacativa, Rever 1-4, mixed media fabric collage.
Deb's assemblage heavily embroidered and quilted fragments had me itching to resume my meditative stitching practice. 

Devon Pfeif, Lily Pond, quilt

detail, Devon Pfeif, Lily Pond.
I enjoyed the precision and dimensional elements in Devon's quilt.
The bird and the leaves are fussy-cut and stand out from the surface. 

Sharon Ahmed, Magic (top) and Frog on Lily Pad, embroidery

Virginia Greaves, Minerva, quilt

Virginia Greaves, Minerva, quilt.
I enjoyed Virginia''s choice of fabrics--at a distance they blend to create realistic depth
 and up close you see the witty prints and wild colors.  

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

New Legacies: Contemporary Art Quilts in Fort Collins, CO

Before I fell in love with tapestry weaving, I was obsessed, for years, with making quilts, especially non-traditional art quilts.  I still enjoy checking in with the art quilt world and seeing what's going on. As in tapestry, the main ingredients are thread or yarn, the elements of design (especially shape, line, and color), and of course, time.  I've written before about the similarities in designing quilts and designing tapestries.

Last weekend I had the chance to see one of the longest-lived art quilt shows in the country, the 35th annual New Legacies show of Contemporary Art Quilts at Lincoln Center in Fort Collins, Colorado. All photographs below are scanned from the show catalog (available by contacting the box office HERE). There were many intriguing quilts in this show; below are just a few of my favorites.

I am moved to write about this show because I realized that the art quilts I liked best were those that, as in my favorite tapestries, explore the unique possibilities of their medium in an elegant and economical way.  The artist fully exploits the design potential for enticing textures, interesting shapes and lines, and the emotional impact of stitch.

I was excited to see that several artists are really questioning the definition of a quilt.   The show's sole requirement was that fiber pieces have three layers stitched together, which is pretty much the most fundamental definition of a quilt.  The piece below really stretches that definition.  It's hard to see in the photograph, but on each strip there is a base layer, to which thousands of scraps of white and cream colored fabrics of varied textures and shapes are stitched with a meandering quilting line.  The red flower shapes are added atop the white layer, and loose red threads dangle abundantly.  The texture is lush and begs to be touched.  The piece makes a powerful impact, though many might argue that it strays too far from tradition to be called a quilt.

Chiaki Dosho, The Crossing Times 9.  77.5" x 98.5" x 1"
Old Japanese kimono silk, synthetic fiber, wool
As you would expect in an art quilt show, there was plenty of original surface design:  dyeing, dye-painting, free-motion stitching, improvisational cutting and piecing, digital images printed on fabric and the incorporation of found objects.  Very few art quilters are satisfied by simply piecing together commercially printed fabrics.

For a few decades now quilters have been printing digital photographs on fabric and using those fabrics in quilts.  One artist in the show took the straightforward approach of simply quilting lines over her printed images and leaving it at that.  To me the simple addition of quilting lines does not transform the photograph enough to justify making it a quilt.  

I especially liked what Charlotte Ziebarth did with her digitally printed fabric.  She printed her own close-up images of water on fabric, creating an arashi shibori effect, and then cut and pieced the fabrics into new compositions.  The resulting quilts convey the fluidity and shifting colors of water without relying only the literal image.  There are layers of wateriness here.

Charlotte Ziebarth, Wave Equations.  36" x 51"
silk, cotton batting, cotton backing, archival printing inks, rayon and cotton threads, acrylic spray varnish;
digital art printed on treated silk, cut layered, fused, and stitched
One artist took surface design on fabric to its logical conclusion.  I have been waiting for years for a quilter to decide to make a painting on canvas and call it a quilt. . . and it finally happened!

Sherry Kleinman, Raw Edged Beauty 30" x 25"
artist canvas, paints, threads, wool/acrylic felt, water soluble media (paints, crayons pencils, raw edges, hanging threads;
hand piecing, machine and hand stitching
Sherry Kleinman pieced together canvas and then painted on the "wrong" side, where the seam allowances and dangling threads are.  For me this is a conceptual piece that asks the question:  Why is this bit of painted canvas a quilt (i.e., craft object) and not a painting (i.e., fine art)?  The floor is open for responses . . .

detail, Sherry Kleinman, Raw Edged Beauty 
I suppose the raw edges of the canvas and the abundant surface stitching push it over into the craft/quilt category. . . but in a time when many painters are using fiber art techniques, I am not convinced that there are any truly meaningful distinctions between "craft" and "art".  But that's a subject for another day.

In some cases artists pushed the limits of the technique that is for many folks practically synonymous with quilt-making:  piecing.
Denise Roberts, Mitote #11, 85" x 38.5"
cotton; hand-dyed, cut into directly, machine pieced and quilted
The piecing here is mind-bogglingly intricate.  But it's not just a technical tour de force--the artist's handling of value contrast, especially those white highlights, really conveys energy and movement.  I also enjoy the unusual color scheme.

detail, Denise Roberts, Mitote #11
Finally I want to share a piece which seemed to me to perfectly integrate image and fabric. . . much as weavers try to do in tapestry.  Elena Stokes's Infinity VI is made of strips from sari silks, collaged together by fusing and machine quilting.  The strips determine the image.  The stitching, raw edges, loose threads and all, convey emotion with elegance and economy.

Elena Stokes, Infinity VI, 46" x 84".
 reclaimed sari silks from India, cotton batting, fusible web, thread; textile collage, fused and machine quilted
detail, Elena Stokes, Infinity VI

And this brings me back to tapestry.  One thing I love about tapestry is that, in its traditional form, it is elegant and economical.  The interlacing of weft and warp creates the image and the cloth simultaneously.  The description of materials and process is likewise concise:  typically something like "cotton, wool; handwoven tapestry", although of course this can vary widely. 

As someone who has made many quilts and mixed media pieces, I get it.  It's exciting to explore the myriad surface design techniques and materials available today.   But I sigh when I see a long paragraph listing materials and techniques on the wall label, as if the artist wants full credit for every single thing she did to that cloth.  One doesn't need to use every tool in the toolbox all at once.  For me at least, the most impressive work exploits the expressive potential of one or two materials or techniques at a time, rather than layering on a multitude of processes.  Less is more. 

But that's just my opinion.  What do you think?   

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Summer handwovens on deep discount

If you are a regular reader you know that for the past year and a half I've been pretty focused on weaving tapestry.
But I have a few handwoven items remaining that would be perfect to wear now and into the early fall.
I rarely put things on sale so this is your chance!  These sale prices are good through Friday, Aug. 11.    
If you are interested, please email me and we'll make it happen!

Handwoven infinity wrap.
Blue clasped weft lines highlight the moebius structure.
Lightweight and silky Tencel.  Handwash, hang to dry, touch up with warm iron.
Originally $125, now $65 plus shipping. 

Back view of Blue lines wrap.  

Handwoven infinity wrap.  
 Gray clasped weft lines highlight the moebius structure.  
Lightweight and silky Tencel.  Handwash, hang to dry, touch up with warm iron.  
Originally $125, now $65 plus shipping.

Back view of Gray lines wrap. 
Handwoven infinity scarf with Fuchsia clasped weft lines.
Was $95, now $45 plus shipping. 

Handwoven infinity scarf with Brown clasped weft lines.
Was $95, now $45 plus shipping. 

Handwoven infinity scarf with Dark Green clasped weft lines.
Was $95, now $45 plus shipping. 
Email me to purchase or with any questions you may have.  

P.S.  Next week I'll be putting on sale some of my mixed-media art for the wall.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Margins and borders

Artists, have you ever stepped back and looked at the whole range of your work, and noticed something, a common thread or theme, that you hadn't been aware of before?

Today I'm thinking out loud about a trend I've noticed in my own work.  Lately I've been purging my studio, pulling out old work and deciding what to do with it, and I've noticed a persistent habit or feature in my compositions that I wasn't fully aware of until now.  I seem to have a thing for margins and borders.

(c) Molly Elkind, Freud's Diagnosis, hand embroidery, c. 1995.
cotton.  12" x 12"

I did this embroidery as a surface design class assignment at the University of Louisville.  The dense stitching distorted the cotton ground, so I decided to exploit the mistake by stitching an off-kilter frame around the piece.  I still love the quotation, attributed to Freud:  "Constant needlework is one of the factors that rendered women particularly prone to hysteria because daydreaming over embroidery induced dispositional hypnoid states."  

(c) Molly Elkind, Out of My Hands, hand embroidery, 1998
cotton.  12" x 12"
This embroidery was inspired by Amish quilts.  As I worked I imagined what might result if those masterful quilters could break free of their carefully circumscribed lives and 20-stitches-per-inch standards, stitching irregular shapes that break the confines of the square and disrupt traditional patterns. 

Here's one of my first self-designed quilts.  It may be hard to make out in the photo below, but I chose to quilt the border with an irregular zigzag line, perhaps echoing the off-kilter log cabin frames around each flower, rather than a traditional feather or other curvilinear motif.   

(c) Molly Elkind, Applique Flowers, quilt, hand applique and quilting, machine piecing, 1993.
cotton, 35" x 29"
Here's another early quilt, in which the border comes and goes, like a lost-and-found line in drawing. I borrowed this idea from master quilter Ruth McDowell.

 (c) Molly Elkind, Cardinals, quilt, hand and machine pieced, appliqued and quilted. c. 1995
cotton.  54" x 70" 
Below are two pieces from my Ways of Looking at Dodd Creek series of small mixed media quilt/collages.  In this one I definitely see the wide border around a central image that continues to interest me today.  

(c) Molly Elkind, Ways of Looking at Dodd Creek #5, 2007.
Mixed media, 22" x 18" 

And in this piece, I couldn't resist adding a binding in an unexpected color.

(c) Molly Elkind, Ways of Looking at Dodd Creek #6, 2008.
Mixed media, 14" x 14"
So, what does all this have to do with anything?  I've been working on two series of tapestries for the past few years.  One series, inspired by an icon of the Virgin Mary, I've posted about fairly often, most recently here and here.  (It looks like I might need to do an update on these soon!)

The other series is inspired by the format, composition and colors of medieval illuminated manuscripts.  I love the way these manuscripts combine text and image in a gorgeous whole, a patterned, brilliantly colored, decorative surface that carries meaning. . .meaning that most of us can't decipher anymore.

Hours of Etienne Chevalier,
160 x 115 mm, c. 1420, Visitation,
illuminated by the Master of the Boucicaut Hours
British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts

I especially like the way some manuscript pages leave spacious margins around an area of dense text in the center of the page.  Sometimes these margins are filled with decorative patterns, sometimes not.  My tapestry Red Letter Day explored this composition in an abstract way.

(c) Molly Elkind, Red Letter Day, handwoven tapestry, 2016.
cotton, wool, synthetic.  35.5" x 26"

I'm going to continue to play with this theme as I work on more tapestries inspired by centers and margins.  

Hey, all you artists and makers out there!  Have you ever pulled out your work and looked at the whole range of it?  Did you discover anything surprising? 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Time Warp. . . and Weft: Tapestry Diary exhibit

I had the pleasure of viewing an exhibit of time-related tapestries last week in Athens, Georgia at the Lyndon House Arts Center.  A number of tapestry weavers have been making tapestry diaries and other pieces exploring the passage of time, and this exhibit highlights those weavings.  As always, it was great to see work in person that I had previously seen online or in printed publications.  You can appreciate the techniques, the textures, the physical presence of a weaving so much better in person.  

Perhaps the best surprise though was the sheer variety of approaches that is possible with what seems like a fairly straightforward idea:  mark the passage of time by weaving.  If you are interested in tapestry or in a daily practice of any kind, do yourself a favor and go see the show.  It's up through July 29, 2017.  And if you want to know how to get started on your own diary, read to the very end of this post for an exciting announcement!

Geri Forkner's daily weavings in foreground; Kathy Spoering's calendar pieces in background.
Photo by Jean Clark.
The pieces were beautifully installed in a spacious gallery.  Each artist's work was hung together so works could be compared from year to year.  Geri Forkner has been doing daily weavings incorporating found objects and non-traditional materials since 2005!  Her long narrow strips were hung from the ceiling and on the wall behind, making an visually rich environment that invited viewers to walk through and among them, studying individual details.

Geri Forkner, daily weavings, suspended and on wall
One of my favorite details was the comb which formed a miniature loom!

detail, Geri Forkner 
It was also interesting to see how Geri experimented with a different finish for the edges of some strips:

detail, Geri Forkner 
Several artists have taken the diary aspect literally, weaving a small defined bit each day.  Every artist sets up her own rules of the game, deciding in advance how colors will be chosen, what techniques will be used, and the overall size of the finished piece or pieces.  Janet Austin, Janette Meetze, and Tommye Scanlin have all created traditional wool (or mostly wool), weft-faced woven tapestries this way. Sometimes the month or the date is indicated; sometimes it is not.  But often events from the artist's life or the larger world make an appearance in the weaving.  The daily inventiveness of these artists' approach really impressed me.  And their craftsmanship inspires me as I continue to refine my own technique.

Janet Austin, Tapestry Diaries 2015 (left) and 2016.  Apologies for the askew photo. 
I love the way Janet Austin has outlined each day with a thin black line, setting it off and alluding, perhaps, to the calendar format.  And each day is a delightful miniature in itself.

detail, Janet Austin, 2010 tapestry diary 
Janette Meetze made her 2013 diary in three panels, with each day a distinct and detailed rectangle.

Janette Meetze, 2013 Tapestry Diary Triptych

detail, Janette Meetze, 2013 Tapestry Diary
But for 2015 Janette adopted a more fluid approach, in which the days flow into each other, and the journey through the year is like a hike through the hills.  Red squares on the sides indicate the months. 

Janette Meetze, 2015 Into the Hills

detail, Janette Meetze
Photo by Jean Clark
It was especially interesting to see how several artists' approach to the project changed over the years of their practice.  Tommye Scanlin has been weaving diaries since 2008.  You can see the evolution of her pieces below.  A weaver can choose to weave one loooooong piece, or several smaller pieces. She can choose to leave the warps unwoven when she is away from the loom, as Tommye has done in Year Two 2010 below.  In another year, she chose to weave a solid "filler" color for those days. 

Tommye Scanlin, left to right:  Month of May, 2008; Year One, 2009; Year Two 2010
For the past few years, Tommye has woven a small image related to the season for each month, and has indicated the passage of each day with squares and rectangles that surround each month's image. As long as each month's image and surrounding shapes are completed by month's end, it's all good. 

Tommye Scanlin, Year Seven, 2015 (left) and Year Eight (2016)

Kathy Spoering completed a calendar series, weaving a pictorial tapestry for each month of the year.  As I understand it from her blog, this was a project requiring several years' work, and the detailed imagery and thoughtful designs attest to that.

Kathy Spoering, January (top) and May
Kathy's pieces were hung in a grid of three rows of four pieces each.  Here's a detail of June:

detail, Kathy Spoering, June 
Finally, Rebecca Mezoff took yet another approach to the theme of time.  In a recent artists' residency at Petrified Forest National Park, she took her small Hokett loom outside each day and wove a 2" square piece in response to the landscape around her.  She mounted several of these pieces together on fabric-covered stretchers.  

Rebecca Mezoff, the Petrified Forest Tapestries 
These intimate pieces invite the viewer to come in close to appreciate the details.  Rebecca has also made a book available with photographs of the tapestries in the landscapes that inspired them.  I may have to treat myself to this.  Research, you know!  

detail, Rebecca Mezoff Petrified Forest Tapestries
I am mid-way through the second year of my own tapestry diary practice. (Go here to read about last year's diary and my plans for this year's.  My most recent post updates you on June 2017's diary.)  I am still fascinated by how this daily activity of sitting to weave a bit every morning has been such a spur to creativity--and a way to practice and refine my technique.  As I write this it is July 1, and while I have woven the hem of this new month's piece, I still don't know what my approach will be.  But tomorrow morning, I will find out.  Stay tuned.

P.S. I have just learned that I have been selected to teach "Plan Your Tapestry Diary" at next year's Convergence conference in Reno, Nevada.  If you're excited by the possibilities of any kind of time-related weaving (and isn't it all time-related?), join me there.