Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Denver Art Museum tapestry show

Recently I had the good fortune to see Creative Crossroads:  The Art of Tapestry, currently on exhibit at the Denver Art Museum.  My appetite had been whetted for the show by Rebecca Mezoff's posts and other publicity and discussion in the tapestry world--and I was not disappointed.  The show was spectacular.  Do check out Rebecca's post for a behind-the-scenes look at the conservation of one of the large old tapestries on view.  She also has links to more photos of the show, the artists, and to videos the Museum made about her teacher, the late artist James Koehler.

Rebecca writes:
Though I find these old tapestries fascinating, I fear we are in danger of thinking that tapestry is ONLY a historical practice and is irrelevant today. The tapestries in the rest of the show make us think about what tapestry has been over the last five centuries, how it has changed, and perhaps a little about what it means today.
I agree:  while Renaissance-era European tapestries are awe-inspiring, I am more interested, as a contemporary practitioner of the art, in what tapestry can be today.  For me, at this show, the work by weavers in non-European cultures, or work informed by other cultures, is exciting and inspiring. 

Peruvian Table Cover, mid-18th century
This table cover is believed to have been worked by Peruvians under Spanish direction, and it combines European motifs (such as the double-headed eagle in the center) with Peruvian creatures real and imaginary (fire-breathing dragons in the corner, a rodent called a viscacha).  I love the density and energy of the imagery, how it fills every bit of space.  I also love how there are very few sharp angles--it's nearly all sinous, rounded curves.  There are lots of diagonal lines and shapes.  Altogether, the dense imagery,  the curves and the diagonals create a vibrant sense of movement.  Conventional tapestry weaving creates a gridded mesh; to make such smooth curved lines and shapes on a grid takes special skill.  In addition,  the piece was woven in two halves and stitched together up the middle.  The join is nearly flawless: another neat technical feat!

detail, Peruvian Table Cover, mid-18th century

Next to the Peruvian piece hangs a prayer rug from Turkey:

Turkish prayer rug, mid-18th century
In this piece too, the rich profusion of pattern conveys delight in the orderly beauty to be found in the natural world, even (especially?) if the elements of that world are abstracted, simplified, and stylized.

Navajo rug, Ason Yellowhair, 1983
Next to the Turkish prayer rug is this Navajo rug.   This is one of my favorite pieces in the show.  I love the variety within the strict repetition.  The strong border and orderly rows of flowering plants are enlivened by the unpredictable use of color in the flowers.  And as far as I could tell, each and every bird is uniquely colored.

detail, Navajo Rug by Ason Yellowhair
While the flowering plants are strictly geometric, the birds have a subtle roundedness that is a beautiful contrast.  The large scale and rich spots of color on a neutral ground again convey delight in the beauty and the underlying order of Nature.

detail, Navajo Rug by Ason Yellowhair
American weaver James Koehler's tapestry effectively combines motifs from Native American and Amish textiles:

Chief Blanket with Blocks by James Koehler, 1991/2002
The broad bands of the Navajo Chief's blanket are set off by the Amish diamond-in-a-square quilt block.  Looking closely, you can see a subtly darker purple square within each purple diamond.  Koehler was a master dyer who specialized in extremely subtle gradations of color, and here he pays homage to the surprising use of color often found in Pennsylvania Amish quilts.  (I have a special affection for this piece because it reminds me of how I got started on my life as a textile artist:   I stumbled across an Amish quilt--a purple diamond in a square!--in a magazine 25 years ago.)

detail, Chief Blanket with Blocks by James Koehler, 1991/2002

Of all the artists in the show, only one,  contemporary New Mexico weaver Irvin Trujillo, was represented by more than one piece.  The one I kept going back to recently won La Lana Weaving Award for Innovative Use of Color and Design in Rio Grande Weaving at Santa Fe's 104 Spanish Market.  This is Saltillo Shroud, purchased by the Denver Art Museum for this show:  

Saltillo Shroud, Irvin Trujillo, 2014
One could gaze at this piece for hours and still discover new details.  The intricacy of the weaving, the use of color transparency, the re-interpretation of traditional motifs from Spanish weaving . . .this is The Great American Novel written in the language of Southwestern weaving.  The piece radiates vibrant energy.  It is truly an eye-dazzler. 

detail, Saltillo Shroud by Irvin Trujillo, 2014
detail, Saltillo Shroud by Irvin Trujillo, 2014
There are two contemporary pieces in the show that break free of the strict rectilinear grid of traditional weaving and explore texture and three-dimensional space.  These pieces revel in weaving for its own sake, in the textures, lines and shapes that can only be made with weaving techniques. 

Parchment by Gayle Wimmer, 1981

Tapis Pobre, by Josep Grau-Garriga, 1973
I enjoy seeing how weaving can make sculptures with such powerful presence.  These pieces do not tell a story or serve any function but to entice the eye . . . and the hand.  But I know that to weave in this way is not my own direction.  For now at least I am driven to use traditional tapestry techniques to make pieces that speak with my own voice.  The work in this show was rich and satisfying food for the journey.  

If you find yourself in Denver anytime before March 6, 2016, go see the show!  And let us know what you think. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Work in progress

 I'm in the final two weeks' production push for work for two back-to-back shows/sales in November.  Here's what's coming off my loom these days.

Gold tencel weft on black alpaca-silk warp for shawl.  The photo does not capture the metallic iridescence. 
Long tencel striped twill scarves have been washed and are drying before trimming and finishing
And meanwhile, my tapestry is coming along.  I'm so excited to have finished this spiral, after many attempts! It looks slightly off at the top but that will be fixed when the white background coming up on the left finally reaches and covers the spiral.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

What are you doing after Halloween?

Shopping, of course, for holiday gifts!  It's sad but true--here in Georgia the leaves have just begun to turn, and those of us in the making biz are in high gear getting ready for holiday shows and sales. 

This is a shamelessly commercial post about where you can find fabulous hand-made goods of all sorts in the Atlanta area in the next month.

First, the annual Fiber Art Sale at Southeast Fiber Arts Alliance (SEFAA).  This sale keeps getting bigger and better and features some of the finest fiber artists at work in the Atlanta area (including, ahem, yours truly).  That's my bead-embroidered cuff in the ad below. 

The sale will be held at the SEFAA Center, 1705 Commerce Drive NW, Atlanta 30318, on Saturday Nov. 7 (11-5) and Sunday Nov. 8 (12-4).  A silent auction featuring pieces donated by artists will run Saturday 11-1.  Among the items up for bid is a week at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts,  a one day workshop with fashion innovator Alabama Chanin. . . and the cuff pictured above! For a full list of participating artists and more details, click here.

The following weekend, Nov. 13-15, we are holding our third annual Alpharetta Art and Fine Craft Show at our home.  Seven other artists will join Sam and me, offering original pastel paintings, classic black and white photographs, unique handcrafted jewelry, handwoven items to wear, home-canned yummy produce, and beautiful hand-crafted pens.  There is truly is something for everyone and at every price point.  And it's always a bit of a house party, with friends, food, laughter and art talk flying around.  Consider this your invitation to just come and hang out!  

Here's a sampling of the work you'll see:

Pendant by Lynn Edwards

Pastel painting by Marilyn Kleinhans

Byzantine necklace in gold and silver by Nancy Bruns

silver gelatin photograph by John Long
handwoven neck piece by Dinah Rose

Tsankewi Cliffs silver gelatin photo by Sam Elkind
pens from exotic woods and polymers by Jan Hughey
infinity scarf by Molly Elkind
Send me a comment below if you need our address and you think you're not on my regular email mailing list.  Hope to see you soon!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

SCAD FASH spotlights Oscar de la Renta

The folks at SEFAA, where I gave a talk on Sunday, urged me to GO!  Go see the show they had just seen at SCAD FASH, the art school's brand-new fashion museum.  On this opening day admission was free and I found a bunch of excited art students and fashion followers queued up at the top of parking deck waiting to get in.  The inaugural exhibit focuses on the work of Oscar de la Renta.

Entrance to SCAD FASH, from 4th level of parking deck.
The show has obvious appeal to designers, fashion lovers and followers of haute couture.  During my visit, it was fun to check in with the white-coated docents who carried iPads loaded with photos of celebrities wearing the gowns on display, including Taylor Swift, Oprah Winfrey, Sarah Jessica Parker and Nicole Kidman. 

Gown worn by Sarah Jessica Parker, who asked the designer to sign his work
 But the show is also a must-see for anyone interested in fabric, clothing, and embellishment.  Formal evening gowns comprise the bulk of the show, with a number of day dresses, suits and coats thrown in.

I really enjoyed leaning in to admire some of the incredibly intricate detail. 

This hand was gesturing, not reaching out to touch.  No touching allowed, of course!

Look at the incredible embroidery on this coat!


My photo does not do justice to the rich surface of this green brocade.


I love the giant bows that added back interest to so many of the gowns.  One dress even included a removable bustle.  What's old is new again.

I also thought the show was beautifully installed.  The lights were low, in keeping with the need to preserve textiles from the damage light can cause.  Flash photography was forbidden.  The mannequins were themselves embellished in various witty ways--beaded eyelashes, for example--that to me were just the right nod of respect to a master of embellishment.  And as you can see in the photo below there was some fun had with the lighting and backdrops.  I could have done without the disco ball effect in one corner of the exhibit, however; to me it seemed distracting.  Overall, though, this show is very promising debut for SCAD FASH.

The show runs through Dec. 31.  Treat yourself and go!