Once sequestered exclusively to the realm of crafts, fiber arts have leaped off their spindles and looms. This is not surprising since over the past several decades most creative disciplines have morphed, merged, and began to defy easy categorization by breaching once tidy boundaries. In addition to this general trend, developments in textile and fiber arts have also reflected the rise of Feminist Art in the 1970s—which affirmed that, yes, this is fiber art; yes, it derives from women’s handiwork; and yes, it deserves a valid place at the top of the fine art world. A further boost to this evolution comes from the current resurgence of interest in crafts and making.
For an indulgence in a fiber art feast there are currently four noteworthy exhibitions that feature contemporary fiber arts in the North Bay Area. While each exhibition has a unique focus, the common threads that surface are innovation, experimentation, and pushing boundaries; including unconventional materials, mixed-media, and incorporating new technologies.
Here’s the List of Exhibitions:
Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Sebastopol
International Fiber Arts VII is a biennial juried exhibition showcasing distinct and innovative approaches to fiber art techniques, and contemporary concepts that use traditional and unusual materials. This year’s highly esteemed jurors; Lia Cook (USA), John Hopper (UK), and Kyoko Kumai (Japan) reflect the international participation. While many local Bay Area artists are represented, the 63 selected pieces include works from across the U.S. as well as several other countries. However it needs to be noted that by looking at the installation as a whole, it would be very hard distinguish the work by country or region.
In keeping with the innovative theme of the show, the definition of a fiber is probed with materials such as hot glue, gut skin, and metal. One of my favorites, and a Coordinator’s Award winner, is The Hunger and the Silence, by Sandra Jane Heard (Ohio). The two-part structure is made of vintage steel tape measures, silk and linen yarn, with Earth and Lunar globes. According to the artist “The work investigates the consequences that arise when competing realms of existence clash, and examines the vast array of dualities, within this tug-of-war . . . The thread is intended to convey the connectedness of all existence. . . . Tape measures are utilized to express the human impact in regards to territory, power, and exploitation.” A strong piece by many standards, the power of the work is further enhanced by use of materials that are congruent to the message.
A merging of cultures occurs in Requiem, by Eszter Bornemisza (Hungary). The form of the piece is suggestive of three kimonos, and reflects the mulberry paper used in their construction. Bits of newspaper can be seen woven throughout the piece, inviting an attempt to read the text. The coherency of the design and materials contribute to the beauty and layered complexity of the piece.
Art Museum of Sonoma County, Santa Rosa
Sculpted Fiber: West Coast Artists puts the focus on the sculptural aspects of fiber art. From delicate needlework to large-scale installations this exhibition, curated by the Art Museum of Sonoma County, features a diverse group of contemporary fiber artists and sculptors working in both traditional and non-traditional formats. The range of exploration touches upon science, mathematics, and technology, or makes reference to historic or traditional art forms.
The most dramatic piece in the show takes sculpture to the realm of architecture. Palace Yurt, by Janice Arnold, is life-size Mongolian style yurt made of felted fibers using traditional methods. The installation invites visitors to enter and sit on fur and hide-covered benches. The artist states, “I want visitors to have a sensory encounter with felt that harkens back to our collective nomadic roots.” In the process of felting, patterns and words are worked into the matrix. At every step of the felting process a blessing is said, the blessing in English is incorporated on the outside, and in Mongolian on the inside.
On a more diminutive, but no less dramatic level, is an installation called 42 Wasps, by Esther Traugot. Made of found dead wasps and cotton thread, each wasp is carefully wrapped in a crocheted “halter” and hangs from a crocheted chain. Traugot says that she covers “objects of nature with crocheted threads in an attempt to ‘prop up’ or ‘put back’ what has been abandoned, or broken. As bandage or cozy, these support structures investigate the relationship between nurturing and controlling nature.”
Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, Sonoma
With a slightly different approach to innovation, An Accomplishment in Creativity: The Egyptian Children’s Tapestries features a project about creativity and children through the medium of tapestry. The project began in the 1950s as a unique educational experiment implemented by architect Ramses Wissa Wassef in the village of Harrania, Egypt. Prior to formal schooling, children between the ages of 5 and 10 in the small village, located at the foot of the Giza Pyramids, were selected to weave images created entirely from their own imagination. With only minimal instruction in technique, and no outside artistic influence, or adult criticism, Wassef set out to show that anyone, with the right environment, has the potential to create outstanding artwork. The over 25 tapestries on view come from the collection of Sonoma County resident, David B. Williams, who has travelled to the village and collected more than 200 weavings over several decades.
Marin Community Foundation, Novato
Installed in the large and specially designed office space of the Marin Community Foundation, fiberSHED presents approximately ninety artworks by twenty-four fiber artists, primarily from the Bay Area. Curator, Patricia Watts, has researched and organized a survey of work that reflects the regional propensity for environmental and conceptual art-making, while pushing the boundaries of fiber and textile arts in exciting and inventive ways. In reference to the title, fiberSHED, Watts states that, “These are artists who share a unique relationship with the landscape and who are making cutting-edge artworks rich in craft tradition, while reflecting local sociocultural discourse.”
In many ways Lia Cook epitomizes the current trends in fiber arts. Her work is on view at both the Marin Community Foundation, and the Art Museum of Sonoma County; additionally she was one of the three jurors for the show in Sebastopol. Cook, who is a Professor of Art, at California College of Arts, works in a variety of media combining weaving with painting, photography, video and digital technology, along with scientific inquiry. For her current project, Su Series, Cook is working in collaboration with neuroscientists to explore the sensuality of the woven image and the emotional connections to memories of touch and cloth.
George-Ann Bowers looks to the natural world for inspiration, as seen in Annie Creek. The infinite intricacies of pattern and structure in tree bark, lichen, rock formations and other natural phenomena inspire her compositions, evoking the fleeting moments of a dynamic and continuous cycle of creation, destruction and change.
These four exhibitions cover a full spectrum of traditional fiber and textile methods, while incorporating innovative uses of nontraditional materials, as well as mixed and new media. The work also explores various new directions including conceptual art and social commentary influenced by postmodern ideas.
Sebastopol Center for the Arts
International Fiber Arts VII, through November 28, 2015
282 High Street, in the Veterans’ Memorial Bldg., Sebastopol, CA
Art Museum of Sonoma County
Sculpted Fiber: West Coast Fiber Artists, through November 29, 2015
425 Seventh Street, Santa Rosa, CA
Sonoma Valley Museum of Art
An Accomplishment in Creativity: The Egyptian Children’s Tapestries, through December 6, 2015
551 Broadway, Sonoma, CA
Marin Community Foundation
fiberSHED, through January 15, 2016
5 Hamilton Landing, Suite 200, Novato, CA