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November/December 2002



Jill Nordfors Clark has lived all of her life on, in, or near salt water. "When I need to restore my soul, I head for the beach," she says, "to walk, breathe the salt air, and collect shells and agates." The lure of the sea is evident in her art. No matter the materials used - and she works with a wide range of found and manufactured materials, such as hog casings (gut), quill, lace, buttons, and wire - the end result has the look of organic materials calcified and made translucent, as if seen through water.

For many years, Nordfors Clark worked with embroidery and needle lace. She wrote what may be the definitive book on the subject, Needle Lace: Techniques and Inspiration. But over the past seven years, she has focused more and more on contemporary, nontraditional basketry, inspired by the Native American baskets of the Pacific Northwest, where she lives and works in a studio overlooking the Cascade Mountains and Commencement Bay. "My work with hog gut has been inspired by these native people," she says, "their environment, and their use of a readily available material to make essential pieces of clothing and vessels. I love the translucency and parchmentlike quality of the gut when dry."

Remembering, 2001; needle lace, hog gut, forsythia twigs, cotton thread; 15.5 by 6 by 6 inches. Photo: Kevin McGowan. Courtesy of Mobilia Gallery, Cambridge, Mass.

She works with the gut while wet, stretching it over molds, sandwiching stitched lace between layers of gut and incorporating natural and found materials as she works. The materials themselves often inspire her designs, but at least one recent basket was inspired by a decidedly unnatural event. In this piece, based on the World Trade Center disaster, a tall rectangular form is made of inner and outer shells of hog gut: one in a natural color to represent the building before it was destroyed and one dyed black to represent the building afterward. Covering the lower half are small sheets of Pellon, a nonwoven synthetic interfacing for sewing, painted with gray and silver acrylic paint; these represent the papers that flew from the building as it fell.

Typically, Nordfors Clark makes gridlike baskets by stitching with the gut as if it were thread and incorporating natural and found materials as she works, as in Remembering, which incorporates forsythia branches gathered at the time of her father's death. The rectangular basket of stitched gut contains the forsythia twigs that grow triumphantly upward as if trying to escape their confinement. It is a serene and majestic piece, a metaphor for the persistence of nature even in the face of death.

-Alec Clayton




Urchin II, 2002; needle lace, hog casings, buttons, wire; 9 inches high,
14 inches in diameter. Photo: Chris Nordfors.
Detail, Urchin II. Photo: Chris Nordfors.
                                                       Shades of Gray, 2001; needle lace, hog
                                                       casings, Pellon, acrylic paint; 25 by 7 by
                                                       7 inches. Photo: Kevin McGowan.
Detail, Shades of Gray. Photo: Kevin McGowan.
                                                        Take Flight, 2001; needle lace, hog gut,
                                                        weeping willow; 26 inches high, 8.5
                                                        inches in diameter. Photo: Kevin
Wrapped, Stitched, Bundled, Tied, 2001;
needle lace, hog gut, cedar; 52 inches high,
8 inches in diameter. Photo: Kevin McGowan.
                                         Detail, Games We Used to Play; needle lace, dyed
                                         and natural hog gut; 17.25 by 6 by 6 inches.
                                         Photo: Kevin McGowan.
Urchin III, 2002; needle lace, hog casings, goose quill toothpicks; 6.75 inches high, 8.75 inches in diameter. Photo: Chris Nordfors.

Alec Clayton is an artist and freelance writer living in Olympia, Washington.

This profile first appeared in:

Nov/Dec 2002

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