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ARTICLE ARCHIVE

November/December 2001

REVIEW

Innovations in Textile Art

Sharon Marcus, Chapters 7-10; linen, hemp, wire, laminated letterpress cards; wedge-woven, manipulated, and tea-stained; each, approx. 6.5 by 4 inches.Photo by the artist.

For the fourth time since 1995, in June St. Louis hosted a symposium that made the city a mecca to fiber artists. Gallery talks, lectures, a workshop, a panel discussion, and eight exhibits were organized under the auspices of the not-for-profit visual arts center Craft Alliance. The symposium was held in conjunction with the Midwest Weavers Conference that took place across the river the following week; weaving was the theme that tied everything together.

While weaving might seem an extremely open-ended theme for a fiber conference, it proved effective, for the eight exhibits were innovative, varied, and educational. Keynotes were struck at the Center for Contemporary Art with "Tapestry: Traditions/Transitions" and at Craft Alliance with "Woven Constructions," a show of sculptural basketry.

Jan Hopkins, Puzzled, 2000; grapefruit peel, waxed linen, paper; 11 by 6 by 8 inches. Photo: Jerry McCollum.
"Tapestry: Traditions/Transitions" was curated by Barbara Simon. Because tapestry has been made the same way since 2500 B.C., tradition always factors into the equation. Yet, for the most part, the exhibit focused on innovation, in terms of either political content or of form - with several pieces breaking out of the rectangle.

Marcel Marois' work started out being literary and representational. Today it is abstract with a political message. In Mutation - Temps, he draws inspiration from newspaper reports of ecological disasters and interprets them as if in a photographic blur.

Jon Eric Riis also makes political statements with his work. The stunning Babes in Arms presents three Nigerian children. Their limpid eyes and innocent fingers in their mouths contrast in chilling fashion with the semiautomatic weapons they hold. Riis also experiments with technique, as the beaded tapestries have been shaped and stuffed so that they stand freely like 19th-century cloth dolls.

Sharon Marcus presents two series of free-form tapestries as abstract representations of her Australian experience. Chapters look like pieces of bark or eroded rock. Woven as rectangles, the tapestries were then folded and twisted by pulling embedded wires. In Wall of China, she "let the process guide" her to wedge-weave the same shapes in a flat format.

Also noteworthy is Karen Benjamin, whom Simon called "an impeccably fine weaver." She hand dyes her yarns to create more traditional tapestries with luminous colors in abstract compositions.

Darryl and Karen Arawjo, Light Vessel CLXXV, 2001; hickory, walnut, monofilament; 7 by 8 by 8 inches. Photo: David W. Coulter.
"Woven Constructions," the exhibit curated by Jane Sauer at Craft Alliance, contained little work with overt political content, although some pieces referred to feminism. Practically every piece was innovative in terms of materials, technique, or both. Among the more extraordinary materials to surface are the grapefruit peels that newcomer Jan Hopkins weaves together to form the skin of her constructions. With a texture very similar to human skin, Puzzled, a three-dimensional head cut into jigsaw pieces, is particularly arresting.

On a large scale, witty Rita Grendtze wove together a chorus line of crutches to form the Kick. Susan Colquitt uses small-scale found materials, zippers that she winds to form gentle spikes. Another unusual material woven together in an innovative fashion is the beaded coin bag that Karyl Sisson recreates as a snakelike creature. Darryl and Karen Arawjo use traditional weaving techniques and an unusual material to create some of the most beautiful baskets in the show: using fishing line instead of a reed or grass causes their vessels to catch light within.

Also during the "Innovations in Textile Art" symposium, the St. Louis Art Museum presented "Oriental Carpets
Susie Colquitt, Permanence, 2000; nylon zippers, perm rods; 5.5 by 6 by 6 inches.
from the Collection," while Art St. Louis and the Artists Guild both displayed juried selections. Three private galleries - Elliot Smith Contemporary Art, Locus, and R. Duane Reed Gallery - exposed symposium attendees to groundbreaking work by such artists as Jane Birdsall Lander, Marjorie Hoeltzel, Jane Sauer, and Carol Eckert.

 

 

 

 

 

- Carol Ferring Shepley

Carol Ferring Shepley is a writer and teaches at Maryville University in St. Louis, Missouri.

INNOVATIONS IN TEXTILE ART
This review first appeared in:

Nov/Dec 2001


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