Category: Basketmakers

Catalog Lookback: Fan Favorites, an online exhibition

Portraits of Hisako Sekijima, Gyöngy Laky, Mary Merkel-Hess and Kay Sekimachi
clockwise: Hisako Sekijima 1994 solo exhibition at browngrotta arts. Gyöngy Laky 1993 preparing on a piece for her two-person exhibition at browngrotta arts. Our first meeting with Mary Merkel-Hess 1990 at her exhibition at the NY Armory. Kay Sekimachi in her closet selecting works for her 1992 two-person exhibit with Bob Stocksdale at browngrotta arts. Photos by Tom Grotta

In our 50 catalogs, we have showcased the work of 172 different artists. Four of these artists, however — Mary Merkel-Hess, Kay Sekimachi, Hisako Sekijima and Gyöngy Laky —  we have repeatedly chosen as a focus. Each has been the subject of more than one catalog — solo or two-person or special grouping  — and each has been featured in several of our themed survey publications. These artists explore different materials or forms, creating objects and works for the wall.  That willingness to innovate and reinvent has made them continuously collectible for those who acquire works in breadth and for those who pursue the work of individual artists in depth as well.

Details of works by Mary Merkel-Hess
Details of Mary Merkel-Hess’ paper sculptures on and off the wall. Photos by Tom Grotta

Mary Merkel-Hess’s work was the subject of one of our first catalogs in 1992 (#2) Mary Merkel-Hess. The work in our first solo exhibition of her work was brilliantly colored — vessels of green, indigo, cornflower, red and bronze — but our catalog technology was strictly black and white. Despite the noncolor depiction in the small catalog, the lyrical works of papercord and reed were popular and sold out. Her work was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art that year — one of the first contemporary baskets to enter the Museum’s collection. The success of that exhibition spurred us to host a second show, work by Merkel-Hess and Leon Niehues, in 1996 (#15). Merkel-Hess threw us a curve, though, by skipping the color that we considered her hallmark and producing, instead, a show of work made of translucent white papers — gampi, kobo, abaca, flax — some of it tinged with gold.  These works turned out to be as popular as those in color. Since then, her works have become larger and more sculptural and her recognition has grown while her popularity with collectors has remained a constant.  Her work will be part of Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber Art for Three Decades (#50), in September of this year. 

Details of works by Kay Sekimachi
Details of baskets and sculptural weavings by Kay Sekimachi. Photos by Tom Grotta

In catalog (#3) Bob Stocksdale and Kay Sekimachi, also 1992 and still black and white, Kay Sekimachi’s work made its first appearance, coupled with wood bowls turned by her husband, Bob Stocksdale. Sekimachi has reinvented her practice several times in her lengthy career. She studied weaving with Trude Guermonprez in San Francisco and Jack Lenor Larsen at Haystack in Maine in the 50s. By the 60s she was working with complicated 12-harness looms to create ethereal hanging sculptures of monofilament, then a new material. They were featured in MoMA’s Wall Hangings exhibition in 1963, Deliberate Entanglements at UCLA in 1971 and the Lausanne Biennial in 1975 and 1983. Sekimachi was also part of the contemporary, nonfunctional basket movement with other California artists in the 1960s and 1970s.  This body of work included small woven baskets and woven paperfold-like boxes made of antique Japanese papers. For our exhibition in 1992, she created gossamer flax bowls and patched pots of linen warp ends and rice paper. For our our 1999 exhibition, (#24) Bob Stocksdale Kay Sekimachi: books, boxes and bowls, she created woven boxes and books, and bowls in typical Japanese ceramic shapes that she formed using Stocksdale’s turned bowls as molds. Still the subject of museum recognition and collector acclaim, Sekimachi continues to work at 94, weaving intimate, abstract weavings reminiscent of drawings in pen and ink. 

Details of works by Gyöngy Laky
Details of of sculptures on and off the wall by Gyöngy Laky. Photos by Tom Grotta

In 1993 we produced our first catalog featuring Gyöngy Laky’s work (#5) Leon Niehues and Gyöngy Laky. The exhibition included 13 vessel shapes and one wall work. In 1996, we visited Laky’s complex construction again (#16) Gyöngy Laky and Rebecca Medel. “I think of myself as a builder of sketches in three dimensions,” she said of her textile architecture. The 1996-1997 exhibition featured Laky’s three-dimensional words, an important aspect of her oeuvre. The two versions of the word “No” or “On” illustrated the myriad ways in which such themes are deftly articulated by Laky. Affirmative No. 1 was made of brightly colored, coated telephone wire, piled and sewn. Affirmative No. 2  was much larger — the “O” made of branches still covered with bark, the “N” made of pieces of stripped, unfinished wood. The catalog also contained an image of That Word.  Now in the collection of the federal court in San Francisco, it spells out “ART” in larger-than-life, 3-d letters made of orchard prunings that are seven feet tall. Laky has continued creating word sculptures that combine natural and manmade materials, as disparate as bleached cottonwood branches, plastic army men and construction bullets of metal. In 2008, The New York Times Magazine commissioned her to create titles for its environmental survey, “The Green Issue.” The works that resulted were awarded a Type Directors Club Award. Laky will have two works in Volume 50: a large vessel-shaped sculpture and a type-related, free-standing arrow.

Details of works by Hisako Sekijima
Details of Bark basket sculptures in varying materials by Hisako Sekijima. Photos by Tom Grotta

Last, but certainly not least is Hisako Sekijima, whose innovation and artistry seem to know few bounds. We have focused on her work in three catalogs — (#8) Hisako Sekijima/1994; (#19) Glen Kaufman and Hisako Sekijima/1998; (#30) Japan Under The Influence: Innovative basketmakers deconstruct Japanese tradition/2001. Bark and vine become fabric and thread, framing and nails as Sekijima conducts her experiments in volume and void. The first catalog of Sekijima’s work (#8) included works in wide variety of materials — cherry bark, kudzu vine, cedar, willow, hackberry, bamboo. We were particularly pleased when The New York Times made the 1994 exhibition and the variety of work included the subject of a full-page article in its Connecticut section. They turned to her work again in The New York Times Magazine, including a work of kudzu vine in an article on the uses of the invasive species. We visited Sekijima’s work again in 1998, pairing her pieces, this time of zelikova, apricot, hinoki, walnut and palm hemp bark, with jacquard weavings by Glen Kaufman featuring photographic images of Kyoto. In 2001, we combined works by seven basket artists in Japan: Under the Influence, Innovative basketmakers deconstruct Japanese tradition #30). Sekijima was included, as were four of her students from Japan — Norie Hatekeyama, Kazue Honma, Noriko Takamiya and Tsuroko Tanikawa— each of whom had, like their teacher, had mastered Japanese basketmaking tradition, only to give it a twist. Sekijima wrote in Japan Under the Influence, that Kay Sekimachi (also featured in the catalog) was one of the American artists whose “new notions of basketmaking” and “new forms” had a decisive impact on her as she studied basketmaking in the late 70s. “Since then,” she wrote, “Sekimachi has always been one of my teachers at a distance. Her work has always reminded me of a Japanese respectful expression orime tadashii, which literally means, ‘one’s kimono preserves neat lines of folding which connotes integrity of behavior.’” Sekijima’s work, A Line Willow IV is part of our September exhibition. Like the works these artists have produced over nearly three decades, A Line Willow IV,  represents a line innovative art making that is knotless, homogeneous and flexible. 

See more at our September exhibition, Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber Art for Three Decades (#50).


Artist Focus: Gyöngy Laky

From City Tree Trimmings to Industrial Harvest, Artist Gyöngy Laky’s Textile Architecture Addresses Contemporary Environmental Issues

Kristina Ratliff and Ryan Urcia

Laky 1997 studio portrait in front of That Word. Photo by Tom Grotta
Portrait of Gyöngy Laky by Tom Grotta 1997. In the background, That Word.

While many artists work conceptually to inspire awareness and address issues of climate change, artists of Fiber Art and Modern Craft have a unique and inherently harmonious relationship with the environment, from their intimate use of natural materials to the fundamentally “slow art” process of hand craftsmanship. 

In terms of the materials they use, they most often come from the earth, from private garden cultivation and harvesting to regional sourcing of plant life – such as bamboo, willow and cedar, and their earthy “scraps” such as branches, grasses, bark and twigs – impress an intrinsic awareness of the origin of things. This, coupled with the preservation of age-old techniques such as weaving, knotting, tying and bundling, earn these creatives rightful acclaim as stewards at the interconnection of art and nature. 

Details of Gyöngy Laky's works
Left to right, top to bottom: Stain 2000, Shifting Currents 2011, Big Question 2007, Our Egg 2018, Cradle to Cradle 2007, Ec Claim! 2014, Occupy 2017, Alterations 2008, Dry Land Drifter 2010

San Francisco-based artist Gyöngy Laky (most people call her Ginge, with a soft “g”) is known for her sculptural vessels, typographical wall sculptures, and site-specific outdoor works composed of materials harvested from nature — such as wood gleaned from orchard pruning, park and garden trimmings, street trees and forests of California — and discarded objects she considers “industrial harvest” such as recycled materials and post-consumer bits from surplus such as screws, nails, telephone wire.

“These annually renewable linear elements are regarded as discards,” Laky notes. “In my studio practice, however, they are employed as excellent and hardy materials.

Gyöngy Laky studio detail
Laky studio, 2018. Photo by Tom Grotta

Born in Hungary in 1944, the physical and emotional effects of war impacted Laky from a very young age and her works often have underlying themes of opposition to war and militarism as well as climate change and the environment, gender equality. Her family emigrated to the US in 1949, resettling in Ohio, Oklahoma and eventually, California.

“After escaping the ravages of war as refugees,” she remembers, Nature’s embrace slowly healed my family,” 

Portrait of the artist working on a piece
Gyöngy Laky working on a piece in her studio, 2018. Photo by Tom Grotta

As a professor at the University of California, Davis for 28 years, Laky was instrumental in developing Environmental Design as an independent department (now the Department of Design). Here, she became fascinated by grids, latticework, tensile structures, strut-and-cable construction and other architectural and engineering linear assemblages. Coupled with her extensive background in textiles, she uses hand-construction techniques based in textile work to build sculptures invigorated by her attraction to the human cleverness of building things. She calls this discipline “Textile Architecture”.  

“The vertical and horizontal elements of textile technology – ubiquitous in textile constructions of all sorts – underpins so much of human ingenuity about making things and led us, eventually, to the age of computers.  In the context of a personal examination of our complex relationship with the world around us, my work often combines materials sourced from nature with screws, nails or ‘bullets for building’ (as the drywall screws I like are, ironically, called). The incongruity of hardware protruding from branches hints at edgy relationships as well as the flux of human interaction with nature,”  says Laky.

Laky is also known for her outdoor and temporary site-specific installations,  including land art works in Italy, which have all addressed nature and environmental sustainability issues.  In 2008, she was commissioned by The New York Times to create sculptures for their “green” issue dedicated to Earth Day. This cover work, titled Alterations, contrasts natural apple wood and grapevine with rough industrial materials, tenuously joined by metal screws, nails, bullets and wire which figuratively, literally and symbolically represent  direct and subtle messages about the interdependence of man and nature.

Laky’s works are in the permanent collections of museums including MoMA in New York, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Smithsonian.  She has had solo exhibitions at Officinet Gallery, Danish Arts and Crafts Association in Copenhagen and Royal Institute of British Architects Gallery, Manchester, and has shown at San Francisco Museum of Art, Renwick Gallery, De Young Museum, and International Biennial of Tapestry in Lausanne, to name a few. She is the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Grant and a fellow of American Craft Council. For a full list visit browngrotta.com.

For the upcoming exhibition Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber Art for Three Decades at browngrotta arts in Wilton, CT (September 12-20),  Laky continues her personal examination of the complex relationships we have with the world around us and will be presenting three works – Deviation, We Turn and Traverser

Deviation by Gyöngy Laky, 2020. Photo by Tom Grotta

Laky’s typographical wall sculpture, Deviation, is made of apple trimmings, acrylic paint and screws. It portrays many meanings, from functioning like diacritical marks representing “Oh, Why?” to the myriad implications and emotions of the word “Oy” –  the Yiddish word meaning woe, dismay or annoyance – or, if flipped, “Yo” – a slang salutation for “hello” or representing “good luck” rolling an 11 in the game of craps, the only number that always wins.

See more in our exhibition, Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber Art for Three Decades at browngrotta arts in Wilton, CT (September 12-20), http://www.browngrotta.com/Pages/calendar.php


Catalog Lookback: California Dreamin’ – An Online Exhibition on Artsy

Ed Rossbach, Katherine Westphal, Adela Akers, Syvia Seventy, Marion Hildebrandt, Judy Mulford, Deborah Valoma Catalogs

Ed Rossbach | Katherine Westphal | Marion Hildebrandt | Judy Mulford | Deborah Valoma | Adela Akers | Sylvia Seventy

California has played a seminal role in both the history of the Contemporary Fiber Arts Movement and artists from California have played an equally significant role in browngrotta arts’ exhibition archive.  You’ll find California artists represented in nearly all our group catalogs: Lawrence LaBianca in Stimulus: Art and its Inception (vol. 36); Carol Shaw-Sutton in 25 for the 25th (vol. 25); Nancy Moore Bess in 10th Wave I (vol. 17) and 10th Wave II (vol. 18); Karyl Sisson in Karyl Sisson and Jane Sauer (vol. 12) and Ferne Jacobs in Blue/Green: color/code/context (vol. 44). 

California Dreamin’, an online exhibition on Artsy from May 11 to June 5th, features seven artists: Ed Rossbach, Katherine Westphal, Marion Hildebrandt, Judy Mulford, Deborah Valoma, Adela Akers and Sylvia Seventy.  The exhibition borrows from three browngrotta catalogs (vols. 6, 20, 26) and highlights decades worth of art.

Ed Rossbach Basket
Green with Four Ears by Ed Rossbach, 1984. Photo by Tom Grotta

Best-known of the group, Ed Rossbach, completed his graduate studies at Cranbrook in 1946. He, along with Marianne Strengell worked within the narrow parameters of Euro-Bauhaus-Scandinavian weaving traditions for industry.  “In reaction to this tight definition of textiles,” Jo Ann C. Stabb wrote in Retro/Prospective: 25+ Years of Art Textiles and Sculpture (vol. 37), “Rossbach became fascinated by indigenous textile processes and the use of found materials as he studied artifacts in the anthropology collection at University of California, Berkeley, as a faculty member from 1950 to 1979. Noted for creating three-dimensional, structural forms from unexpected, humble materials including plastic, reeds, newspaper, stapled cardboard, twigs,  Rossbach inspired a renaissance in basketry and vessel forms and influenced other artists, including his students Gyöngy Laky and Lia Cook.”

Katherine Westphal Komono
Chuto-Haupa by Katherine Westphal, 1983. Photo by Tom Grotta

Katherine Westphal, who was married to Rossbach, generated experiments of her own.  In the late 60s she was among the first artists to use photocopy machines to make images for art. In the 1970s, in addition to drawings to baskets, she began creating wearable art, which, according to Glenn Adamson, former director of the Museum of Arts and Design. was a genre she essentially invented. She wanted it said of the graments she created:  “there wasn’t another one like it in the world, and most people probably wouldn’t be caught dead in it.”  Few were worn, most were hung on the wall like paintings.  Her work displayed wide-ranging, autobiographical themes, arising from her travels: Native American art from trips through the Southwest, cracked Greek pots viewed on a trip to the Met, portraits of geishas after visiting Japan. “I want to become a link in that long chain of human activity, the patterning on any surface available,” she said. 

Large Sylvia Seventy Paper Basket
Bound Vessel IX by Sylvia Seventy, 1983. Photo by Tom Grotta

Also in the 70s, Sylvia Seventy, inspired in part by her studies of the art of the Pomo Indians, was exploring her own innovative techniques in paper making.  In 1982, The New York Times said of her works, “The vessel forms of Sylvia Seventy, all produced over molds, are rich, earthy bowl shapes, with embedded bamboo, cotton cord and sisal.  From a distance they appear to be hard, perhaps stoneware; on closer inspection, they are fragile works.”  Her vessels feature an accretion of items: compositions of beads, feathers, fishhooks, googly eyes, hand prints, and buttons, creating what Charles Tally called “emotionally poignant landscapes within the interior of the vessel[s].” (Artweek, November 29, 1990). 

Deborah Valoma, author, art historian and creator of both textile and sculpture, heads the Textiles Program at the California College of Arts and Crafts (Oakland).  Valoma credits numerous influencers for her work: “I first learned to knit in Jerusalem from a Polish refugee of the Holocaust.  I learned to stitch lace from my grandmother, descendant of Armenian survivors of the Turkish massacres.  I learned to twine basketry from one of the few living masters of Native American basketweaving in California. These dedicated women tenaciously pass the threads of survival forward.  When their memory fails, my hands remember.  My hands trace the breathless pause when I teeter on the sharp edge of sorrow and beauty.”  Using hand-construction techniques and cutting-edge digital weaving technology, her work hugs the edges of traditional practice.  She upholds traditional customs and at the same time, unravels long-held stereotypes.  Valoma believes that students must locate themselves within historical lineages in order to understand the historical terrain they walk — and sometimes trip — through daily. 

Detail of Sigmund Freud Quote woven by Deborah Valoma
Detail of Femininity by Deborah Valoma, 2008
Grouping Marion Hildebrandt baskets
Baskets by Marion Hildebrandt, 2002-2003. Photo by Tom Grotta

Marion Hildebrandt lived and worked in Napa Valley, gathering most of the plant material used in her baskets from the region until her death in 2011.  “My works are a coming together of my life experiences,” Hildebrandt said.  “My basketmaking reflects a longtime interest and study of native California flora and fauna.”  Hildebrandt employed the same materials that Native Americans used when they inhabited the area.  “It is still possible to find plants here that were used by basketmakers 4000 years ago,” she noted. Although she never attempted to replicate their baskets, she shared a similar appreciation for the natural materials that surrounded her.  “Ever so subtly, plants cycle from winter to summer,” she observed. “Each day, week, month brings changes that effect the materials that I collect and use for my baskets.”

Detail of Judy Mulford Sculpture
Detail of Plan Your Parenthood-Population by Judy Mulford, 2009. Photo by Tom Grotta

Further down the California coast, Judy Mulford continues to create her narrative sculptures and baskets of gourds.  Mulford studied Micronesian fiber arts and in the 70s was one of a group of women who worked on Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party.  She says each piece she creates “becomes a container of conscious and unconscious thoughts and feelings: a nest, a womb, a secret, surprise or a giggle.  And always, a feeling of being in touch with my female ancestral beginnings.”  Her sculptures integrate photo images, drawings, script, buttons and small figures.  Mulford explains: “The gourds are surrounded by knotless netting – an ancient looping technique – symbolic because it is also a buttonhole stitch historically rooted in the home.”

Angled Blue, 1989 and Markings and Blues, 2018 by Adela Akers. Photo by Tom Grotta

In the 1970s, Adela Akers on the East Coast teaching at Temple University, but she has been creating art as a resident of Califonia for the last 25 years. Drawing inspiration from African and South American textiles, Akers creates woven compositions of simple geometric shapes, bands, zigzags and checks.  Many of her works incorporate metal strips —  meticulously measured and cut from recycled California wine bottle caps.  Her techniques and materials produce images that change under different lighting conditions.  Akers also frequently incorporates horsehair into her weavings, adding texture and dimensionality.  Over time, Akers’ work has evolved in scale, material and construction. Yet, several themes reoccur, notably the use of line which, in conjunction with light, brings forth the transformative quality that uniquely characterizes her work.

From May 11th to June 7th, view an assortment of works by these artists at California Dreamin’ on Artsy



Art & Text Opens — Reception at the Wilton Library on October 11th

On Art and On Life Dana Romeis
8dr/r On Art 9dr/r On Life Dana Romeis, silk and cotton, 24″ X 24″, 1991

Through November 7th, browngrotta arts is participating in Art & Text, an inaugural collaboration of 13 libraries in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Each library within the consortium will highlight one or more artists, whose work reflects their unique perspectives on the exhibition’s theme.  Throughout the County, Art & Text runs from September 1 through December 31, 2019, with shows running from one week to 3 months, depending on a library’s individual calendar. Through mixed media, ranging from sculpture and painting to graphics, each library’s exhibition aims to promote awareness of visual arts in the libraries of Fairfield County, as well as foster a connection between the community it serves and the arts.
browngrotta arts provided works by nine artists who use text in their art in a a number of different ways, including embroidered words, collaged newspapers and sculptured works made of the Congressional Record.

The Sun-Shine on the Water, Naomi Kobayashi
50nk The Sun-Shine on the Water, Naomi Kobayashi, washi paper, koyori thread, india ink, cotton, 20″ x 12.5″ x 2″, 2009

One of the works included is by Naomi Kobayashi who incorporates strips of calligraphy into her weavings. In a an ideal Art & Text plot twist, author William Bayer was inspired by Kobayashi’s work. In his book Hiding in the Weave, the protagonists have to deconstruct a weaving to find a clue to solve a mysterious death. Other artists presented through browngrotta arts include Dana Romeis, who is an artist and interior designer from St. Louis, Missouri. She has a background in art and textiles. From an early age, Dana has been drawn to the intricacy of design. She is particularly fond of the quote, “God is in the details” by Mies van der Rohe. In On Life and On Art,  she has incorporated text into her weavings.

The Congressional Record, Kate Hunt
The Congressional Record, Kate Hunt, nails, twime, encaustic, 12″ x 9″ x 4″

Kate Hunt is from Montana and has recently relocated to Mexico. She says of newsprint, her chosen material: “Newspaper as a construction material is cheap and easy to obtain. It forgives easily. I love the color and feel and its changes in color over time. The size range is equal to that of wood. Texture and density are adjustable. The audience has a history and experience with newspaper that they bring to each of my pieces resulting in a dialog that transcends anything that I thought of as an artist.”

35ts Pasodoble, Toshio Sekiji, Japanese newspapers; urushi lacquer, red ochre (bengara), 28" x 25" x 4", 2009
35ts Pasodoble, Toshio Sekiji, Japanese newspapers; urushi lacquer, red ochre (bengara), 28″ x 25″ x 4″, 2009

Japanese artist Toshio Sekiji intertwines strips of paper from various cultures, rewriting messages and imaging a harmonius confluence of disparate cultures, languages and nationalities – different than the facts on the ground. California artist, Ed Rossbach, was a relentless experimenter. He learned all manner of textile techniques from double weave to bobbin lace making and then applied them to unusual materials with striking results. It the work in Art & Text, Rossbach has used throwaway materials – annual report pages – to create a vessel that looks like a colorful vase. Judy Mulford is also from California. Her work, which often includes gourds, celebrates women and the family. In this case, words about family life and celebration are spelled out in thread using a button-hole technique.

17da Undulating Surface #7, Dona Anderson
wire armature, pattern paper and polymer, 16″ x 17.5″ x 15″
2010

An unusual sculpture by Washington state artist Dona Anderson is included. Anderson uses everyday materials in her works. Her vessel in Art andText is made from dressmaker patterns and the instructions can still be read on its sides. Like Ed Rossbach, Sylvia Seventy was part of California’s fiber movement of the 60s and 70s. She began making vessels of handmade paper then, a process she continues. Her vessels are whimsical incorporating everything from feathers and pins to beads and googly eyes. In this work she has included text telling the viewer to consider the back – where may artist secrets can be found.

Looking at the Back Sylvia Seventy
21ss Looking at the Back Sylvia Seventy molded recycled paper, vintage cotton embroidered fabric, wax, wire, beads, waxed carpet thread 3.5” x 8.5” x 8.5”, 2016

The opening of Art & Text at the Wilton Library takes place on Friday, October 11th from 6 pm to 7:30 pm. The Library is at: 137 Old Ridgefield Rd, Wilton, CT 06897. A majority of the works are available for purchase with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Library.  Media Sponsor: The Wilton Bulletin.


Dispatches: Studio Visits UK

During the end of October and beginning of November, Tom and Carter traveled throughout the UK on a photo adventure, capturing eight artists at work From London to Derbyshire to Chesterfield, Bristol and New Hebden Bridge. They experienced the countryside, the railway system, local cuisine and the graciousness of the artists they visited. Each studio space was unique — from Laura Ellen Bacon’s wee “treehouse” to Susie Gillespie’s compound in a converted cider mill to Chris Drury’s charming cottage. The artists were extremely generous with their time and thoughts. We are hoping to compile the photos in a series of books one day. In the meantime, enjoy a quick view of our extraordinary trip.

Susie Gillespie’s Barn

New Hebden Bridge

Cemetery in New Hebden Bridge by Sue Lawty’s Studio

Photographing the art at dinner in London after photographing Caroline Bartletts studio

Kings Cross London on the way to photographing Rachel Maxs studio

Photographing an outdoor land sculpture by Chris Drury

Carter carrying into the barn a Laura Ellen Bacon Basket for a photographing

Manor Farm Dethick after photographing Laura Ellen Bacon on the way to Gizella Warburtons studio

Leaving Gizella Warburtons studio after a full day photo session

On our way to Dail Behennah studio in Bristol

After dinner in Bristol

Susie Gillespie’s weaving studio for her students


Recap: Whirlwind Art Week in Wilton at browngrotta arts

VIP Preview

VIP-opening, photo by Carter Grotta

We had record crowds in attendance and a record number of sales at browngrotta arts in Wilton last week for Blue/Green: color/code/context. At our VIP preview event on Friday, we hosted our clients, collectors and art appreciators and our event sponsors from Litchfield Distilleryvenü Magazine and Country Club Homes.

Karl Dolnier parking cars at Blue/Green opening. Photo by Carter Grotta

Artist Dinner record crowds

Artist Dinner after Artist Reception. Photo by Carter Grotta

Saturday we hosted 10 artists from the exhibition (Keiji Nio and family all the way from Japan, Kiyomi Iwata from Virginia, Pat Campbell from Maine, Lewis Knauss, Nancy Koenigsberg, Polly Barton and Tamiko Kawata from New York, Wendy Wahl from Rhode Island and Dawn MacNutt from Nova Scotia) and loads of visitors, too. Sunday and Monday we were busy all day.

SDA Walkthrough record crowds

Surface Design Association Talk. Photo by Carter Grotta

Tuesday we hosted a good crowd of appreciative and knowledgable members of the Surface Design Association.

Designer Talk

Mae Colburn presentation of Helena Hernmarck work at the Architecture and Designer Talk. Photo by Carter Grotta

Wednesday was educational — we presented Material Matter: Integrating Art Textiles and Fiber Sculpture into Interiors and Architecture with the help of Mae Colburn from Helena Hernmarck’s studio and some interior shots from Walter Cromwell at Country Club Homes. Those in attendance were eligible to get Continuing Education Credit from the Interior Design Continuning Education Council.

westport arts center

westport arts center

Thursday brought the Westport Arts Council Board and patrons another educated and interested audience.

Ports of cause

Ports of cause fundraiser. photo by Harrison James O’Brien

Friday was Art•Ocean•Energy, an immersive art experience for supporters of Ports of Cause, a 501(c)3 driven to promote, inspire and accelerate innovative and sustainable solutions and practices that reduce the impact luxury living and everyday lifestyles have on our oceans. Those who joined us on Friday, heard Tom speak about our artists’ dedication to sustainable art and art practices and

Arthur Bavelas

Arthur Bavelas talking at Ports of Cause fundraiser. photo by Harrison James O’Brien

Arthur Bavelas, Founder of the Bavelas Group Family Office & Family Office Insights of New York City, speak about How sustainable innovation is driving the blue economy while benefiting our oceans and natural resources. A lively discussion followed. Saturday was a full day as was Sunday. Sunday evening we concluded our 10-day annual opening with a informed and engaged group from the Aldrich Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut. Hope we’ll see you at browngrotta arts in 2019 at one or more of our annual events. In the meantime, you can find us online at browngrotta.com; talking about events and acquisitions and other art stuff at arttextstyle.com and on Facebook, posting items and images on Twitter and Instagram and videos on the browngrotta arts YouTube Channel.


Art Lives Well Lived: Katherine Westphal and Ethel Stein

katherine Westphal at Home

Katherine Westphal Portrait 2015 by Tom Grotta, courtesy of browngrotta arts

We lost two fine artists and friends this month when Ethel Stein passed away at 100 and Katherine Westphal died at home in Berkeley, California at 99.

We had been promoting Katherine Westphal’s work and that of her husband, Ed Rossbach (who died in 2002), since the 1990s. We visited Ed and Katherine at their home before Carter was born. (For those of you familiar with browngrotta arts that was a quarter of a decade ago.) Their home, and Katherine’s studio in particular, was a wonder – chockfull of items they had collected from their travels that pleased and inspired them, decorated with murals by Katherine on several walls. Though her studio appeared chaotic, Katherine had an encyclopedic knowledge of what was where. “That reminds of a piece of gift wrap I picked up in Tokyo in the 1950s,” she would say, and then pull a slim typing paper box from a stack of others that looked the same, finding there the images she was referencing.
Katherine worked for decades creating printed textiles, ceramics, quilting, tapestry, jacquard woven  textiles, artwear and basketry structures. “Variously using direct drawing and painting, batik wax resist, and shibori, she also pioneered color xerography and heat transfer printing on textiles,” Jo Ann C. Stabb, former faculty member at UC, Davis wrote in 2015 (“Fiber Art Pioneers: Pushing the Pliable Plane,” Retro/Prospective: 25+ Years of Art Textiles and Sculpture, browngrotta arts, Wilton, CT 2015). “Throughout her career, beginning with the batik samples she made for the commercial printed textile industry in the 1950s, she [ ] incorporated images from her immediate world: street people in Berkeley, Japanese sculpture, Monet’s garden, Egyptian tourist groups, Chinese embroidery, images from newspaper and magazine photos, and her dogs…anything that struck her fancy wherever she happened to be at the moment – and she could put any or all of them into a repeat pattern.  Her wit and whimsy [were] legendary and her lively approach also inspired her husband to combine imagery onto the surface of his inventive baskets and containers.”

Ethel Stein Portrait

Ethel Stein Portrait 2008 by Tom Grotta courtesy of browngrotta arts

We were close to Ethel Stein as well, having begun representing her work in 2008 after a dinner at her home where her charming dog joined us at the table. When Rhonda was sick several years later, Ethel drove, at 93, from New York to Connecticut with a meal she had made us. Rhonda’s mother, a mere 83 then, was visiting and we told her that same vitality is what we expected of her in her 90s. (So far mom has complied.)
Tom was able to prepare a monograph of Ethel’s work, Ethel Stein: Weaver, with an introduction by Jack Lenor Larsen, an essay by Lucy A. Commoner and a glossary by Milton Sonday, which has become our best-selling volume. In her essay, “Ethel Stein, A Life Interlaced With Art, Lucy Commoner, then-Senior Textile Conservator at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution, describes the evolution of Ethel’s knowledge of textile techniques and ways in which she was able to advance those techniques through her own explorations. “Ethel Stein’s work is distinguished by its rhythmic simplicity belied by its extraordinary technical complexity. The basic humility and humanity of the work and its relationship to historical techniques combine to give Stein’s work a meaning far beyond its physical presence.”

Ethel Stein Exhibition

Ethel Stein Master Weaver at the Chciago Art Instittute

Six years later, Ethel’s work received the wider recognition it deserved. We were thrilled to attend the opening of her one-person exhibition, Ethel Stein, Master Weaver, at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2014. “Ethel Stein is an artist who only now, at the age of 96, is beginning to get the recognition she deserves from the broader public,” the Institute wrote. “Stein’s great contribution to weaving is her unique combination of refined traditional weaving techniques, possible only on a drawloom and used by few contemporary weavers, with modernist sensibilities influenced by Josef Albers, who trained in the German Bauhaus with its emphasis on simplicity, order, functionality, and modesty.” There were photos of her at work, a video and a dinner after with family members and supporters of the museum and crowds of visitors to the exhibition — a well-deserved tribute.

Ed Rossbach Katherine Westphal

Katherine Westphal Ed Rossbach

These artists and their lengthy careers, raise the question, is fiber art a key to longevity? Ethel Stein continued to weave even after she was discovered and lauded at 96. When we visited Katherine Westphal in Berkeley in 2015 we found her still drawing or painting every day in a series of journals she kept, something she continued to do until just a few weeks before her death. Lenore Tawney died at 100, Ruth Asawa and Magdalena Abakanowicz each at 87. Helena Hernmarck tells us that she knows several fiber artists who are 100. So those of you who are practitioners — keep it up!


Anniversary Alert: 30 Years of Catalogs – 30 Days to Save

From November 30th to December 31st, buy three or more browngrotta arts catalogs and save 10% on your order. In addition, for each sale made during that period, browngrotta arts will make a donation to the International Child Art Foundation https://www.icaf.org.
browngrotta holiday sale
In its 30 years promoting contemporary decorative art, browngrotta arts has produced 47 catalogs, 45 of which are still available. Readers have been appreciative: Artist, collector, curator, Jack Lenor Larsen, wrote that “… catalogs produced by browngrotta, and the photography therein, have become so superior, they are an important part of our literature.” Lotus Stack, formerly Curator of Textiles at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, noted that our publications, “consistently engage much more than readers’ minds.”
All of our volumes are heavy on images. Some highlight work by one or two artists, including Lenore TawneyEd Rossbach and Kay Sekimachi. Others, like Beyond Weaving, International Contemporary ArtTextiles, Influence and Evolution and Green from the Get Go, offer insights on materials, themes and influences. Here’s your chance to explore an artist or an era, fill any gaps in your collection or order a full set (a special discount applies to the purchase of all 45).
Our catalogs fall into four loose categories: those about individual artists, those that take a geographic perspective, those designed around a specific artistic theme, and survey publications, that look at a grouping of artists or work over a period of time.
30th Anniversary Catalog Special
On Individual Artists
The most detailed views of an individual artist are found in our Monograph Series of which there are three: Lenore Tawney: Drawings in Air; Lia Cook: In the Folds, Works from 1973-1997; Ethel Stein: Weaver and our Focus catalog, Jin-Sook So. Each includes an essay, describing the origin of their artistic practice. Drawings in Air also includes excerpts from Tawney’s journals.
In addition to the Monographs and Focus series, we have created 18 catalogs chronicling a series of exhibitions we have held featuring two or three artists each. These include: Markku Kosonen, Mary Merkel-Hess, Claude Vermette, Ed Rossbach and Katherine Westphal, Mariette Rousseau-Vermette, Hisako Sekijima; The British Invasion: Maggie Henton and Dail Behennah; Helena Hernmarck and Markku Kosonen; Mary Giles and Kari Lonning; Karyl Sisson and Jane Sauer; Dorothy Gill Barnes and John Garrett; Mary Merkel-Hess and Leon Niehues; Gyöngy Laky and Rebecca Medel; Glen Kaufman and Hisako Sekijima; Three California Basketmakers: Marion Hildebrandt, Deborah Valoma, Judy Mulford; Sara Brennan tapestry and Mary Giles fiber sculpture; Bob Stocksdale and Kay Sekimachi: Books, Boxes and Bowls; Adela Akers and Sylvia Seventy.

browngrotta holiday catalog special

Geographic focus:
We work with artists in several countries and have compiled their works in seven catalogs that provide viewers a sense of how contemporary art textiles have evolved in various locales. These include three exploring Japanese textiles and basketry: Sheila Hicks Joined by seven friends from Japan; Traditions Transformed: Contemporary Japanese Textiles & Fiber Sculpture; and Japan Under the Influence: Japanese basketmakers deconstruct transition, which features Hisako Sekijima and the artists she has influenced. It also includes A Scandinavian Sensibility, featuring 15 artists (an exhibition that traveled to the North Dakota Museum of Art), From Across the Pond, featuring artists from the UK, Advocates for the Arts: Polish and Czech Fiber Artists from the Anne and Jacques Baruch Foundation Collection and one international volume: Beyond Weaving: Contemporary ArtTextiles.
30th Anniversary Catalog Special
Thematic:
For several exhibitions we asked artists to consider a particular material, approach or influence. This list of catalogs includes: Plunge, Green from the Get Go: International Contemporary Basketmakers, Of Two Minds: Artists Who Do More Than One of a Kind, Stimulus: Art and Its Inception, On Paper, Wired, featuring works made of metals and Art of Substance, which won an AIA design award, and which highlights large-scale works.
30th Anniversary Catalog Special
Survey publications:
Our first survey publications, 10th Wave Part 1: New Baskets and Freestanding Sculpture and 10th Wave Part 2: New Textiles and Fiber Wall Art, which provided “states of the art” reviews, were produced in 1997, 10th Wave III: Art Textiles and Fiber Sculpture followed in 2009. In between and since we have published Influence and Evolution: Fiber Sculpture…then and now – a look at fiber from the 60s to the present, 25 for the 25th; Artboombaby boomer artists reflect on their art; Retro/Prospective: 25+ Years of Art Textiles and Sculpture and this past year, Still Crazy After All These Years: 30 years in art.
Take this opportunity to stock up! (Call us for a special price on the full set of 45 catalogs 203-834-0623.)

30 Years of Japanese Baskets, Hisako Sekijima and Friends, Part 2

Poster from this year's Basketry Exhibition

Poster from this year’s Basketry Exhibition

“In Japan,” writes influential basketmaker Hisako Sekijima,”the idea of making ‘non-utilitarian baskets’ is still not so properly appreciated  even after 30 years!!”  Undaunted, for three decades, Sekijima and a loosely organized group of 80 or so other artists have continued to pursue what she calls contemporary basketmaking, but the Victoria & Albert Museum terms a “journey of radical experimentation,” maintaining a website, newsletter and mounting an annual exhibition in the process. For the 30th anniversary of this exhibition at the Yamawaki Gallery, Chiyoda-Ku, Tokyo, this fall, Sekijima wrote text to refresh insider artists’ vision and to expand the understanding of outsiders, artists and their audience. The statement below is adapted from that text.

 

Contemporary Basketry Influences
Ed Rossbach’s Baskets as Textile Art lead to a surge of contemporary basketmaking in 1970s.  The notion of baskets, as stated well in its title, has been spreading and stimulating basketmakers’ creative minds beyond US, to other countries in the world. In Japan, basketmakers have committed significantly to this worldwide, challenging trend in the last 30 years. Their output has been found in show catalogs as well as international publications, for example, those published by browngrotta arts.
I can explain first, why this notion of baskets is new and also, why it was taken up with interest by a wide range of makers. Prior to the 70s, baskets had been discussed either in terms of ethnology/folk culture or in relation of certain local traditional connoisseurship in tea ceremony, flower arrangement and daily life style design. In Rossbach’s book baskets were re-evaluated beyond those local cultural and historical confinements. That is, baskets were abstracted in their formal or conceptual expressive possibility. Baskets came to be challenged from various angles without consideration of conventional requirements. More recent results of this challenge include exploration of new material/structure, or of new spatial expression of linear elements.

 

The 90s
In 1999, at Yokohama Art Museum, an exhibition, Weaving the Worldpresented a term, “contemporary art of linear construction” to link a wide range of artistic expressions from artists including John McQueen, Norma Minkowitz, Hisako Sekijima, Kyoko Kumai along with Martin Puryear, Richard Deacon and Oliver Herring. This new context resulted in a fresh look of sculptural works which were not carved nor molded but made of linear substances. Baskets and fiber arts spoke clearly there.

 Red/White Revolving, Noriko Takamiya, paper constructions, 6" x 7" x 6", 2010

Red/White Revolving, Noriko Takamiya, paper constructions, 6″ x 7″ x 6″, 2010

 

The Present
More recently, in April 2017, I saw Women Artists in Post-War Abstraction at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, another show affirming the dawn of contemporary textile arts as an abstract expression. Under the category of “Reductive Abstraction” were combined works by Abakanowicz, Anni Albers, Sheila Hicks and Kay Sekimachi.  Well expressed by the works in the exhibition was these artists’ eager search for abstract expression, which they did by depriving textile techniques of conventional functions, materials and pictorial patterns. Though Rossbach was not there in the show featuring “women artists,” I was sure his new attitude toward baskets was rooted in the same soil.

 

Our Basketry Exhibition Group
Through 1980, I explored basketmaking, especially focusing on the interplay of material and structural mechanism.  And I started a class to introduce a conceptual approach to basketmaking in Japan. Some of my students from that period have been presiding over an annual basketry show since then to cultivate a new ground in Japan. The first show was held at Senbikiya Gallery, Chuo-ku Tokyo in 1986.The objective was then, and still is now, to generate mutual learning and promotion. In Japan, compared with the government-supported field for traditional art bamboo basketry and mingei folk basketry, the field for the contemporary basketry remains small and still not well known. The group avoided forming a so-called art/craft association or exclusive school of a core artist. I knew that in the Japanese cultural climate such attempts had seen quick rise and fall in a short time, for the exclusive/authoritative nature of organizations tends to distort its original ideal. It is a shared regard that binds our group and the conviction that each should be a leader to oneself and to the group, besides being a creative basketmaker.

 

Fuhkyoh Tsuruko Tanikawa, linked copper, 17" x 16" x 6.5", 2002, stainless steel wire

Fuhkyoh,
Tsuruko Tanikawa, linked copper, 17″ x 16″ x 6.5″, 2002, stainless steel wire

Cooperative Administration
We’ve aimed to keep the group healthy and growing.  A kind of standing committee is organized for each exhibition. Administrative jobs and budgets are shared equally and paid accordingly among the participants. Besides entry fees, the sales of the catalog and a 10% commission from sold works cover the costs. Often we win an invitational support or a subsidiary discount of the rental fee from galleries or art schools. Over time, the regular participants have learned to create show announcements and catalog booklets by computer and to set up a job grading for payment to the respective participants for contributed works. And all of the participants are now able to submit their own pages in digital data to a catalog editor. Each participant has individual pages of work and a statement of intent in the catalog.
For new entries, anyone can submit a portfolio one year in advance. These are reviewed by all of the exhibitors during the ongoing show.  Considerations are made not only for the work but also for the administrative contributions. It is not a juried show, but each participant should be responsible to preserve or better the quality of the show both aesthetically and operationally. Eighty artists have participated over the years — about 30-40 artists participate each year. Participants have included Noriko Takamiya, Kazue Honnma, Tsuruko Tanikawa, Chizu Sekiguchi, Hisako Sekijima,  Shoko Fukuda, Masako Yoshida, Shigeru Matsuyama, Rittsuko Jinnouchi, Nobuko Ueda, Haruko Sugawara.

Capricious Plaiting, Kazue Honma, paper mulberry plaiting, 56 x 43 x 20cm, 2016

Capricious Plaiting, Kazue Honma, paper mulberry plaiting, 56 x 43 x 20cm, 2016

 

Into the Future
Long-time participants such as Noriko Takamiya, Kazue Honma, Tsuruko Tanikawa and me have adopted our own co-operational, open system to keep the show going. We have been careful that this group activity not be for the benefit of exclusive members but should promote independent creative minds through basketmaking. Besides the annual exhibition, Kazue Honma’s editorship of Basketry News Letter and Noriko Takamiya’s handling of our website have been instrumental in keeping this loose group intact. The long list of topics include not only international exhibitions but also iworkhops, technical analysis into structure, experiments/researches of plants, accomplishments in archaeological reproduction and social commitments in developing countries.This year 350 people attended the exhibition, including art writer Janet Koplos and Scandinavian artists, Ingrid Becker and Kristin Opem and Professor Wu, Pei-shan, and students from the Textile Section of the Graduate Institute of Applied Arts of Tainan National University of Arts.

 

 

We wish Sekijima and her fellow artists another creative and inspiring 30 years!

Dispatches: Art South Africa

Zebra

Zebra Pilanesburg Nature Reserve. Photo by
Tom Grotta

We had the opportunity to spend nine days in South Africa this month — Johannesburg, Capetown, Stellenbosch. A glorious country; a splendid trip and lots of art to write about. The big news, of course is the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art.
https://www.afar.com/magazine/get-the-inside-scoop-on-cape-towns-new-zeitz-mocaa?category=overview&guide=21&email=art@browngrotta.com&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Kindness of Strangers&utm_term=Daily Wander Newsletter

MOCAA opening in Cape Town


We missed the opening (long story) — but we’ve got images for you anyway. We did get to visit the Silo Hotel which is part of the amazing complex designed by Thomas Heatherwick.http://www.cnn.com/style/article/thomas-heatherwick-zeitz-silo-museum/index.html We also visited the Southern Guild Gallery next door and also its location in Johannesburg, where we were particularly taken by work by Porky Hefer and David Krynauw.

Porky Hefer

Porky Hefer’s Mud Dauber Sleeping Pod wall sculpture at the Southern Guild Gallery Cape Town, South Africa. Photo by Tom Grotta

We visited other galleries, including Kim Sacks in Jo’Burg, Kalk Bay Modern and Artvark, greatly appreciating Mark Hilltout’s works photo of woven metal and Yda Walt’s photo provocative appliques on our gallery tours.

Mark Hilton and Yda Walt

Mark Hilton Metal Work and Yda Walt appliqué quilts. Photos by Tom Grotta

William Kentridge, Said Mahmoud, Lyndi Sales and Mark Rautenbach were on display at restaurants and wineries we visited (Shortmarket Club, Tokara and Delaire Graff in these shots).

Just as captivating were the vibrant handicrafts — on the streets and in the shops in Woodstock and Bo-kaap and along the coast. The http://www.fodors.com/world/africa-and-middle-east/south-africa/cape-town-and-peninsula/experiences/news/art-lovers-guide-to-cape-town-12123 Simon’s town sculptures.

Simon Town

Simon’s Town Street bead art. Photo by Tom Grotta

A Nigerian embroidery and an antique rattle basket found their way into our suitcase home.

Blanket and Rattle

Nigerian Blanket and Rattle. Photo by Tom Grotta

Art and oogling and eating, aren’t all. The historical stops we made – the Apartheid Musuem, Robben Island, Nobel Square — were moving and insightful ways to urge people remember the past while forging a better future.

Nelson Mandela Garden

Nelson Mandella’s Garden in Robben Island Prison. Photo by Tom Grotta

If South Africa has been on your must- or even maybe-visit list, just go. The people are open and inviting, the wine and food world class and the natural beauty is nonstop.

Scenic View of Table Mountain

Table Mountain South Africa, View from Robben Island. Photo by Tom Grotta