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).


Creative Quarantining: Artist Check-in 3

In our third set of reports creating under corona, artists in Japan, the UK and the US weigh in.

Hisako Sekijima at home wearing a mask
Hisako Sekijima at home wearing a Mask. Photo by Hisako Sekijima

For Hisako Sekijima, writing from Japan, wearing a mask is not that unusual. “Wearing sanitary masks has long been my mother’s remedy against flu and all kinds of infections. In my childhood, I felt awkward that I was always wearing  a mask of white gauze (of course handmade!) while no other friends in my class had to do so,” Hisako recalls. “But she might have learned by experience through the harder health situation of wartime when there was a lack of proper medicine and infection control required tangible protection.  My mother was born in 1919 when the Spanish Flu was pandemic. She is living her 100th year now. When the senior citizens home allows the families to visit, I will print and show her photos of fashionable masks. What will be her reaction? I cannot wait for that normal day to come.” 

Gizella Warburtons view from the bottom of her garden
Gizella Warburtons Garden view. Photo by Gizella Warburton

“… I have taken the ‘weaving’ out to the bottom of my garden,” says Gizella Warburton who is in the UK. “… listening to the birds… a rare and precious moment. I am busy developing new pieces, in-between planting veg and battling slugs.” And, she has tentatively launched an Instagram page: www.instagram.com/gizellakwarburton.

Chris Drury at Home
Chris Drury at Home. Photo by Tom Grotta

“We are on lockdown here,” writes Chris Drury of he and his wife, poet Kay Syrad who are also in the UK, “but it is as good a place to be as ever and we are both busy. Luckily for me, my third year of the Lee Krasner award come through. Gives me the time to work on my retrospective book – Edge of Chaos.”

Pat Campbells view from th across the street
Pat Campbell’s view from across the street

“Just to let you know that Maine is in full spring bloom,” writes Pat Campbell. “I am back in the studio, now that it is warm and beautiful to work out there. I am making smaller pieces. Just across the street from me is a hill of thousands of daffodils  with the river beyond it. This is where I walk. I also walk on the beach. That is quite wonderful especially on a nice warm day. All goes well.”

Stéphanie Jacques home studio. Photo by Stéphanie Jacques

“At the begining of the lockdown,” wrote Stéphanie Jacques from Belgium, “I continued to drive to my studio which is on the other side of Brussels. But it was too depressing to meet no one there. So I moved my etching press and my needlework to my living room (and put my big dining table in my small kitchen). In the beginning, it was difficult to concentrate — too much information in my mind and too many emotions. I’ve tried to stopped listening to the news. To sew and to cycling are my remedies (Oh and Spotify also:-). I’m lucky, my apartment is very close to the countryside, so I can catch some feelings of freedom on my bike everyday. Lockdown does not change my way of working so much (well, that’s not completely true, in April I had to work on a community project that is postponed, until I don’t know when). But even as I try to focus on the positive, there is something frightening to see our lives reduced to fetching food … all this has further strengthened me in my desire to pursue the path of creation!”

Stay Safe, Stay Separate, Stay Inspired!


Creative Quarantining: Artist Check-in 2

Lia Cooks’ studio. Photo by Tom Grotta

Here’s part 2 in our series on how are artists are coping and creating in the time of COVID.

Last month, Lia Cook was interviewed by Carolyn Kipp in California in a Social Distancing Studio Visit blog (http://carolinekipp.com/social-distancing-studio-visits/2020/5/4/3-lia-cook-san-francisco-bay-area-ca). Lia agreed with Jo Barker who we mentioned last week, on artists’ relative comfort with contemplative time. “I do think that artists are used to knowing what to do with private time; how to keep engaged with the moment, experiment with new ideas,” she told Kipp.  “The good part of this experience is that it has given me more time to do what I feel like doing at the moment. I don’t have so much pressure to produce, i.e. finish a piece for an upcoming exhibition, ship it, or even paperwork.” Lia also told Kipp that, Right now, in my practice I am experimenting with new work. Moving from my focus on faces using neurological brain imagery to integrating the fiber connection I see in plants from my garden with the structural woven fibers of the brain. I am repurposing older work by reweaving the imagery back into the new work. Rediscovered work I wove as samples as part of my neurological emotional studies are now becoming material basis for new work.”

Selfie in PPE by Gyöngy Laky
Selfie in PPE by Gyöngy Laky

Bacteria-fighting tips came from Gyöngy Laky, also in California, who has been sharing her thoughts about art in these challenging times with the Shelter Chronicles and other blogs. “I wanted to tell you about something discovered along the way dealing with food in these virus times.  I put all boxes or bags of new food coming in on the landing up on floor 3.  Then I put soapy water in a large bowl or in the kitchen sink.  I wash everything! except for bread!,” says Gyöngy.   “I wash raspberries… super delicately!  I wash lettuce leaves, broccoli, onions, etc.  The trick is to rinse everything very carefully and thoroughly.  Then you need to let things dry on a towel for a bit.  To store berries, I put layers of paper towel between rows, one berry high, in a container and then in the fridge.  We just ate raspberries 4 weeks old and in perfect shape (a few go by the way, but almost all are perfect after all that time). We have blueberries going on their 5th week and still fine!  (To last that long they need, of course, to be nice fresh berries to begin with, if possible.)  The lettuce I lay out on paper towels and then roll them up gently and put them in a plastic bag.  Some heads of lettuce, especially little gems and cabbage, I do not take apart, but rinse well.  They are often so firmly closed that it’s easy to rinse the soap away.  I then roll them in paper towels and put them in a plastic bag in the fridge and, again, they can last 3-4 weeks.”

Gyöngy has a theory about why this works, hypothesizing that washing with soapy water removes a lot of various bacteria that normally leads to spoilage.  “You’ll be amazed how dirty the water gets!” she writes. “Disinfectants are tricky because some of them have to be on the surface of what you are cleaning for some minutes and then wiped off.  Some directions say… clean surface first!  Not good.  We handle mail and then wash our hands thoroughly.  Any things questionable we leave for 10-14 days untouched and assume they are ‘clean’ by then.”

Rachel Max, work in progress, photo by Rachel Max

Rachel Max reports from the UK, “Never have I been more grateful to focus on making than in these difficult times. It has kept me going and I am relishing the time this has given me without other commitments getting in the way. Admittedly I’ve struggled to concentrate, but I have been spending long hours each day working on a new piece for an exhibition which Tim Johnson is organizing in Spain.” Here are images of work in progress. “I’m glad for the focus,” she says, “and I can’t believe how quickly the days are whizzing by.”

Also in the UK, Laura Bacon has been creating — literally — having welcomed a baby boy in May. “It was a bit stressful awaiting the arrival of my baby in the middle of the pandemic,”she writes, “but everything went smoothly in the end. I have my hands happily full with my lovely little boy, and also two-and-a-half-year old little girl. She is keeping me busy, too, as she’s not in nursery in the way that she was before the virus, so for now, I only have time for them.”

Stay Safe, Stay Separate, Stay Inspired!


Creative Quarantining: Artist Check-in 1

Blair tate masks
Rhonda and Tom model their masks by Blair Tate. Photo by Carter Grotta.

Jo Barker wrote us earlier this spring, “The creative community is well set for these isolating few months as we work in that way so much anyway.” Spurred by her remarks, last month, Rhonda and Tom sent a photo of themselves in masks made by Blair Tate asking our artists for specifics: “How have you coped with social distancing, sheltering in place and all the other changes brought on worldwide by COVID 19?” Here is the first in a series of their replies:

Scott Rothstein and his wife left Europe on one of the last flights out and it was packed.After that exposure, each had mild cases of what they think was the virus, but after that,”[i]n an almost surreal way, my days are not much different than before… just spending time in my studio.” His soundtrack of the pandemic is something that was posted at about the same time that we all started staying in — a solo piano concert by the Latvian pianist Vestard Shimkus. https://bit.ly/2YTzrRt Vestard is a friend of Scott’s who he rates one of the best youngish pianists playing today. The music “does take the listener out of this world and into another… which is a pretty nice things these days.”

Carolina photo
Materials from Isla Negra, Chile. Photo by Carolina Yrárrazaval.

“With the Coronavirus, I have found myself working from home in Isla Negra,” writes Carolina Yrrázaval from Chile. “It is a little town by the sea. It is impossible to find the material I need here to continue with the weaving that I had started. Due to this, I began to look for new creative possibilities in my natural surroundings. Wandering amongst the rocks with my dog, Laika, we came across this plant that reminded me of pre-Columbian combs. It has been an interesting project that is still in progress.”

Masks by blair tate
Indian dupatta-cloth masks by Blair Tate. Photo by Blair Tate.

“All still healthy in the epicenter…” wrote Blair Tate from Brooklyn, New York in April. “Just finished sewing my 20th shaped cloth mask for neighbors and friends. They’ve been scattered to the winds at this point. Have 72 of the pleated kind cut and awaiting elastic (en route from Japan for last 2 weeks) so I can sew for a care center nearby.” Blair sent us two – made from pre-washed/pre-shrunk cotton Indian dupatta scraps. Inside lining is cotton face out with poly back (Welspun sheet fabric from many market developments ago) so quick dry. and a sleeve for the nose wire to let the wearer to pinch the wire to grip when wearing.  

Stay Safe, Stay Separate, Stay Inspired!


Annette Bellamy

Artist Focus: Annette Bellamy’s remote lifestyle inspires creativity and advice from Julia Child

by Ryan Urcia and Kristina Ratliff

Solitude often breeds creativity, and while many artists come quickly to mind, like the reclusive Robert Indiana to the enigmatic Frida Kahlo, among many others, the “slow art” of Fiber Art and Modern Craft reveals the intricacy and time-intensive craftsmanship of the unique techniques and materials of the field.

Annette Bellamy Fishski detail, The Sea Within Us
Detail: The Sea Within Us, Annette Bellamy, 2017. Photo by Chris Arend

We would like to tell you more about one such artist, Seattle native Annette Bellamy, a commercial fisherwoman of over 40 years based in Halibut Cove, Alaska. When she is off the water, Bellamy works with clay and fish skin to create conceptual large-scale sculptural work and smaller ceramic forms. She references her time on the water, days in remote areas, and her travels.
 “Life on the water and life making art fuel each other. I value the physicality of both as well as the dependence upon my hands, the importance of timing, the work ethic and tools required, and the reflection afforded.”

Annette Bellamy long lining, hauling gear and there is a yellow eye rockfish on the dressing table. Photo by Alan Parks

At 21, then a student of urban planning and environmental issues at the University of Washington, Bellamy visited the remote fishing community of Homer, Alaska, for the summer of 1973, and never left. There, she met her future husband, a local fisherman, who taught her how to fish. Since then, they have been fishing commercially together during the summer months in their 34-foot wooden boat and in the long winter season, Bellamy spends her time in her studio to work on her craft.

“I think that is what a lot of people are missing. Undisturbed, uninterrupted time. A lot of darkness, a lot of introspection. I think I operate better in a remote area versus an urban area, and it has become a part of my life now,” Bellamy told the Portland Art Museum last year in conjunction with the multimedia exhibition, the map is not the territory.

Detail of Long Lines, 132 suspended Ceramic hooks by Annette Bellamy
Detail: Long Lines, Annette Bellamy,”, 2010. Photo by Tom Grotta

In 1976, she began studying ceramics at the local community college. Her sculpture, Long Lines, 2010, is a powerful artwork inspired by her time fishing in Alaska. It is composed of 132 handmade ceramic hooks suspended from 12 feet of twine. “Long Lines is about how we continue to catch a fish with a hook and line. It is about enduring work that continues to be a part of the human experience. Hooks are twisted and turned and others remain in their original circle shape. They hold a history of use and stories of the fish caught.” The kinetic aspect of the hanging work hints at the movement of the sea.

Fishskin by Annette Bellamy
Food Chain, Annette Bellamy, halibut, sablefish, salmon (including smoked salmon skins), 2017. Photo by Tom Grotta

Bellamy has spent years of fishing commercially in Alaska, long lining for halibut and gill netting and seining for salmon. Her fish skin patchworks reflect the variety of the catch, combining  halibut, sablefish, salmon –even smoked salmon skins.

“The commercial fishing industry is so different from the art community,” she told the Alaska Museum. “I have always loved the contrast and make a point of talking art with fishermen and fish with artists. Everything is interconnected in this world but we seem to build fences.”

Bellamy also loves to cook on board for the crew. She received a response from Julia Child to a letter she sent inquiring about the value of cooking school, explaining her work on the boat and desire to learn more about food preparation. A large installation titled Ode to Julia featured 70 kitchen-tool forms that covered an entire wall. These were made with found metal and clay. 

“The implements of cooking–a spoon, a turner, spatula–become invisible to our eyes even though we handle them every day. The series on kitchen tools was meant to honor the craft of cooking our own food,” she has said of the piece.

Annette Bellamy, Moving Mountains, stoneware, steel pins, and UV resistant lines, 10’ x 12’ . Portland Art Museum, Portland Oregon “ exhibition: The Map Is Not the Territory” Feb 9, 2019 – May 5, 2019, Chris Arend

Bellamy’s work has been exhibited in important museums including Anchorage Museum, Alaska (solo exhibition); Downey Museum of Art, California; New Bedford Museum of Art, Massachusetts; Alaska State Museum, Juneau (solo exhibition); Pratt Museum, Homer, Alaska (solo exhibition); Fuller Craft Museum, Brockton, Massachusetts (solo exhibition); Bunnell Street Art Center (solo exhibition), Homer, Alaska; University of Alaska, Soldotna; Anchorage Museum of History and Art, Alaska; Alaska Pacific University, Anchorage; Alaska Centennial Center for the Arts, Fairbanks; Burris Hall, Highland University, Las Vegas, New Mexico; Wayne Center for the Arts, Wooster, Ohio; Art and Architecture Gallery, Seattle, Washington (solo exhibition); Laband Gallery, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, California. For a full list visit browngrotta.com
Long Lines, will be on view at browngrotta arts forthcoming exhibition Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber Art for Three Decades now scheduled for September 12-22, at browngrotta arts in Wilton, CT. http://www.browngrotta.com/Pages/calendar.php
x


Catalog Lookback: Cross Currents: Water/ Art/Influence an online exhibition

Moby Dick underwater
What Lies Beneath, is a mixed media sculpture created to submerge Moby Dick by Herman Melville underwater, 2016. Photo by Lawrence Labianca

Rippling, roiling, teeming with life…Deep, dark, waiting to be explored…Water has long been a potent influence for the artists we exhibit, artists who explore its mystery and majesty in widely divergent ways. Cross Currents: Water/Art/Influence is an online exclusive exhibition on Artsy that features works reflecting rivers, oceans and life aquatic. It highlights three catalogs we have published, Of Two Minds: Artists Who Do More Than One of a Kind, vol. 38; Plunge: explorations from above and below, vol. 43 and Blue/Green: color/code/context, vol. 44 and several artists for whom water has been an inspiration. The multifaceted exhibition combines sculptures, tapestries, installation works, paintings and ceramics. Each work resides at the intersection of the maker’s fascination with a variety of nautical and natural themes and the artmaking process. 

Sail Cloth Art by Grethe Wittrock
Artica, Grethe Wittrock, sail cloth, 2015. Photo by Tom Grotta

Judy Mulford’s meticulously detailed sculptures, inspired by her home at the beach in California, join Grethe Wittrock’s Arctica, a sculpture made from a repurposed sail from the Danish Navy. Debra Sachs‘ water studies evoke a sense of movement by distorting a static grid using the color blue as akin to a living thing, like the rivers and the oceans, shallow to deep, static to moving. Lawrence LaBianca creates experiences in which water is an integral part. In Skiff, an antique telephone receiver links viewers to sounds of a rushing river. Twenty-four Hours on the Roaring Fork River, Aspen, CO, is a print created by Drawing Boat, a vessel filled with river rocks that makes marks on paper when it is afloat. For What Lies Beneath/Moby Dick Book, LaBianca lowered an encased copy of Moby Dick into the water to capture an image. “I love the images that Melville created in Moby Dick, he says, “the idea of something greater below governed by forces deep within a person’s soul. What Lies Beneath/Moby Dick Book draws a continuum with the idea of something great below. It also is comical and slightly absurd.” Karyl Sisson works with found objects — clothespins, zippers, tapes — to create sea creature-like sculptures. In creating Haystack River Basket, Dorothy Gill Barnes was moved by the natural forms created of tree roots sculpted by rushing water.

River teeth basket by Dorothy Gill Barnes
Haystack River Basket, Dorothy Gill Barnes, early river teeth, 2011. Photo by Tom Grotta

In all, the work of 21 artists will be included in Cross Currents. Some are moved by water as a natural force, for others there is a more spiritual connection, still others are interested in how Man is impacting our oceans and rivers — in each case the results are thought provoking and intriguing. One-half of the works will appear on Artsy on June 8th, the reminder will be added on June 15th: https://www.artsy.net/show/browngrotta-arts-cross-currents-water-slash-art-slash-influence.


Art Assembled: New This Week May

As we can all agree, May has certainly been a month for the books. Now, more than ever, we’ve been using creativity as a stress-relieving outlet. During the month of May, the art that we highlighted comes from a very talented group of artists that draw profound inspiration from everyday life, including: Kazue Honma, Sylvia Seventy, Gyöngy Laky, and Adela Akers

Kazue Honma
13kh Seed of plaiting/9cross-11pit, Kazue Honma, gettou fiber, 8.75” x 8” x 9.75,” 2

Kazue Honma is a Japan based artist who has radically experimented with traditional Japanese weaving techniques. As you can see, the work that Honma creates is nothing short of facinating.

Sylvia Seventy
24ss Continuing with the Bridge to Nowhere, Sylvia Seventy, recycled handmade paper, willow, redbud and deadfall sticks, nylon and linen cords, wax and acrylic paint, 6” x 10.25” x 6.5,” 1983-2019.

California based artist, Sylvia Seventy often finds inspiration from her own life when creating art – stating that her art can be seen as the pages in the diary of her adult life.

“My molded paper art vessels are pages in the diary-like book of my adult life,” says Sylvia Seventy. “When I started making my vessels, it soon became evident to me that the universal shape of what appeared to be an ancient pottery bowl was an approachable path for the viewer. With or without an art background, my bowls allowed people to let their guard down and be drawn into the complexity of the art vessel, its intricate interior and conceptual allusion.”

Gyöngy Laky
127l Reach, Gyöngy Lakytwigs, paint, doll arms, trim screws, 35.5” x 25” x 6.5”, 2012.

In creating Reach, Gyöngy Laky was inspired by two new monetary symbols adopted this decade, one for the Indian rupee in 2010 and this one, for the Turkish lire in 2011.

They simultaneously suggested to her both greater globalism and stronger nationalism. “I was intrigued when the new rupee was announced,” said Gyöngy Laky. “Because I had begun a currency series of sculptures and by 2010 had completed a dollar sign, a couple of cent signs, the Chinese renminbi (yuan), the Japanese yen and the European Euro. Shortly after, Turkey did not want to be left behind and came up with a new design for its lire. I added both, as Neo-Rupee and Reach, to my currency series.”

Adela Akers
59aa The Grid, Adela Akerslinen, horsehair, paint, metal foil, 45″ x 38″, 2008.

Before Adela Akers devoted her life to the arts, she completed studies to be a pharmacist, in which she says has a strong influence into her artwork.

“There is a mathematical discipline in the way the work is constructed,”
​says Akers. “This mathematical sequence is in strong contrast to the organic process (handweaving) and materials (linen and horsehair) that bring the work to fruition.”

​Stay Safe, Stay Distant, Stay Inspired!


We Get Good Press

Maybe you’ve heard the buzz? In the past six months, both browngrotta arts and Tom’s book project, The Grotta House by Richard Meier: A Marriage of Architecture and Craft, which features many of the artists we work with, have gotten great coverage in the Connecticut publications, nationally and elsewhere in the world.

Collectors Crafty in More Ways Than One. New York Times Article By Ted Loos
New York Times Article By Ted Loos

In December, the illustrious New York Times, profiled Sandy and Lou Grotta, their 300+ collection of Modern Craft  which are beautifully featured/illustrated in The Grotta House book. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/31/arts/design/show-us-your-wall-grotta.html So did Art in America online.

At in America Book Release


https://www.artguide.pro/event/ book-release-the-grotta-home-by-richard-meier-a-marriage-of-architecture-and-craft/ Tom got a shoutout as the photographer in both articles as well. Next up was TLmag, True Living of Art and Design, a Brussels-based, international biannual print and online magazine dedicated to curating and capturing the collectible culture. 

Interview with Tom Grotta and Rhonda Brown: Originators in the Field of Fibre Art. TL Magazine
Interview with Tom Grotta and Rhonda Brown TL Magazine
1st dibs Introspective Magazine Article Tour a Richard Meier-Designed House That celebrates American Craft by Osman Can Yerebakan

Also in February, the Grotta house and browngrotta arts were covered by Introspective, the online magazine produced by 1st Dibs, In the piece titled, “Tour a Richard Meier-Designed House that Celebrates American Craft,” author Osman Can Yerebakan, observes that the Grottas, are “[l]ed by intuition, they simply let an affinity for objects, and for the people who make them, guide their unerring eye.”https://www.1stdibs.com /introspective-magazine/richard-meier-grotta-house/?utm_term=feature2&utm_source=nl-introspective&utm_content=reengagement&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=2020_02_23&emailToken=2277332_1a3d078b2c480b774c0897f7484ece12b4545b9bb006358a40eba4b7215550ce

browngrotta arts presents Transforming Tradition: Japanese and Korean Contemporary Craft in Artfix Daily
Transforming Tradition:
Japanese and Korean Contemporary Craft
in Artfix Daily

On March 1st, Artfix Daily covered our online exhibition in “browngrotta arts presents Transforming Tradition: Japanese and Korean Contemporary Craft.” http://www.artfixdaily.com /artwire/release/7876-browngrotta-arts-presents-transforming-tradition-japanese-and-kor. An article by Rhonda, “Active Collecting: Acquiring Experiences as Well as Art,” appeared in the Spring issue of Surface Design Journal,

Active Collecting: Acquiring Experiences as Well as Art by Rhonda Brown in Surface Design Journal
Active Collecting: Acquiring Experiences
as Well as Art in Surface Design Journal

describing the interactions between Sandy and Lou Grotta and the artists they collect. The couple have met many of those whose work they have collected or commissioned and have developed deep friendships with others, including furniture makers Joyce and Edgar Anderson and Thomas Hucker, jewelers Wendy Ramshaw and David Watkins, ceramist Toshiko Takaezu and weaver Mariette Rousseau-Vermette.

Art of Love, Love of Art n Wilton Magazine
Art of Love, Love of Art: Wilton Magazine

The Spring also saw a light-hearted story in the March/April issue of Wilton Magazine, on Rhonda and Tom, “Art of Love, Love of Art,” by Karen Sackowitz, noting that our creative synergy– for better or worse — has spanned decades (3 decades and 7 years to be precise). Other local publications have championed us as well — The Ridgefield Press, Wilton Bulletin and Connecticut Magazine have talked up our taking art online, nothing that, “Social distancing doesn’t mean people have to distance themselves from the arts” as area arts institutions like bga have taken to providing people with digital experiences on their websites and social media platforms to ensure people are still able to engage with art.

The Collecting Couple Lives with a Rotating Cast of Craft Masterpieces by Casey Lesser in a Artsy Editorial
The Collecting Couple Lives
with a Rotating Cast
of Craft Masterpieces
by Casey Lesser: Artsy Editorial

Artsy, covered the Grottas and their home in April, in “This Collecting Couple Lives with a Rotating Cast of Craft Masterpieces,” by Casey Lesser https://www.artsy.net /article/artsy-editorial-collecting-couple-lives-rotating-cast-craft-masterpieces. Tom got a shout out, too. The author shared Lou’s collecting advice to “do your homework” as he recalled being told that “you have to see 50 works by an artist before you can start to understand what’s good.” Thanks to the internet, that’s much easier today than it was when he and Sandy started out. “Don’t fall in love with the latest stuff,” the author quotes Grotta. “Decide who you like and what you like.”

Dwell featured the Grotta House online

April also saw the Grotta house and book featured in Dwell online https://www.dwell.com /home/the-grotta-house-0257ab73 and in Archello https://archello.com/project/the-grotta-house. In progress (fingers crossed), a piece on The Grotta House by Richard Meier, a Marriage of Architecture and Craft in INTERIOR+DESIGN, a Russian publication.

Comp for upcoming June Interior+Design issue Featuring The Grotta House
Comp of the article to appear in INTERIOR + DESIGN

We hope to get press coverage for our upcoming events:

Online in June: Cross Currents – Arts Influenced by Rivers and the Sea, Vols. 38, 35

Online in July: Fan Favorites — Sekimachi, Sekijima, Laky and Merkel-Hess, Vols. 24, 19, 2, 3, 8, 5, 15, 16, 19

Online in August: Cataloging the Canon – Tawney, Stein, Cook, Hicks and So, Vols. 13, 28, Monographs: 1-3; Focus: 1

Live in September: Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber for Three Decades. Now rescheduled for September 12 -22. Details on how we will mix art viewing and safe practice to come.

Hope you’ll join us for all or some of these.

Stay Safe, Stay Distanced, Stay Inspired!!


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