Catalog Lookback: Chronicling the Canon

Samples of browngrotta catalogs
Sheila Hicks, Joined by seven artists from Japan (#13) and Lenore Tawney: celebrating five decades of work (#28) and Beyond Weaving: International Arttextiles (#33).Three of them were the subject of artist monographs — Lenore Tawney: Drawings in Air (#1M); Lia Cook: In the Fold, Works from 1973-1977 (#2M); Ethel Stein: Weaver (#3M) one of them an artist’s focus — Focus: Jin-Sook So (#1F)

Contemporary fiber art is a fairly new art genre, having begun in the 1950s with experiments in weaving abstraction in the US and Europe and achieving its first international acknowledgment in the 1960s (Lausanne Biennial, Switzerland, 1962 and Woven Forms, US 1963). browngrotta arts has been involved in promoting international art textiles and fiber sculpture for nearly half of that history. As such, we have been remarkably fortunate to work with, been guided by and document the work of, pathbreakers and innovators in the field, including Lenore Tawney, Sheila Hicks, Lia Cook, Jin-Sook So and Ethel Stein. Each of these artists have played a significant role in more than one of our 50 publications, including Sheila Hicks, Joined by seven artists from Japan (#13) and Lenore Tawney: celebrating five decades of work (#28) and Beyond Weaving: International Arttextiles (#33). Three of them were the subject of artist monographs — Lenore Tawney: Drawings in Air (#1M); Lia Cook: In the Fold, Works from 1973-1977 (#2M); Ethel Stein: Weaver (#3M) one of them an artist’s focus — Focus: Jin-Sook So (#1F).

Sheila Hicks on her Conneticut deck. An outtake  from our catalog #13 Sheila Hicks, Joined by seven artists from Japan. Her work Chaine et trame interchangeable ( Interchangeable Warp and Weft)  is now in the permanent collection of the Dallas Museum of Art.  Photo By Tom Grotta
Sheila Hicks on her Conneticut deck. An outtake from our catalog #13 Sheila Hicks, Joined by seven artists from Japan. Her work Chaine et trame interchangeable (Interchangeable Warp and Weft) is now in the permanent collection of the Dallas Museum of Art. Photo By Tom Grotta

In 1996, we worked with Sheila Hicks on an exhibition that included seven artists from Japan, Masakazu Kobayashi and Naomi Kobayashi, Chiaki Maki, Toshio SekijiHiroyuki ShindoChiyoko Tanaka and Jun Tomita“The choice to show these works together was personal, ”Hicks wrote in Sheila Hicks, Joined by seven artists from Japan (#13). She chose our space in Connecticut, intentionally, noting that the in the Connecticut landscape, “it would be easy to contemplate their inner messages or, at least, to discover their structural wizardry.” Hicks had shown these artists’ works to friends, and noted that, “[a] harmonious dialogue between their work and my own began to develop naturally.” We were assisted in installing the exhibition, which Hicks designed, by Cara McCarty, then at the St. Louis Art Museum and Mathilda McQuaid, then at MoMA, both now at the Cooper Hewitt. The exhibition was well received. It led to others in Paris and Jerusalem and a follow up in Wilton (Traditions Transformed (#22). Ultimately, Hicks and six of the artists appeared in the major MoMa survey: Surface and Structure: Contemporary Japanese Textiles (1998-99), curated by McQuaid and McCarty, which highlighted the revolution that had occurred in the creation of textiles during the 90s. Hicks has continued to receive international acclaim and has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions — Israel Museum, Jerusalem;, Museum of Nebraska Art, Kearney; Contemporary Art Center of Virginia, Virginia Beach; Bard Graduate Center, New York, NY; Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts, Joslyn Art Museum Omaha, Nebraska;  Museo Amparo, Puebla, México; Centre Pompidou, Paris, France;  Municipal Cultural Center Gallery, Kiryu, Gunma, Japan; Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, Santiago, Chile and The Bass, Miami Beach, Florida.

Lenore Tawney at her retrospective exhibition: Lenore Tawney: celebrating five decades of work touring the opening with her best friend Toshiko Takeazu in 2000. Photo by Tom Grotta
Lenore Tawney at browngrotta arts’ retrospective exhibition in 2000, Lenore Tawney: celebrating five decades of work, viewing her work with dear friend Toshiko Takaezu. Photo by Tom Grotta

Our representation of Lenore Tawney was equally meaningful to us personally and influential to browngrotta arts’ evolution. When we decided to move our home and exhibition space, a major factor was finding a room with a ceiling high enough to exhibit a Tawney Cloud. In 2000, we were able to make that happen, when we celebrated five decades of Tawney’s work (#28).  The exhibition illuminated the breadth of Tawney’s vision — including woven forms, collage, assemblage and drawings. Many of the works — created in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s — had rarely been exhibited before. The catalog also included never-published excerpts from Tawney’s journals and an essay by Bauhaus scholar, Sigrid Wortmann Weltge, who authored Bauhaus Textiles: Women Artists and the Weaving Workshop (Thames & Hudson 1998). We followed it with a monograph (#1M) exploring Tawney’s Drawings in Air series — ruled drawings on graph paper that predated systemic drawings of Minimalists like Sol Lewitt, and served as the impetus for three-dimensional thread sculptures three decades later. “I did some of these drawings that look so much like threads that people think they are threads,” Tawney wrote, “but I didn’t do them with that in mind …. It’s like meditation — you have to be with the line all the time—you can’t be thinking of anything.”

15lc Presence/Absence: In the Folds, Lia Cook, cotton, rayon; woven, 192” x 41”, 1997. Tom Grotta
15lc Presence/Absence: In the Folds (self-portrait) Lia Cook, cotton, rayon; woven, 192” x 41”, 1997. Photo by Tom Grotta

Like Hicks and Tawney, Lia Cook was a participant in the Lausanne Biennial, first in 1973, just after she completed her Master’s degree at University of California, Berkeley in Art & Design. Since that time Cook has reinvented her art practice several times, first creating macroscopic imagery of woven structures, then exploring image of draped fabrics incorporating hand-painted rayon warp threads. In the 90s, she began weaving photographic compositions and then, in 2000s, she began taking measurements of brain waves as people looked at photos and then at woven images, integrating them into her work as well. “Cook’s work defies the ocular-centricity of Western art by overturning the hierarchy of the senses,” wrote Deborah Valoma in our monograph on Cook (#2), “and repositioning the sense of touch in the foreground …. Cook asks her viewers to ’see’ the experience of touch — to imagine the sensations of touch through the visual experience of seeing.” The uniquely tactile experience created by Cook’s work has been featured in dozens of exhibitions worldwide, many of them solo exhibitions. Her work is found in dozens of museum collections, including that of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the De Young Museum, Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago. Su Series, Cook’s work that is featured in our Volume 50 exhibition in September, is composed of 32 woven identical images of her face as a child superimposed with empirical data from her neuroscience research, created on a Jacquard computerized handloom. Each individual image is translated and altered through different weaving structures, provoking from the viewer a subtle and sometimes dramatic variation in emotional reaction..

Jin-Sook So  in front of one of her Untitled Steel Mesh wall sculptures at SOFA NY 2011. Photo by Carter Grotta
Jin-Sook So in front of one of her Untitled Steel Mesh wall sculptures at SOFA NY 2011. Photo by Carter Grotta

Jin-Sook So is another innovator with an international presence who has moved from working with wool to working with organza, and for the last two decades, stainless steel and copper mesh. For the Lausanne Biennial in 1989, she worked directly with flat steel mesh, pleated manually and colored black and blue and brown with a blow torch. By the mid 90s, “her form language had become more distinct and more consistently constructivist,” Kerstin Wickman, Professor of History of Design and Craft at Konstfack, University College of Arts Crafts and Design in Stockholm wrote in Focus: Jin-Sook So (#1F). “In spite of their minimal and precise shapes, [her] boxes, as well as the folded constructions, impart a softness and a sensuality created by the illusionary ‘movements,’ the variations and the poetic surfaces.” Born in Korea, she studied in Japan and New York and lived nearly three decades in Sweden. So’s work is influenced by each of these experiences. The shimmering gold and blue and black of her constructed works reflect light in ways that recall urban landscapes in New York and Sweden’s remarkable, diffused light. More recent works, including the bowl shapes that will appear in Volume 50, link back to her childhood and tie more directly to the past, evoking a pool of memories, of stories told and feelings expressed. So’s work has been exhibited in Asia, Scandinavia, Japan and the US.

Ethel Stein preparing a warp for her 2008 browngrotta exhibition and Monograph “Ethel Stein: Weaver”. Photo by Tom Grotta
Ethel Stein preparing a warp for her 2008 browngrotta exhibition and Monograph Ethel Stein: Weaver. Photo by Tom Grotta

A contemporary and colleague of Tawney’s in New York and also invited to the Lausanne Biennale, when Ethel Stein began weaving in the 60s, she took a different tack than the textile artists creating large, dimensional and off-loom works. Instead, despite her background as a sculptor, she worked “counter trend” in Jack Lenor Larsen’s words, her weavings remaining small and flat. She immersed herself in difficult and exacting cloth traditions, using an ancient drawloom which was replaced 200 years ago by the Jacquard loom. Our monograph, Ethel Stein: Weaver (#3M), followed Stein through her early art instruction, work as a sculptor and creation of damasks, double weaves and feathery ikats. At 96, the fresh expressions that Stein created from her explorations into ancient techniques brought her well-deserved recognition in a one-person exhibition, Ethel Stein: Master Weaver, at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2014, which featured large photographic images and works from Focus. The delay, the Art Institute’s material surmised, was due, in part, to the fact that,“her weavings look deceptively simple, with the result that only those well versed in the craft she practices can truly appreciate the sophistication of Stein’s work and the magnitude of her accomplishment.”

Join us in September for Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber for Three Decades (Artists Opening: September 12, 2020) http://www.browngrotta.com/Pages/calendar.php.  More information to combine on how we will combine art viewing and safe practice.


Lives Well Lived: Jolanta Owidzka (1927 -2020)

We are saddened to share the loss of acclaimed artist, Jolanta Owidzka who passed away in March this year at the age of 93. Owidzka (b. February 1, 1927) was one of the most outstanding Polish artists dealing in artistic fabric and monumental tapestry. She was part of a select group of Polish artists who, in the 1950s and 60s, reimagined textiles are sculptural, dimensional and strikingly contemporary. After graduating from the College of Fine Arts in Krakow and the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, she obtained a diploma in the cloth workshop of Eleonora Plutyńska at the Faculty of Interior Design in 1952. In the years 1951 to 1957, she worked at the Institute of Industrial Design in Warsaw (IWP). 

Owidzka had a unique fascination with the role of fabric within contemporary residential interiors and architecture. As part of her professional work at IWP, she cooperated with consultants, artists and architects on numerous theoretical studies and scientific articles about fabric in architecture, including, “A few notes about the criteria of aesthetic evaluation of fabric,” 1956; “The role of fabric in a contemporary residential interior,” 1956;  and “Structure and pattern of the fabric depending on its purpose in the interior of the apartment,” 1958. 

Poland in the 50s was a time for growth and artistic freedom following WWII and a particularly strict period of Communist rule. Owidzka was one of several Polish textile artists (including Magdalena Abakanowicz) who paved the way for a new view of tapestry and redefined the craft. Collectively, these Polish artists revolutionized the field utilizing unconventional materials and methods to create particularly textural, organic and tangible works of art. Owidzka’s experimental work was pivotal internationally and has had lasting influence on the world of contemporary art. 

Owidzka’s work was first featured in international group exhibitions in the 1950s. Her one-person exhibition at the Sachet Gallery in Warsaw is considered by many to represent the beginning of the transformation on Polish tapestry. She participated in the IIX Triennial of Art in Milan, the first International Biennial of International Tapestry in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1962, the Biennale in SãoPaulo in 1965 and the seminal exhibition, Wall Hangings at the Museum of Modern Art in 1969. In the heyday of Polish artistic fabric, Owidzka’s works could be seen in numerous countries on several continents. A prolific artist, she created 50 monumental fabrics for interiors of public buildings exhibited in 96 exhibitions between 1960 and 2019. 

“Owidzka has depended in all her work, upon the clearly defined weaving structure created through warps and wefts. Within these constraints she manages to introduce different weave manipulations, including floating yarns, which introduce the basic characteristics of the materials she likes to use,” wrote Christa C. Mayer Thurman, Chair and Curator of the Department of Textiles, Art Institute of Chicago (Emerita) in Advocates for Art: Polish and Czech Artists from the Anne and Jacques Baruch Collection (browngrotta arts, Wilton, CT Vol. 10, 2010). 

Over the years, we have collected and shown decades worth of work by Jolanta Owidzka — particularly striking is Warszawa (1967). This piece is described by Ezra Shales, PhD in his essay in Influence and Evolution: Fiber Sculpture…then and now (browngrotta arts, Wilton, CT, Vol. 39, 2015) as “both an ancient tapestry and a modern ‘woven form,’ to use Lenore Tawney’s exhibition title and classification system. The delicate and bristling metallic threads hover between a raw and cooked aesthetic. Is it what Dorothy Liebes would call a ‘dependent expression’ – in need of an architectural scaffolding? Or is Warszawa a stand-alone construction? For all of its brazen rough edges its luxurious interlace harkens back to intimately scale forms and slower-paced civilizations…My point is that there is no singular moment or manner of bundling fiber, nor any grand revolution that illuminates the night more than any other. Radical reinventions of fiber art are neither spatially logical nor temporally bound. Warszawa was contemporaneous with the revolutionary work of Lenore Tawney (1907-2007) and Magdalena Abakanowicz (born 1930) but is a pendant to neither path.” 

Owidzka was the recipient of several noteworthy awards: Prize industrial Design Institute; Prize, 11th National Exhibition of Interior Architecture; Silver Medal, XII Triennial of Textiles, Milan, Italy; Silver Medal, Fine Arts Festival, Warsaw, Poland; Gold Medal, Fine Arts Festival, Polish Architects Association; Bronze medal, Fine Arts Festival, Moscow, USSR; Gold Medal of Distinction, Polish Artists Association. Her work can be found in numerous collections including:  Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois; Central Museum of Textiles, Lodz, Poland; National Museum, Warsaw, Poland; National Museum, Poznan, Poland; National Museum, Wroclaw, Poland; Museum of Contemporary Art, Skopje, Poland; Hyatt Regency Hotel, Montreal, Canada; New Art Center, Ontario, Canada; ATT, Chicago, Illinois; LOT Polish Airlines (Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, the US); Hurschler Collection, Pasadena; Sentry Insurance, Stevens Point, Wisconsin; Museum for the History of Textile Industry, Lodz, Poland; Contemporary Textile Art Collection of the Pierre Pauli Association, Lausanne, Switzerland. 

It is clear that Jolanta Owidzka and her work made a strong and unforgettable impact on Polish art, fiber art and the world of art itself. We will continue to celebrate her accomplishments and creations and endure that her contributions to the craft and its history will not be forgotten. 


Art Assembled: New This Week June

June and July have been busy months at browngrotta arts. We’ve been immersed with our Artsy shows Catalog Lookback: Fan Favorites and Cross Currents: Water/Art/Influence that we’re just catching up on our month-end wrap-ups. We’ve also brought in some spectacular art from some of your favorites during this time, including work from Jane Balsgaard, Grethe Wittrock, Annette Bellamy, Ed Rossbach, and so many more outstanding artists.

Jane Balsgaard Raven
39jb Raven, Jane Balsgaard, wood and paper, 15.75″ x 20.5″ x 5.375″, 2017. Photo by Tom Grotta.

Jane Balsgaard is a Denmark-based artist who experiments with expressions in paper in connection with sticks and other finds from nature, like the piece presented above. Her workspace consists of collections of natural materials for use in her work – most of her natural materials come from her own garden.

Grethe Wittrock Magpies
8gw Magpies, Grethe Wittrock, sail cloth, dyed and cut, 43″ 22″ x 10″, 2017. Photo by Tom Grotta.

Made of sailcloth, Grethe Wittrock’s Magpies symbolizes the start of spring and a new beginning. A magpie couple has built their nest in a tree outside her studio window in Copenhagen. They come back every spring to repair the same nest, gathering twigs and branches. When she gazes out her window, she sees the baby magpies growing into young magpies who eventually learn to fly. Wittrock’s works resemble the birds’ wings and their blue-and-white feathers.

“I use sailcloth as a canvas, “ said Grethe Wittrock. “It gives the pieces a distinct lightness as well alluding to the process of using the wind to travel across the oceans.

Annette Bellamy The Sea Within Us
4ab The Sea Within Us, Annette Bellamy, 2017 fish skin and artificial sinew (Wall hung against grey background with black pins) 10’ x 8’. X 2”, 2017. Photo by Wayne McCall.

Annette Bellamy is an artist based out of Seattle, Washington who also doubles as a commercial fisherwoman. When asked about her inspiration in work and life, the two are intertwined quite seamlessly.

“I am an artist and a fisherwoman,” said Annette Bellamy. “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.”

Ed Rossbach Fish-trap
Ed Rossbach, Fish-Trap, 1988. Photo Tom Grotta.

This alluring, classic piece of artwork, Fish-Trap was created in 1988 by the late Ed Rossbach, iconic American fiber artist who was known for working in basketmaking and weaving.

Several years before his death, Ed Rossbach offered this insight:

“Well, I love all this mixture of things that people might interpret in various ways that I didn’t intend,” said Ed Rossbach. “I think it’s sort of amusing to have people misunderstand things and take things seriously that you mean not to be serious. Of course I don’t persuade myself that people think much about these things at all; I think they just sort of pass before their eyes. May-be somebody will think a little bit about it, but I don’t think anybody is very concerned about what the meaning is of what I’m doing. I think it’s very unusual for people to look seriously at what someone else is offering as a work of art. You’re very much doing it for yourself. And I suppose that’s the essence of what I’m doing….”

In September, we will be launching our Volume 50 exhibition and catalog. We’re excited to launch, as we know you’re going to love what’s in store – you’ll even be seeing some familiar artists like Wittrock and Bellamy.


Creative Quarantining: Artist Check-in 5

The final installment of our Social Distancing/Shelter-in-Place Chronicles, bringing you updates from Italy, Sweden and the Western US.

“In these long days I have worked so much,” writes Federica Luzzi from Rome.  “I’ve always thought being an artist is an existential condition and therefore it is impossible not to express myself creatively with a few improvised and casual things or just thinking, imagining something. In fact, one sleepless night, I made a very short video during weaving. I am aware that textile involves many hours of work in solitude, but certainly in this difficult situation my mood is unstable and I need great concentration and mind control.

Federica Luzzi in Rome. Photo by Federica Luzzi

Fortunately, at home, where I have two types of vertical looms, I had some materials (silk, rayon, cotton yarn, and other threads that I managed to get just in time before shutdown) that allowed me to work. So I’m making loom-woven works. Others that I called ‘domestic landscapes’ are photographs of elements that have aroused my interest and particularly stimulated me.

Federica Luzzi Domestic Landscape
Federica Luzzi Photo: domestic landscapes

For example, while I was preparing lunch in the kitchen I noticed the pistils of the courgette flowers that look like small trees or a small snail I found among the green leaves of the broccoli; in their purity they seemed to tell to me about something else. These elements joined part of a set in my room (as background the blanket of my bed that found them on that position that accidentally seemed to be part of a mountainous cross in a silent landscape with a water mirror, or a volcanic landscape). Without any my intention these landscapes are born from everyday life.”

Jin-Sook So in her studio
Jin-Sook So in her studio in Sweden

In Sweden, Jin-Sook So has stayed busy in her studio and reports that all is well.

“I think it is tough for most artists to stay focused because so much is out of our hands,” writes Polly Sutton from Seattle. “Walking with birds and the garden give me a good relief. It has taken a lot longer to finish a piece and the scattered frame of mind definitely shows in the results! That’s my assessment of whether it’s of value.”

Christine Joy studio. Photo by Christine Joy

“Restrictions are starting to lessen here in Montana” wrote Christine Joy in May, “but not so much with Al and myself. Being part of the more vulnerable population we are staying isolated.  My studio is in the backyard but my time there has not been very productive in a creative way. I feel compelled to clean and reorganize and burn things in a fire pit I acquired just for that purpose. Maybe after the fire a new creative spark will occur.” Christine is staying active, too. “When not cleaning I am cooking and online grocery shopping and walking, lots of walking. Also I have discovered I like Zoom yoga classes just as much as going to the gym for them.”

Stay Safe, Stay Separate, Stay Inspired!


Creative Quarantining: Artist Check-in 4

Number 4 in our series includes reports from North America, from Nova Scotia to Santa Fe.

Walk With Peace, Dawn MacNutt. Photo Dawn MacNutt

In Canada, Dawn MacNutt reported, they are managing corona restrictions well, but still reeling from a mass shooting earlier in the month. “We’ve had pretty fine leadership regarding management of the virus situation. We remain in isolation, and will continue for some time to come. However, the past few days that is all eclipsed by the tragic situation of a mass attack on a neighboring number of communities. I remember when your nearby Sandy Hook, Connecticut was under attack. The attack here is over, but the extent of loss of life is still being uncovered…23 victims now. We are lucky to have the land to walk on. Lots of scrabble, chess, movies, reading.” In addition, Dawn  was busy getting pictures and lists, to document her solo online exhibition A Fortunate Adversity: COVID-19 Edition, at the Craig Gallery in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia in May.

Nora Minkowitz Spinning in her studio
Norma Minkowitz Spinning amongst her works. Photo by Tom Grotta

“We are good.” Norma Minkowitz writes from Connecticut where she is staying active. “I have been mostly doing what I always do, basically I am at home working most of the day on several artworks at the same time.  I can’t spin now as my club is closed so as always, I am running outside  2-3 miles and also on the treadmill several times a week. I have a training session with my new trainer every Thursday on Zoom. It is really hard work but I enjoy it and feel like I am getting much stronger as time goes by. I have started jumping rope again, at first it was awkward, but now I am getting better at it. I hope to do some qualifying races in October as they were pushed up from the May races I was supposed to participate in. This is also good for my demanding art work as I stand and climb when the work gets bigger. I am again working on my worn out running socks and making intricate stitched work from the frayed and torn socks.” On the entertainment and eating fronts, Norma streams TV from different sources and “often gets drawn into interesting dramas and mysteries from different countries. I don’t cook as my daughter, a chef, brings me food enough for five days, so I am lucky to have her. My hair is a disaster, but it is what it is. Hope everyone is productive and healthy.”

clockwise: Polly Barton's Warp, Kobokusa and Shifuku. Photos by Poly Barton
clockwise: Polly Barton’s Warp, Kobokusa and Shifuku. Photos by Poly Barton

Polly Barton, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, has used the time to take stock. “I have been sorting, thinking, walking daily and uploading 40 years worth of images from CDs into the cloud (BORING!).” Polly has also been sewing shifuku and kobukusa for the Japanese tea ceremony from exploratory color ways of pieces of various warps. “I am finishing up the last pieces on a warp that has challenged me for four years (big accomplishment, though still deciding on how to mount and hang…),” she says. and winding a new warp. “Essentially, it has been a time of quiet, feeling as though I am standing on two logs, one looking backwards and the other pulling me forward, in the middle of a slow-moving stream going … somewhere unknown. This new warp will lead me. Hindsight will be 20/20,” she predicts, “as we look back with gentle compassion at 2020.”

Stay Safe, Stay Separate, Stay Inspired!


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
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