Category: Art Textiles

Material Matters: Kibiso Silk

Detail of Kiyomi Iwata's Southern Crossing Three
Detail: Kiyomi Iwata’s Southern Crossing Three, woven kibiso and paint, 55” x 108”, 2014. Photo by tom Grotta

Material Matters: Kibiso, Japanese Silk

This is another installment in our series of information on materials used by artists who work with browngrotta arts including horsehair, agave and today, kibiso silk.

Kibiso refers to silk drawn from the outer layer of the silk cocoon, considered “waste” in compared to the smooth filament that makes up the inner cocoon. This thick cocoon layer is also called choshi in Japan, frison in the USA, knubbs in Great Britain, sarnak in India, frissonette in France, and strusa in Italy. In the past, it had been discarded as too tough to loom.

Since 2008, NUNO, the innovative Japanese textile firm, has focused on the use of kibiso. Working with elderly women in Tsuruoka, one of Japan’s last silk-weaving towns, NUNO started a kibiso hand-weaving project. These women set up looms in their garages and kitchens for extra family income, and made woven bags out of the thick, stiff kibiso yarn, as well as handknit hats. NUNO has refined kibiso down to a thickness that allows automatic machine looming, resulting in a whole line of new fabrics, most of which have normal silk warps and kibiso wefts. As part of an effort to revitalize Japan’s once-booming silk trade, NUNO’s head designer, Reiko Sudo, also works with the Tsuruoka Fabric Industry Cooperative on a variety of products under the “kibiso” label.

The fiber is water repellent and UV resistant. Machine-made kibiso yarn was originally produced in Yokohama, writes the Cooper-Hewitt, the center of silk exportation in Japan between the 1860s until the 1920s. This silk waste was considered a high-quality material, and produced good quantities with little waste. However, the industrial process to obtain this fiber was not considered cost-effective and it progressively lost its appeal until Reiko Sudi and NUNO addressed revival of kibiso yarn production. Kibiso comes from about 2% of the silk cocoon, Slow Fiber Studio says. It contains an especially high amount of sericin protein, which means it takes dye very strongly and offers great opportunities to explore body and texture. It’s used in its original, more rigid state, to create sculptural forms, or degummed with soda ash to soften the fibers.

Detail: Fungus Three, Kiyomi Iwata
Detail: Fungus Three, Kiyomi Iwata, Ogara Choshi are gathered. The surface is embellished with gold leaf and French embroidery knots, 6.5″ x 8″ x 7.5″, 2018. Photo by Tom Grotta

Kiyomi Iwata is an artist who has explored the artistic opportunities that kibsio presents. Iwata was born in Kobe, Japan. She immigrated to the US in 1961. She studied at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond and the Penland School of Craft. In the 1970s, she and her family relocated to New York City, where she studied at the New School for Social Research and the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. She returned to Richmond in 2010 and began working on a body of work using kibiso. She explained to Amanda Dalla Villa Adams in an interview for Sculpture Magazine (“Qualities of the Unsaid: A Coversation with Kiyomi Iwata,” Sculpture Magazine, Amanda Dalla Villa Adams, February 11, 2021) what apealed to her about the material. 

Southern Crossing Three, Kiyomi Iwata
Southern Crossing Three, Kiyomi Iwata, woven Kibiso and paint, 55″ x 108″, 2014. Photo by Tom Grotta

Kibiso has a very different attraction for me, contrary to my usual silk organza, which is woven from fine silk thread,” Iwata told Adams. The silkworms produce 3,000 meters of thread during their lifetime, and kibiso is the very first 10 meters. “By using kibiso,” the artist says, “I am using the silkworm’s whole life output, which is gratifying. I went back to the traditional manner of using thread to weave. Whatever the thread had from its previous life, such as the silkworm’s cocoon, I left it where it was and dyed the thread.” 

Iwata has made objects of kibiso and also grid-like tapestries which Adams described as apearing as fragments,… “there is an unfinished quality to them,” she writes. “Some are large and freeform, while others are intimate and marked off by a frame.” According to Iwata, the “complex nuance of North versus South” has influenced her work since she re-crossed the Mason-Dixon line. It’s been in the last decade, I that she has transformed woven kibiso made into tapestry-like hangings. “They are either dyed or embellished with gold leaf,” she explains, “and I enjoy the process as much as the results. The whole idea of working, using hands and mind, and letting the process lead me is an eternal moment of joy for me. Sometimes I use a frame to give the piece a limitation, and other times I let the wall space frame the piece. It really is a difference in how I like to present the piece.” In Iwata’s hands, kibiso leads to striking results.


The Human Figure in Abstract

The human figure in art is the most direct means by which art can address the human condition, says The Roland Collection of films on art, architecture and authors. “In early societies its significance was supernatural, a rendering of gods or spirits in human form. Later, in the Renaissance, although Christianity provided the dominant social belief system, Western art’s obsession with the figure reflected an increasingly humanist outlook, with humankind at the center of the universe. The distortions of Modernist art, meanwhile, may be interpreted as reflecting human alienation, isolation and anguish.” 

Dawn MacNutt, Testimony 1 & 2, woven willow 51” x 24” x 24”, 1980s 42” x 22” x 22”, 1980s. Photo by Tom Grotta

Among the artists represented in the browngrotta arts’ collection are several who recreate the human figure in three-dimensions with provocative results. Dawn MacNutt of Canada is known for her nearly life-size figures of willow and seagrass. The sculpture and architecture of ancient Greece has been a major influence on her vision. “I first experienced pre-classical Greek sculpture in the hallways of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York as a teenager in the 1950s.” she says. “When I visited Greece 40 years later, the marble human forms resonated even more strongly.  The posture and attitude of ancient Greek sculpture reflects forms as fresh and iconic as today… sometimes formal … sometimes relaxed. Her works, like Praise North and Praise South, reflect the marble human forms, columns, caryatids …  sometimes truncated… found outdoors as well as in museums in Greece. They were inspired by two study and work trips to Greece just before and after the millennium, 1995 and 2000.

Stéphanie Jacques sculpture installation
Stéphanie Jacques sculpture installation. Photo by Tom Grotta

Figures created by Stéphanie Jacques of Belgium are clearly humanoid, but less literal. “For a long time I have been trying to create a figure that stands upright,” Jacques explain. “…all of this is related to the questions I ask myself about femininity and sexual identity. My driving forces are the emotions, the wants and the impossibilities that are particular to me. Once all this comes out, I seek to make it resonate in others. My work is not a lament, but a place where I can transform things to go on.”

Lead Relief, Mary Giles
Detail: Lead Relief, Mary Giles, lead, iron, wood, 23.75” x 56 .75” x 2”, 2011. Photo by Tom Grotta

As Artsy has chronicled, drawn, painted, and sculpted images of human beings can be found in Han Dynasty tombs in China, in Mayan art, and even in the nearly 30,000-year-old wall drawings of the Chauvet Caves in southern France. In incorporating the figure into her work, Mary Giles responded to the graphic power of the male image in early art, such as the petroglyphs of the Southwest, aerial views of prehistoric land art, and the rudimentary figures of Native American baskets. She used similar representations of men on her baskets. Her husband, architect, Jim Harris, told the Racine Art Museum, “Sometimes they were made with the bodies of the men created as part of the coiling process but with the arms and legs added as three-dimensional elements, Some baskets were supported by the legs of the figures. Later, this idea evolved into totems with coiled bodies, the legs as part of a supporting armature, and the arms as free elements. She made over 50 totems! They were small and large, singular and in pairs. They were embellished with everything from puka shells gathered at the beach, to all sorts of metal elements both found and individually made by Mary.”

In 2007, Giles made a piece with individual male figures made of wrapped wire placed directly into the wall. It was composed of hundreds of torched copper wire men arranged outwardly from dense to sparse. She continued this work by placing the figures onto panels. These dealt with Giles’ concerns about population. “They are not baskets,” she explained , “but the men they incorporate have been on my vessels for nearly 30 years. I am still working with these ideas of overpopulation, density and boundaries,” she said in 2013 in her remarks on being awarded the Master of the Medium Award for Fiber from the James Renwick Alliance.

Its a Small World Isn't it?, Judy Mulford
Detail: Its a Small World Isn’t it?, Judy Mulford gourd, waxed linen, fine silver, antique buttons, Japanese coins, beads and antique necklace from Kyoto flea market, pearls from Komodo Island, photo transfers, pounded tin can lids, Peruvian beads, paper, dye, paint; knotting and looping 13″ x 13″ x 16.5″, 2003. Photo by Tom Grotta

Where Mary Giles featured male figures in her works, Judy Mulford’s figures were nearly always women — mothers, sisters, daughters. “My work is autobiographical, personal, graphic and narrative,” she said. “And always, a feeling of being in touch with my female ancestral beginnings.

John McQueen Man with dress willow sculpture
43jm Guise, John McQueen, willow, 48″ x 18″ x 18″

The humans that John McQueen creates of bark often answer questions. McQueen received a Gold Medal from the American Craft Council this year. He has “revolutionized the conventional definition of a basket by raising issues of containment and isolation, security and control, and connections between humans and nature through his work” in the view of the Council, “creating highly original forms.” In Centered, that connection is front and center as a figure emerges from leaves. In Guise, a male figure wears a skirt to help his balance, the artist says. Tilting at Windmills, speaks for itself — a human figure tips sidewise on one leg — holding its own for the moment, but capable of toppling over at any time.

 

Norma Minkowitz Collected
Collected by Norma Minkowitz, mixed media, fiber, wire, shell, paint and resin, 2004. Photo by Tom Grotta

Norma Minkowitz also began her explorations with vessels, sculptural and crocheted, adding depictions of human figures later in her career. “As I exhausted the possibilities of the many enclosed vessel forms that I had created,” Minkowitz told Zone Arts, “I turned to my interest in the human form.  My earliest drawings in pen and ink were always about the human form as well as the human condition. I now returned to the idea of using the figure in my sculptures which was a difficult transition to create –making them transparent and at the same time structured. These where at once much larger and more complicated than the vessel forms. These veiled figurative sculptures were mostly created in the 1990s to the mid- 2000’s. I have also created multi-figure sculptures that illustrate the passage of time and other kinds of transitions, I call these installations sequential as I often use several juxtaposed and related figures together.”

Magdalena Abakanowicz portrait and work
Magdalena Abakanowicz in her art room and Klatka i plecy, Wikimedia Commons

The best-known human figures of fiber are perhaps those by Magdalena Abakanowicz, made of burlap (and later of steel).  “Abakanowicz drew from the human lot of the 20th century, the lot of a man destroyed by the disasters of that century, a man who wants to be born anew,” said Andrzej Szczerski, head of the National Museum in Krakow when the sculptor died in 2017. (https://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-me-magdalena-abakanowicz-20170424-story.html). She had begun her art work as a painter, then created enormous woven tapestries, Abakans, in the earlier ’60s, which heralded the contemporary fiber movement. These works led to burlap backs, then standing figures then legions of figures of metal, like those in Chicago’s Millennium Park. Like other artists promoted by browngrotta arts, Abakanowicz, “… showed that sculpture does not need to be in one block,” art critic Monika Branicka said, “that it can be a situation in space and that it can be made of fabrics.”


Look Up: installing art in the air

We often meet collectors who say “I love that piece, but I have no more room.” Our response — “What about your ceiling?” Work hung from above — in the center of the room, in front of a wall or window, or over a doorway can offer an exciting installation option.

Stainless steel Kyoko Kumai installation
Stainless Steel Tapestry by Kyoko Kumai installed from the ceiling in a two-story space in CT. Photo by Tom Grotta

We may have anticipated what would become a decorating trend. “Suspended Art is the New Gallery Wall,” claimed Apartment Therapy in 2021. “If you’ve been able to visit a museum or gallery safely recently (or even caught a digital exhibition), then you might have noticed that artwork is starting to move off of walls,” wrote Danielle Blunder. “Framed pieces and canvases alike are being suspended straight from ceilings, and I have to say, it’s an ever-so-slight — but clever — alternative to the gallery wall that I’d consider trying in my home to create an unexpected focal point.” (“This Art Hanging Idea Will Make Your Favorite Pieces Look Even More Luxe,” Danielle Blunder, Apartment Therapy, August 14, 2021. https://www.apartmenttherapy.com/suspending-art-from-the-ceiling-36962165.) Blunder’s article gives several examples, including a designer who hung a framed photograph from the ceiling in front of a pair of heavy drapes — effectively creating a picture wall where there wasn’t one. Below are examples of works that could be ceiling-installed in front of a window.

Two Steel Dail Behennah stainless steel rope ball sculptures in Idaho home. Collector photo.

The results of a ceiling installation can be dramatic. Federica Luzzi’s contemporary fiber works have hung in Renaissance spaces, creating intriguing juxtapositions. Jane Balsgaard’s boats have graced churches — inspiring transcendent experiences. 

Federica Luzzi Chiesa Madonna del Pozzo, Spoleto, Italy installation
Solo exhibition of work by Federica Luzzi in Chiesa Madonna del Pozzo, Spoleto, Italy. Photo by the artist.
Jane Balsgaard boats
Jane Balsgaard’s elevated boats. Photo by the artist.

Grethe Wittrock’s lofty sail works create another incentive for using ceiling space.

Grethe Wittrock installation at the Fuller Craft Museum
Grethe Wittrock installation at the Fuller Craft Museum. Photo by Tom Grotta

Mia Olsson’s sisal panels create still one more.

Mia Olsson installation at the Diagnostic Center, University Hospital of Skåne
Mia Olsson installation at the Diagnostic Center, University Hospital of Skåne (in Malmö) 2003-04. Photo by the artist.

And, of course, there’s always straight from the ceiling, like these works by Masakazu and Naomi Kobayashi

white Space Ship 2000 by Masakazu Kobayashi suspended in air
Space Ship 2000 by Masakazu Kobayashi, silk and wood, 31.5″ x 118″ x 35.5″, 2000. Photo by Tom Grotta.
Naomi Kobayashi's paper, Cosmic Ring
Naomi Kobayashi’s paper, Cosmic Ring. Photo by Tom Grotta

Contact us at art@browngrotta.com for ideas to create an aerial gallery in your space. Send us photos of the spot you have in mind and we can digitally install various options.


Allies for Art: Exclusively Online on Artsy through November 18, 2022

Did you miss the in-person version of Allies for Art: Work from NATO-related countries at browngrotta arts? Good news! You can see the art that made up the exhibition exclusively on Artsy through November 18th.

Three dimensional embroidered leaf shaped wall sculpture
7ak Embraced by Nature II, Anda Klancic, embroidered viscose, flax, cotton, polyester, metal filament, PVA fabric 31” x 23” x 9.25”, 2004. Photo by Tom Grotta

The nearly 50 artists in Allies for Art are from 21 different countries — 18 NATO members and 3 NATO applicants. Their work reflects diverse perspectives and experiences. The exhibition includes art created under occupation, in the ‘60s through the 80s, art by those who left repressive governments in Hungary, Romania and Spain, and art by other artists who left Russia in later years. Allies for Art also includes current works created by European artists including Gudrun Pagter of Denmark, Åse Ljones of Norway, Włodmierz Cygan of Poland, Ceca Georgieva of Bulgaria and, artists new to browngrotta arts, including Esmé Hofman of the Netherlands, Aby Mackie of Spain and Baiba Osite of Latvia.

Abstract off the wall textile sculpture
20mb Giallo, Marian Bijlenga, cotton; horshair, 58″ x 53″, 1994. Photo by Tom Grotta.

You can also learn more about the exhibition in the Allies for Art full-color catalog, which includes lush images and details shots and an essay by Kate Bonansinga, Director, School of Art, College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning at the University of Cincinnati, Ohio available on our website.

VIEW EXHIBITION ONLINE: Artsy
VIEW EXHIBITION IN PRINT: Order an Allies for Art catalog


Art for a Cause to Benefit World Affairs Forum this Saturday, October 15th, 4 pm to 7 pm

3jh Wings, Jan Hladik, wool, 1973; 4jh Der Rote Gobelin, Jan Hladik, wool, 1966. Photo by Tom Grotta

Join browngrotta arts for a private Tour and Reception in Saturday, October 15th from 4 pm to 7 pm to benefit World Affairs Forum. The event will be our Fall 2022 Art for a Cause.

The Details
At 4PM, Tom Grotta will host a Private Tour of the exhibition Allies For Art: Work from NATO-related Countries. From 5 to 7PM, there will be brief Remarks by speakers from WAF and browngrotta arts will host a Reception, with exhibition-themed canapés and a curated cocktail where guests can socialize, view and learn more about the exhibition’s works of art.

The Speakers

Two experts on art and culture will speak briefly about making and protecting art in conflict zones. Cindy Maguire, PhD is a researcher and professor, and co-author of the book “Arts and Culture in Global Development Practice,” also with Ann Holt, PhD. Rob McCallum, PhD is both a practicing artist who has exhibited his work at numerous international solo and group shows, as well as a global educator with a PhD in Art Education. 

left to right:
82mk, Markku Kosonen, Curly Birch 5.2,  2001; 69mk, Markku Kosonen, Object No. II, birch, metal, 2000, 17ak Anda Klančič, Human Presence, 2019; 40sp Simone Pheulpin, Ondes, 2016. Photo by Tom Grotta. 

Register Here to attend.


The Cause/World Affairs Forum
In addition to 100% of the proceeds from public ticket sales, 10% of the proceeds from all sales of art, books, or catalogs at this Art for a Cause event will be donated to World Affairs Forum, an independent, nonpartisan organization dedicated to engaging the public and leading voices to better understand the world. Since 1946, World Affairs Forum in Stamford, CT has been providing top-level and thought-provoking presentations, debates, and discussions of foreign policy and global affairs featuring world leaders, economists, diplomats, scholars, business luminaries, corporate change-makers, authors, journalists, and Nobel laureates. Its mission is to create conversations in our community about global affairs, foreign policy, and America’s role in the world.

19sj Carapace, Stéphanie Jacques, wood, wool 46” x 12” x 6.5”, 2010-2011. Photo by Tom Grotta

The Exhibition:
Allies for Art: Work from NATO-related countries (October 8 – 16) features over 130 pieces from nearly 50 artists, and will highlight work from 21 countries in Eastern and Western Europe made from the 1960s to the present. The diverse fiber works and sculpture in the exhibition were created by artists who fled repressive regimes, who have worked under and around government restrictions and who have been influenced by current conditions. 

Signing Up
Public registration for the general reception, from 5pm to 7pm, is $25. Public registration for the 4pm private tour + general reception from 5pm to 7pm is $50.
Click to register: Art for a Cause.


Note:
We will be closing registration when the gallery venue reaches capacity, so please register as soon as possible to secure your tickets.

Our Art for a Cause mixologist and master chef, Max Fanwick and expert assistant Suzanne.

Address:
276 Ridgefield Road Wilton, CT 06897

Safety protocols:
Eventbrite reservations strongly encouraged • We will follow current state and federal guidelines surrounding COVID-19 • As of October 1, 2022, masks are not required • No narrow heels please (barn floors.)


Portraits in Thread

The Textile Museum at George Washington University in DC has a portrait exhibition in the works. Learning about the Museum’s plans got us thinking about works created by browngrotta artists that feature human likenesses. We have a preference for abstract works and find them easier to exhibit as a group in the gallery. As a result, we don’t exhibit many works that are figurative, but we do find faces rendered in textiles consistently appealing. They record a person’s existence, but traditionally reflect much more — power, status, virtue, beauty, wealth, taste, learning or other qualities of the sitter. Portraiture can be popular with artists because of the freedom of composition it involves — lighting, angle of the head, hair, clothes, background, facial expression — almost endless options. Below is a gallery of some engaging portraits by artists who have worked with browngrotta arts.

Process piece by ed Rossbach
Process Piece, Ed Rossbach, 15” x 15” x 2.5”, 1981. Photo by Tom Grotta

This deconstructed portrait by Ed Rossbach works on two levels — it appears to be a model of the way a likeness can be formed, and of course, it revels the likeness in black transferred onto fabric.

Ethel Stein portrait
Portrait, Ethel Stein mercerized cotton lampas (pre-dyed warp and weft) drawloom , controlled, 47” x 34.75” x 1” 1999. Photo by Tom Grotta

Portrait by Ethel Stein is an imagined depiction of a woman in contemplation while Helena Hernmarck’s On the Dock seems to capture an actual moment in time.

Helena Hernmarck tapestry
On the Dock, Helena Hernmarck, wool, 43″ x 57″, 2009. Photo by Tom Grotta

Marijike Arp portraits
DNA Unique, Marijike Arp, transparent foil, threads and paper, 66″ x 118″ x 1.5″, 2000. Photo by Tom Grotta

Marjike Arp made a statement about gender in DNA=Unique. The pair of subjects resemble one another and raise questions for the viewer: Are they related? Are they more similar than different? 

Iria Kolesnikova portraits
Photoatelier #11, Irina Kolesnikova, flax, silk, hand woven, 15.5” x 11.75”, 20” x 16” frame, 2004

Other artists also work from photographic images. Irina Kolesnikova, for example, likes old black-and-white old photos. “I play with images of these pictures, using silhouettes, details of dress, signs of profession. I make collage and imitate collage in woven technique. You can not recognize an exact person in these pieces, because it is not important for me …. I like a paradoxical combination of contemporary art language and ancient handweaving technque.”

From the First Person  by Aleksandra Stoyanov
Aleksandra Stoyanov, From the First Person I, wool, sisal, silk, cotton threads 55.6” x 49.25”, 1999

Ukrainian-born artist Aleksandra Stoyanov began making tapestries in 1987, building on her background in graphic and set design. Some of these are based on photographs from her family album. The images evoke memories; the position of the subjects’ heads on their sides suggests the importance of one’s vantage point in interpreting events.

Lia Cook Su Series
Su Series, Lia Cook cotton, rayon, woven 72” x 132”, 2010-2016. Photo by Tom Grotta

Lia Cook is a master of creating woven portraits from photographic images. Her Su Series Installation features 32 individual portraits. The exact same face, an image of Cook as a child, is used in each of the pieces but it is physically and materially translated differently each time through the weaving process. “The specific way each is translated creates a subtle and sometimes dramatic variation in emotional expression.” Cook says. “As one moves through the installation each iteration evokes a new response. The experience of the person viewing the piece is what is important to me. I am interested in the threshold at which the face dissolves first into pattern and then into a sensual tactile woven structure.  What does this discovery and the resulting intense desire to touch the work add to our already innate, almost automatic emotional response to seeing a face?… The viewer can experience sadness, happiness anger fear etc.  They don’t believe it is the same image”. It is fascinating to Cook — and to viewers of her work — that how an image is translated through the technical weaving process can change the emotional expression of the work.


Process Notes: James Bassler

Portrait of James Bassler, Photo by Mark Davidson

James Bassler describes himself as a problem solver. He loves nothing better than to pursue an idea and discover how the final execution differs from his initial “fuzzy” conception. An American Craft Council Gold Medalist, Bassler writes engagingly about his investigations into pre-Columbian and other weaving techniques, his experiments with different dyes and materials, and the influence of current events and modern life on his work. We share some excerpts of his writings below:

Origins
It didn’t hurt me to grow up in a family steeped in hard work and hand processes. My father was brought up in a Mennonite community in Pennsylvania. He was a major league baseball player, but interestingly enough, he had other talents including the hooking of rugs. I was introduced to the textile traditions at a very early age. I entered UCLA in the early 1950s. In 1953, I was drafted into the US Army with a tour of duty in Europe, followed by a civilian job in England. In 1960, I returned home via a cargo ship to China and Japan. It was on this journey that I witnessed the importance of world crafts, and their essential role in cultures. A spinning and weaving demonstration in Bombay, was of particular interest, as well as the dyeing processes of Indonesia and Japan. Returning to California, I re-entered UCLA as an art student and began to explore fabric patterning and later, weaving.

To Plait, James Bassler, Wedge weave construction; silk, linen, ramie, sisal, pineapple, nettles weft; indigo-dyed silk and linen warp, 47.25” x 44.25”, 2015. Photo by Tom Grotta.

On plaiting
To Plait is part of a series of weavings that propose to illustrate and demonstrate a variety of structures used throughout history and the world to create objects of fiber. Currently, with so much attention and interest directed toward electronics, I have found little curiosity directed toward how material objects are made. How did early people survive? To Plait can help answer that question. To Plait could help someone, some day, actually make something with their hands.

Shop, James Bassler made of brown paper Trader Joe’s shopping bags, cut and twisted and with yellow and red waxed linen thread, 16” X 10″, 2009.

On spinning
My intent to spin and weave Shop [made from “yarn” spun from Trader Joe’s bags] was not to create a handwoven shopping bag. I wove it to draw attention to the important role that vessels have played in ancient history, as they do today. I wove it to draw attention to the honesty and beauty of a simple, and readily available material. I wove it to draw attention to the adaptability of handweaving to create three-dimensional forms, but most of all, I wove it to celebrate the beauty of a handmade object.

On Inca Time, James Bassler, four-selvage weaving, handspun alpaca, commercial wool, silk, linen, ramie, agave, cotton; natural dyes: lac, cochineal, gardenia jasminoides, sophora Japonica, huezache, walnut shells. 42” x 37” Photo by Tom Grotta.

On pre-Columbian textiles
For over 30 years I taught at UCLA. For 12 of those years I offered a course entitled “Textiles of the World: The Americas,” in the Fowler Museum there. With access to the Museum’s vast collection I became much more familiar with the challenges that the early indigenous people faced in order to create an identity to their particular cultures.  In terms of historical woven textiles created in the Americas, in particular areas, a weaving process was developed.  It is identified as scaffold weave, or four-selvaged and it is quite different from the weaving traditions of Europe.

In 1999, I challenged myself to learn scaffold weave, aided, I will confess, by some 20th century modifications, including foam core, straight pins, and large needles.  From that time on a good portion of what I have created uses this ancient technology.  I choose it because of the freedom it gives me.  However, the process does take longer.

Regarding the woven textiles of the pre-Columbian Andean Cultures, one of the most recognizable patterns is the use of the checkerboard. One sees the checkerboard tunic often because it was the uniform of the Inca military, but it was used frequently in other ways.  I was inspired by images I had seen in a catalog of an exhibition at Yale University which Jack Lenor Larsen had sent me. A second inspiration came from beautiful images of pre-Columbian Andean shibori. Simultaneously, I began to explore these ideas, one a black and white checkerboard, scaffold weave, using a multitude of yarns I had been anxious to use.  On the other project, also scaffold weave and checkerboard, I chose to use a great variety of wool yarn since I planned to use natural dyes in the shibori process.

Mi Wari Boro, James Bassler, four-selvage weaving (scaffold weave) and shibori (tie-dye), handspun and commercial wool, natural dyes: lac, cochineal, gardenia jasminoides, sophora Japonica, huezache, walnut hulls, 32” x 35”, 2019. Photo by Mark Davidson.

In the piece Mi Wari Boro, the word “boro” comes from the Japanese tradition of repair and mending. I was faced with the need for numerous patches and mending in this piece due to the variety of wool yarns I introduced and their reaction to the numerous dye baths they were subjected to. Thus, the inspiration came from the pre-Columbian culture and the Japanese tradition of mending. 

I can say that a good amount of time was spent on each piece, including challenges that left fond memories regarding how certain problems were resolved, and what I learned. I really, truly am more comfortable in pre-Columbian time, thus “on Inca time.”

My Letterman Yantra, James Bassler, natural brown cotton, handspun silk, waxed linen – plain weave, brocade – dye immersion with off-set printing method (wicking); large figures, letters and numbers in raised embroidery, with smaller figures also embroidered in part or completely. 28.5” X 32.5”, 2012, Photo by Tom Grotta

On running: My Yantra Jacket
I was one of 11 artists invited to participate in the exhibit Sourcing the Museum at The Textile Museum in Washington D. C., curated by Jack Lenor Larsen. Regarding the process of selecting an object from the museum collection, I was dubious that I could be moved by an image on a computer screen, that I had never seen or touched. Nevertheless, after several searches I kept coming back to a Burmese shirt, with all the writings and mystical symbols covering the surface. After some research, I discovered that the drawings are called yantras, and that they are magical and sacred symbols to evoke protection, good luck, prosperity, support, love and compassion from the cosmic universe. At my age, I thought I could use all that positive energy.

Underlying this selection was the deeper desire to finally celebrate, with bravado, my achievements of competing in numerous marathon races. In order to complete these and other shorter runs, I had clothed my body in a variety of yantras, from puritan simplicity to blatantly annoying symbols of products I never used, love of God, city, state, or political alignment. This was the opportunity to create something regal, that captures the focused endurance of the individual marathon runner, along with the chants and ultimate tacky trophies and medals that await the victors. Yesterday’s yantras, today’s tattoos.

In remote mountain communities of the Sierra region of Oaxaca, women continue to collect and spin silk cocoons found on native oak trees. Bound by tradition, threads are dyed in a strong magenta dye and allowed to dry, unrinsed. These specific yarns are woven to create brocade images into a cotton ground. After being woven, the cloth is folded and bound, and submerged into a hot water bath, allowing the dye to bleed (wick), creating a pattern. Using this same silk, I created many brocade images of runners, leaving spaces for the images to print, or wick, during the dyeing process. Separately, the three panels of cloth that make up the piece were each carefully folded, clamped and submerged into the hot water, permitting the dozens of runner figures to emerge.


Material Matters: Horsehair

The works of art in our last exhibition, Crowdsourcing the Collective: a survey of textile and mixed media art utilized a abundance of unusual materials — hog gut, kibiso silk, seaweed and agave among them. Over the next several months, we’ll take a closer look at less-than-common materials and the artists who use them. This week: horsehair.

Marian Bijlenga, 33mb Korean Bojagi, horsehair and fabric , 22″ x 20″, 2017. photo by Tom Grotta

In the early 1990s, Dutch artist Marian Bijlenga’s drawing tool narrowed to a single material: horsehair. (Jessica Hemmings, Embroidery magazine, March/April 2008, pp. 22-27). The fiber provides Bijlenga the necessary strength and flexibility to construct embroidered compositions of lines and dots. Bijlenga uses textiles in her work, but textile application is not her real interest. She secures the horsehair in her works with embroidery, but she has said “for me it is not real embroidery. Sometimes my work is in an embroidery exhibition, but it could also be in a sculpture exhibition. For me it is not so important.” 

Marian Bijlenga working with horsehair

Bijlenga studied textile design but for her, weaving was too slow. “It takes a lot of time before you could start,” she says, “and I did not like the technique. I was looking for a more direct way of working.” Bijlenga took the threads held by the loom and began instead to make drawings, stiffening the fiber by dipping it in glue. ” I work with thread, fabric and horsehair, fishscales and parchment, materials which are soft, light, flexible and open to endless development.”

Marianne Kemp weaving horsehair. Photo by Tom Grotta

Marianne Kemp has developed a unique specialty in weaving with horsehair. She uses techniques that she has developed which enable her to mold, knot, curl, and loop the material — which she interweaves with linen, cotton, silk, or wool — in unconventional ways. “Through the different properties and qualities like texture, color, and the shining of horsehair, the end result can be shiny and smooth – organic and wild – flexible and stiff,” wrote Sam at TextileArtist.Org (https://www.textileartist.org/ marianne-kemp-horsehair-weaving/).

2mk Red Fody, Marianne Kemp, cotton, horsehair, acrylic, 56” x 19” x 8”, 2013. Photos by Tom Grotta

Some of her works are meditative in their repeat of patterns, others boisterous in their choice of bright colors. In 2001, Kemp created a small collection of designs based on her hand weavings with John Boyd Textiles, professional weavers of horsehair in the UK. She was excited to discover that it was possible to weave her design mechanically. Kemp spent three-and-a-half years in London, then traveled to Cape Town South Africa. With just one tail of horsehair and a loom borrowed from the local Weavers Guild of Cape Town, Kemp designed many interesting new weavings, including a large wall hanging, called Africa. “It was a great time, learning from local weavers and giving them workshops too, helping them discover new techniques,” Kemp told Sam at textileArtist.Org.

60aa Night Curtain, linen, horsehair, paint & metal. 38” x 36”, 2018. Photo by Tom Grotta

A third artist who works in horsehair is Adela Akers. Before Akers devoted her life to the arts, she completed studies to be a pharmacist, which influences 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.” In the 1970s, Adela Akers lived 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. She incorporates horsehair into many of her weavings, adding texture and dimensionality. She also cuts metal strips —  from recycled California wine bottle caps — and stitches them into the woven linen strips that make up these works. Her techniques and materials produce images that change under different lighting conditions. In Night Curtain, the horsehair becomes a veil through which metal can shine through, reminiscent of stars peeping through a thin curtain of clouds in the night sky.

An butterfly of horsehair from Chile. Photo by Tom Grotta.

Finally, we were introduced this month to crin, a unique traditional form of horsehair art making from Chile by Caroline Yrarrázaval. When the artist visited bga in June, she brought us a beautiful example of that work. Artisans from a remote rural area of Chile create miniature flowers, animals, butterflies, birds, angels, and witches, woven out of crin de caballo, dyed or natural-colored horsehair. Their delicate creations are unique to this part of the world, largely due to their geographic and historical isolation. The horsehair weaving in Chile uses strands from the horses’ tails — thicker, longer and sturdier than that of their manes — combined with the imported vegetable fiber ixtle to keep the structure more firm and durable. The decorative pieces come almost exclusively from two neighboring rural villages, Rari and Panimavida, located 22 kilometers east of the town of Linares in the Andean foothills, roughly 300 kilometers south of Santiago. “Sitting in their doorways or under a tree, during the evening or between domestic tasks, some 150 women carry out the intricate labor of weaving the horsehair, a tradition that has been passed down for over two hundred years, using only their hands and a needle to finish off their creations,” wrote Maria Vallejos, for AARP International (Mariela Vallejos, “Tightly Woven Community,” AARP International, https://www.aarpinternational.org/the-journal/current-edition/tightly-woven-community). The horsehair used by Kemp and Akers, by contrast, comes from live horses overseas, mainly from the Far East, China and Mongolia.


Scenes from an Exhibition: Crowdsourcing the Collective this Week

Photo by Juan Pabon/Ezco Production

Despite some Covid cancellations, we’re enjoying good attendance to our Spring Art in the Barn exhibition, Crowdsourcing the Collective; a survey of textile and mixed media art this week. We had visitors in line on Sunday morning. We have had artists stop by, including Dawn MacNutt, Norma Minkowitz, Wendy Wahl, Nancy Koenigsberg, Jeannet Lennderste and Kari Lønning. We are hoping to see Blair Tate and Christine Joy later in the week.

We’ve had visits from groups from the Wilton Encore Club and Westport MoCA and a curator from the Flinn Gallery at the Greenwich Public Library. We are expecting more curators yet this week. 

The inspiration for the works in Crowdsourcing is of great interest to those attending. Lia Cook’s tapestries incorporate images of ferns from her California garden. Blair Tate experiments in visual layering based on frescoes interrupted by superimposed paintings and incised niches that she saw throughout Bologna. She rearranged separately woven strips to create windows on the wall — intentionally splintered, fragmented, unsettled as a reflection of our times. Dawn MacNutt’s works of seagrass and copper wire, The Last One Standing and Interconnected, are the last two works remaining from her earlier series, Kindred Spirits.

Dawn MacNutt and Norma Minkowitz
Dawn MacNutt and Norma Minkowitz. Photo by Tom Grotta

There are five days remaining — hope you can join us.

Schedule Your Visit Here: 

Remainder of the exhibition
Thru – Saturday, May 14th: 10AM to 5PM (40 visitors/hour)

Final Day
Sunday, May 15th: 11AM to 6PM (40 visitors/ hour)

Address
276 Ridgefield Road Wilton, CT 06897
(203)834-0623

Safety protocols
Eventbrite reservations strongly encouraged • We will follow current state and federal guidelines surrounding COVID-19 • As of March 1, 2022, masks are not required • We encourage you to wear a mask if your are not vaccinated or if you feel more comfortable doing so. • No narrow heels please (barn floors)

Art for a Cause: A portion of browngrotta arts’ profits for the months of May and June will benefit Sunflower of Peace, a non-profit group that provides medical and humanitarian aid for paramedics and doctors in areas that are affected by the violence in Ukraine. browngrotta arts will also match donations collected during the exhibition as part of browngrotta arts’ 2022 “Art for a Cause” initiative. A portion of the artists’ proceeds for certain works will also go to Sunflower of Peace: https://www.sunflowerofpeace.com/


Artists New to Crowdsourcing the Collective: Meet Jeannet Leendertse and Shoko Fukuda

Baskets by Jeannet Leendertse and Shoko Fukuda
Jeannet Leendertse, Drum-shaped Seaweed Vessel, coiled-and-stitched basket, rockweed [ascophyllum nodosum], waxed linen, beeswax, tree resin, 17″ x 9.5″ x 9.5″, 2022 and Shoko Fukuda, Loop with Corners, coiled ramie, monofilament, plastic, 12″ x 11.5″ x 5″, 2021. Photo by Tom Grotta

For our Spring exhibition, Crowdsourcing the Collective: a survey of textile and mixed media art (May 7 -15) browngrotta arts is delighted to introduce the work of two artists new to the gallery, Jennet Leenderste, Netherlands, US and Shoko Fukuda, Japan. Each of them creates sinuous and supple objects — Leenderste of seaweed and Fukuda of sisal, ramie and raffia. 

Portrait Jeannet Leendertse
Jeannet Leendertse portrait by David Grinnell

Jeannet Leenderste crafted with fabric as a child. She studied graphic design in the Netherlands and at 27 left for New York in search of an internship. After completing her degree cum laude, she moved to the Boston area and became an award-winning book designer. In recent years, has turned her focus again to textiles. Having grown up on the Dutch shore, her fiber work responds to the rugged coast of Maine, where she now lives and finds sculptural forms in the landscape and its creatures. As an immigrant, she says, her Dutch culture and heritage are always with her, while she continues to make this new environment her home. Exploring the concept of belonging, she develops work that feels at home in this marine environment. Adaptation and reflection are ongoing. Her fiber process brings these outer and inner worlds together.

Seaweed Vessels
Reclining Seaweed Vessel, Jeannet Leendertse, coiled-and-stitched basket rockweed [ascophyllum nodosum], waxed linen, beeswax, tree resin 8″ x 13″ x 7″, 2022; Seaweed Vessel with Stipe Handle, Jeannet Leendertse, coiled-and-stitched basket, rockweed [ascophyllum nodosum], sugar kelp [saccharina latissima] waxed linen, beeswax, tree resin, 11″ x 13″ x 5.5″, 2021. Photo by Tom Grotta

“My work grows from coastal impressions and material experimentation,” Leenderste explains. “It takes on a new life when moved out of the studio and placed back in its natural environment.” That feedback propels her process. “I feel a strong responsibility to consider my materials, and what my creative process will leave behind. She began foraging seaweed—in particular rockweed—to work with, and discovered the amazing benefits this natural resource provides. “Seaweed not only creates a habitat for countless species,” she says, “it sequesters carbon, and protects our beleaguered shoreline from erosion as our sea levels rise.  Rockweed vessels show the beauty of this ancient algae, while drawing attention to its environmental value.” Several examples of Leenderste’s seaweed works will be featured in Crowdsourcing the Collective.

Portrait Shoko Fukuda
Shoko Fukuda portrait by Makoto Yano

Shoko Fukuda is a basketmaker and Japanese artist who holds a Bachelor of Design from Kyoto University of Art and Design, and a Master’s degree from Osaka University of Art, where she focused on research in textile practice.  She has exhibited her work internationally for the past 10 years. Shoko Fukuda currently works as an instructor at Kobe Design University in the Fashion Design department.

At browngrotta arts, we were recommended to Fukuda’s work by noted basketmaker Hisako Sekijima. “I encountered Sekijima’s artworks about 20 years ago,” Fukuda says. “Lines made with expressive plant materials were woven into an abstract and three-dimensional shapes. I had never seen such small artworks, like architectural structures before. I have been fascinated by the structural visibility and the various characteristics of the constructive form consisting, of regular lines ever since then.” 

Fiber Sculptures by Shoko Fukuda
Vertical and Horizontal Helix, Shoko Fukuda, raffia, 5.125″ x 6″ x 7.5″, 2015; Traced Contour II, ramie, monofilament, plastic, 6.5″ x 17″ x 3.5″, 2022. Photo by Tom Grotta

In Loop With Corners, Fukuda considered how to create a multifaceted form from a flat surface. By making corners, shapes are formed based on intentional decisions that lead to unexpected tortuous and twisted shapes. By weaving and fastening as if making a corner, a rotating shape was created. The movement of coiling creates a rhythm, and the lines being woven together leave organic traces in the air. In Vertical and Cylindrical helix is made of cylindrical spirals stacked like layers. They were woven from different directions — up and down, left and right — to form a single piece. The work has a dense structure, dyed black and shaped like a tightly closed shell. 

Fukuda is interested in “distortion” as a characteristic of basket weaving. “As I coil the thread around the core and shape it while holding the layers together, I look for the cause of distortion in the nature of the material, the direction of work and the angle of layers to effectively incorporate these elements into my work. The elasticity and shape of the core significantly affect the weaving process, as the thread constantly holds back the force of the core trying to bounce back outward.” By selecting materials and methods for weaving with the natural distortion in mind, Fukuda saw the possibility of developing twists and turns. “I find it interesting to see my intentions and the laws of nature influencing each other to create forms.”

Fukuda’s work, like Leenderste’s, will be well represented at Crowdsourcing the Collective, our Spring 2022 exhibition. Join us at browngrotta arts May 7-15, 2022. Save your space here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/crowdsourcing-the-collective-a-survey-of-textiles-and-mixed-media-art-tickets-292520014237