Category: artist

When Words Aren’t Enough: Artists and Politics, Part I

Art often has a point of view. Artists shine a light on society’s ills, chide fellow citizens, disrupt the status quo. Think Picasso’s Guernica, Rockwell’s The Problem We All Live With and Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party. In honor of art’s pivotal political role, for the next three weeks, we share some pointed commentary from our artists, to contemplate in this heightened US election season. In this post, works by Danish artist Grethe Sørensen and American artist Gyöngy Laky that foreshadowed the events of this past summer — protests in the US supporting Black Lives Matter movement and criminal justice reform. 

Movement by Grethe Sørensen,  
tapestry from the arists video of a protesting the death of Eric Garner in NYC. Photo by Tom Grotta
18gs Movement, Grethe Sørensen, cotton, 89.5″ x 64″ x 1.875″, 2016, tapestry from the arists video of a protests over the death of Eric Garner in NYC. Photo by Tom Grotta

In December 2014, Grethe Sørensen was in New York working on, among other things, finding motifs that might form the basis for a site-specific tapestry (25′ x 21.25′) for a primary school in Denmark. The motif needed to illustrate movement and Sorensen’s first idea was to work with light in motion, a subject she had been very engaged in earlier works. “Our hotel was on the corner of Broadway and Canal Street,” she writes, “where we had a room on the 7th floor. When we got back to the hotel on December 13th around 6 pm, Broadway was filled with people instead of the usual cars in seven lanes. Thousands of people of all races came in an endless stream down the street shouting ‘I can’t breathe’ or ‘stay calm, don’t shoot’, carrying banners and flags, small and large signs with the words ‘I can”t breathe’. It was very moving, and we felt we were witnessing a momentous event which we as foreigners could not take part in.” Sørensen and her husband rushed back to their room and began to shoot video and take stills to document this spontaneous outpouring of citizen outrage.

Detail:  Movement, Grethe Sørensen, 2016, Photo by Tom Grotta
18gs Movement, cotton, 89.5″ x 64″ x 1.875″, 2016, $28,000 tapestry from the arists video of a protesting the death of Eric Garner in NYC

They had found themselves in the middle of the protest march against the police violence caused by the death of Eric Garner during a brutal arrest, captured on video and viewed around the world. “When I went through my material from New York,” says Sørensen, “there was no doubt, the motif from the march should form the basis for the tapestry for the school. This motif describes movement in all ways – people are moving mentally, emotionally, politically and physically – I can hardly imagine a better motif for a teaching institution.” Movement presents this motif in a smaller scale.

The death of Eric Garner also impacted Gyöngy Laky‘s work. Laky’s work often addresses current events. In June, 2014. she was working on a project involving airplanes having been invited to participate in “Airplane Show” planned for January, 2015, at b sakata garo, a gallery in Sacramento, CA.

“Airplanes!,” Laky writes. “What a great topic to contemplate.  They are elegant shapes full of history and significance, having altered human civilization in a most consequential way.  I found my imagination ranging from bird-shaped baskets to exotic flying machines that allowed us earth-bound humans to lift ourselves off the ground, fly far and near and to experience parts of the world we might otherwise never be able to visit.”

Breathe (For Eric Garner) , Gyöngy Laky, 2015  Variable size.  Stainless steel bank pins.  The smallest version is 24" x 15" x 1.75"  It can be scaled up to very large with different pins, nails or specially produced stainless steel spikes.
Breathe (For Eric Garner) , Gyöngy Laky, 2015  Variable size.  Stainless steel bank pins.  The smallest version is 24″ x 15″ x 1.75″  It can be scaled up to very large with different pins, nails or specially produced stainless steel spikes.

But contemplation did not lead to composition — at least not of an airplane, she recalls. “Nothing I thought up impressed me nor did any of my ideas awaken my interest.” Yet, an idea began to grow. “As often occurs in my art process of imagining ideas for works, words drift in my mind intertwining and mingling with imagery I visualize offering possible connotations to contemplate. The word, air began to hold such a deep, full, and reverberating meaning for me that I embraced it as my theme.  Air is essential to life and the sky belongs to all of us.” she notes. “I began to feel the blocks that were hampering my imagination slipping away.  I could breathe more easily again.  Frustration was evaporating.  I began to discover an intriguing new way of working to create the lightness and poetry the word evoked… stainless steel shimmering pins stuck directly into the wall to form the word in script.  It looked tenuous, as if it could be blown away in an instant like the wafting disappearance of contrails whispering the passing of planes overhead.”

On Thursday, July 17, 2014, Laky recalls, air became an appalling focus everywhere. Eric Garner was deprived of it in New York by a policeman’s chokehold and being held on the ground by other officers.” Garner repeated the words ‘I can’t breathe’ 11 times as we watched the video over and over again on every news cycle.  It rang in my ears. The video was devastating.  

‘I can’t breathe’

‘I can’t breathe’

‘I can’t breathe’

‘I can’t breathe’

‘I can’t breathe’

‘I can’t breathe’

‘I can’t breathe’

‘I can’t breathe’

‘I can’t breathe’

‘I can’t breathe’

‘I can’t breathe’

Air took on a new and alarming meaning and became literal as  At least 134 people have died in police custody from “asphyxia/restraint” in the past decade alone (6/25/20, USA Today), Laky observes.

As she watched what happened to a man apprehended for allegedly selling cigarettes, the police beating of Rodney King 1991, rose from her memory.  “I was born amid the violence of war on the frontlines of battle in Hungary. Though a baby then, I must still carry some of that early trauma deep down somewhere,” Laky suggests. “These murders speak to some visceral aspect of my being.” She remembered, too, that Rodney King called for an end to the violence, asking, “can we all get along?” “It is my hope,” Laky says, “that the protests and demonstrations of today that have given voice to the change that is essential for us to lead us to a better future in which we do all get along.”


Artist Focus Volume 50: Caroline Bartlett

9cb Mnemonic by Caroline Bartlett, wooden canvas stretchers, battening, stretched linen, pigment, 16" x 52", 2003. Photo by Tom Grotta
9cb Mnemonic by Caroline Bartlett, wooden canvas stretchers, battening, stretched linen, pigment, 16″ x 52″, 2003. Photo by Tom Grotta

UK artist Caroline Bartlett is a student of textiles and assembler of experiences as much as she is a textile artist. “The historical, social and cultural associations of textiles, their significance in relation to touch and their ability to trigger memory become central to ideas,” she says. “Textiles are at the core of my practice, providing the means and materials to process and articulate ideas, but often also acting as the reference point in relation to content.” 

Detail of The Great Green Wall by Caroline Bartlett, linen/hemp, cotton, porcelain, perspex, 20” x 56” x 1”, 2018. Photo by Tom Grotta
Detail of The Great Green Wall by Caroline Bartlett, linen/hemp, cotton, porcelain, perspex, 20” x 56” x 1”, 2018. Photo by Tom Grotta
Finding a method

Bartlett had plans to become a 3D Designer, she told Daniel in an interview for Textileartist.orgThat intention was altered when Bartlett found her strengths lay in the 2D sphere. “Weekends were spent browsing the Victoria and Albert Museum and I discovered those wonderful pullout drawers that were in the textile section; each a total surprise.” She followed her growing interest through a BA course in printed textiles. However, it was at a time when printed textile design was carried out in flat painted gouache. “I spent my last year going partially against the prescribed grain and trying rather unsuccessfully to exploit and develop surface qualities through knitting and quilting, without being clear what it was that engaged me. Later, on the Post Graduate Textile Diploma course at Goldsmiths, I started to explore print in combination with methods of manipulation and had my answer.”

18cb Pulse by Caroline Bartlett, linen/hemp, cotton, porcelain, perspex, 43" × 108" × 1.5", 2018. Photo by Ton Grotta
18cb Pulse by Caroline Bartlett, linen/hemp, cotton, porcelain, perspex, 43″ × 108″ × 1.5″, 2018. Photo by Tom Grotta

As a result, imprinting, erasing and reworking, stitching, folding and unfolding became defining characteristics in her work. More recently, explorations like Pulse have also resulted in works that integrate textiles with other media such as porcelain. Pulse draws on ideas of ephemerality and the cyclical nature of growth and change. In The Great Green Wall, allusion is made is made to an African-led project proposed in 2007 and to be completed by 2030. This symbol of hope has the ambitious intention of growing a 4,000-mile natural wonder across the width of Africa from Senegal to Djibouti involving 11 countries.

20cb Meeting Point by Caroline Bartlett Mono-printed, stitched and manipulated linen, cotton threads 60” x 16.5,” 2020
20cb Meeting Point by Caroline Bartlett Mono-printed, stitched and manipulated linen, cotton threads 60” x 16.5,” 2020. Photo by Tom Grotta

No time for complacency.

For Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber Art for Three Decades Bartlett created Meeting Point. “Ideas for this piece were set in motion while walking and conversing on a coastal trail in the bright light of a sharp but sunny winter day,” she says. “I started to think about the rhythm of the walk and making a work in which two pieces were in conversation with each other. Meeting Point embodies ideas of a place and time but also alludes to coming together across a divide where paths converge, intersect, where there is difference but also similarity. A plea for our times.”

Bartlett in her studio/home in 2018. Photo by Tom Grotta

Bartlett continues to challenge herself. “As age and experience expand, I find myself more aware of how I work,” she says. “I continue to actively need fresh challenges while knowing  and recognizing limitations of self and the art world in general. Again the push/ pull. No room for complacency.”


Volume 50: Artist Focus — Lia Cook

A Beautiful Mind: Lia Cook weaves empirical cerebral data into works of textile art

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

There may be nothing as pleasurable than viewing and experiencing works of art up close and in person. However, recent sheltering in response to the corona virus, required us to approach art online, whether offered by galleries or museums or cultural institutions. This experience and the brain’s response to seeing and experiencing art in different mediums, or the school of neuroaesthetics, has long been a point of interest in the work of California-based textile artist Lia Cook.  

Lia Cook Su Series. Photo by Tom Grotta
45lc Su Series, Lia Cook cotton, rayon, woven 72” x 132”, 2010-2016

Cook works in a variety of media combining weaving with painting, photography, video and digital technology. Her current practice explores the sensuality of the woven image and the emotional connections to memories of touch and cloth. Working in collaboration with neuroscientists, she has been investigating the nature of the emotional response to woven faces by mapping these responses in the brain. She draws on the laboratory experience both with process and tools to stimulate new work in reaction to these investigations.

“I am interested in both the scientific study as well as my artistic response to these unexpected sources, exploring the territory between in several different ways.”

Woven Form by Lia Cook. Photo by Tom Grotta
12lc Woven Form, Lia Cook, rayon, cotton; woven, 45” x 53” 1980

Cook has long been an innovator, varying practice methods. Her early works, like Woven Form, were abstract and had an Op Art feel. In later works, like Leonard’s Quilt, she manipulated the textiles, with piecing and paint. That was followed by explorations of photographic images as tapestries made on a Jacquard loom. browngrotta arts has works from each of these periods which you can see on Artsy in Chronicling the Canon: https://www.artsy.net/show/browngrotta-arts-chronicling-the-canon.

Cook’s significant work, Su Series, comprised of 32 weavings of a single photograph, is featured in browngrotta arts’ upcoming exhibition, Volume 50.: chronicling fiber art for three decades. Here, Cook explores emotional response — highlighting the point at which the face dissolves first into pattern and then into a sensual, tactile woven structure and the various emotions the differing images evoke in the viewer.

“Absorption and inclusion are pervasive strategies in Cook’s work, operating at almost every level: formally, in her constant exploration of new techniques; emotionally in the way she stimulates the sense of touch through the eyes; and intellectually in the multiple reference to different art histories,” Meridith Tromble wrote in an essay for the Flintridge Foundation Awards for Visual Artists 1999/2000 catalogue.



Detail of Leonardos Quilt
Detail of Leonardo’s Quilt, Lia Cook acrylic on abaca, dyes on rayon; woven, 94” x 79” 1990

Volume 50.: chronicling fiber art for three decades.continues live through the 20th. http://www.browngrotta.com/Pages/calendar.php. You can also obtain a catalog that includes an image of Su Series at browngrotta.com: http://store.browngrotta.com/volume-50-chronicling-fiber-art-for-three-decades/.


Volume 50: Who’s New? James Bassler

At browngrotta arts, we are delighted to exhibiting the work of consummate innovator James Bassler in Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber Art for Three Decades. For decades he has applied ancient techniques and materials to create works with contemporary themes. As Joyce Lovelace wrote in American Craft in 2011, “Few have lived life as happily steeped in materials and handwork as James Bassler, textile artist and professor. Bassler is a maker to his core, as evidenced by his extra­ordinary art tapestries, prized by collectors, and his eloquence on the subject of craft – down to the charming, unconscious way he peppers conversation with phrases like ‘weave that in’ and ‘grasping at straws.’” 

Weaving with Coyuche by James Bassler. Photo by Tom Grotta
1jb Weaving with Coyuchi, James Bassler, wedge weave; linen warp; weft of natural brown cotton from Oaxaca (coyuchi), black embroidery floss, silk, 33.5” x 42”, 2015 signed bottom left corner. Photo by Tom Grotta

For decades Bassler has applied ancient techniques and materials to create works with contemporary themes. Bassler is prolific and we have several examples of his work inhouse that we’ll be sharing throughout the year. For Volume 50, we are exhibiting a tapestry, Weaving with Coyuchi, made with coyuche, handspun brown cotton, using a wedge-weave technique, practiced by, among others, the Navajo in the 1880s.  To make Weaving with Coyuchi, Bassler first ran an image of a weaving through a printing press and then enlarged that image on a photocopy machine. After that, “All I had to do,” he said, “was weave it.” We’ll also be including a sculpture, Shop. Made from Trader Joe’s bags spun into thread to make bag from bags, Shop offers a wry statement about materials and materialism.

Shop James Bassler. Photo by Tom Grotta
8jb 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. Photo by Tom Grotta

Following military service in Europe, Bassler traveled through the Middle East and Asia in the 1950s — steeping himself in traditional crafts as he traveled.  traditional crafts he saw. After earning a teaching degree in the US, he and his wife, Veralee, a ceramist, moved to Oaxaca, Mexico, where they ran a craft school.  In 1975, he joined the art faculty at UCLA and taught textile art there until his retirement in 2000. He was named to the American Craft Council College of Fellows in 1998. His work is found in numerous permanent collections including: the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City, the Cleveland Art Museum, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minnesota and LongHouse Reserve, New York, NY. 

Detail of Weaving with Coyuchi by James Bassler, wedge weave; linen warp; weft of natural brown cotton from Oaxaca (coyuchi), black embroidery floss, silk, 33.5” x 42”, 2015 signed bottom left corner. Photo by Tom Grotta

Come see Bassler’s work and that of 60+ other artists at Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber Art for Three Decades from September 12-20 at browngrotta arts, 276 Ridgefield Road, Wilton, Connecticut: Opening and Reception: Saturday, September 12th, 1:00 – 6:30 pm, Daily Exhibition Hours: September 13th – 20th, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm.

Save Viewing Information: Please note that advanced time reservations are mandatory to view the show. We have worked hard to plan this event with your health and safety in mind. To ensure the well being of all visitors and staff, there will be a maximum capacity of 15 visitors per time slot and wil operate in accordance with safety and social distancing guidelines. All surfaces will be disinfected between reservations. Masks will be required. 

If you have any questions or concerns regarding our policy for the show or reservations, please reach out to us at: art@browngrotta.com or 203.834.0623.


Save the Date – Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber for Three Decades

We Turn by Gyöngy Laky, 2019
We Turn by Gyöngy Laky, 2019. photo by Tom Grotta

We are excited to announce our 2020 “Art in the Barn” exhibition, Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber Art for Three Decades will open — at last — on September 12, 2020. The exhibition will be a retrospective celebration of the 50 print catalogs on fiber and modern craft published by browngrotta arts. It will include work by 60+ important artists in fiber, ceramics and mixed media, who have helped define modern craft movement since the 1980s. The exhibition will be on view – with a safe viewing protocol in place — from September 12th through 20th at browngrotta arts, 276 Ridgefield Road, Wilton, CT 06897.

Birgit Birkkjær: Mini Basket Symphony in Black & White, 2019
Birgit Birkkjær: Mini Basket Symphony in Black & White, 2019. Photo by Tom Grotta

The 50th catalog by browngrotta arts, Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber Art for Three Decades will feature an essay by Glenn Adamson, former Director of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. A forerunner in the field, browngrotta arts has been dedicated to researching, documenting and raising awareness of fiber and modern craft art through exhibitions and catalogs for over 30 years. We published our first catalog, Markku Kosonen: Baskets and Woodworkvirtually a pamphlet — in 1990, with just 27 black-and-white photographs and a few paragraphs of text. By 2019, our 49th catalog, art + identity: an international view included 156 pages, more than 100 color photographs and an essay by Jessica Hemmings, Ph.D. Our 50 catalogs have collectively recorded a narrative of modern craft and contributed to preserving the continuity of the field. “The catalogs produced by browngrotta arts, and the photography therein, have become so superior, they are an important part of our literature,“ says Jack Lenor Larsen, author, curator and designer. 

Su Series by Lia Cook, 2010-2016
Su Series by Lia Cook, 2010-2016, photo by Lia Cook

As fiber art gains renewed recognition and reappraisal from major institutions, the browngrotta arts’ documentary archive, in which works by Sheila Hicks, Lenore Tawney, Ed Rossbach, Magdalena Abakanowicz and many others are showcased, is an invaluable resource. When we first began promoting artists in the late 1980s, we discovered two important facts about the field. First, at that time, before digital printing, galleries and museums rarely had the budget to document their exhibitions in a catalog or book. Second, regardless of the medium, when catalogs were prepared, works tended to be photographed like paintings: two lights at 45-degree angles, dimension and detail obscured. We set out with the intention to resolve this disparity and began an annual cataloging program recording exhibitions, artists, and works through photography that specifically captured the tactile characteristics of fiber and craft art. From the outset, Tom photographed the work with reference to scale and shape, and in the case of fiber art, a sensitivity to conveying the work’s organic and haptic qualities and unusual/unique materials and varied techniques. This approach allowed for a more immersive experience of the works, one that extended beyond the time and geography limitations of exhibitions. “There are a few catalogs that go beyond the intellect to convey the spirit of the exhibition objects. The fine images of browngrotta arts’ publications capture the dimension of the objects, something often lacking, yet totally necessary to the appreciation of fiber. Their publications seem to consistently engage much more than readers’ minds,” wrote Lotus Stack, then-Curator of Textiles at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1999.  

Long Lines by Annette Bellamy and Waiting 1-4 by Alexsandra Stoyanov.
Long Lines by Annette Bellamy and Waiting 1-4 by Alexsandra Stoyanov. Photo by Tom Grotta

The upcoming 50th catalog will continue browngrotta arts’ tradition, featuring dozens of full-color photos. The range of works on view in the Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber Art for Three Decades exhibition will include three-dimensional sculptures of steel, fiber-optic, wood, jute, waxed linen, cotton and gold leaf and woven vessels, ceramics and basket forms of bark and twigs, bamboo, willow and cedar. Participating artists have created wall works of linen, viscose, steel, cotton, horsehair, fish scales and in one case, silk, from silkworms raised by the artists. The techniques are as varied as the materials — layering, weaving, plaiting, knotting, molding, ikat, tying, bundling, crochet and katagami

Participating Artists:
Adela Akers (United States); Laura Ellen Bacon (United Kingdom); Jo Barker (United Kingdom); Caroline Bartlett (United Kingdom); Polly Barton (United States); James Bassler United States); Dail Behennah (United Kingdom); Annette Bellamy (United States); Nancy Moore Bess (United States); Marian Bijlenga (The Netherlands); Birgit Birkkjaer (Denmark); Sara Brennan (United Kingdom); Lia Cook (United States); Włodzimierz Cygan (Poland); Neha Puri Dhir (India); Lizzie Farey (United Kingdom); Susie Gillespie (United Kingdom); Agneta Hobin (Finland); Kiyomi Iwata (Japan); Ferne Jacobs (United States); Stéphanie Jacques (Belgium); Tim Johnson (United Kingdom); Christine Joy (United States); Tamiko Kawata (Japan/United States); Nancy Koenigsberg (United States); Marianne Kemp (The Netherlands); Anda Klancic (Slovenia); Lewis Knauss (United States); Naomi Kobayashi (Japan); Irina Kolesnikova (Russia); Kyoko Kumai (Japan); Lawrence LaBianca (United States); Gyöngy Laky (United States); Sue Lawty (United Kingdom); Jennifer Falck Linssen (United States); Åse Ljones (Norway); Kari Lønning (United States); Federica Luzzi (Italy); Rachel Max (United Kingdom); John McQueen (United States); Mary Merkel-Hess (United States); Norma Minkowitz (United States); Keiji Nio (Japan); Mia Olsson (Sweden); Gudrun Pagter (Denmark); Simone Pheulpin (France); Eduardo Portillo & Mariá Eugenia Dávila (Venezuela); Lija Rage (Latvia); Toshio Sekiji (Japan); Hisako Sekijima (Japan); Karyl Sisson (United States); Jin-Sook So (Korea/Sweden); Grethe Sørensen (Denmark); Aleksandra Stoyanov (Ukraine/Israel); Chiyoko Tanaka (Japan); Blair Tate (United States); Deborah Valoma (United States); Ulla-Maija Vikman (Finland); Wendy Wahl (United States); Gizella K Warburton (United Kingdom); Grethe Wittrock (Denmark); Chang Yeonsoon (Korea); Jiro Yonezawa (Japan); Carolina Yrarrazaval (Chile).

The exhibition will be on view from September 12th – 20th, at browngrotta arts, 276 Ridgefield Road, Wilton, CT 06897: http://www.browngrotta.com/Pages/calendar.php.

Safe Viewing Information:

We will be open with safe viewing practice in place from 1 p.m. Saturday the 12th until 5 p.m. and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday the 13th through Sunday the 20th. Only 15 visitors will be permitted each hour. Masks are required. Viewing will be in one direction. Art and catalog sales will be contactless and we’ll disinfect between visits.

Tom ticketed reservations are required . Book your hour visit on Eventbrite at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/volume-50-chronicling-fiber-art-for-three-decades-tickets-118242792375?aff=arttextstyle


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.


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!