Category: artist

Artist Focus: Blair Tate

Balir Tate Self portrait
Blair Tate self portrait, 2021

Blair Tate has explored flat woven grids in her work since the 70s. Her work evidences an “austere elegance,” Jack Lenor Larsen and Mildred Constantine observed in the seminal The Art Fabric: Mainstream in 1985. “I began weaving in the early 70s, under the influence of 60s Minimalism and modernist architecture,” she wrote in 1986. “I believed that form should follow function and accordingly I sought an objective basis for my work. In this, I was reacting against the majority of the weavnig I saw at the time: weaving that seemed either unfocused and overwhelmed by an eruption of materials, or myopically and exclusively concerned with complex technique …. I determined that my work in fiber should come from fiber and celebrate the medium.” 

Rift, 1991 by Blair Tate
Rift, Blair Tate, linen, cotton rope and aluminum, 96″ x 65″, 1991. Photo by Tom Grotta

To compose her works, Tate creates modular units of woven linen strips tied together with cotton cords. The knots that result create an additional pattern — what Tate considers a scaffold for the tapestry, producing a second complicating scrim. She sees an analogy between textile and text. The strips are like sentences that can be edited,  “rearranged to re-contextualize, to forge relationships, to develop meaning.” Her influences are diverse, African kente cloths “for their beauty and directness,” Baroque architecture, Berber carpets, Italo Calvino’s, If on a Winter’s Night a Travelerand an appreciation for Japanese order and symmetry, broken by natural variations. In addition to her weavings, she has worked as a commercial textile designer, authored The Warp: A Weaving Resource (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1984) which analyzes the elements of weaving, and in the past year, she has made masks for neighbors, friends and a local care center.

Pangaea, 2021 and Small Gemelli, 1977 by Blair Tate
Pangaea, linen, cotton rope and aluminum, 46″ x 29″ x 1.5″, 2021 2021
Small Gemelli, woven linen, spago (hemp). loosely constructed plaid. It exposes and clarifies each element of weaving – counted wefts follow a small doubling sequence within parallel warps which leave all weft ends exposed, 24.75” x 18.75” x 3.25”, 1977

In Adaptation: Artists Respond to Change this spring at browngrotta arts (May 8 -16), Tate will exhibit two works that explore her ideas about the warp. Small Gemelli (1977) was one of her earliest pieces to focus on the elements of weaving. It is a simple plaid – one of the most fundamental woven configurations – but opened to keep both warp and weft distinct.  In Panagea, created this year, Tate consciously wove to the very limits of her warp to minimize loom waste.  In the past, she says,  “I might have incorporated interruptions in the strips while weaving, thereby wasting the unwoven warp; in Pangaea, the gaps emerge only in the rearranging.” 

Jaiselmer by Blair Tate
Detail of Jaiselmer by Blair Tate, linen, cotton rope and aluminum, 73″ x 39″, 1999. Photo by Tom Grotta

Artist Focus: Naoko Serino

Naoko Serino portrait
Naoko Serino, 2021

Japanese artist, Naoko Serino, our focus this week, works in jute, a remarkably adaptable material that provokes references to other biological structures. Jute’s golden sheen and sinuous strands “yield a most spectacular softness and luminosity,” notes author Moon Lee (http://thecreatorsproject.vice.com/blog/naoko-serino-spins-vegetable-fiber-into-golden-sculptures). In Serino’s work, “the natural fibers are spun densely or pulled thin, making for infinite gradations of densities. Irregular shapes in varying degrees of transparency provoke an effect that is strongly biological. Spheres, tubes, tubes contained within spheres, spheres contained within cubes, and rows of coiled strands evoke thoughts of phospholipid bilayers of cell membranes, veins, sea sponges, and so forth.” 

Existing -2-D
13ns Existing -2-D, Naoko Serino, jute, 56″ x 56″ x 11″, 2006

Serino creates her sculptures by first covering molds with jute fibers, which she removes when they have dried, creating a final work combining individual fiber elements. Some of the works that Serino creates are small individual pieces, while others are installations that are large enough to fill an entire room. Despite the fragile appearance of the jute fibers, the works have an imposing presence. 

Existing II
12ns Existing II, Naoko Serino, jute 7.375” x 8.5” x 8.5”, 2016. Photo by Tom Grotta

“I moved to a seaside town 30 years ago. I felt the light and wind there and my feelings were stirred by my proximity to Nature,” Serino says. “I began to see with new eyes and I discovered a material, jute. I think the discovery was inevitable. In and through my hands, a dignified hemp produces a shape that contains both light and air. I am grateful that I came across this material. It is a joy for me to express things with jute that stir deep emotions in me. I see myself continuing to express my feelings in this form.”

Generating outside
Generating Outside, Naoko Serino, jute, 39.5″ x 24″ x 4″, 2020. Photo by Naoko Serino

Serino’s work was included in the Fiber Futures: Japan’s Textile Pioneers exhibition which traveled from Japan to New York, Milan, Copenhagen and other venues. She was awarded the Silver Prize in the 10th Kajima Sculpture Competition and the Encouragement Award in the 16th Kajima Sculpture Award in 2020. She was a awarded the first prize in the Collection Arte & Arte alla Torre delle Arti di Bellagio, Como, Italy in 2014, the Silver Prize in the 10th Kajima Sculpture Competition and the Encouragement Award in the 16th Kajima Sculpture Award in 2020.

Generating Mutsuki
17ns Generating Mutsuki, Naoko Serino, jute, 9.5″ x 8″ 8″, 2021. Photo by Tom Grotta

Serino is one of the artists whose work is included in browngrotta arts’ next Art in the Barn exhibition, Adaptation: Artists Respond to Change (May 8th – May 16th) http://www.browngrotta.com/Pages/calendar.php. Her work for the exhibition, Generating-Mutsuki, came out of her desire to create a work along the lines of the large-scale sculpture she created for Kajima Sculpture competition in a smaller size.


A Whiter Shade of Pale

Bow-W-98.2, Masakazu Kobayashi; Petites-ailes-de-glacé-blanc, Micheline Beauchemin
Bow-W-98.2, Masakazu Kobayashi, rayon, aluminum, 30″ x 33″ x 3.75″, 1998; Petites-ailes-de-glacé-blanc, Micheline Beauchemin, nylon, silk and silver aluminum wire, lead wire, 30″ x 32.25″ x 7″, 1980’s. Beauchemin used white to evoke the icy rivers of Quebec. Photo by Tom Grotta

As American Songwriter opined, “who could have possibly predicted the success of “A Whiter Shade Of Pale,” which went to #1 in the UK in 1967, #5 in the US, and has outlasted so many other flower-power and psychedelic-flavored tracks from that era to be one of the most enduring songs of the 60’s?” 

Traverser, Gyöngy Laky
Traverser, Gyöngy Laky, ash, paint, “bullet for buildings” (trim screws), 22” x 22” x 22”, 2016, Photo by Tom Grotta
paper sculpture, Naomi Kobayashi
Untitled, Naomi Kobayashi, , Naomi Kobayashi, kayori thread, paper, 99″ x 54″ x 5″ (x2), 2006. Photo by Tom Grotta
Ondes, Simone Pheulpin
Ondes, Simone Pheulpin, cotton, 26” x 49.5”, 2016, Photo by Tom Grotta. Pheulpin creates her wall- and free-standing sculptures exclusively of white cotton tape.

It’s an unforgettable lyric that often comes to mind when we view works by artists who work with browngrotta arts. Many of of them work in white, to evoke clouds or an icy river or purity or to explore the absence of color or a dichotomy with black. 

Second Cousin, Grethe Wittrock
The Second Cousin, Grethe Wittrock, white paper yarn knotted on steel plate, 67” x 78.75”, 2006. Photo by Tom Grotta
Sara Brennan tapestry
Detail of Sara Brennan tapestry, wools, linens and silk. Brennan incorporates dozens of shades of white in her tapestries. Photo by Tom Grotta
White Paper Shell, Federica Luzzi
White Paper Shell, Federica Luzzi, paper cord, 12.875″ x 12.875″, 2016. Photo by Tom Grotta
Plan Your Parenthood-Population, Judy Mulford
waxed linen, polyform, antique mother of pearl buttons, beads, pins, gesso, knitting needle, gourds, rock, wooden doll chairs, 22″ x 7.5″ x 8″, 2009 . Photo by Tom Grotta
Blanc de Blanc, Mariette Rousseau-Vermette
Blanc de Blanc, Mariette Rousseau-Vermette, wool, 4’6″ x 10′, 1980. Photo by Tom Grotta

“In many cultures, white is seen as the color of innocence and virginity, purity, loyalty and peace,” noted the Textile Museum in Tilburg, the Netherlands in its materials for its 2019 exhibition, Black & White | Symbolic Meaning in Art & Design. In the West, white clothing and decoration are symbolic of the joy around births, baptisms and weddings, the Museum notes, while in many African and Asian cultures, as well as in medieval Europe, white is the traditional color of death and mourning. 


Artist Focus: Lija Rage

This week we are highlighting the work of artist Lija Rage of Latvia. Rage creates her fiber works by painting small sticks and wrapping them in copper wire, by gluing and sewing, layer upon layer until the work is finished. Her work is infused with color. As Rage described it for her 2018 Colours exhibition at the Mark Rothko Centre in Daugavplis, Latvia,

Lija Rage. Photo by Ruta Pirta.
Lija Rage. Photo by Ruta Pirta.

“Green – the woods outside my window; blue – the endless variety of the sea; orange – the sun in a summer sky; brown, grey and black – fresh furrows and the road beneath the melting snow; red – the roses in our gardens. The colours in my work are drawn from the splendour of Latvian nature.”

Animal, Lija Rage, silk, metallic thread, flax 2006 photo by Tom Grotta
Animal, Lija Rage, silk, metallic thread, flax 2006. Photo by Tom Grotta

Rage is influenced by different cultures. “I plunge into them with the help of literature,” she said in her statement for the Transition and Influence, exhibition, which traveled in the UK. “I am particularly interested in drawings of ancient cultures on the walls of caves in different parts of world; Eastern culture with its mysterious magic, drawings of runes in Scandinavia, Tibet and the mandala, Egyptian pyramid drawings. The world culture seems close and colorful to me due to its diversity.”

Beginnings, Lija Rage, bamboo, copper wire, fabric 2019, photo by Tom Grotta
Beginnings, Lija Rage, bamboo, copper wire, fabric 2019, photo by Tom Grotta

Rage was born in 1948 and lives and works in Jūrmala, Latvia. She completed a master’s degree in the Textile Department of the Art Academy of Latvia. Rage has been a member of Latvian Artists’ Union since 1976. Her work has been featured in more than 10 solo shows and in numerous group exhibitions in Latvia and abroad.

Detail, Beginnings, Lija Rage, photo by Tom Grotta.

Rage has received a number of awards: Grand Prix of the Baltic Applied Arts Triennial in Tallinn, Estonia, special award of the Korean Biennale (2007), the Valparaiso Foundation grant (2009); the Nordic Culture Point grant (2010); Excellence Award of the 7th International Fibre Art Biennale in China (2012); Excellence Award of the Applied Arts Biennale in China (2014). 

Crossroads, Lija Rage. Winner of the Excellence Award
Crossroads, Lija Rage. Winner of the Excellence Award

In 2020, she received an Excellence Award for Crossroads, at a solo exhibition at the Zana Lipkes Memorial Museum, which memorializes a family that hid Jews during World War II. The exhibition text quotes Rage, “With our works and our choices, we all leave traces and footprints. Human paths intersect, and the choices we make have consequences and affect others. To life! Spread goodness.”


Artist Focus: Yasuhisa Kohyama

Our artist focus this week is on Yasuhisa Kohyama.

portrait of Yasuhisa Kohyama and Wakae Nakamoto
Yasuhisa Kohyama and Wakae Nakamoto. Photo by Tom Grotta.

Yasuhisa Kohyama’’s masterly ceramics are inspired by the ancient Shigaraki, Jomon and Yayoi ceramics of Japan. Kohyama has played a significant part in reviving the use of the traditional Japanese anagama wood-firing kiln. He was the first potter in the area to build such a kiln since the Middle Ages. Using the distinctive Shigaraki clay and a wood-firing kiln, he has created modern ceramic vessels and sculpture, which are vigorous and new, but timeless in their beauty.

Kohyama shapes his asymmetrical forms using a piano string, thereby creating distinctive, rough surfaces. The clay with its nuggets of feldspar creates a tactile quality not often seen in contemporary work. No glazes are used, but the wood ash and the placement in the kiln produce an extraordinary array of colours and shading on the surface.

grouping of Yasuhisa Kohyama ceramics; wood-kiln ceramic
Yasuhisa Kohyama wood-kiln ceramics. Photo by Tom Grotta

The exhibition of the works from the first firing of the anagama kiln in 1968 created widespread interest in Kohyama’s work, with famous potters such as Shoji Hamada visiting the exhibition. Collectors and museums were quick to acquire his works, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Gardiner Museum of Art in Toronto, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Art and Craft in Hamburg and the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park in Shiga, Japan.

“Keeping a tradition alive and fresh like that is not easy for any contemporary Japanese ceramic artist. No other Shigaraki artist, in my humble opinion, does it with the flair and diversity of Kohyama,” wrote Robert Yellin in the catalog for Kohyama’s 2002 Tokyo exhibition, which was held at the Takashimaya Department Store in Tokyo. (http://www.e-yakimono.net/html/kohyama-yasuhisa.html) “His larger works, which speak of the wind, canyons, and mountains, would look equally at home in a traditional Japanese tokonoma (alcove) or a marbled penthouse in London. To have that spirit in form, whatever the size, cross borders with such ease is a testament to the integrity and vision of Kohyama. Ceramic art is indeed universal.”

Detail of Yasuhisa Kohyama
Detail of Danpen by Yasuhisa Kohyama 神山易久, 2016. Photo by Tom Grotta

Kohyama’s work is the subject of Yasuhisa Kohyama: The Art of Ceramics (Arnoldsche Verlagsanstalt, Stuttgart, Germany), co-authored Susan Jeffries, former curator of the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art in Toronto, Canada and Michael R. Cunningham, former chief curator of Asian Art at The Cleveland Museum of Art. Kohyama’s work also graces the cover of Contemporary Clay: Japanese Ceramics for the New Century by collectors Alice and Halsey North and curator Joe Earle.

48yk Sai, stimuli: character of Sai an ancient word that means container for offering to Gods, wood-kiln ceramic, 14.5″ x 13″ x 3.25″, 2011. Photo by Tom Grotta

Return to Nature: an Art Trend to Watch in 2021

Artsy has identified Return to Nature as an art trend to watch in 2021. “Amid the ceaseless anxieties of 2020, people around the world found solace in nature,” wrote Shanon Lee on the online art platform earlier this month (“Trends to Watch in 2021: Return to Nature,” Artsy, January 6, 2021 https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-trends-watch-2021-return-nature). “They escaped the daily barrage of uncertainty to ground themselves in something more evergreen,” writes Lee. “That impulse, whether yearning for the freedom symbolized by the great outdoors or discovering refuge in the world of flora and fauna, can be seen in new works by contemporary artists.” Artsy sees Return to Nature as “one of the biggest artistic shifts we’ve witnessed emerge from the tumultuous unpredictability of 2020.”

Sara Brennans
 Dark Blue Line I, 1999
Broken White band with Pale Blue II, 2011
Journey-Tree-IV, 2020
Sara Brennans
 Dark Blue Line I, 1999
Broken White band with Pale Blue II, 2011
Journey-Tree-IV, 2020

This impulse is not one that has been wasted on UK artist Sara Brennan. known initially for starkly abstract weavings. In recent years, her weavings began to incorporate a hint of imagery, evoking treelines and clouds. During the pandemic, imagery became paramount. Brennan began to weave trees that had been part of her prepandemic world. “The drawings for the tree tapestries were taken from photographs of trees that I would drive past on a journey that I had been doing at least twice a week for the last six years or more,” she writes. “This journey stopped during Lockdown. Drawing, weaving and looking at these trees from a different context took me on another journey. The study of these trees and the tracing of time brought a new rhythm to a place.”

Flowers by Keiji Nio braided polyester, based on the images on the left. Photos by keiji Nio

Japanese artist Keiji Nio drew on images of nature for his work during the pandemic, as well. For his work he photographs nature — the beach, the sea, then silkscreens the images onto fabric tapes and from these, he creates braided sculptures. His most recent work, which is brightly colored, features a flower. “The picture of the flower used for this work was taken when I was looking for the flower which emphasized red, yellow and green in the botanical garden” says Nio. “Now that I can’t go out freely, I made a work using these flowers as materials so that I can feel the vivid color and fragrance of these flowers which we’ll experience again in the world after COVID is cured.”


Books Make Great Gifts 2020 Edition

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures
Photo from Amazon. The book was dampened
and inoculated with Pleurotus (oyster mushroom) mycelium. The mycelium then digested the pages – and the words – of the book, and sprouted over the
course of seven days. Pleurotus can digest many things – from crude oil to used cigarette butts – and is one of the fungal species that shows the most promise in mycoremediation. It is also delicious when fried lightly with garlic and will make it possible for the author to eat his words. Photo Credit: DRK Videography

Book sales are up nationwide and the artists promoted by browngrotta arts have done their share of reading this year. Polly Sutton pulled Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling by Ross King (Penguin) off her shelf where it had been sitting for years. “Worth it,” she says. Nenna Okore recommends 50 Women Sculptors, from Aurora Metro Books. The book, which challenges the perception that sculpture is a male pursuit, features Okore’s work and that of Louise Bourgeois, Ruth Asawa, Yayoi Kasuma and others.

“If you’re curious about the weird wonderful world of mushrooms and how we are related to the Fungi Kingdom, then Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures (Random House) is a literary journey to take,” writes Wendy Wahl. “Merlin Sheldrake stitches together a story of our co-evolution offering scientific and historical analysis in a captivating and thought-provoking way. The author transports the reader into the Fungi Kingdom revealing the mysterious maneuverings of this powerful part of nature’s network and the filament threads that binds us together. In two hundred and twenty five pages followed by chapter notes and bibliography, this is a book with doors to unusual discoveries and pathways of connecting in all directions.”


Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson (independently published) is excellent”, says Gyöngy Laky. “Difficult and painful… a must read for every adult person in the U S… should be mandatory reading in high school.” 

L’art du fil, by Marie-Madeleine Masse


Randy Walker recommends a new book from France, L’art du fil, by Marie-Madeleine Masse, published in October by Alternatives press. From the book’s press notes,  photos and embroidered ceramics, arachnean sculptures or totem tapestries … the thread never ceases to inspire contemporary artists from here and elsewhere, as superbly evidenced by the 80 international designers selected in this book one of whom is Walker. “The book is inspiring to me,” he writes,” because it exemplifies how fiber-based work is translated to many scales and contexts and that small, gallery-scale work can and should be celebrated alongside larger works.” 


Objects USA 2020

At browngrotta arts we took note of three beautiful art books that arrived in 2020. First up, Objects USA 2020 (Monacelli Press), with essays by Glenn Adamson and others. In 1969, the Objects: USA  exhibition opened at the Smithsonian Institution, travelling to 22 venues. The exhibtion defined the American studio craft movement. Objects: USA united a cohort of artists inventing new approaches to art-making by way of craft media. Objects: USA 2020 revisits this revolutionary exhibition and its accompanying catalog–which has become a bible of sorts to curators, gallerists, dealers, craftspeople, artists, and auction houses–by pairing fifty participants from the original exhibition with fifty contemporary artists representing the next generation of practitioners to use–and upend–the traditional methods and materials of craft to create new forms of art.

Olga de Amaral: To Weave a Rock

Another visually striking volume, Olga de Amaral: To Weave a Rock (Arnoldsche) traces Amaral’s career over five decades, features more than 40 key pieces of work, and examines the artist’s oeuvre through the lens of contemporary and fiber art. Olga de Amaral: To Weave a Rock celebrates an artist who for decades has gracefully produced across traditional divides: fine art and craft, local and universal, ethereal and material. Published to accompany an exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills (US), between 19 November 2020 and 7 March 2021, and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (US) between 27 June to 19 September 2021, and at Museum of Arts and Design, New York (US), between 21 October 2021 and 27 February 2022.

Signe Mayfield

Published in 2018, but new to us is Anchors in Time: Dominic di Mare by Signe Mayfield (Fine Arts Press). The book includes insightful essays, but much of it features full-page photos of DiMare’s meticulously crafted constructions and detailed oil paintings.The book was produced in conjunction with an exhibition of DiMare’s work at the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco, California in 2018. 

Agneta Hobin

Last but nowhere near least, Agneta Hobin oversaw the publication of Agneta Hobinthis year which features lush photographs of her work, a passel of family and historical photos and text in English and Danish. You can puchase the book at browngrotta arts http://store.browngrotta.com
/agneta-hobin/.


Lives Well Lived: Dorothy Gill Barnes (1927-2020)

We are heartbroken to report that innovative contemporary basketmaker and fiber sculptor Dorothy Gill Barnes, passed away peacefully on November 23, 2020 at age 93, after a short battle with COVID-19. Barnes was a revered member of the browngrotta arts community — she taught our son to harvest materials and mark trees when he was just three.

Portrait of Dorothy Gill Barnes in studio. Photo by Tom Grotta

Barnes was known for developing a distinct working process that included scarring trees that had been marked for eventual removal and returning years later, after the trees had been cut, to harvest the scarred and overgrown bark for use in her baskets. This process enabled her to create dendroglyphs—literally, “tree drawings” — in which tree and time became her collaborators. “The unique properties I find in bark, branches, roots, seaweed, and stone suggest a work process to me,” Barnes said. “I want this problem solving to be evident in the finished piece.”

Born in Iowa, and a longtime resident of the Columbus, Ohio area, Barnes studied at Coe College, Minneapolis School of Art and Cranbrook Academy, as well as at the University of Iowa, where she earned BA and MA degrees in art education. Barnes taught fibers as an adjunct faculty member at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, from 1966 until her retirement from university teaching in 1990. Throughout much of her career, Barnes was a sought-after teacher, participating in residencies and workshops in Denmark, New Zealand, Australia, Fiji and Canada, as well as throughout the United States. Barnes’ early influences were the artist and teacher Ruth Mary Papenthien, who taught at Ohio State University, and Dwight Stump, an Ohio-based traditional basketmaker. She also credited the works of John McQueen and Ed Rossbach as spurring her experiments using natural materials to make contemporary sculpture.

Portrait of Dorothy Gill Barnes. Photo by Tom Grotta

Barnes’ technical investigations placed her at the forefront of contemporary fiber art. She used electric tools to expand the scale, scope and complexity of her pieces and she credited power equipment as the source for ideas that handwork alone would not have suggested. She was comfortable incorporating nails, metal wire and staples along with traditional woven assembly methods. In all of her sculptures, Barnes sought to create structures that honored the growing things from which they came, her materials “respectfully harvested from nature.” Like Rossbach and McQueen, she prized experimentation, spontaneity, inventiveness. She continued to expand her artistic practice into her 90s, as a visiting artist working with students in glass in the Department of Art at Ohio State University until 2018.

Millcreek Willow, 1996. Photo by Tom Grotta

A Fellow of the American Craft Council, Barnes received lifetime achievement awards from the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC and the National Basketry Organization. Other awards include the Raymond J. Hanley Award, Outstanding/Artist Educator from Penland School of Crafts, an Individual Artist Governor’s Award for the Arts in Ohio, and four Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowships. Her work is in the collections of the Columbus Museum of Art; the de Young Museum of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; the Mint Museum, Charlotte North Carolina; Museum of Arts and Design, New York, New York; Racine Art Museum, Wisconsin; Longhouse Reserve, East Hampton, New York; Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock; the Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian’s Museum of American Art, Washington, DC; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, among others. In Nature, a comprehensive retrospective, was held at the Mansfield Arts Center in 2018. The Ohio Craft Museum hosted From the Woods: Dorothy Gill Barnes, a major mid-career survey in 1999. 

Barnes’ work has been represented by browngrotta arts in Wilton, Connecticut since the 90s. “Barnes’ ability to showcase the natural materials with which she worked, yet enhancing them through weaving, plaiting, scarring, stacking and sflaying, placed her at the forefront of contemporary fiber art,” observes Tom Grotta, co-curator of browngrotta arts. 

“[Barnes] is attentive to the innate characteristics of a given wood in her aesthetic decision making and rarely forces a wood into an unnatural or artificial mold,” wrote Jeanne Fryer-Kohles in From the Woods: Dorothy Gill Barnes, the eponymous catalog for Barnes’ solo exhibition at the Ohio Craft Museum. “At the same time, she works intuitively with an experimental turn of mind and integrity of vision …. Barnes’ works are rarely preplanned; she prefers to wend her way toward and into a piece, accepting detours and possible pitfalls as a matter of course. Barnes takes raw nature as a starting point. Rather than subjugating it, as [John] McQueen does, with a ‘civilizing’ impress, Barnes guides and amplifies it – in a sense, keeping its ghost enshrined.”

Dendroglyph Band Mulberry, 2000. Photo by Tom Grotta

Barnes also had a long history of activism in the civil rights and anti-war movements. She could be found every Saturday for many years, on the Worthington Village Green with her friends from Central Ohioans for Peace, encouraging drivers to “Honk for Peace” as they passed. She encouraged others to think globally and have empathy for all, regardless of differences. She supported environmental conservation, Honduras Hope and Habitat for Humanity, where she was a longtime volunteer. 

Friends are invited to attend a virtual celebration of life to honor Dorothy Gill Barnes on Sunday, December 13th from 3-5 PM EST. Details are available at www.schoedinger.com. Donations in Barnes’ memory can be made to The Nature Conservancy (www.nature.org), Sierra Club (www.sierraclub.org), or to a charity of your choice. Please visit www.schoedinger.com to send online condolences.


A Victory for Future Art Funding

Big Bird
The LBJ Presidential Library exhibition, On the Air: 50 Years of Public Broadcasting, 2017, in Austin, Texas. On Nov. 7, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, establishing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and, eventually, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), and National Public Radio (NPR).  Characters © 2017 Sesame Workshop LBJ Library photo by Jay Godwin 06/24/2017

Elections have consequences, as they say, and 2020 election will be no different. Donald Trump tried to make the world to his artistic tastes. His reach was sweeping in efforts to cut funding for the arts and simultaneously oddly specific. I.e., DC should have no more contemporary architecture (www.npr.org); and duck stamps should feature hunting paraphernalia www.thedailybeast.com. He oversaw the disbanding of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, after a mass resignation of private committee members in response to his comments on right-wing violence in Charlottesville, VA in August 2017. And, of course, there would be four years of budgets that included cuts to federal arts programs — National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, even Museum and Library Services.

President-elect Joe Biden’s record is quite different. As The New York Times described him, he’s “No RBG, but a Loyal Promoter of Culture “https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/30/arts/biden-arts-culture.html. Biden’s attitude, wrote The Times, is “less from a consumer point of view and more about the inspirational value and transformational value of the arts,” quoting Robert L. Lynch, president and chief executive of Americans for the Arts. “It’s not, ‘Look, I loved this piece, or this song.’ It’s more about the bigger role of the arts in society.” 

National  Endowment for the Arts Recipients; Lia Cook, Dona Look, Adela Akers, John McQueen, James Bassler, Debra Sachs, Thomas Hucker, Norma Minkowitz and Gyöngy Laky
Funding for the Arts in Action: work by nine National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship Recipients; Lia Cook, Dona Look, Adela Akers, John McQueen, James Bassler, Debra Sachs, Thomas Hucker, Norma Minkowitz and Gyöngy Laky

Actors’ Equity endorsed Biden’s candidacy. “Vice President Biden understands that the arts are a critical driver of healthy and strong local economies in cities and towns across the country,” said Kate Shindle, president of Actors’ Equity. That could bode well for passage of Americans for the Arts Creative Workplace Proposal — 16 specific actions for the next administration to take in order to put creative workers to work rebuilding, reimagining, unifying, and healing communities in every state and territory, as well as within tribal lands www.americansforthearts.org. Among the suggestions from Proposal: Put artists to work addressing public and mental health in communities; Complete the launch of an ArtistCorps within AmeriCorps; and Direct and incentivize the integration of creative workers and creative organizations at the municipal, county, state, and tribal levels during disaster relief and recovery efforts.

Private efforts will continue to be key to the arts’ support, too, of course. For a comprehensive look at new philanthropic initiatives, including #ArtistSupportPledge and Artists for Artists appeal, read “Funding the Future of the Arts,” by Gareth Harris, November 2, 2020. https://www.sothebys.com/en/articles/funding-the-future-of-the-arts?

browngrotta arts wants to play its part, too. From now until the end of the year if you make a purchase from us, we’ll contribute 5% of any sales we make to the American for the Arts Action Fund. 


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

War and violence are often influences for artistic works. In the last of our three columns on Art and Politics we look at three works in which artists have commented on specific conflicts and three that address the futility violence in differing contexts.

Compound, Norma Minkowitz, mixed media, 70” x 54.75” x 1.5”, 2011

Concerns about war animate Compound, a work by Norma Minkowitz a large panel that chronicles a nightmare scenario, the last moments of Osama Bin Laden’s life.  It features a tiny-mesh crocheted surface. It has a powerful push me/pull me effect once the subject matter– which includes stylized soldiers, SEALS parachuting from a helicopter, the compound where Bin Laden was hiding, and the World Trade Center — clarifies itself. This whole is an unforgettable image.

Responding to a call for art for a browngrotta arts’ exhibition entitled Stimulus: art and its inception in 2011, Norma Minkowitz began, as she usually does, to sketch.  “I began in a spontaneous, unplanned manner,” Minkowitz explains, “arranging lines and subtle patterns, until I had a feeling of the direction it would take. Suddenly, I realized that the linear image had become the apparition of an aerial view of the compound where Osama Bin Laden was found, which I had seen in a newspaper article. Compound combines a replica of the space and my vision of the event.

“This is not my usual way of working,” she says. It is more literal because of its historic significance. I enjoyed this different approach and found it quite timely as we remembered the attack on our country on September 11, 2001. I wanted to commemorate courage, justice and the resolve of the USA.”

Women Warriors, Dona Anderson, mixed media, 2005-2011. Photo by Tom Grotta
Women Warriors, Dona Anderson, mixed media, 2005-2011. Photo by Tom Grotta

The war in Iraq influenced Dona Anderson, as well and resulted in a series of “armor” pieces, including Women Warriors. Anderson’s granddaughter was in the army stationed in Japan while the granddaughter’s husband was in Iraq.  When he came home for a break, he said he did not have any body armor. Anderson was so bothered by this information that she used her art to create some stylized armor for him.

El Salvador, Ed Rossbach, muslin, camouflage netting, sticks, plastic, plastic tape, wire, tied, dyed, linoleum block printed, 1984. Photo by Tom Grotta
El Salvador, Ed Rossbach, muslin, camouflage netting, sticks, plastic, plastic tape, wire, tied, dyed, linoleum block printed, 1984. Photo by Tom Grotta

A previous conflict in Latin America led to the creation of a textile construction, El Salvador, by Ed Rossbach in 1984.  Here, the artist using very simple materials constructed a powerful anti-war statement. The death squads in El Salvador killed many thousands of people before the civil war ended. Rossbach pushed the bounds of conventional 1950’s design. His art used raw materials — like camo mesh — to create forms that explore context, scale and juxtaposition to create irony

Globalization IV; Collateral Damage, Gyöngy Laky, ash, commercial wood, paint, blue concrete bullets, 2005. Photo by Tom Grotta
Globalization IV; Collateral Damage, Gyöngy Laky, ash, commercial wood, paint, blue concrete bullets, 2005. Photo by Tom Grotta

Gyongy Laky, a student of Rossbach’s, regularly addresses political issues in her work. Laky is a powerful advocate for the environment as well as a proponent of the hiring of more women at the University of California, Davis where the artist taught for many years. Through Globalization IV Collateral Damage, she speaks with great force and conviction about the utter waste of blood and treasure that is war. Constructed of ash and commercial wood scraps the three letters spell WAR but can also be rearranged to create other vivid elucidations of the subject: MAR, ARM, RAW, and RAM. Bullets for building and red paint are also used in the construction to dramatic effect.

Help-Siring Soldiers to Sacrifice, Judy Mulford, waxed linen, buttons, beads, babies & bullet casings, 23" x 11" x 9.5", 2005. Photo by Tom Grotta
Help-Siring Soldiers to Sacrifice, Judy Mulford, waxed linen, buttons, beads, babies & bullet casings, 23″ x 11″ x 9.5″, 2005. Photo by Tom Grotta

In Help-Siring Soldiers to Sacrifice,  Judy Mulford, has created a female figure with bullet casings making up her skirt to illustrate the tragedy for mothers in war zones, whose children are served up as fodder for never-ending conflicts. “My art honors and celebrates the family,” says the artist. “It is autobiographical, personal, graphic and narrative. Each piece I create becomes a container of conscious and unconscious thoughts and feelings, one that references my female ancestral beginnings.”

NRA Approved,  James Bassler, woven, stitched and batik dyed; silk and sisal; each 20”h X 12”w X 4”d (as mounted), 3 pieces in one box  with 3 custom stands, 2014.Photo by Tom Grotta
NRA Approved,  James Bassler, woven, stitched and batik dyed; silk and sisal; each 20” x 12”w x 4”d (as mounted), 3 pieces in one box  with 3 custom stands, 2014. Photo by Tom Grotta

James Bassler commented on gun violence in schools in a series of vests that make up NRA Approved. “The cloth I wove, batik dyed and stitched, was inspired by the 19th Century Japanese fireman’s jacket,” he explains. “It was also inspired by our 21st Century public debate about gun violence and what we, as a nation, could do to make our schools safe from the tragic incidents of our times. The NRA has openly suggested that teachers and students wear bullet-proof vests. Often, our young students do wear waterproof aprons when doing creative work. Here, in these woven sculptural forms, I have added camouflage to help conceal children in harm’s way. Camouflage, indeed, has been used throughout.”

Artists can — and do — share their political observations through their work. The rest of us can do the same through our votes. Please do!