Category: Commentary

Some Observations: On Light and Air

Recently I visited the Los Angeles County Museum of Art specifically to spend time immersed in the imagination of James Turrell whose retrospective covers fifty years of work exploring light, sky, perception, color, shape and architecture.   The meditative quality of this exhibition encourages the viewer to be a considered observer and allow what they see and perceive to be altered by their physical experience with the work.  Ultimately the transformative and ephemeral qualities of light exist in the mind of each person.  The artist gives us the opportunity to bathe our senses in illusion and reflection.

The next day on a non-stop eastbound flight traveling in the morning from Los Angeles to Boston I was seated on the north side of the airplane and could view the magnificent snow covered Rocky Mountains below rising from the earth with the suggestion of a world without grief.

photo by Wendy Wahl

photo by Wendy Wahl

In the minutes that followed I found myself focused on the carbon footprint that air travel leaves and thinking about the best way to balance my personal footprint. Knowing for the moment “I am where I am” my gaze returned to the framed light as we swiftly moved above the fruited plains. I watched until somewhere over the Great Lakes the image through the oval-edged window changed into another remarkable illuminated landscape.

photo by Wendy Wahl

photo by Wendy Wahl

As a commercial airline passenger for over four decades I have encountered a wide range of situations and had experiences that touch on almost every imaginable emotion. Each flight has a unique dimension heightened by the sounds, sights, smells and physical proximity of the other passengers in a tightly enclosed space. The curious activity of moving at fast speeds from one environment to another, around and about what has become a very small sphere in a short period of time, stimulates thought about place, perception and the possibility of portals. Having flown on Pan Am, Continental, Delta, American Airlines, United Airlines, Laker Airways, Peoples Express, Southwest, British Airways, Hawaiian Air, TWA, Qantas, Virgin Australia, Aero Mexico, China Air, Alitalia, Air India, Lufthansa, Air France, JetBlue and a number of puddle jumpers – I’m feeling that of all these, Virgin America has created an illusion of a different sort for air travelers through the use of color and light.


Wendy Wahl
March 2014

Guest Post: David Ling at Haystack School of Crafts, Deer Isle, Maine

David Ling Haystack Blog

photo by David Ling

Nestled into the stoney evergreen clad ledge that seems to slip effortlessly into the atlantic off the coast of Deer Isle Maine, Haystack was to prove a desirable radical contrast to New York City, business and routine.

1000 miles, six ferries, two weeks of glass workshop, 42 haystack meals (in addition to the 10 lobster rolls en route)  no cell connection and barely any online connection, the contrast was complete.

photo by David Ling

photo by David Ling

Initially drawn to haystack for its architectural and landscape setting as well as the reputation I heard over the decades of serving collectors and working with the artisans, I wanted to experience haystack for myself.The link between my architectural practice and haystack is glass. I love glass. With my Modernist Bauhaus background, I grew to appreciate and love glass. Starting with Paul Scheerbart, Bruno Taut, and  the Crystal chain letters, glass took on utopian mythical proportions. Studying in Crown Hall, Mies’ glass temple to architectural education, I loved watching how the translucent glass captured light and became a filter for experiencing nature. Later, after starting my own practice, I created glass windows, glass floors, glass ceilings, glass roofs, glass furniture all using

photo by David Ling

photo by David Ling

tempered, laminated, annealed, acid etched, sandblasted, fractured glass in my work. But that’s where the similarities end. The very physical act of working with glass was to prove radically different from using glass in my architectural practice. I discovered that the very process of blowing glass requires teamwork, physical participation. Working with glass I found, required both focus and a peripheral awareness of my collaborators, heat –and not just any heat but adjusting heat with time in the air, contact with the stainless steel marver, water and wood. I found the luminous fluid quality of molten glass mesmerizing. Streams, puddles and droplets of liquid light.

In contrast to the flat planar architectural applications of glass, I learned through experimentation how glass could take on other qualities in its molten state: elastic, malleable, impervious, explosive, optical. I also started relearning how to experiment, explore and return to a childlike curiosity.

photo by David Ling

photo by David Ling

While I’m not sure how haystack will affect my future work, I am compelled by not just glass itself but how light and water play with glass. On a personal level I rediscovered child like playfulness, learning to experiment and embracing trial amd error. Collaborating with my classmates was a balletic choreography involving heat and light.

Our instructor Bo Yoon was instrumental in opening my eyes to the unique qualities of glass, not just technique.

As a class, we collectively produced a glass boat, a tree draped in glass strands, mini glass grenades, water filled glass prisms and lenses. One of the most interesting thrusts of Bo’s class and when I was most interested in was the combination of the qualities of glass interacting with water and light. With my rudimentary skills and overwhelming help from Bo, teaching assistants and fellow classmates I produced a diving bell helmet out of class. With an unobstructed view of the underwater world I could bob in the Atlantic coastal waters, listening to my own breathing and waves amplified by the buoyant glass bubble.

David Ling Architect

The Year in Books: Art, Life and Learning — Part 1

World Book EncylopediaIt’s been a literary trip back in time for some of browngrotta arts’ artists this year. Every day since February, Wendy Wahl has chosen something at random to read from a well-preserved, slightly earthy smelling set of the 1957 World Book Encyclopaedia. “This pursuit began,” she explains, “when I brought the volumes into the house from the studio to use as a barricade on furniture for my then one-year old Labrador Retriever. It kept her off the sofa but when I wasn’t looking she decided to explore Volumes A and N-O to see how they tasted. Volume M stands out in my memory, the letter of moving water. Included on the glossy pages are mangoes, mathematics, music, Moscow, Mexico, Morocco, molybdenum, money, minerals, medicine, manuscripts, Magna Carta, Mozart, Mendelssohn, monotype, mimeograph, motion pictures, moons, meteors, Mary, Moses, Mohammed, Manet, Monet, Matisse, milk, meat, mushroom, Madison, Marx but no Mandela. It has been revealing to look at these entries through the lens of the editors writing fifty-six years ago; War& PeaceI’m interested in how and what is presented and this 40th edition’s place in the 20th century.” Mary Merkel-Hess spent the entire autumn of this year reading one book – War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. “My husband and I and a few others read it under the tutelage of an enthusiastic, young Russian professor,” she writes, “who served tea cakes and strong coffee during each of our discussions. Yes, it’s a great book and our study quickly led us to consider the history surrounding the book (Napoleonic wars), the complicated and fascinating Tolstoy family (especially the marriage of Leo and Sonya) and the use of the book and characters in other works of art – music and film. There is an American film version of the book starring Audrey Hepburn and a much better Russian film version which runs to 8 hours or so. We and our fellow classmates were captivated and the writing was, of course, superb. We read the new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. I am not exactly recommending War and Peace, but if you would like to be submersed for awhile, able to ignore the news and unable to engage in topical conversation, I do recommend choosing it or another of the ‘great books’ as a way to take the focus off your regular life. I am now considering TheIdiotDostoyevskiThe Idiot by Dostoyevski (the favorite book of Pope Francis) or Joseph and His Brothers by Thomas Mann, which my daughter gave me a few years ago. Either way, I know I am in for the perfect escape.” Look for more recommendations in our next post.

Looking Forward/Looking Back: John Perreault

Anda Klancic, Lenore Tawney, Lewis Knauss
photos by Tom Grotta

“It is, in fact, the haptic, or touchable, nature of fiber art that throws off most art critics: they are only comfortable with the optic, granting tactile values a very low position on the aesthetic totem pole. In fiber art one cannot avoid the haptic and the haptic/optic conflict or, more graciously, the haptic/optic interplay. How fiber art looks is only part of the picture.

Dani Marti, Carolina Yrarrázaval, Sherrie Smith

Thus it is awkward, to say the least, that the English language and most particularly the critical language, is haptic-poor. Poetry can sometimes make amends, but is in itself an extremely specialized discourse, prone to enthusiasm at the expense of illumination. In the past the art critical language has been applied to some rather outrageous art: Earth Art, Anti-Form, Performance, Body Art, Conceptual Art, Patterning and Decoration. From this it may be gathered that any material criterion for art has been dislodged. Futurism and Dada insisted that art could be made of anything. If a pile of dirt, in certain cases, can be art, then why not a pile of fibers? If art can be made on a printing press, then why not on a loom? If art can be made by tossing molten lead against a wall, then why not by knotting threads? If art can quote the great “crafts” traditions, why cannot present day explorations of these materials and techniques be art too?”

Marian Bijlenga, Eva Vargo, Carolina Yeonsoon
photos by tom Grotta

John Perreault
then-Visual Arts Director, The Cultural Center
Staten Island, New York
From “Fiber Art: Gathering the Strands,” Fiber r/evolution, Milwaukee Art Museum, 1986

Process Notes: On Paper and Pages – Wendy Wahl

Wendy Wahl talking about her works after her talk at the Flinn Gallery

Last month, Wendy Wahl spoke to a group at the Flinn Gallery in Greenwich, Connecticut at  the Paperworks: material as medium exhibtion about her recent works and installations made of re-purposed encyclopedias. Here are some excerpts from Wahl’s remarks:

REBOUND: FROM E/H Wendy Wahl discarded/deconstructed/ restructured encylopedia pages , blackened old elm barn beam 27″ x 27″ x 13″, 2009

“My daily walk in the woods allows me the quiet opportunity to hear the sounds of the trees, to see a segment of something larger and profound. Those walks provided the time and space I needed to figure out what the next series of pieces were going to be. It became apparent to me that the materials I needed to use should be familiar and abundant. In 2006, I participated in a group show titled Not Quite Natural, this was the first time I used the pages or leaves of books as a material to create an object. The exhibition was at the Wheeler School Gallery, an ideal setting to present art that is inspired by the concept of how we learn. “Stand for Knowledge” is constructed from pages of discarded New American Encyclopedias whose text I blackened with India ink. Each form stands on a base made from a recycled 200-year-old elm barn beam that has been blackened.”

9ww #502, Wendy Wahl, seven pieces, paper, yarn,95″ x 60″ x 36″, 2001-2002, photo by Tom Grotta

“Originally, I was most interested in the process. I didn’t necessarily need to know what the outcomes would look like only that I had to do it and I wanted to work the material in three dimensions. Sometimes, it is in the act of making the parts where the inspiration resides; knowing there is a mystery of what is about to unfold. Earlier pieces were suspended by monofilament, just kissing the platform, swaying ever so slightly.“

Wendy Wahl works on her installation “Uncovered Grove” at Newport Art Museum. The show will run through February 3, 2008. (photo by Jacqueline Marque)

“In 2007, Curator Nancy Grinnell invited me to have an exhibition at the Newport Art Museum. I created Uncovered Grove. I was seduced by the idea of making a body of work that considered the association between the tree of life and the tree of knowledge. The intention was to describe the relationship of our natural and cultural realms in an attempt to understand the sources and structures that bind us together. I am a fan of Pablo Neruda’s poetry and in his last book of Questions he asks, “What did the tree learn from the earth to be able to talk to the sky? And Why did the tree undress itself only to wait for the snow?”

“A journal entry from Ralph Waldo Emerson dated November 2, 1833 clearly says the unsayable: “Nature is a language, and every new fact that we learn is a new word; but rightly seen, taken all together, it is not merely a language, but the language put together into a most significant and universal book. I wish to learn the language, not that I may learn a new set of nouns and verbs, but that I may read the great book which is written in that tongue.”

8ww #77 Wendy Wahl paper, 29″ x 40″ x 15″, 2001-2002, photo by Tom Grotta

“In 2009, Tom Grotta called me up and said, the installation work is very nice, but do you think you cam make something to hang on a wall in a room rather than something that requires the whole room to hold the piece. And with that nudge I embarked on making a series of pieces on panel with frames using encyclopedias and dictionaries. “

25ww REBOUND DIPTYCH Wendy Wahl, Encylodpedia Britanica mixed editions, 2; 28″ x 18″ panels, 2010, photo by Tom Grotta

“They are somewhere between sculpture, collage and paintings. I see them as landscapes. They are constructed from hundreds and hundreds of scrolled pages glued to the surface of a wood panel.”

26ww Seeds(of knowledge) WB vol.18/19, Wendy Wahl, World Book encyclopedia pages on inked panel, 21.25″€ x 34.25″€ x 1.625″€, 2011, photo by Tom Grotta

“When WS Merwin was US poet laureate, I was inspired by his poem Unchopping a Tree and would recite it aloud prior to working on these 4’x4’ panels. It begins: Start with the leaves, the small twigs and the nests that have been shaken, ripped or broken off by the fall; these must be gathered and attached once again to their respective places, And ends: But there is nothing more you can do. Others are waiting. Everything is going to have to be put back.”

Branches Unbound Wendy Wahl’s installation at the Grand Rapids Art Museum

“I am still compelled to make large scale installations and last year I erected Branches Unboundat the Grand Rapids Art Museum. It is another iteration of my view of the connections between nature and culture. My continued interest is considering the associations between the tree of life, defined as the patterns of relationships that link all earth’s species and the tree of knowledge, defined as the connected branches of human thought realized in the form of writing and speaking.”

“This work is part of an ongoing experiment and series that uses the potency of printed text. I’m using a cultural artifact as my material for many of reasons that include the meanings that it carries, its unique physical qualities, and to recognize its symbolic status. By restructuring familiar elements that in a particular format belongs to a collective consciousness, I’m commenting on an aspect of our station in time.”

Wendy Wahl discussing her works at Paperworks: Material as Medium at the Flinn Gallery photo by Tom Grotta, courtesy of browngrotta arts

“I am often asked why paper? I began using paper as more than a substrate because of its beauty and mystery. It can be permanent or transient, delicate or strong, cheap or expensive, abundant or scarce. It can be cut, bent, folded, crumpled, twisted, torn, glazed, waxed, pulped or burned. Paper can go from two to three dimensions in unexpected ways. It can be preserved or returned to the earth. It is probably one of the most important technological developments that affected the course of human history.”

Who Said What: Ada Louise Huxtable

Ethel Stein preparing a warp, photo by Tom Grotta

What has set handcrafts apart, and always will, is the individual vision and extraordinary skill of those who create a unique, material work that can range from the practical to the abstract. The union of that vision and skill has an emotional charge lacking in impersonal articles of mass production, delivered with an unapologetic emphasis on the delight of the thing itself. That kind of direct, pleasurable response is almost totally lacking in the gloom and grunge of the arts today.

Coming in from the Cold,” Wall Street Journal, December 22, 2011.

Guest Post Alert: Carol Westfall

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Felt Balls for Peace, Carol Westfall, felted wool with barbed wire, 3″ each, 1994, photo by D. James Dee

We’ve uploaded a new guest post, Textiles and Politics by Carol Westfall. “Textile art is no exception to the rule that art both drives and documents political upheaval,” she writes. This post examines the textile in relationship to national and international political issues, including war, population control, energy and natural resource use and economic inequality. Westfall will be among the presenters at the Textile Society of America’s 13th Biennial Symposium in Washington, DC in September.

Update: Chris Drury’s Carbon Sink Creates a Dialogue

In a previous blog,  we wrote about Chris Drury’s Carbon Sink, an installation at the University of Wyoming that garnered the ire of local legislators who viewed it as a poor educational investment. Chalk one up to transformative power art.  As you can see from the editorial below, by Wyoming State representative, Tom Lubnau, in the Gillette News Record, (where Rhonda used to live) the controversy led to a valuable dialogue about art, education, energy and the environment,61404.  Here’s also an image of Chris Drury’s most recent Wyoming-inspired art work, On the Ground: Above and Below Wyoming.

topographical map woven with a Geological map of the state. The border is coal dust and Wyoming earth. The pattern is wind blowing off the Rockies. Size: 3’4″€ x 4’€™1.5″€

Trying to make silk purses
from sows’ ears

Tom Lubnau
Gillette News Record, September 6, 2011

A few weeks ago, the University of Wyoming unveiled a new on-campus sculpture entitled “Carbon Sink.”

The artist,  Chris Drury, is a worldfamous sculptor, the university paid $40,000 to install the sculpture on campus. The artist designed the sculpture as a series of dead logs arranged in a spiral pattern, which he hoped would symbolize the death of forests from pine beetles due to global warming.

On the Ground: Above and Below Wyoming Detail by Chris Drury

Much has been written by journalists, bloggers and in some tersely worded emails about the comments Reps. Gregg Blikre, Norine Kasperik and I made about the hypocrisy of accepting dollars derived from carbon fuels to put up an anti-carbon sculpture. People, mostly from California and New York told we told us we should be “ashamed of ourselves” and that we are “ignorant bumpkins because we hate anything that resembles culture” and referred to us as “cow flops and road apples.”

It is important to understand what we didn’t do. We didn’t ask the sculpture be taken down. We didn’t take any steps to remove funding from the university. And we didn’t engage in any form of censorship. What did we do? We defended our friends and neighbors. Prompted by the existence of the piece of art, we started a discussion. My old art teachers, from back in the day, told me that art was supposed to provoke discussion, to inspire and to affect the viewer.

And that is what we did. We used the existence of the art as an inspiration piece to let folks know that between 60 and 80 percent of the state’s budget is dependent on extractive industries. We asked for some appreciation and kudos for the hard-working folks in the energy industry, who go to work day after day, meeting America’s energy needs and funding in large measure the University of Wyoming budget. We told the university that we thought it was out of touch with the rest of the state, and that we wished they would spend as much time working with us to meet our educational needs as they did being critical of the industries that pay the bills in Wyoming.

And to their credit, the administration of the University of Wyoming listened. We engaged in a dialogue about the misunderstandings, misperceptions and missed opportunities that exist between the University of Wyoming and Campbell County. University President Dr. Tom Buchanan, Trustees Warren Lauer and Jim Neiman, and senior UW staffers Don Richards and Mike Massie took time out of their busy schedules to travel to Gillette, to tour a power plant, the college and other community facilities, and to meet with community leaders and energy company officials to discuss opportunities for UW to offer educational services in the Campbell County area.

Carbon Sink University of Wyoming

The discussions were positive. Dr. Buchanan left the citizens of Campbell County with a clear challenge. If we can define a specific set of needs that can be met by the university rather than a vague list of complaints, the university will work to meet those needs. The monkey is now on the backs of the citizens of Campbell County. We have a great opportunity to advance the education opportunities and the quality of life in northeastern Wyoming if we are wise, and if we can specifically define our needs and put a plan in place to accomplish those needs.

Thanks to Chris Drury for your sculpture. While I don’t agree with your science, or what you believe your sculpture symbolizes, the burnt logs laying in a circular pattern on the grounds of the University of Wyoming were a catalyst to open discussions on a greater UW presence in Campbell County. Art prompted discussion. If we accept the challenge, discussion will lead to better education and an enhanced quality of life.

Rep. Tom Lubnau represents Campbell County. Rep. Gregg Blikre and Rep. Norine Kasperik of Campbell County also joined with him in signing this opinion piece. (reprinted with permission).

For Chris’s views and more on the controversy, visit his blog:

News Flash: Artists Get Good Press

Over the last few months, the artists browngrotta arts represents have received mentions and more from the press, print and online.  The  November/December issue of Craft from the UK, included an image of Sounding by Lawrence LaBianca and Donald Fortescue in, “Craft’s quick fix,” by Glenn Adamson, which discusses the use of the humble cable tie by contemporary artists.

Lawrence LaBianca in the Aspen Sojourner

Then, in its Holiday issue, Aspen Sojourner printed a lengthy piece about LaBianca’s artist-in-residency at Anderson Ranch, “Ranch Hands: A day in the life of an Anderson Ranch artist-in-resident,” by Hilary Stunda

Surface Design Winter 2012

The Winter 2012 of Surface Design,devoted four pages to Kyomi Iwata’s new work in kibisio, a by-product of silk spinning production in Japan, previously considered a waste material The same issue reviewed New York Fiber in the 21st Century at Lehman College Gallery and featured Tom’s photo of Norma Minkowitz’s King of the Hill and referenced Nancy Koenigsberg’s Light and Tempest, as “challeng[ing] the idea of flatness vs. sculptural, a middle ground that fiber works can uniquely occupy.”

Dail Behennah Grid Dish, 40:40 Forty Objects for Forty Years

The UK’s Craft Council included Dail Behennah’s Grid Dish as one of its 40:40/Forty Objects for Forty Years. You can see all 40 objects at:

Korean Foundation Newsletter 12 2011

The December 2011 issue of the Korea Foundation Newsletter featured a profile of Jin-Sook So in conjunction with coverage of the exhibition of Swedish craft art that she curated in Seoul late last year In the piece, “Encounter of Swedish Crafts and Korean Sensibilities; Textile Artist Jin-Sook So’s Views of Contemporary” So explains how Sweden and Korea influence her work. “I’ve lived in Sweden for 30 years and have traveled all over the world to create works and hold exhibitions, but my roots remain in Korea. Although I didn’t intend it to be, Korea and Korean sentiments have served as the spirit and inspiration that have motivated me. As time went by, it became even more evident, and I believe they will remain the roots of my work in the future.”

New York Spaces October 2011

So’s work of steel mesh, Untitled, was also included in the “Art Now” column of New York Spaces last October.

Textile Forum December 2011

Photos of work by three artists represented by browngrotta arts were featured in the December 2011 issue if the ETN textileforum. These included shots of Merja Winquist’sWinter Garden, her large, on-site installation at the Sofia Paper Art Fest in Bulgaria, Anda Klancic’s lighted work, Aura FM, at the 2011 Como Miniartextil exhibition in Italy and Grethe Sorenson preparing for her Traces of Light exhibition at the Round Tower in Copenhagen, Denmark through March 11, 2012.

Guest Post Alert: Crafting Modernism by Carol Westfall

In her second post, Carol Westfall reviews Crafting Modernism

Music Rack Wendell Castle, 1964 REQUIRED PHOTO CREDIT: Purchased by the American Craft Council, 1964

at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York CIty through January 15, 2011.