Category: Tapestry

When Words Aren’t Enough, Artists and Politics, Part II

Art is not created in a vacuum. Artists have a keen eye that they often cast on current culture. California artists James Bassler and Gyöngy Laky have both been influenced by Donald Trump’s disruptive impact on our political lives, an influence that they have expressed in their art.

JAMES BASSLER
What’s Happening  2016
four-selvaged construction, with shibori star field; warp and weft are a mix of linen, silk, nettles, and cotton, with synthetic dyes. Photo by Tom Grotta.
JAMES BASSLER
What’s Happening  2016
four-selvaged construction, with shibori star field; warp and weft are a mix of linen, silk, nettles, and cotton, with synthetic dyes. Photo by Tom Grotta.

In early 2016. James Bassler, was invited to participate in the 10th Shibori International Conference, to be held in Oaxaca, Mexico that November. Each entry was to utilize some resist-dyeing technique. “I chose to attempt a field of stars in the American flag,” Bassler writes. “I also chose to weave the flag using the pre-Columbian four-selvage construction. The process is slow, but allows for design changes as the weaving proceeds.” He began in the early months of 2016, coinciding with the political preparations of electing a new president. “Those events,” he recalls, “in particular the dominance of Donald Trump, began to affect my design decisions in making the flag. The red and white stripes in my weaving began to incorporate definite agitation, the same agitation I felt watching the presidential debates. The more extreme the rhetoric, the more extreme the stripes.” The flag was completed and sent off, first to LongHouse, East Hampton for a summer exhibition, then to Oaxaca, Mexico by mid-October. The work was returned from Mexico in March of 2017. In early Spring, it was selected to be in an exhibition in Portland, Oregon. There, “as a result of the presidential election,” Bassler says, “the instructions to the exhibition staff were to hang the flag upside down.”

JAMES BASSLER
Donald and His Hapsburg Empire  2016
wedge weave construction; indigo-dyed linen warp; linen, handspun silk from Mexico, spun duck feathers from Mexico, commercial silk weft. Photo by Tom Grotta.
JAMES BASSLER
Donald and His Hapsburg Empire  2016
wedge weave construction; indigo-dyed linen warp; linen, handspun silk from Mexico, spun duck feathers from Mexico, commercial silk weft. Photo by Tom Grotta.

The same exhibition in Oaxaca in January 2016 inspired Donald and his Habsburg Empire. In this piece, Bassler tried to capture both the historical and the contemporary attitude of arrogance and entitlement that has existed throughout history. Historically, the Habsburgs, the ruling family of Austria, 1276-1918 and of Spain,1516-1700, gave the world elitism through birthright, with no regard to proven achievement. “Today in the United States,” he says, “the Kardashian and the Donald Trump model has made the acquisition of vast sums of money and profit an alarming societal objective, an elitism that values profits over people.” The concept was to have contemporary artists explore the use of spun feathers, relating back to their usage in the 17th and 18th centuries.  The invitation was accompanied by many visuals, including images of ceremonial textiles, from those distant centuries, housed in museums throughout the world. “In all honesty, it was a bit daunting to accept the invitation,” Bassler says. “As the only North American in the exhibition, what might I do?  After reviewing all of the material, I couldn’t help but notice that on many of the ancient textiles the feathers were used to promote the double-headed eagle of the Habsburg Empire, a reminder to those subjugated as to who was in charge.  With that in mind and the fact that the feathers came from Canadian ducks, it was a logical step to create the double-headed ducks. The Donald Trump arrogance factor developed as the presidential debates materialized,” he observes.

Donald Trump’s candidacy concerned Gyöngy Laky as a citizen and an artist. “When it became clear that Donald Trump was the Republican candidate” she remembers, “I cringed and told my husband I worried he could win the election and he did. I have been horrified by his demeanor, corruption and abuse of power.”  She was particularly disturbed by his comment shortly before the Iowa caucus, when he bragged that he could commit a crime and it would not deter his supporters. “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?” he said. “It’s, like, incredible.”  Laky’s best friend lived two blocks from Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. “This man is joking about killing her or someone else,” she thought. The work that resulted was direct; with a wide-ranging message. “I knew I would have to make an art piece to address who he is… a racist, a sexist, a criminal, a liar, a tax cheat, an incessant golfer on our dime, a man who seems to enjoy making fun of and hurting people and destroying our institutions, someone who does not believe in science, someone who populates our government with incompetent people, someone who supports white supremacists… someone who said proudly that he could commit a crime killing a person without remorse or guilt nor suffering consequence.” The result was Fifth Avenue, 12/23/16 , made in 2019 out of an AK-T Tequila MX bottle, golf tees and a golf ball.

GYÖNGY LAKY
Fifth Avenue 1/23/16, 2019 
AK-T Tequila MX bottle, golf tees and golf ball. Photo by Gyöngy Laky
GYÖNGY LAKY
Fifth Avenue 1/23/16, 2019 
AK-T Tequila MX bottle, golf tees and golf ball. Photo by Gyöngy Laky

Art can help us to understand how to proceed and inspire us to join the fray, observes Laky, quoting Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”  Laky also cites a sequel to last year’s Emmy-nominated short,  A Message From the Future with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a new film, Message From the Future II: The Years of Repair, both illustrated by Molly Crabapple, which urges us to look forward with hope. “In Message II, Opal Tometi, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, and Gael Garcia Bernal, Nnimmo Bassey and Emma Thompson, call upon us to be hopeful, be strong, be active and take part.”

Looking forward, “I’m counting on our younger ones, joined by my generation who remember the 1960s, to turn us around,” says Laky. “With the many difficulties we face fumbling and scrambling toward the possibly most consequential election of our lifetimes, we’re called upon to lift our spirits and gather our strength, awakening our activist souls.”


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.”


Volume 50 Art Focus: The Salon Wall

In our recent exhibition, Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber Art for Three Decadeswe featured a gallery wall with art by nine international artists from five countries.

works by Claude Vermette, Wendy Wahl, Caroline Bartlett, Toshiko Takaezu, Joyce Clear. Photo by Tom Grotta
Works by Claude Vermette, Wendy Wahl, Caroline Bartlett, Toshiko Takaezu, Joyce Seymore. Photo by Tom Grotta

Salon walls, or gallery walls as they are also called, are a favorite with designers, according to Invaluable, for a reason: they can be curated to fit an assortment of styles and work well in virtually any room. (“15 Gallery Walls to Suit Every Style,”  https://www.invaluable.com/blog/gallery-wall-ideas/utm_campaign=weeklyblog&utm_medium=email&utm_source=house&utm_content=blog092420 ) Salon walls “first became popular in France in the late 17th century,” according to the Invaluable article. “Salons across the country began displaying fine art from floor to ceiling, often because of the limited space, that encapsulated the artistic trends of the time. One of the first and most famous salon walls was displayed at the Palace of the Louvre in 1670, helping to establish the Louvre as a global destination for art.”

clockwise, from upper right: Mia Olsson, Jo Barker, Karyl Sisson, Debra Valoma, Jennifer Falck Linssen, Marian Bijlenga, Polly Barton, Åse Ljones. center: Wendy Wahl. Photo by Tom Grotta
clockwise, from upper right: Mia Olsson, Jo Barker, Karyl Sisson, Debra Valoma, Jennifer Falck Linssen, Marian Bijlenga, Polly Barton, Åse Ljones. center: Wendy Wahl. Photo by Tom Grotta

Our Volume 50 salon wall was a fitting testament to the 50 catalogs we have produced and were celebrating in this exhibition. In our 50 catalogs we have featured 172 artists from 28 countries. Our salon wall featured works by nine of those artists from five countries. Wendy Wahl creates work from pages of encyclopedias, leading readers to think about changes over the time to the way acquire information. Mia Olsson of Sweden created a work of brightly colored sisal, inspired by traditional, pleated folk costumes. We included Jo Barker’s tapestry, Cobalt Haze. People often think Barker’s lushly colored tapestries are oil paintings until they are close enough to see the meticulous detail. Lewis Knauss imagined a landscape of prayer flags in creating Prayer Mountain. For Deborah Valoma, simplicity is deceptive. The truth, she says, “scratched down in pencil, lies below the cross-hatched embellishments.” 

Jennifer Falck Linssen found inspiration in Asian ink paintings for her wall work, Mountain. The peaks in the paintings are a play of opposites: serene and forceful, solid and ethereal, strong and vulnerable. Mountain explores this duality and also the layered, often subtle, emotions of the human heart and its own dichotomy. Marian Bijlenga‘s graphic, playful work displays a fascination with patterning. This work was inspired by the geometric patterning of Korean bojagi, which is comparable to modernist paintings by such artists as Piet Mondrian and Paul Klee. In bojagi,small, colorful leftover scraps of fabrics are arranged and sewn together to construct larger artful cloths. The triple-stitched seams are iconic. This work, says the artist, specifically references the grid of these seams and the special Korean use of color. For Polly Barton, the technique of ikat serves as her paintbrush for producing contemporary works. From Norway, Åse Ljones uses a blizzard of stitches to create her works. “No stitch is ever a mistake,” she says. “A mistake is often what creates a dynamic in the work.” 

A salon wall is a great way to collect for people who are interested in different artists and different mediums. At browngrotta we’ve always suggested that clients had more wall space on which to display art — it just hadn’t been uncovered yet. We’ve created another salon wall in our non-gallery space. On it, we’ve combined oil paintings, fiber works, ceramics and photography. The wall can accommodate our continuing desire to collect — above, below and on the side.

works by Ed Rossbach. Photo by Tom Grotta
A gallery wall highlights weavings by Ed Rossbach. Photo by Tom Grotta

“A gallery wall is absolutely ideal for a small apartment, as it can give a room real interest, depth and a properly decorated feel without taking up any floor space — and thereby minimizing clutter,” Luci Douglas-Pennant, told The New York Times in 2017. Douglas-Pennant founded Etalage, with Victoria Leslie, an English company specializing in antique prints, vintage oil paintings and decorative pictures for gallery walls. “If you don’t have one large wall, gallery walls can be hung around windows, around doors, above bed heads, above and around fireplaces or even around cabinets in a kitchen.”

Three works by Sheila Hicks from our 1996 exhibition: Sheila Hicks: Joined by seven artists from Japan
Sheila Hicks introduced us to the gallery wall in an exhibition she curated at browngrotta arts in 1996, Sheila Hicks: Joined by seven artists from Japan. In that exhibition, she displayed three of her works in the space between two windows.

For works of varying sizes and shapes to get you started on your own version of a salon wall, visit browngrotta.com, where we have images of dozens of available artworks to pique your interest.


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.


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).


Catalog Lookback: California Dreamin’ – An Online Exhibition on Artsy

Ed Rossbach, Katherine Westphal, Adela Akers, Syvia Seventy, Marion Hildebrandt, Judy Mulford, Deborah Valoma Catalogs

Ed Rossbach | Katherine Westphal | Marion Hildebrandt | Judy Mulford | Deborah Valoma | Adela Akers | Sylvia Seventy

California has played a seminal role in both the history of the Contemporary Fiber Arts Movement and artists from California have played an equally significant role in browngrotta arts’ exhibition archive.  You’ll find California artists represented in nearly all our group catalogs: Lawrence LaBianca in Stimulus: Art and its Inception (vol. 36); Carol Shaw-Sutton in 25 for the 25th (vol. 25); Nancy Moore Bess in 10th Wave I (vol. 17) and 10th Wave II (vol. 18); Karyl Sisson in Karyl Sisson and Jane Sauer (vol. 12) and Ferne Jacobs in Blue/Green: color/code/context (vol. 44). 

California Dreamin’, an online exhibition on Artsy from May 11 to June 5th, features seven artists: Ed Rossbach, Katherine Westphal, Marion Hildebrandt, Judy Mulford, Deborah Valoma, Adela Akers and Sylvia Seventy.  The exhibition borrows from three browngrotta catalogs (vols. 6, 20, 26) and highlights decades worth of art.

Ed Rossbach Basket
Green with Four Ears by Ed Rossbach, 1984. Photo by Tom Grotta

Best-known of the group, Ed Rossbach, completed his graduate studies at Cranbrook in 1946. He, along with Marianne Strengell worked within the narrow parameters of Euro-Bauhaus-Scandinavian weaving traditions for industry.  “In reaction to this tight definition of textiles,” Jo Ann C. Stabb wrote in Retro/Prospective: 25+ Years of Art Textiles and Sculpture (vol. 37), “Rossbach became fascinated by indigenous textile processes and the use of found materials as he studied artifacts in the anthropology collection at University of California, Berkeley, as a faculty member from 1950 to 1979. Noted for creating three-dimensional, structural forms from unexpected, humble materials including plastic, reeds, newspaper, stapled cardboard, twigs,  Rossbach inspired a renaissance in basketry and vessel forms and influenced other artists, including his students Gyöngy Laky and Lia Cook.”

Katherine Westphal Komono
Chuto-Haupa by Katherine Westphal, 1983. Photo by Tom Grotta

Katherine Westphal, who was married to Rossbach, generated experiments of her own.  In the late 60s she was among the first artists to use photocopy machines to make images for art. In the 1970s, in addition to drawings to baskets, she began creating wearable art, which, according to Glenn Adamson, former director of the Museum of Arts and Design. was a genre she essentially invented. She wanted it said of the graments she created:  “there wasn’t another one like it in the world, and most people probably wouldn’t be caught dead in it.”  Few were worn, most were hung on the wall like paintings.  Her work displayed wide-ranging, autobiographical themes, arising from her travels: Native American art from trips through the Southwest, cracked Greek pots viewed on a trip to the Met, portraits of geishas after visiting Japan. “I want to become a link in that long chain of human activity, the patterning on any surface available,” she said. 

Large Sylvia Seventy Paper Basket
Bound Vessel IX by Sylvia Seventy, 1983. Photo by Tom Grotta

Also in the 70s, Sylvia Seventy, inspired in part by her studies of the art of the Pomo Indians, was exploring her own innovative techniques in paper making.  In 1982, The New York Times said of her works, “The vessel forms of Sylvia Seventy, all produced over molds, are rich, earthy bowl shapes, with embedded bamboo, cotton cord and sisal.  From a distance they appear to be hard, perhaps stoneware; on closer inspection, they are fragile works.”  Her vessels feature an accretion of items: compositions of beads, feathers, fishhooks, googly eyes, hand prints, and buttons, creating what Charles Tally called “emotionally poignant landscapes within the interior of the vessel[s].” (Artweek, November 29, 1990). 

Deborah Valoma, author, art historian and creator of both textile and sculpture, heads the Textiles Program at the California College of Arts and Crafts (Oakland).  Valoma credits numerous influencers for her work: “I first learned to knit in Jerusalem from a Polish refugee of the Holocaust.  I learned to stitch lace from my grandmother, descendant of Armenian survivors of the Turkish massacres.  I learned to twine basketry from one of the few living masters of Native American basketweaving in California. These dedicated women tenaciously pass the threads of survival forward.  When their memory fails, my hands remember.  My hands trace the breathless pause when I teeter on the sharp edge of sorrow and beauty.”  Using hand-construction techniques and cutting-edge digital weaving technology, her work hugs the edges of traditional practice.  She upholds traditional customs and at the same time, unravels long-held stereotypes.  Valoma believes that students must locate themselves within historical lineages in order to understand the historical terrain they walk — and sometimes trip — through daily. 

Detail of Sigmund Freud Quote woven by Deborah Valoma
Detail of Femininity by Deborah Valoma, 2008
Grouping Marion Hildebrandt baskets
Baskets by Marion Hildebrandt, 2002-2003. Photo by Tom Grotta

Marion Hildebrandt lived and worked in Napa Valley, gathering most of the plant material used in her baskets from the region until her death in 2011.  “My works are a coming together of my life experiences,” Hildebrandt said.  “My basketmaking reflects a longtime interest and study of native California flora and fauna.”  Hildebrandt employed the same materials that Native Americans used when they inhabited the area.  “It is still possible to find plants here that were used by basketmakers 4000 years ago,” she noted. Although she never attempted to replicate their baskets, she shared a similar appreciation for the natural materials that surrounded her.  “Ever so subtly, plants cycle from winter to summer,” she observed. “Each day, week, month brings changes that effect the materials that I collect and use for my baskets.”

Detail of Judy Mulford Sculpture
Detail of Plan Your Parenthood-Population by Judy Mulford, 2009. Photo by Tom Grotta

Further down the California coast, Judy Mulford continues to create her narrative sculptures and baskets of gourds.  Mulford studied Micronesian fiber arts and in the 70s was one of a group of women who worked on Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party.  She says each piece she creates “becomes a container of conscious and unconscious thoughts and feelings: a nest, a womb, a secret, surprise or a giggle.  And always, a feeling of being in touch with my female ancestral beginnings.”  Her sculptures integrate photo images, drawings, script, buttons and small figures.  Mulford explains: “The gourds are surrounded by knotless netting – an ancient looping technique – symbolic because it is also a buttonhole stitch historically rooted in the home.”

Angled Blue, 1989 and Markings and Blues, 2018 by Adela Akers. Photo by Tom Grotta

In the 1970s, Adela Akers on the East Coast teaching at Temple University, but she has been creating art as a resident of Califonia for the last 25 years. Drawing inspiration from African and South American textiles, Akers creates woven compositions of simple geometric shapes, bands, zigzags and checks.  Many of her works incorporate metal strips —  meticulously measured and cut from recycled California wine bottle caps.  Her techniques and materials produce images that change under different lighting conditions.  Akers also frequently incorporates horsehair into her weavings, adding texture and dimensionality.  Over time, Akers’ work has evolved in scale, material and construction. Yet, several themes reoccur, notably the use of line which, in conjunction with light, brings forth the transformative quality that uniquely characterizes her work.

From May 11th to June 7th, view an assortment of works by these artists at California Dreamin’ on Artsy



Our Spring Exhibition at browngrotta arts moves to September

New Date: September 12 to 20, 2020: Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber for Three Decades

Catalog cover for upcoming catalog: Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber for Three Decades
Catalog cover for upcoming catalog: Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber for Three Decades

Optimistic as we are about June — when we’d tentatively rescheduled our Spring exhibition — as being the time when we’ll have passed the illness apex and be able to go out and about once more, we’ve decided a new date in September makes more sense. We’re afraid that masks and gloves and disinfectant will still be de rigeur in June and they will impact viewers experience of the art. Air travel restrictions may still be be in place, which means fewer artists in attendance and and fewer out-of-town visitors.

Lija Rage, Dail Behennah, Gyöngy Laky, Blair Tate, Annette Bellamy
Lija Rage, Dail Behennah, Gyöngy Laky, Blair Tate, Annette Bellamy

An exciting exhibition: Both impacts would be unfair as Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber for Three Decades has shaped up to be an exciting show. It features significant works by Lia Cook, Gyöngy Laky, Aleksandra Stoyanov and Grethe Sørenson. Works by well-known but new-to-the-gallery artist, James Bassler, are included in addition to striking installations by Annette Bellamy and Agneta Hobin and new approaches by Tim Johnson, Kari Lønning, Carolina Yrarrazával and Dail Behennah. Strong works by Chiyoko Tanaka, Neha Puri Dhir and Adela Akers are among other offerings from the more than 60 artists participating.

Fiber Optic installation by Włodzimierz Cygan, Traps,  2019
Fiber Optic installation by Włodzimierz Cygan, Traps, 2019

So, in 2020, our Spring show will become a Fall show. The Artist Reception and Opening will be onSaturday, September 12th. We’ll welcome you all then with whatever precautions are appropriate.

In the meantime, online: As a run up to September, we’ll be presenting a series of online exhibitions on Artsy highlighting artists and catalogs from our archives:

May 11th: Catalog Look back: California Dreaming Vols. 26, 20, 6 and more

June 8th: Catalog Look back: Cross Currents – Arts Influenced by Rivers and the Sea Vols. 38, 35 and more

July 13th: Catalog Look back: Fan Favorites — Sekimachi, Sekijima, Laky and Merkel-Hess,Vols. 24, 19, 2, 3, 8, 5, 15, 16, 19 and more

August 10th: Catalog Look back: Cataloging the Canon – Tawney, Stein, Cook, Hicks and So Monographs: 1-3; Focus: 1, Vols. 13, 28

Until then, we’ll keep posting content on arttextstyle and our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages.

Stay safe and well! We’ll see you in in person in September and online between now and then.