This past fall, I finally tuned in to something that I should have tuned in to years ago - the wonderful collaborative efforts of over 20 private and public institutions and galleries in their presentation of the biennial "Innovations in Textiles." This was our city's ninth year to shine in its presentation of fiber arts.
The citywide presentation featured bus tours of the exhibits, lectures and workshops, and featured Marci Rae McDade, editor of Fiber Arts Magazine, a thirty-five-year-old leading arts magazine, as the keynote speaker at The St.Louis Art Museum. The venues crossed both rivers from The Foundry in St.Charles to The Edwardsville Art Center and included such exhibition spaces as Craft Alliance, Chesterfield Arts, The Regional Arts Commission, The Missouri History Museum, and the gallery at The University City Public Library.
Fiber artists face the same dilemma of all artists; determining "what is art?" How do we differentiate between granny's quilts and doilies and fine art? I asked Zoe Perkins,textile conservator at The St.Louis Art Museum to define fiber arts and she said "Fiber art is hard to fit into a nutshell because it includes so many textile techniques and materials that can be referenced. Thus it can be described broadly as works of art made with fiber materials such as textiles and thread, and/or fiber techniques such as basketry, embroidery and other surface design, quilting, dyeing, weaving, felting, etc. We often include work made with non-fiber materials and fiber techniques, such as woven metal, knitted glass, or stitched stone. Being non-functional seems to be a prerequisite for the fiber art category to set it apart from functional textiles. Art to wear, soft sculpture, mixed media, and fiber performance art are other harder-to-define sectors of the field considered very much part of the fiber arts purview.”
"Innovations in Textiles" hit upon everything in the above definitions and even the titles of the exhibitions were intriguing. Take for example The Sheldon Art Gallery's exhibit, "The Ties that Bind: Art Quilts by Members of the Fiber Artists Coalition". The Fiber Arts Coalition is a group of Midwest fiber artists who formed a coalition to promote and show their works in exhibitions. Olivia Lahs-Gonzales ,the gallery director, curated the show which included 27 works of various sizes and fiber media that muse on personal and social issues and the ever shifting formal qualities of nature.
"Woven in Time" was another interesting title for the exhibition at the Missouri History Museum which commemorated the 85th anniversary of The Weavers Guild of Greater St.Louis which was founded in 1926 by a group of students at Washington University. The exhibit celebrated the Guild's involvement in the modern revival of the fiber arts movement in the United States and showcased locally and nationally recognized artists working with a variety of materials.
The St.Louis Artists Guild which is now in its 125th year featured an exhibition entitled "Quilted Equations" by Dawn Ottensmeier and "Convergence: New Works by Carlie Trosclair". "Quilted Equations" was a solo exhibition by Ottensmeier which featured textile constructions reflecting on memory,time, and the agricultural landscape of her childhood. and "Convergence" consisted of a series of emensive fabric based installations that explore the ways the physical body experiences and interacts with space.
The curators statement for "Reaping and Sewing" at The Jacoby Art Center in Alton, Illinois said, "Originally connected by a teacher/mentor/student bond, we six artists, friends and colleagues all accepted the challenge of creating a new body of work out of the shared materials from each other's studios. Akin to sowing seeds of inspiration, the collaboration has deepened our bond as we reap the benefits of the visual vocabulary of items we traded with one another and integrated into our own works. This collective conversation has taken us out of our comfort zones to expand how we work conceptually, materially and how we think about our work.
Barbara Simon, a well known artist, curated an exhibition at Framations Custom Framing and Art Gallery in St. Charles. Simon says, "I got interested in fiber art when I took a weaving class. I got very involved in it and have taught weaving for 20 years."Her work has been exhibited nationally and is in several private collections. She said,""For years I made one-of-a-kind clothing, now I make textile and paper collages that I exhibit. I don't weave anymore, I got tired of the set up grid of the loom." Simon says she likes that fiber art has a long history but still moves forward.
Once again St Louis regional artists and arts institutions have shown that the arts are really alive and that collaboration is the name of the game. We don't need to wait another year and a half to enjoy the richness of fiber arts and textiles. They are being exhibited in one venue or another regularly.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Arts Aficionado Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for some thirty years. She serves on numerous arts affiliated boards, including The St. Louis Art Museum, Laumeier Sculpture Park where she is the Co-Chair, The Sheldon Arts Foundation and the Sheldon Art Gallery Board, Jazz at the Bistro, The Missouri Mansion Preservation Inc., The Mid American Arts Alliance, and the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. Nancy was named Women of Achievement and was awarded the Distinguished Alumnae Award at Washington University Nancy is a docent at the St. Louis Art Museum and is an honorary docent at Laumeier Sculpture Park. At age 60 she became a Jazz singer. She performs with the Second Half which features Chancellor Tom George on the piano.