23 May 2017

Henri Matisse, textile collector

Matisse in front of window screen, source: http://www.mfa.org/exhibitions/matisse-in-the-studio.

Over the week-end DH, son and I viewed Matisse in the Studio at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, on view from 9 April 2017 until 9 July 2017. The exhibit pairs actual objects collected by Matisse - vases, African sculpture, small tables, etc. - with paintings and other works featuring, or inspired by, the objects.  Images from the exhibit can be seen in reviews in the Wall Street Journal and the Boston Globe.  For me the highlight was the North African window screens Matisse acquired during his trips to Morocco and which informed his work.

Window screen, maker unknown, North Africa, 19th - early 20th c.

This type of North African textile is called a haiti; these luxury products were made by professional male needleworkers for wealthy clients.   Layered cloth is cut and edged; the geometric designs recall carved wood and stone window screens. Interestingly, the Indianapolis Museum of Art has a collection of these and other Moroccan textiles, purchased by Indiana native Admiral Albert P. Niblack when he was stationed in Gibraltar beginning in 1917.  The Niblack family later bequeathed thousands of Moroccan, European and Indonesian textiles to the museum.  

Fabric window screen, detail.

Fabric window screen, detail.

Another window screen  is paired with a painting of two women in a space which isn't so much a room as a cocoon of textiles.  The window screen in the painting is in the exhibit.  A note on the painting title - the term moorish is now viewed as part of the vocabulary of orientalism, or the Western world's patronizing, romanticized way of viewing the Maghreb region of North African and other non-Western cultures. 

The Moorish Screen, 1921.

Window screen, maker unknown, late 19th - early 20th c.

Window screen, detail.

Gallery view.

Finally, one of Matisse's great late still life paintings, Interior with Egyptian Canvas, created in 1948, hangs next to the tent hanging depicted in the still life.  I missed the 2005 exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum on Matisse and his textiles, so was happy to have this glimpse in Boston.

02 May 2017

Fleeced (in a good way) at Gore Place

Waiting to be sheared.

If, like me, you enjoyed the movie "Babe" you would probably like the annual Sheep-Shearing festival at historic Gore Place, the home of the 8th governor of Massachusetts, Christopher Gore (1758-1827), and his wife Rebecca, who was largely responsible for the design and planning of their mansion.

The well-attended festival featured vendors of art, fiber and food, costumed interpreters, music and dance performances, herding dog demonstrations and, of course, the shearing of the resident flock of merino sheep.  Although I currently have a yarn-buying moratorium, of the many yarn and roving vendors on site I was particularly taken with the offerings of Sonder yarns and River Valley Farm -  lovely textures and colors.  Both of these vendors plan to attend the upcoming 2017 Fiber Festival in western Massachusetts.


Carding and spinning demo.

Yarn and other items for sale.

Hooking a rug.

"Try before you buy" loom opportunity.

Alpacas - very soft.

But of course the main attraction is the shearing of the sheep - accomplished with manual, not electric, sheep shears.  Adult sheep are on one side of the holding area, with older lambs across the way. Hence, lots of bleating and baa-ing as ewes and lambs anxiously called to each other.

Foreground - ewes and rams; older lambs in the distance.

Skilled shearer at work.

Handling sheep and shears, in front of an audience.

Two lambs too young to be separated from Mom.

16 April 2017

Quilts by Sandy Gregg and Valerie Maser-Flanagan

Channeling Ernst Haeckel #2, detail.

The Newton Free Library hosts a monthly exhibit in the gallery, highlighting the work of local artist(s) or organizations such as the Newton Camera Club. The month of April brought Color, Line and Shape in Fiber, twenty-three works by local textile artists Sandy Gregg and Valerie Maser-Flanagan

Channeling Ernst Haeckel #2, Sandy Gregg.

You don't need to know that Ernst Haeckel, 19th-century zoologist, discovered many microscopic species to enjoy the movement and color of Sandy's homage. According to the hand-out at the gallery:

A retired college administrator, Sandy Gregg began making bed quilts and quilts for the wall in the 1970s.  At the beginning it was a hobby, but in retirement has turned into a full-time obsession.  Sandy uses a wide variety of surface design and other experimental techniques with paint, dye and non-traditional materials on cloth to create collage-like paintings that are quilted.

Riverbed, Valerie Maser-Flanagan.

Valerie Maser-Flanagan also finds inspiration in the natural world; lines of quilting echo the pieced seams in her composition, evoking ripples, currents and the sculpted edges carved by flowing water.  More about Valerie, again from the exhibit information:

Valerie began as a traditional quilt maker but became interested in creating original designs.  In 2009 she began her studies with Nancy Crow, a renowned artist.  This experience changed Valerie's approach to design.  Two important changes were to use hand dyed solid fabric instead of commercial prints and to focus on the lines created in the piecing process as integral to the design of the composition.

Riverbed, detail.

Cracks in the System, Sandy Gregg.

Sandy also quilts her objects heavily to make multi-layered works that seem to have accumulated and coalesced over time. Her designs often feature letters and numbers, and remind me of the strata of graffiti and handbills accreted on urban walls. 

Whispers of the Past #3, Sandy Gregg.

The contrast between the work of Sandy and Valerie strengthens the impact of each artist's oeuvre, and the exhibit is hence more interesting than a solo show.  The two quilters have known each other for some time:

Sandy and Valerie first met in a class taught by Nancy Crow at the Fuller Museum in 2009.  They use different methods to create art that is made out of fabric and is stitched.  Valerie freely cuts lines and shapes out of her hand-dyed fabric, composes on a design wall and then stitches the pieces to make improvisational compositions.  Sandy most often applies paint and dye to a whole piece of fabric which is treated like a painter's canvas.  Both artists are working in fiber and mix dyes and paints from primary colors as a painter might.  Their focus is on the principles of line and shape in their compositions.

Chrysalises #3, Valerie Maser-Flanagan.

Three Figures, Valerie Maser-Flanagan.

Channeling Ernst Haeckel #3, Sandy Gregg.

Channeling Ernst Haeckel #3, detail.

29 March 2017

Focus on the quilts of Carol Anne Grotrian

Carol Anne Grotrian, Acadia Morning, 1999, detail.

On a recent rainy Saturday I travelled to the New England Quilt Museum to hear a lecture, Gothic to Goth: Romantic Era Fashion and Its Legacy, given by independent scholar and curator Lynne Zacek Bassett. This well-attended and excellent talk drew from an exhibit Ms. Bassett developed for the Wadsworth Athenaeum in 2016. The exhibit was quite popular, and the accompanying catalog appears to be something of a collector's item. 

New England Quilt Museum.

While waiting for the lecture to begin, I took in The Quilted Canvas: The Crit Group - 30 Years and Still Quilting, an exhibit featuring several fiber artists, most of whom are in my quilt guild.  The show provided a sort of retrospective of one group member in particular, Carol Anne Grotrian, an artist with whom I have studied and whose work I admire very much.

Lacrimosa Gloriae, 1988.

Ms. Grotrian, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been dyeing her own fabrics for some time; the quilt above, pieced from hand-dyed material, interprets two musical passages from Mozart's Requiem.  She successfully manipulates color values to represent light and shadow and the radiating lines of hand-quilting reinforce the illusion of depth and distance.

Truro, 1991.

One of the surface design techniques, or methods for creating pattern and imagery on fabrics, which Ms. Grotrian has explored is shibori.  In this traditional Japanese craft, cloth is deliberately tied or stitched, and subsequently dyed; the manipulated areas resist the dye, resulting in interesting patterns when the stitching is removed.

Truro, detail.

The art quilt Truro, now on a private collection, was one of Ms. Grotrian's first landscape quilts.  The "aha" moment leading to this work occurred when the husband of a Crit Group member suggested that Ms. Grotrian not cut her shibori fabrics into small pieces but utilize larger segments in a more painterly way.

Rachel Carson Pond, 2003.

Hence, her later quilts feature more applique and whole cloth techniques, rather than geometric piecing. She also began creating potato dextrin resist-printed fabrics, obtaining a crackle design so suggestive of a pebbly New England salt water pond beach.

Rachel Carson Pond, detail.

Some of works, including the two quilts below, feature cloth colored solely using indigo dye, with linear and curved shibori patterns carefully cut and placed to capture the movement of surging waves and water spray.

Time is as Weak as Water, 2005.

In Four of the Five Seasons, each panel features the Japanese character for one of the four seasons also recognized in the West; in Japan the New Year is considered a season too.  Here the movement of the shibori patterns and imagery is reinforced with bold hand-stitching.

Four of the Five Seasons, 2008.

Four of the Five Seasons, detail.

When Ms. Grotrian was teaching in Vancouver, Washington, her visit to a local waterfall inspired a tall, narrow quilt featuring hand-dyed fabrics and raw-edge applique.

Latourell Falls, 2013.

Ms. Grotrian also used raw-edge applique in her evocation of the Jones River, in Gloucester, Massachusetts. In raw-edge applique, the cut edges of the fabric are not hemmed.  The natural tendency of the fabric is to fray slightly, thus revealing a bit of other fabrics below or adjacent. This blurring of boundaries can be very effective in landscape quilts, echoing the sometimes ambiguous delineations between water and sand, rock and shadow, object and reflection.

Incoming Tide, Jones River, 2014.

Incoming Tide, Jones River, detail.

12 February 2017

A rare and unusual fiber - yarn from my cat

Scarf in farrow rib pattern, cat and merino-blend yarn. 

Although not a hoarder, I have an aversion to throwing anything away if I think there might a use for that item or material down the road.  And, sometimes, I save things for no good reason at all.  A rational impulse to keep items out of landfills, combined with an irrational attachment, led my husband and me to save the clumps of incredibly soft fur generated from our nightly cat grooming sessions.  Our beloved cat, a 15-year-old Birman-breed male named Boffey, loves to be brushed, and, according to one veterinarian, he does have a beautiful coat.  So, without knowing exactly why, or what on earth we were going to do with it, we saved his fur for about ten years.

Boffey, with ten years worth of combing sessions.

Cue the internet, specifically the makers' site Etsy, where enterprising folks seemed to whip up things from just about any material you can imagine. Including cat hair.

I found ninelivestwine, the site of Pittsburgh fiber artist Theresa Furrer (how appropriate).  A textile polymath, Ms. Furrer processes animal fibers and spins the result into yarn.  I mailed the box of cat hair to her - 27 ounces of fiber - and Ms. Furrer very patiently explained the procedure, with cost estimates, for ordering yarn.  Because we hadn't stored the fur correctly - do not put into plastic bags - she had to "declump" it before spinning.

Two balls of Boffey yarn, ready to knit.

The cat fiber was blended with merino and the result is a lovely sport weight yarn which closely resembles a wool/angora blend.  The yarn I received, a few months after mailing the fiber, was beautifully packaged, labelled and needle-ready. Couldn't have been better!

Boffey, helping with home-made wedding floral arrangements, in 2014.    

Farrow rib scarf:

Cast on 45 stitches. (Or any multiple of 4, plus one more stitch.)

Row 1: [knit 3, purl 1] knit 1

Repeat this row until scarf measures desired length - generally somewhere between 60" and 70".

Bind off loosely in pattern.

For the cat yarn, I used size 6 US needles. Makes a scarf about 7" wide.

27 December 2016

Happy Birthday, Tammis Keefe

Handkerchief designed by Keefe, produced by Kimball Co., 1950's.

Artist Tammis Keefe was born on this day in 1913.  Ms. Keefe designed everything from handkerchiefs and scarves to men's sportswear. Learn more about her at http://www.tammiskeefe.com/index.html 
Ms. Keefe died in 1960.

09 December 2016

Alma Thomas at the Studio Museum Harlem

Mars Dust, 1972.

The 2015 inaugural exhibit at the new Whitney Museum featured one work painted by Alma Thomas (1891 - 1978), Mars Dust, above.  I asked the cosmos "Why haven't I heard about this woman before?" and the cosmos responded with an exhibit at The Studio Museum in Harlem, on view from July 14, 2016 through October 30, 2016.  "Alma Thomas" was organized by Skidmore College's Tang Teaching Museum, and featured 16 paintings, as well as 27 studies and other works on paper.

Works on paper.

Ms. Thomas taught art at a junior high school until retiring at age 69.  Her mature style developed when the end of her teaching career allowed Ms. Thomas to focus solely on her art.  Early works included figurative imagery, such as the Study for the March on Washington, below, but she soon shifted to abstract works exploring color. One review included a quote from Ms. Thomas, "color for me is life".

Study for March on Washington, c. 1964.

One gallery of the overall exhibit features several canvasses inspired by the gardenStrokes of  color - almost like the bigger sisters of pointillistic dots - are arrayed in rainbow-hued columns.  The dashes of color are carefully placed so that the white interstitial space develops a line of its own, and close scrutiny reveals that sometimes the colors are over-painted with white for further delineation and a layering effect.

Breeze Rustling Through Fall Flowers, 1968; right, detail.

Wind, Sunshine and Flowers, 1968.

Wind, Sunshine and Flowers, detail.

Ms. Thomas used a subtle color palette in her later work, "Cherry Blossom Symphony". The painting's large, pinkish paint strokes dance in complementary counterpoint with the small blue-green dashes; even without the narrative title, this work distills the essence of the spring season and flowering trees.

Cherry Blossom Symphony, 1973.

Cherry Blossom Symphony, detail.

Exhibit overview.

Arboretum Presents White Dogwood, 1972.

Ms. Thomas worked with an even more restrained color palette in the painting above, in which white is now the top color, overlaying a blue ground.  Three columns feature larger areas of blue, forming accents among the white strokes and cobalt dashes, jazzing up the rhythm of the vertical elements.

Arboretum Presents White Dogwood, detail.

Hydrangeas Spring Song, 1976.

Sometimes the brushstrokes of paint enjoy liberation from their vertical arrays, as in Hydrangeas Spring Song, above.

Hydrangeas Spring Song, 1976, detail with signature.

Enjoying the paintings.

Three paintings in the last gallery proved that this small exhibit punched above its weight.  In Red Scarlet Sage, below, Ms. Thomas tiled the plane using crimson "shards" of color, with  pea green "grout" between the shards. The image just vibrates as the complementary hues of red and green interact.

Red Scarlet Sage, 1976

Red Scarlet Sage, detail.

White Roses Sing and Sing, 1976.

The work White Roses Sing and Sing, above, features a color palette in less tension; nevertheless, yellow accents ensure a dynamic image.

White Roses Sing and Sing, detail.

Scarlet Sage Dancing a Whirling Dervish, 1976.

As noted in a review in the New York Times, this small exhibit - fewer than 20 canvasses - makes one yearn for the full-scale, comprehensive show which Ms. Thomas deserves. More work can been seen in the catalog, ISBN-10 3791355716, which was not yet available at the time of my visit, so I can't comment on the essays.  The  Metropolitan Museum of Art also has "Red Roses Sonata", from 1972, on view in Gallery 923.

Finally, after enjoying the exhibit, we had lunch at the nearby Red Rooster Harlem restaurant. Try the deviled eggs and cornbread.