Speaking in Cloth: 6 Quilters, 6 Voices

December 8 – February 19, 2007

Coos Art Museum
Coos Bay, OR 97420
(541) 267-3901
http://www.coosart.org/

Reviewed by Terry Grant
terry.grant@comcast.net

This exhibit by 6 Northwest Quilters was organized by Jeannette DeNicolis Meyer and Ann Johnston and was planned as a conversation between six artists, representing six quite different points of view. The work in the exhibit, about 48 pieces total, as well as in the accompanying book/catalog, is presented with statements from the artists about the topics of language, theme, voice, process, challenge and message. These themes were clearly serious points around which work was made and organized and they lend coherence to the exhibit. Quotes from the book for each of the topics are printed poster size and lead the viewer through the galleries and work. The artists and work were chosen for their diversity, yet the show remains focused and cohesive largely because of the use of these talking points.

Coos Bay seems an unlikely location as a cultural center, but the Coos Art Museum is the 3rd oldest in the state and presents consistently good and popular shows. Opening along with “Speaking in Cloth” were “Fine Focus” and an exhibit of pioneer quilts, in separate galleries in the Museum. The facilities are spacious and well-lighted and the exhibits beautifully hung. The museum has given pieces ample space, excellent signage and sensitivity to flow and compatibility of adjacent works. The view from the front lobby of the museum is through a large doorway into the main gallery. Several of the pieces contain elements in a sunny yellow that exudes a warm glow, pulling you irresistibly into the exhibit.

Nancy Erickson’s work is the most familiar to me. There are several pieces from her bear series, some of which is more than ten years old and quite familiar, if not overexposed, at this point. The most interesting is her newer pieces—two human figures, slightly larger than life-sized. These are painted velvet with appliqués and graffiti-like painted figures and symbols reminiscent of petroglyphs and cave paintings. Sophia’s Fire, a piece finished in the figure’s shape, with its separate fire, is particularly compelling, as Sophia engages the viewer with her mismatched eyes. (Note: this image was taken from Erickson’s web site. In Coos Bay, the figure and fire are displayed against a white wall.)

EricksonSophiesFire

Nancy Erickson, Sophie’s Fire

Ann Johnston, who is well-known for her practical and user-friendly books on dyeing, shows exciting new work that exhibits her mastery of fabric design and an ease and fearlessness in combining disparate elements into elegant and expressive statements that are at once mysterious and familiar. There is a lot of fabric painting and dyeing being done in the art quilt world. None of it is like Ann Johnston’s. Johnston’s fabrics are richly patterned with complex color and a sense of spontaneity and ease. Nothing seems forced or worked. Her work is abstract in the purest sense, without trickery or coy allusion.

AnnJohnstonBaselineAnn Johnston, Baseline

Baseline, a particularly satisfying piece, combines branching organic shapes, along with industrial-feeling grid pattern, echoed in the stitching, punctuated with bold calligraphic lines that suggest a kind of noise or a disturbance in the atmosphere that interrupts the baseline.

Jeannette DeNicolas Meyer’s most successful works, such as Contrapuntal, are characterized by beautiful color and graceful curving strands that intertwine and seem to dance across the surface. Taken by themselves these pieces are pleasing and harmonious.

MeyerContropuntal
Jeannette deNicolas Meyer, Contrapuntal

In the context of the exhibit they suffer a bit of blandness in contrast to the more dramatic work of the other artists. One piece, in particular, Flight Plan, which is interesting in the catalog, seemed to fade into the wall in the exhibit.

Quinn Zander Corum’s work is strikingly original and feels quite personal and vulnerable. Plotting the Past appears, from across the room, to be an intriguing grid pattern of round shapes. As you approach the piece the small differences in the shapes and the play of color across the piece continue to draw you closer. Close inspection reveals elegant stitching and tiny bits of beads and embroidery that make each individual section a small, beautiful composition.

CorumPlotting

Quinn Zander Corum, Plotting the Past

Trisha Hassler is another artist whose work I have watched for a number of years. She combines torch-cut, rusted metal with quilted fabric, which is rather hard to imagine, but very effective when seen. Her earlier work seemed more to be quilterly pieces, framed in metal. The new work integrates the metal and the fabric in subtle and beautiful interplay between the two. The rusted metal appears to mimic fabric patterning, while the manipulated fabrics show rust patterns and metallic sheen that speaks directly to the metal. An added pleasure of Hassler’s pieces is her intricate and beautifully executed means of connecting the parts and layers with stitching and wire and metal connectors

HasslerFinally

Trish Hassler, Finally

Cynthia Corbin’s work is the largest, and in some ways, the most effective of all the work exhibited. The piece below is 77” x 54” and most of her pieces are in that range. Its size is definitely a factor in its impact, but the use of beautiful fabrics, painting and the distinctive stitching give it an other-worldly quality. Corbin has two distinctive groups of work represented. One group is simple pieced patches of dyed and printed fabrics, including many shibori patterns, that suggest windows and human figures very abstractly. The others are large pieces that were painted after the quilting was done to emphasize the texture of the stitching. Adds Up combines elements of both. In all of her quilts the simple close quilting adds an element that both unifies and adds another visual layer to the richly layered surface.

CorbinAddsUp

Cynthia Corbin, Adds Up

The show, as a whole, is textured and diverse and ultimately tells a story of the 6 voices in an engaging way. I saw the show the night of the opening, then returned the following day and spent nearly as much time at the second viewing, seeing things that I had not seen the night before. The Coos Art Museum’s spacious galleries give you room to view work from a distance, as well as close up. Each artist has about 8 pieces in the show, so it requires time to absorb. The smallest pieces are Tricia Hassler’s that measure in the ranges from 16” to 40”. The largest are Cynthia Corbin’s. All the other work falls somewhere between, making it a show of nicely substantial work

After seeing the show I found the book mildly disappointing from a technical point of view because the color reproduction falls short. However the text is very illuminating and adds to one’s enjoyment and understanding of the work. I was also perversely disappointed to find that my favorite pieces, in most cases, are not included in the book.

An abbreviated version of the show (the pieces that are in the book) will travel to New Zealand when it leaves Coos Bay and will be seen at the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum, Golden, Colorado in December, 2008. It is currently being proposed for additional venues as well. The catalog may be purchased from the web sites of any of the 6 artists:

www.cynthiacorbin.com
www.quinnzandercorum.com
www.nancyerickson.com
www.trishahassler.com
www.annjohnston.net
www.jdmeyer.com
Ann Johnston is handling volume sales.

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3 Responses to Speaking in Cloth: 6 Quilters, 6 Voices

  1. Olga Norris says:

    This review excited my interest, but then frustrated that interest by not discussing the very purpose of the exhibition: the dialogue between the artists. This exhibition sounds as if arises from a much deeper purpose than most art quilt shows which aim to do just that: show. The diversity of language in art quilts, the reason why the artists have chosen this medium for their expressions, are aspects which are too often skimmed over. Shame when the participants in and organisers of this exhibition have gone to such trouble to address these very questions that the review stops at description.

  2. terry grant says:

    Olga is quite right that I did not discuss the organizing topics and discussion of these in my review. I realized as I was writing that this was the area I was avoiding. The topics of language, theme, voice, process, challenge and message were presented to each artist to respond to. Their responses (written) comprise the book. These responses are illustrated by one of their pieces, either from their previous body of work, or a new piece for each topic. The connections are philosophical, not literal. If you have the book, the topics and responses are the narrative that takes you through the book and the work. (And I recommend the book. It is interesting reading) In viewing the show, the topics are used to organize the show and quotes from the book separate the show into sections, however I did not find that I viewed the work in particular connection to the quotes or even as separate, discreet “topics”. Truly, I found the written responses much more illuminating as regards the topic, than I did the work itself, which sounds like a criticism of the work, which is not at all the case. In most cases I saw the work transcending verbal or written topics and I chose to view it that way, rather than bog myself down in pedantic analysis of connections and interpretations. When I tried to make those connections in retrospect I found I failed utterly and felt my attempts demeaned the art, so I abandoned that approach. My failing.

  3. terry grant says:

    Jeannette Meyer just emailed me to let me know that the book is actually available from any of the artists. She and Ann Johnston have secure online-ordering set up on their web sites. You can contact the artists at:

    http://www.cynthiacorbin.com
    http://www.quinnzandercorum.com
    http://www.nancyerickson.com
    http://www.trishahassler.com
    http://www.annjohnston.net
    http://www.jdmeyer.com

    Jeannette Meyer’s web site: http://www.jdmeyer.com/books.html
    Ann Johnston’s web site: http://www.annjohnston.net/

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