December 8 – February 19, 2007
Coos Art Museum
Coos Bay, OR 97420
Reviewed by Terry Grant
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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: