Thursday, April 4, 2013

FIBER... FOOD FOR THE SOUL - Fiber Art Master Pieces


Fiber Art Master Pieces

Lately the media have been filled with the latest nutritional discoveries… Wheat, not so good.  Fat, not so bad.  And fiber, a “must” for a healthy body.

Well, what about fiber for the soul?  And, no I don’t mean soul food, though many of your know how I love to write about food.

Back story: A few years ago our ‘hood changed drastically when dear friends moved to Ojai. But as the saying goes, one door closes, another opens.  And for my husband and me, the door to Ojai opened us up to a new and charming ‘hood – one that we visit frequently.

So what does that have to do with fiber? 

Well, it was on a visit to Ojai this past weekend that I discovered fiber “food” for the soul: Exciting textural, colorful fibers knitted, crocheted, appliquéd, quilted and sewn into works of art by such artists as Leslie Rinchen Wongmo, John Nava, Linda Taylor, Susie Swan and Kyle Crowner in an exhibit at the Ojai Valley Museum.

The museum, housed in a former Catholic church, is a charming mission-style structure...

... with sculptural art displayed right there in its front yard, my favorite piece being a limestone fence post from Kansas which has been transformed into a sleek sculpture by artist, Fred Whitman.

Before we entered the museum, we were treated to a new twist on graffiti or street art.  In the wee hours of the morning, the entrance to the building had been anonymously fiber “bombed” with whimsical yarn hangings and wrappings by Ojai night owls… the perfect introduction to the Fiber Art Master Pieces Exhibit inside.

Once inside, the first thing you see is an exquisite appliqué quilt which anyone could own by the mere purchase of a raffle ticket and the luck of the draw. I decided to go for it. The quilt was sewn by a group of Ojai women who love quilting and enjoy putting their talents into raising money for charity. A 21st century take on the time-honored “quilting bee.”

In the alcove leading into the exhibit in the rotating gallery is a separate art display by Valerie Freeman titled, “Beatrice Wood, Duchamp & Chess.” 

This conceptual art chess installation made of raku (a type of Japanese pottery) and luster is an homage to renowned American artist, Beatrice Wood. Wood, along with lover and life-long friend, world-famous artist Marcel Duchamp, was involved in the ground-breaking Dada art movement in New York City in the early decades of the 20th century and was dubbed “Mama of Dada.”  The sensual scarlet and gold sari displayed in the fiber art exhibit once belonged to Wood.

Purportedly a partial inspiration for the character of “Rose” in James Cameron’s, “Titantic,” Wood passed away in Ojai shortly after her 105th birthday.

As you enter the rotating gallery you pass quilt hangings: “Sisters” by Susie Swan...

 and “Spirals” a 12”x12” raw-edge, reverse appliqué, then machine quilted piece by Kyle Crowner...

 followed by Ruth Marks’ colorful pancho and tunic and Lise Solvang’s knit dresses. 

On the opposite wall hung an intricately made sweater created by Fran Bulwa.

But, it’s Crowner’s faux chenille jacket that really dazzled me. The faux chenille technique involves layering fabrics (in this case 5 layers), sewing rows of stitching on the diagonal, then slitting between the rows of all but the bottom layer. When the garment is washed, the cut edges soften and blur. The jacket’s design, texture, and layers of subtle colors make it a work of wearable sculpture – not only aesthetically beautiful, but completely functional. I just wanted to slip my arms into the sleeves of this fiber sculpture and have it embrace me.

As I walked around the gallery room...

 I was treated to a patchwork of fiber design styles and techniques that included rich, vibrant crazy quilts from the 1800’s...

 “Still For A Moment” a still life by Carolyn Ryan using a quilting and fusing technique for texture...

and a vignette of dolls:  Eaton-Thacher “Toad,” “Native American Girl” by Swan, and “Sonny & Chair” by Bulwa.

Dominating the back wall was “R.E.” a huge tapestry of a woman’s face by John Nava that reminded me of the Vermeer painting, “Girl With The Pearl Earring.”  Nava, known as a figurative painter in the realistic tradition, has “translated” his portraits into jacquard tapestries. The effect is stunning.

He starts by creating a painting of his chosen image. When the painting is ready, he scans the image into a computer. He then configures the digital image for a special loom in Bruges, Belgium. The limited color palette of the loom and various textural considerations require special attention at this stage. When the specialized digital file for the loom is finished being prepared, Nava uploads the file via the internet to Belgium. A tapestry arrives several weeks later. Among Nava’s work are tapestries he created for the Cathedral of Our Lady of The Angels in downtown Los Angeles.

Another remarkable wall hanging was “Holy Thangkas” by Leslie Rinchen Wongmo.  Wongmo is one of only a few westerners trained in this rare intricate Buddhist art of silk appliqué thangkas, a technique that can be traced back to the 13th century. The effect is a lush, multi-dimensional, beautiful piece of art.

Among other fiber artworks was “Answered Prayer” a pictorial quilt by Susie Swan...

 and “Sashiko Sample” (sashiko is a form of Japanese decorative reinforcement stitching) by Lynne Wood.

And then there was the red gown by Linda Taylor made from layers of paper with recognizable sayings and pictures of the Mona Lisa and other iconic women in art incorporated onto the paper. This diaphanous, romantic dress shimmers in the light, itself so light and ethereal it could only be worn by a princess in a fairytale.


More examples of fiber art in this wonderful exhibit:

So, if you’re up for a change in the ‘hood, head for picturesque Ojai, feed your body in one of the many lovely restaurants and bistros, then feed your soul at the Fiber Art Master Pieces Exhibit at the Ojai Valley Museum.

Ojai Valley Museum
130 West Ojai Avenue
Ojai, Calif.  93023
805-640-1390 x 203

Open to the public: Tues – Fri., 10:00am – 4:00pm
January 19 through March 31, 2013
$5.00 for Non-Members at the door

 (This review originally appeared in the online newspaper, Studio City Patch - March 13, 2013)

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