As a lifelong New Englander, I ought be used to snow. Snow is a fact of life here, an unwelcome guest every winter. When I was a child, snow was magic. When I was a young mother, snow was an occasion to send my child outside and delight in his reaction as he found many ways to play with it. But now, snow has become a hindrance to life, a hassle, a threat to health, especially when we just received 76 inches of the stuff with more on the way.

I just went outside to clear out my car (having no driveway, we park on the street) which was yet again hemmed in by the plows and covered with at least a foot of snow. Unlike in previous storms, removing the snow was almost impossible because of the height of the snow piles in the yard. I literally couldn’t throw the stuff high enough to keep it from sliding down again back onto the sidewalk. Fortunately, a neighbor with a snow blower came over and told me to push the snow down from the car onto the street and sidewalk. He then used the blower to throw it on top of the piles.

Snow-Piles-1-

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Across the street, other neighbors had snow piles up almost to the top of their porch.

 

View-from-Window

 

 

 

 

Snow-Piles-2

 

All of this snow got me thinking about the things we take for granted in everyday life. Most of the year, if we’re in good health and live in a developed country, we don’t have to think about our ability to move around in the world. We don’t have to plan in advance if we want to leave the house or make an every day excursion. If we live in a city, we don’t have to think about the ability to drive on the roads or take public transportation, assuming instead that the roads will be plowed in the winter, the potholes fixed in the summer, and the trains and buses will be running. Only when all public transportation is shut down, as it is today in Boston, or when the governor issues a driving ban do we realize that the freedom of movement we take for granted is not necessarily always there.

All of this snow, and the temporary inconveniences it has caused me, got me thinking about what it’s like to live in a war zone, where excursions outside have to be carefully timed and are often taken with a risk to one’s life. I recently watched a film, Zatoun, set in Beirut in 1982. In it, there were many scenes of people trying to go about their everyday lives despite rocket attacks and internecine fighting among the city’s militias. I also read a story from my local NPR station, A Blizzard in Perspective, about a young mother who works in the food service industry. Unlike many middle class people who can work from home, she has to go to work every day no matter what the weather, taking multiple buses in order to drop off her three-year old with her mother before setting off for her job. Then she has to repeat the process in reverse, sometimes not getting home until 1 a.m. Both this film and the news story made me realize how lucky I am, despite 76 inches of snow, to live in a warm house, have good neighbors and the resources to pay someone else to shovel if the snow gets too much, and a life that allows for many choices. So, I guess it was good that we got enough snow to slow life down and allow some time for reflection and perspective.

When I heard that Boston was going to get 2-3 feet of snow earlier this week, I decided to make lemonade from lemons by snow dyeing fabric, using some of that snow. The day before the storm, I prepared 9 colors of dye concentrate. I also scoured some fabric so it would be ready for snow dyeing.

The following tutorial goes through all the steps involved in snow dyeing, with illustrations of many of these steps.

1. Scour (wash) the fabric to remove any dirt or finishes. Do this in the washing machine. For 8 yards of fabric, I used 3 tablespoons of soda ash and a teaspoon of Synthrapol. I washed the fabric using a hot cycle. At the end of the cycle, I still had some suds in my fabric, perhaps because I used too much Synthrapol, so I did a second short, hot wash. I then hung the fabric over the shower rod to dry. (The fabric I used was Testfabrics 419, a closely woven cotton fabric.) You can use any plant-based fabric for the snow dyeing process.

2. Using Procion MX dyes, mix up 5% dye concentrates, wearing a face mask whenever you are working with dye powder. For each color, I added 10 grams of dye powder (about 2 teaspoons), plus 1/2 tablespoon granular urea, to 200 ml. of water (a little less than 1 cup). I mixed the concentrates in bottles with tight caps by shaking them thoroughly. If the dye powder didn’t fully dissolve after being well shaken, I stirred the dye concentrate with a chopstick to dissolve the last particles. The colors I chose for this dyeing session were black, dark brown, rust, gunmetal gray, scarlet, mixing red, lemon yellow, golden yellow, bright blue and navy. Several of these dyes were several years old, but I didn’t care if the colors were exact since I would be doing a lot of mixing of colors. The black, brown, gray and rust are all colors mixed by the dye house from different pure colors, so this meant that I would be likely to get a lot of color splits and new colors as the dyes migrated to the fabric at different speeds. To the extent possible, I put my dyes in squeeze bottles when applying them to fabric since it is much easier to apply a controlled amount of dye using a squeeze bottle than by pouring it from a wide-mouthed bottle.

Bottles-of-Dye

 

3. Soak the fabric in soda ash soak for 30 minutes. Soda ash soak is made by adding 9 tablespoons of soda ash to 1 gallon of warm water. Wear a face mask when measuring the soda ash. Shake thoroughly to dissolve the soda ash. After 30 minutes, wring out the excess soda ash into the soaking basin and return to the soda ash soak bottle. The fabric can be soda soaked ahead of time and dried over the shower rack (not in the dryer) or soaked right before dyeing. I elected to soak the fabric right before dyeing because I wanted to use it wet.

Fabric-Soaking-in-Soda-Ash

Fabric Soaking in Soda Ash Solution

 

4. While the fabric is soaking, prepare the dye vessels. I used dishpans with various racks to keep the fabric out of the dye. (Any pans or racks that are used to dye fabric cannot be returned to the kitchen.) Since I didn’t have enough racks, in one instance, I used a piece of old fiberglass screening which I attached to the sides of the dishpan with some small clamps. This was suspended above the bottom of the dishpan. I also decided to snow dye a shibori piece, so I wound the fabric around a pole and compressed it. I dyed this in a bucket. I had no idea how this would come out, but it was worth a try.

Pans-Set-Up-with-Racks

Various Containers with Racks and Makeshift Screen. There is also a pole for shibori snow dyeing.

 

5. Manipulate the fabric. I experimented with various manipulations, including crumpling into small folds, knotting, crumbling and twisting, folding lengthwise into loose pleats, and wrapping fabric around a pole.

6. Place the manipulated fabric on top of the rack or screen in each of the dishpans. You can dye more than one piece of fabric in a single dyeing container if you want.

Fabric-Knotted-and-Twisted

Fabric is Loosely Folded, Knotted and Twisted

 

Fabric-Arranged-on-Rack

Fabric is Scrumpled Up, Coiled and Crammed onto Rack

 

7. Fill the containers with snow. The snow from this storm was very light and fluffy, which was good since, when doing previous snow dyed experiments, I discovered that light and fluffy snow gave better patterning than wet or icy snow.

Tub-with-Fabric-and-Snow-but-No-Dye

Manipulated Fabric Covered with Snow

 

8. Squirt dye over the fabric and snow, using several colors of dye. If you’re lucky, the dyes will mix and form lots of secondary colors. This is especially likely is you work with mixed colors instead of pure colors, but both sets of colors will yield interesting results. You can also combine several pure colors ahead of time and use that mixed color as one of your dyes. Experiment with different patterns of pouring the dye over the snow.

 

Fabric-When-Dye-is-First-Poured-On

Dye Poured Over Snow. Several Colors Were Used

 

Fabric-When-Dye-is-First-Poured-On-2

Dye Poured Over Snow

 

9. Leave the dye containers in a cold place to allow the snow to melt slowly. I left mine on an enclosed, but unheated, back porch for 5 and a half hours. Since the temperature was going to drop significantly, I brought the dishpans into the house before going to bed since I was afraid the snow wouldn’t melt at all if I left the containers on the porch. Leave the containers for a total of 24 hours. The snow will continue to melt and form patterns as it does. Because you are dyeing at a very cold temperature, it will take much longer than normal for the dye molecules to bond to the fabric receptor sites. A 24-hour waiting period will enhance the amount of bonding that takes place.

Fabric-as-Snow-is-Melting

Dye Changing Appearance as it Melts

 

Fabric-as-Snow-is-Melting-2

Snow Melting and Dye Seeping into Fabric

 

10. When I brought the dishpans inside, I peeked at my fabric and noticed that there were a lot of places where the dye hadn’t penetrated. So I massaged some of the melting snow/dye mixture into the white parts of the fabric to encourage more dye pick up. I didn’t know how well this would work but it seemed worth a try. In previous snow dyeing sessions, I didn’t have to do this, so I wondered whether I had used too little dye. (In retrospect, when washing out my dye, I saw that I had indeed used plenty of dye. It took quite a few cold water soaks to get out the excess dye that had not bonded to the fabric.)

11. The most exciting part of this process is washing out the fabric and seeing what happened to it. I forced myself to wait 24 hours before doing the washout for the reasons just stated. After the waiting period is up, untie/or open up the fabrics and rinse in a bucket of cold water. Change the water several times to get out all the soda ash and much of the excess dye. For this batch of fabrics, I seemed to have a lot of excess dye despite not having been sure that I had used enough. I used several changes of cold water before the water seemed somewhat clear. I also kept the colors separate at this stage by using several washout buckets rather than soaking all the fabrics together in a single bucket. This is especially important if some of your fabrics are light colored. Keeping the fabrics separate prevents back staining in the light portions of the fabric.

12. After you’re satisfied that you’ve gotten out all the soda ash and much of the excess dye, soak the fabric in hot water with a little Synthrapol or Blue Dawn. Because I have a front loading washer, I always add boiling water to my hot water soaking buckets to get the final hot water temperature above 140 degrees. Let the fabric sit in the buckets for 30 minutes or so. This stops all the dyeing action and allows the unbonded dye particles to move into the water.

13. Dump the fabric and the soapy water into the washer and wash on the hottest cycle without adding additional soap. In this instance, because I still had some excess dye in the fabric, I washed the fabric for more than 50 minutes. I washed all the fabric together because most of the excess, unbonded dye had been poured away from the fabric, and back staining was unlikely.

14. Take the fabric out of the washer, admire it, and then dry it. It generally takes 15 minutes on medium heat to dry the fabric I use. Admire your fabrics some more once they are dried. Iron the fabrics to bring out the patterning which is harder to see when the fabrics are crumpled.

Below are my finished fabrics. The first two were dyed together, and they are variants of the same colors. (The actual colors are somewhat deeper and less pink than shown in the photos.)

The third photo shows the piece I wrapped around a pole and compressed. I did not use string on this piece, so the resisted lines are more subtle than when string is used.

The turquoise piece and the first red piece seemed boring to me, so I decided to over dye these. I resoaked the fabrics in soda ash soak, manipulated them again, put snow over the top and added additional colors of dye that I thought would work well with the original colors. These are still batching as I am writing this post.

The final piece is my favorite because of the complexity of the colors and the patterns obtained. In this  piece, I knotted the fabric loosely in several sections and, in others, tied off sections with rubber bands.

Whatever the end results, snow dyeing is fun and always unpredictable. I’ve found that snow dyed fabrics don’t play well with other dyed fabrics, unless used in small pieces, so I tend to use my snow dyed fabrics for whole-cloth quilts or for backings.

Second-Piece-Pink-Brown-Fabric

Pink-and-Brown-Fabric

Blue-Green-Fabric

Brown-and-Blue-Fabric

Red-Pink-Fabric

Red-and-Gold-and-Pink-Fabric

Purple-and-Red-Fabric

Well, the holidays and the opening of my solo show in Ormond Beach Florida in January got the best of me, and despite good intentions, I had no time to process photographs or write blog posts in December. I hope to make up for that in the coming weeks.

Before posting about my own show and some recent shows of other people’s work that I attended, I wanted to post some more photos from our European trip.

Here are a few from Trieste. The first is a neighborhood fish market and a view of a canal in the city center. The last three are from Trieste’s wonderful theater museum.

Neighborhood-Fish-Store

Fish Market in Trieste Neighbor. Open for only a few hours in the morning when the fish are fresh.

Trieste-Canal

Display-in-Theater-Museum

Poster-in-Theater-Museum

Puppet-in-Theater-Museum

 

From Trieste, we took a bus to Rovinj, Croatia, a beautiful seaside town on the Adriatic. It was a peaceful and relaxing place, partly because cars were not allowed in much of the city center. The narrow streets were a visual feast for the artistic eye, since texture and muted colors were everywhere. Below is a window and wall on the street where we stayed, in a charming airbnb.

Wall-and-Window-Rovinj

 

After Rovinj, we drove to Plitvice Lakes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. None of my photographs could capture the awe-inspiring majesty of this amazing place, so I’m not including them here. Check out the above link to see why this park is worth a visit.

Next it was onto Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. Below are a few of the many photographs I took there:

Outdoor-Market-Zagreb

Main food market in center of Zagreb

 

Partly-Reconstructed-Church-Zagreb

Partly restored cathedral. This is being restored over time as the city has money to do so.

 

Statues-Inside-Church-Zagreb

Statues inside cathedral

 

Two-of-Zagreb's-Beautiful-Women

Zagreb is said to have the most beautiful women in Europe. Here are two examples.

The Mirogoj Cemetery, owned by the city of Zagreb, is one of the most famous in Europe. It is non-denominational and people of all faiths, and no faith, are buried there. The cemetery contains many beautiful sculptures and art work as well as beautifully-designed buildings.

 

Statue-at-Cemetary

Image-at-Cemetary-2

 

One of the most exciting museums in Zagreb was the atelier and home of the famous Croatian sculptor, Ivan Meštrović, now transformed into the Ivan Meštrović Gallery. Meštrović’s work is extraordinary, and it was fascinating to see the range of media in which he worked. Later in life, he emigrated to the United States where he taught at the University of Notre Dame.

Sculpture-Museum-1

Sculpture-Museum-2

Sculpture-Museum-3

Upon leaving Zagreb, we took a spectacular train ride to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. Every mile contained amazing vistas. Below is a bridge reflected in the river below it.

Zagreb-to-Ljubljana

 

Ljubljana was like a fairy tale city, its beautiful buildings lining a small river that wound throughout the city. Despite its fairy tale appearance, the city was very modern and technologically savvy, using a smart card for public transportation and the free rental of bikes to be used for short trips. City Hall, set in an amazing old building, featured a juried exhibit of energy-conscious projects from all over the world.

Lbj-Building-along-River

Sculpture-on-Church-Doors-Lbj

Part of a sculpture on the doors of St. Nicholas Cathedral. Though the cathedral itself is old, the front doors were replaced in 1996 with the bronze sculptured doors shown here.

Ljb-Grafitti

Graffiti was common in some parts of the city, especially on the local trains and on some walls.

 

From Rome, we took the train to Venice. It was a pretty trip, particularly through the Tuscan countryside. though nothing like the spectacular train journeys we would take later in the trip.

Right before arriving in Venice, the train stopped at Maestre, an ugly industrial suburb outside Venice proper. Then it rolled over a quay, pulling into Santa Lucia station. The station was like any small train station, and I had no idea what to expect next. But when I stepped outside the station, this is what I saw.

Venie-from-Train-Station

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I realized at that point that every cliche I had heard about Venice was true. It was certainly unlike any place I’d ever been before, and throughout the days I was there, I continued to be astounded by the beauty of the city. That beauty was evident everywhere, in the buildings, the sculpture, the canals with their ever changing reflections, and even a worn brick wall that had weathered to improbable colors.

Venice-Reflections

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brick-Wall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the interesting aspects of Venice was that it could be quite quiet and peaceful despite its hordes of tourists. As soon as you stepped away from the main tourist areas and started to walk the back streets, the feel of the city changed. It became easy to imagine the Venice of another time in those quiet streets.

We stayed in Giudecca, south of the main neighborhoods of the city. From the fondamente (the small path alongside the water), you could see Dorsoduro and St. Marco, areas crowded day and night. Giudecca, however, felt like an ordinary neighborhood, filled with small apartment blocks and lines of washing hanging out to dry. At night, walking along the back lanes to our B&B, we rarely saw anyone. We later discovered that Guidecca was home to a luxury Hilton and a small showroom selling beautiful home decorating fabrics made from original Fortuny designs.

On one of our days in Venice, we decided to visit Burano and Murano, two islands not too far from the main part of Venice. Once a fishing village and a place where women made handmade lace, Burano now feels a bit like a recreated village whose raison d’etre is tourism. Still, despite the fact that the food was bad and the lace on offer in the many stores is made in China, Burano was very pretty. Its distinguishing features include brightly colored houses and charming little canals. It also has a leaning tower similar to that in Pisa, though smaller.

Bike-in-Burano

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burano-Tower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Murano is famous for its glass. Glass has been made on the island since the 13th century when glass making was moved from Venice to Murano because it posed a fire hazard to Venice’s wooden buildings. Although some Murano glass is now imported from China or made for a mass market trade, the island still contains some working factories as well as many glass showrooms selling beautiful pieces along with lots of kitsch.

As I peered into the open doors of one of the factories, a worker hammed it up for me as I took his photograph.

Glass-Factory-Murona

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A brief walk through some back streets of Murano yielded a very modern sculpture, quite different from the more sedate sculptures seen in Venice proper.

Modern-Sculpture-Murano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two other places stood out for me in Venice. One was the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, and the other was the Jewish Ghetto. The Guggheim Museum sported a wonderful collection of contemporary art, including works by Picasso, Dali, Klee, Rothko and Moore, among many others. The collection is housed in Guggenheim’s former palazzo, located on the Grand Canal. It is very varied and consists of both sculpture and paintings. The art works are thoughtfully presented and not crowded together, allowing visitors to savor each piece. The buildings comprising the museum are quite beautiful, increasing the pleasure of the viewing experience.

Visitor-Looking-at-Sculptures

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the canal entrance is a wonderful statue by Marino Marini, aptly called The Angel of the City. The “angel” looks upon the canal in exuberant joy.

Statue-in-Front-of-Guggenheim

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The museum also contains a restful courtyard and some amazing views across the Grand Canal. Below are some pictures taken through a decorative scrollwork window covering.

View-from-Guggenheim-through-Scrolls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Close-Up-View-through-Scroll

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Venice’s Jewish Ghetto has a long history and some powerful, though disturbing art. From the 16th to 18th centuries, Venetian Jews were forced to live in the ghetto, once the site of a foundry. (The word “ghetto” originated from the Italian spelling of “gheto”, the Venetian word for foundry.) Shakespeare made this neighborhood famous through his references to it in The Merchant of Venice.

Unlike in the rest of the Venice, the buildings in this area are very tall, some  7 floors high. The height of these buildings resulted from so many people being forced to live in such a small area. Several synagogues were housed in the top floors of some of these buildings.

Tall-Buildings-in-Ghetto

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While not outwardly different from the rest of the city, the area’s main piazza contains remnants of the area’s history. Surrounding the Casa di Riposo Israelitica, the site from which Venice’s remaining 250 Jews were deported during the Holocaust, are memorials commemorating the fate of Venice’s Jews. The bronze sculpture panels designed by Arbit Blatas, a Lithuanian-born sculptor and painter, depict the brutality of the Nazis against the Jews.

Memorial-Plaque

 

 

 

 

 

Arbit-Blatas-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arbit-Blatas-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today the Ghetto area is just an ordinary neighborhood in Venice filled with people enjoying the day. It still remains as a center of Venetian Jewish life and is also visited by many tourists interested in its history.

Child-in-Jewish-Ghetto

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first destination on our trip was Rome. I wasn’t sure what to expect especially because several friends had described Rome as one of their favorite cities. It wasn’t mine.

Instead, I found Rome to be confusing and chaotic.  I  felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of museums and sights and found it hard to decide what to see in the 3 days we had in the city.

Busy-Roman-Street

Busy Roman Street

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite that initial reaction, there were many things I found intriguing about Rome, and in the end, I was glad that I had gone. As in most of the other places I visited, I liked the conviviality and sense of community that was evident everywhere. It wasn’t unusual to be in a small restaurant or cafe and have a person pop in to have a conversation with someone working in the restaurant. It was also a common sight to see people hanging out in cafes and bars, enjoying the company of their friends. This was particularly true of elderly residents who seemed to spend hours in their favorite cafe.

The neighborhood we stayed in, Trastevere, had once been a working class section of Rome. Now it was full of little trattorias and and nightlife destinations. The area was very charming, and our apartment  looked out onto a small cobblestone street. Trastevere was also close to the Tiber river, a very beautiful destination especially at night.

View-from-Window-Trastevere

View from Window Trastevere

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another interesting aspect of  Rome was  that on almost every corner, there was something of artistic or historical interest. One day, after walking through the old Jewish ghetto areas, we came upon what I believe are the ruins of the Teatro di Marcello, originally planned by Julius Caesar around 12 BC. On top of the ruins, a palace was built in the 16th century. As I photographed these ruins, two women came along with their shopping bags, not paying any attention to what was clearly a commonplace sight for them.

Ruins-2-Rome

Ruins Teatro di Marcello

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruins-Rome

Ruins Teatro di Marcello

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On another day, we visited a food market in Testaccio, once the meat packing district of Rome. The market itself was not very exciting compared to some of the markets we later visited in other cities. It was set inside a modern building on a small side street. But on the walk to the market, we passed many small shops selling interesting food and household items. Testaccio, a pleasant neighborhood, has now become somewhat trendy. Several of the well known restaurants serve varieties of offal, in accordance with the neighborhood tradition of butchers bringing home whatever was left at the end of the day. Testaccio also houses a foodie delicatessen, Gastronomia Volpetti. We bought sandwiches there, and the man behind the counter separately weighed every item that went into the sandwich including the bread and the roasted peppers.

One of the historical sights in Testaccio is the Pyramid of Cestius, dating from 12BC. It now situated alongside a busy street and would look completely out of place in this modern context if you weren’t in Rome!

Pyramid-of-Cestius

Pyramid of Cestius

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just past the Pyramid is a metro station from which you can catch a public bus to the Appian Way. Having read about the Appian Way as the first road on which Roman troops began their marches outside the city, I had no idea what it would look like in its modern incarnation.

View-Along-Appian-Way

View Along Appian Way

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The road is cobblestoned and very narrow and is bordered by high stone walls. The bus that travels the Appian Way lets people off at several catacomb stops along the road. It’s possible to tour those catacombs. There is also a beautiful pedestrian path parallel to the Appian Way which we walked along for some distance before catching another city bus back to the Metro station.

On our last day in Rome, we visited the Vatican Museum. We were lucky to be able to do so on a Friday evening when the museum was much less crowded than during the day. It is hard to describe the treasures found in this museum. In every room, there was something of interest, though after awhile, it became hard to take in the innumerable sights because there were so many.

Statue-in-Vatican-Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ceiling-In-Vatican-Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The walk through the museum follows a specific path, from which you cannot deviate, winding in and out of many rooms, and up and down lots and lots of stairs. It culminates in the Sistine Chapel. My favorite images in the museum were in one of the galleries near the end of the tour. I liked their sense of whimsey and lightheartedness which was a change from some of more serious art depicted elsewhere.

Whimsical-Image-1-Vatican

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whimsical-Image-2-Vatican

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The museum also houses a section of contemporary art, including a piece by the Ghanian artist El Anatsui.

El-Anatsui-Vatican-Museum

El Anatsui Piece in Vatican Museum

 

I’ve not posted during the past few weeks because I have been traveling in Europe. My husband and I visited 3 places in Italy, 3 in Croatia, and 1 in Slovenia. These three countries are actually quite close together, and because of their complicated histories, each contains diverse cultural influences that makes them fascinating alone and together. I was so entranced by what I saw that I took over 700 photographs.

One of the pleasures of traveling is gaining new perspectives, which I did on this trip. Several things particularly interested me.

First, I was fascinated to see how people lived in each of the places I visited. Because we used airbnb to find accommodations, in each destination I had a chance to stay in an apartment or room in a neighborhood rather than in an impersonal hotel room in the tourist part of town.

Terrace-in-Rovinj

Terrace on Our Apartment, Rovinj, Croatia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This allowed me to shop for food at local markets, see how trash was recycled, and get a sense of everyday events. Though one can glimpse only a tiny bit of local life in a few days, it still is possible to get some sense of daily existence and compare that with how we live at home. What struck me most, in every place I visited, was the conviviality. During the entire trip, I never once saw anyone hunched over a laptop in a cafe or texting on a cell phone while sitting with a group of friends. Instead, I saw people talking and laughing while drinking coffee or beer, activities that were extremely common in the destinations we visited. In every place, the cafe culture was strong, and somehow–despite working or going to school–people seemed to have time to sit and talk.

Second, I was struck by the beauty I saw everywhere. This was manifested in the wide variety of public art in most of the places I visited, or the natural beauty in other places. It was also reflected in small touches, such as the napkin under the coffee cup and the little decorated tube of sugar served with the coffee, or the garnishes on a bowl of soup even in an inexpensive restaurant. I was also astounded by the cleanliness of  restaurants and bathrooms, especially in Croatia and Slovenia.

Soup

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was also fascinated by the friendliness and helpfulness of the people I encountered. A server in a restaurant walked half a block with me to show me the way to the bus; a woman who worked in the little market near one of our accommodations explained how to make the local soup and translated my questions to her colleagues who didn’t speak English as well as she did. Our airbnb hosts helped us with directions, maps, and buying tickets. Our host in Zagreb had looked at our websites and blogs and spent an hour talking with us about local politics and his own life. When we left, he presented me with a wrapped bar of local chocolate.

I know it’s easy to romanticize new places when traveling or to find people friendly because you are more friendly yourself. Also, the process of traveling is itself a suspension of responsibilities and the duties of daily life which makes one more open to new experiences. Still, having traveled quite a bit in my lifetime, I think there are cultural and visual differences in every locale that are very striking, and these are worth noting and savoring as one of the joys of travel.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will post about several of the places I visited, focusing particularly on the art on view in each of them. The entire trip was a visual feast, and I have many images to share.

The question of why galleries and museums tend not to show fiber art–with the exception of exhibits that focus on fashion (such as the Iris Apfel exhibition, Rare Bird of Fashion, at the Peabody Museum of Art in 2010 or the Elsa Schiaperelli and Miuccia Prada’s Impossible Conversations exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2012)–has long puzzled me.

Several of the small museums in my area hold annual juried shows featuring local artists. It is rare to see a piece of textile art in those exhibitions, unless the art is a picture of a textile or a real textile hidden under glass, which of course obscures the very qualities that make textiles different from other media.

I am especially perplexed by this tendency when I see some of the amazing fiber art that is being created today. The Fiberarts International exhibit, at the Textile History Museum in Lowell, and the Game Changers: Fiber Art Masters and Innovators exhibit, at the Fuller Craft Museum, both show the scope and breadth of the contemporary fiber art scene.

Given that I have long pondered this question, I was very interested to see a blog post today written by Mirka Knaster, a textile artist and writer. Knaster’s post, entitled Artists and Textiles, explores the ways many famous artists have either depicted textiles in their work or created art that incorporates textiles in some way.

Mirka asks the same question I do–“Why the exclusion?”–and then speculates on some possible answers: “Objects constructed with fiber–through knotting, quilting, sewing, crocheting, knitting, weaving, etc.–are most often associated with domestic activity by women. Even when the items are prized, lower status is accorded to traditionally female work. There is also the division that arose (I don’t know in which century) between ‘fine arts’ and ‘applied arts.’ I have yet to understand why this distinction exists.”

She then goes on to cite the long list of artists who engaged with textiles in some way in their work. Among these were Henri Matisse, Raoul Dufy, Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí, Marc Chagall, Lucian Freud, Pablo Picasso, Barbara Hepworth, Sonia Delaunay, Henry Moore, Alexander Calder and quite a few others.

A number of images of the textile work of some of these artists are included in Mirka’s post. Here are a couple of examples:

Dali

“Spring Rain” (1949), by Salvador Dali. Photo: Steve Tanner. Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/9298395/How-textiles-took-Dali-and-Picassos-art-to-the-masses.html

 

Henry Moore

“Family Group,” textile square designed by Henry Moore (1944). Source: http://www.apollo-magazine.com/review-artist-textiles-picasso-warhol-fashion-textile-museum/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mirka ends her post by pointing to a recent exhibit held in London and the Netherlands: ARTIST TEXTILES Picasso to Warhol at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London (31 January–18 May 2014) and at the TextielMuseum in Tilburg, the Netherlands (14 June-14 September 2014).

While it is heartening to know that some famous artists of the past did not eschew, and even appreciated, the textile form, their interest–and the interest of museums who show their work–does not compensate for the lack of representation of fiber art in the contemporary gallery and museum scenes. Organizations such as the Surface Design Association and Studio Art Quilts Associates have made it part of their mission to educate the public and members of the art education communities about contemporary fiber. Let’s hope they succeed!

I have just returned from a 5-day workshop on deconstructed screen printing, at PROChemical & Dye, taught by fiber artist, Kerr Grabowski. Deconstructed screen printing is a technique I had experimented with on my own, not as successfully as I liked, so I decided to take this workshop from the woman who coined the term. The workshop was quite intense and full of exciting material. During the first couple of days, we learned a number of basic techniques but also had a chance to experiment with each. As the week progressed, we spent more time doing our own work, choosing the processes of most interest to each of us.

One thing I particularly liked about this workshop was the concentration and talent of the participants. Several attendees were serious studio artists, and most of those who weren’t aspired to becoming so as their lives allowed. Many people were fearless in their experiments, and there was a sharing and generosity that I have not always seen in other workshops.

In its most simplified form, deconstructed screen printing (DSP) involves preparing a screen with thickened Procion dye, letting the screen dry, and then removing the dye by printing it off with a clear (or colored) version of the same print paste that is used to thicken the dye. Often, before adding dye to the screen, textured objects are placed under the screen so that when the thickened dye is pulled across the screen, it will retain impressions of the objects used to texture it.

Whatever the technique used to change the screen from a plain screen to one with imagery, with each successive printing of the screen, more of the dried dye on the screen is dissolved. This means that all the prints are related, but each has its own distinctive look.

Example-of-Successive-Prints

The Two Prints on the Left Resulted from Successive Printings of the Same Screen. These are Kerr’s prints

 

But making prints using textured objects is only the beginning. It is also possible to draw on the screen with wax which then serves as a resist when the screen is printed. Wax can also be painted on the screen in selected areas, giving a different look. In the next photo, Kerr is demonstrating the application of wax to a screen using a Javanese tool called a tjanting (or canting) that is traditionally used for batik.

Waxing-with-Tjanting

Applying Wax with a Tjanting

 

Another technique taught in the workshop involved drawing on the screen with thickened dye using either a squeeze bottle or a syringe. The drawing was then dried and the screen was printed off. Each successive printing gave a different look to the lines that had been drawn on the screen.

Example-of-Drawing-with-Dye

Kerr Drawing on a Screen with Thickened Dye Contained in a Squeeze Bottle

 

Two-Drawn-Screen-Drying-Outside

Two Screens with Drawings That Are Being Dried Outside

 

These techniques are only a sample of the various ways this process can be used. One of the most interesting parts of the workshop was seeing how class participants interpreted deconstructed screen printing. Almost from the beginning, each participant’s work was different, carrying with it the stamp of the maker.

Most people worked on fabric, but one person, a paper and collage artist, used only paper. Her pieces were amazing, and a sample is shown below.

Prints-on-Paper

Prints on Paper with Multiple Layers

 

Below are some other examples of student work. The variations in imagery, color, and technique are all very evident.

Student-Work-1
Student-Work-2
Student-Work-3
Student-Work-4
Student-Work-5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For anyone seriously interested in DSP, I would highly recommend taking a workshop from Kerr. She teaches throughout the United States at various art center venues and also teaches abroad on occasion.

 

 

 

Doors are endlessly fascinating to me. They represent points of transition between inside and outside. They hide secrets and offer privacy but are also portals to new worlds and opportunities. At their worst, they imprison.

Doors can be plain and functional or fancy and extraordinarily beautiful. In some places, doors and high walls hide courtyards filled with flowers, trees and birds. You would never guess, until you opened the door, what was behind it.

Doors also serve as metaphors. They are variously described as “windows to the soul”, “doors of opportunity”, the link between the past and the future, as in “when one door closes, another will open”.

On a trip to Central Europe a few years ago, I took many photographs of doors. Below is a sample from Berlin, Prague and Budapest. These doors, particularly, invite speculation: Who lived behind those doors? What were their lives like? What history has played out in front of these doors? Who witnessed it?

 

Berlin-1

Berlin Door

Berlin-2

Old Berlin Door with Graffiti

Crystalnacht Synagogue

Rebuilt Doors from a Synagogue in Berlin that was Destroyed During Kristallnacht (1938)

Door-Knocker

Door Knocker, Berlin

Budapest-Museum-Door

Door to Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest

 

Prague-Door-2

Prague Door

Prague-Dppr

Another Prague Door

Last weekend, I went to two very different fiber exhibits in Lowell, MA, an historic city that was once the home of many textile mills during the Industrial Revolution.

Lowell is a fascinating city, and it has done a good job of preserving its textile heritage. Both the Lowell National Historical Park and the American Textile History Museum have wonderful ongoing exhibits about the history of textiles in Lowell as well as about other industries that flourished at the heyday of manufacturing in the area. The city has done a good job of reusing many of its old textile factories, converting them into residences and mixed use spaces. It is also home to a number of galleries–including The Brush Art Gallery and Studios and the Whistler House Museum of Art, housed in the birthplace of James McNeill Whistler–that show rotating exhibits of visual art, including fiber art.

People from many different cultural backgrounds, including a large Cambodian population, now reside in Lowell. The city’s many wonderful restaurants and festivals reflect the origins of its population.

Every summer, the Whistler House Museum holds a juried art quilt exhibition focusing on a specific theme. This year’s theme was How Does Your Garden Grow? The exhibit is on view through September 20th. Below are the three winning pieces in the exhibit.

ARebele_Southern Living

Ann Rebele – Southern Living

busby-echinoderm full

Betty Busby – Echinoderm

Sue ColozziColeus Up Close

Sue Colozzi – Coleus Up Close

 

Down the street from the Whistler, the American Textile History Museum is showing a very different kind of fiber exhibition: Fiberart International 2013. Sponsored by the Pittsburgh Fiber Arts Guild and originally shown in Pittsburgh, this triennial exhibition features cutting edge fiber work by artists throughout the world. It is on view at the Textile History Museum through October 26th.

Below are some images from that exhibit.

Lockhart-300x200

Cynthia Lockhart

Heard-300x200

Sandra Jane Heard

Goebel-300x200

Anne Goebel

Concha-300x200

Josefina Concha

 
Perhaps because I viewed both exhibits in close juxtaposition, I was struck by my different reactions to each of them. While I liked a few pieces in the Whistler show, overall I did not find it to my taste. It was a very representational show, and I already know that I personally prefer more abstract art. It also felt more like a traditional quilt show than a fiber show, which is not a surprise since the Whistler summer shows always focus on quilt art. While many of the pieces in the Whistler show were well done, both visually and technically, few felt innovative or were striking to me in any way.

The Fiberart International show had a completely different flavor. First, it contained many interpretations of the word “fiber,” and the participating artists used fiber in a surprising variety of ways. Second, many of the pieces in the exhibit pushed conventional boundaries. They used innovative materials, such as the plant material found in Anne Goebel’s piece. They were also innovative in their use of dimensionality, often bulging from the wall, hung around a corner, or stiffened to stand on their own. Most of the pieces in this exhibit were also quite large, asserting themselves through their sheer size. Another commonality was the use of a neutral palette. It was fascinating to see how much could be expressed using shades of white, gray, black and brown. Not every piece in the exhibit was successful, in my view. Some of the more conceptual pieces felt very cerebral and had little visual content.

My husband, however, had a completely opposite reaction to the two shows than I did. He loved the Whistler show and was intrigued by the colors of the work and the many ways in which participating artists interpreted the garden theme. He found the Fiberart International show boring, perhaps because of the subdued color palette used in many of the pieces. When we talked about a few of the pieces in the Fiberart show, and I explained some of the techniques that were used in the work, he became more intrigued, but this was on a different level from the pure visual.

For the past week, I have been thinking about these two exhibitions and pondering the question of how we arrive at our tastes and preference. Why do I prefer abstract art to representational art? Is it because I can read into the work whatever I wish or interpret it to mirror my own emotions? Why do I like art that uses a neutral palette, yet so often use intense colors in my own work? What gives a particular piece of  art gravitas, distinguishing it from its many neighbors? What is the role of beauty in art, and why does beauty seem absent from so many contemporary exhibitions? I have no answers to these questions but am enjoying the process of thinking about them. I welcome readers’ comments on these questions.

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