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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.

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

 

View-from-Window

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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!

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

 

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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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