Fiber art has been part of human culture for eons, but in recent times fiber artists have made major, revolutionary changes in theme and vision, approach and use of material. "Game Changers: Fiber Art Masters and Innovators," an exhibition currently at the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, Massachusetts, highlights the work of over 50 of these pioneer artists, past and present, starting in the mid 20th century.
Some of the early innovators have been well-known for decades and active in their fields, teaching, writing and producing artwork that has been shown nationally and internationally, with many important accolades to their credit. Others are emerging artists who have produced pieces specifically for the exhibit, constituting their first museum showing. Some use traditional materials and techniques such as embroidery and tapestry-weaving but experiment with them to produce unique and challenging pieces. Others made innovative use of "non-traditional fiber" materials such as steel, stone, glass, gold and other metals, nylon monofilament, mylar, holographic film and even fruit peels. One unusual piece, "Whisker Organ," by Alison Kotin, is made of real cat whiskers that electronically produce organ music when stroked. The major changes in fiber art now are shifts in perspective."Fiber artists are moving beyond a process-and-materials-dominated creative approach to a more expansive and idea-driven view."
Anastasia Azure, currently residing in Providence, Rhode Island, combines ancient weaving, traditional metalsmithing and contemporary materials to create sculpture and jewelry. Using metals and plastic, her work is handwoven on a floor loom, and her forms are elegantly geometric. She spent three years perfecting her signature technique, which she calls dimensional-weave. "I have taken a traditional technique and assigned a new application, turning double-weave cloth into dimensional-weave jewelry and sculpture." Her inspirations and influences are manifold, among them Balinese Festivals; the paintings of Matisse, Georgia O'Keefe and Salvador Dali; Iznik pottery; Lalique jewelry; double Ikats from India, Japan and Indonesia; and the works of Sheila Hicks and Lenore Tawney.
Lanny Bergner is a fiber and sculptural basketry artist who resides in the Pacific Northwest. He has been working with mesh for over 30 years. Using simple joining techniques and everyday manmade materials, he creates organic constructions that have been described as ethereal. His "Blue Elixir" piece, made from screen wire, nylon monofilament and silicone, hangs from the ceiling, its gold fibers within the translucent form of mesh seeming to emit a lamplike glow.
Carol Eckert uses the ancient, simple (by her own account) technique of coiling, using only a threaded needle, to make complex pieces such as staffs, shrines, wall art and books. Often referencing art history, she draws upon symbols and stories, legends and parables, using universal animal symbols such as snakes to represent evil and storks and cranes for good fortune. Her large-scale piece, "Time of Ten Suns," takes up one whole wall.
Jan Hopkins is a fiber artist/basket maker who creates primarily figurative female sculptures. Inspired by traditional crafts and textiles, she uses traditional basket making materials, but includes a variety of alternative materials in her work such as grapefruit peel, sturgeon skin, lotus pods, lunaria seed pods and cantaloupe peels. Since some traditional materials are becoming restricted so they won't become over-harvested, she has searched for new materials so that she can collect them at will. "I am obsessed with pushing the boundaries with these materials and am working toward making large pieces set in environments."
Maximo Laura is an internationally recognized fifth generation tapestry weaver from Peru whose vibrantly colored hand woven works of alpaca wool draw upon ancestral world (especially Peruvian) culture, as well as contemporary world culture. His forms are replete with symbolism, and his style might be compared to the magical realism of literature. Among influences he credits the Aubusson workshop, Columbian Olga de Amaral, whose work is also in the exhibit, and Sheila Hicks. He has received international recognition for his work, among which was a UNESCO Prize for the whole of Latin America and an award conferring him the title of "National Living Human Treasure" of Peru.
The exhibition continues at the Fuller Craft Museum through November 23, 2014. For more information, see www.fullercraft.org, 508-588-6000.
Fiber Art Now, Fall 2014 (cover story)