Get your warp on! Draping expert and pattern designer Sandy Ericson and 4 weaving artists give live demos in the galleries today (February 16) at the Petaluma Arts Center
If you haven’t stopped by the Petaluma Arts Center yet to see their exciting new exhibit, 4 Weavers: Contemporary Expressions of an Ancient Craft, Saturday afternoon (Feb. 16, 2013), from 2 to 4 p.m., is a good time to visit. Internationally recognized Bay Area fiber Artists/weavers Barbara Shapiro, Suki Russack, Ulla de Larios and Candace Crockett, whose work is featured in the exhibit, will be giving live weaving demonstrations on looms in the galleries. Sandra Erickson, founder of St. Helena’s the Center for Pattern Design (CPFD), who designed several pieces of clothing in the exhibit, will be demonstrating some fascinating draping principles. What’s made very clear in this captivating show, expertly curated by Kathleen Hanna, is that weaving, considered a craft by some, is a practice with sophisticated principles of form and color that are every bit as evolved as those employed in painting and sculpting. The exhibition, which runs through March 10, 2013, features over 40 multi-dimensional woven artworks, ranging from sculptural textiles to woven baskets to clothing and costumes.
“From pre-history to the industrial revolution, all textiles have been handwoven,” said Hanna. “Today, the hand loom is a tool for creating fabulous three dimensional sculptures as well as elegant textiles for clothing design. This project presented the opportunity to show extraordinary contemporary work and the chance to dispel some of the common myths about hand weaving that probably began in the early 20th century. Beyond the fine and intricate weaving you’ll see here, these artists are not afraid to cut into, sew, and manipulate what they’ve woven and that gives them tremendous creative freedom.”
The four featured artists, all currently living and working in the Bay Area, have been part of the same weaving community for the past 30 years. All of them have either studied or worked with Candace Crockett, legendary for her creative and inspirational studio courses at San Francisco State University’s Art Department, where she has taught since 1974. An important theme in Crockett’s work is the innovative use of historical and ethnic techniques and imagery. She has been studying Kuba patterns for decades and revisioning them into patterns that have deep associations for her. The Kuba are part of the African country that has been called Zaire, the Congo, and the Republic of Congo and their patterned images, which have a spontaneous and improvisational quality, incorporate simple geometrical shapes in a variety of repeats. Their textiles are embroidered with raffia on a woven raffia ground. Crockett works extensively with dyeing, repetition, and dimensional surfaces that absorb and reflect light. “I build my patterns by manipulating the fabric, cutting up images, and by layering the repeats through printed and painted dye, and by adding and subtracting color. The complexity that comes from color, weave structure, and pattern changing from band to band, builds a whole that reminds me of light playing on a landscape at different times of the day.” (from the artist’s statement)
While Crockett has influenced each of the artists in the show, over the years, each has pursued her own unique path of artistic development, from Barbara Shapiro’s passionate exploration of indigo and its place in her meditative weavings to Ulla de Larios’ three-dimensional textile sculptures to Suki Russack’s voluptuous warp ikat women and her flowing dance costumes. And while each of these women might be associated with a certain technique or series of work, the exibition shows that they’ve built their reputations through bold experimentation and by welcoming the cross-polinization of other art forms. Of course, because weaving is so time intensive and requires a significant investment of effort up front, it requires a special persistence and a certain kind of zen attitude. Barbara Shapiro likens this to “being OK with failing and then seeing that you haven’t failed but moved in a new direction.”
“I like to tell people what any particular work of mine takes whatever time I’ve put into it, plus 30 years of experience,” say Shapiro. “and that’s hard won experience.”
One of the works that struck me strongly was Shapiro’s “Silver moon,” a small and quiet woven silk tussah landscape whose fibers seemed to hold a trove of memories. At no more than 15 x 15 inches, it is so masterfully woven that its delicate indigo sprigs seem in protective harmony with the silvery sphere. It feels timeless, Asian and alive. Shapiro, a weaver, dyer, and basket maker who works with and teaches indigo dyeing, has done a number of these moonscapes, each seemingly etched in history and each a subtle exploration of indigo. She is teaching “Greener Indigo,” an all day seminar on February 23, which will explore non-toxic indigo dyeing procedures and resist techniques. Resist dyeing involves clamping fabric/fiber/paper or using some method that will inhibit it from taking dye and then submerging it a dye vat. This is just one of several informative seminars associated with this thoughtful exhibition.
In the video below, Shapiro chats at the exhibition’s opening about the various techniques she employed to create “Silver Moon” which has a particularly intriguing texture and color.
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of sitting in on Sandy Ericson’s sold-out three-hour class, “Draping the Vionnet Bias Cut Skirt,” in which she demonstrated the basic principles of draping a la 1930’s pattern designer Madeleine Vionnet. Sandra taught fashion design, pattern design, and textile courses at City College of San Francisco (CCSF) for 31 years. In 2006, she established the Center for Pattern Design (CFPD) in her hometown of St. Helena, as a way to focus on the actual art of cutting and draping cloth. At CFPD, Ericson teaches advanced courses in cutting, draping, pattern design and construction and takes these courses on the road. She is the turn-to resource for a lot of fashion insiders and museum curators and is a respected authority on French designer Madeleine Vionnet who pioneered draping on the bias, the bias cut and ruled haute couture in the 1930’s. Vionnet designed sensual gowns for Marlene Dietrich, Katherine Hepburn, and Greta Garbo that did marvelous things for their bodies. I’ll be posting more about Sandy and her innovative teaching methods later but here is a clip of Sandy explaining what draping is, why it’s so important in clothing design and why draping is sculpting. If you drop by the Petaluma Arts Center today, don’t miss her refreshingly straight-forward and time-saving approach to designing clothing that really fits.
Details: “Four Weavers – Pathways in Contemporary Fiber Art,” runs through March 10, 2013. The Petaluma Arts Center is located at 230 Lakeville Street, Petaluma. Free parking is available at the center. Hours: Thursday-Monday noon to 4 p.m.
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