Out of the Blue

Cutting-edge fabric art

Follow Second Street in La Conner south, to the elegant, 19th century Gaches mansion, home of the La Conner Quilt & Textile Museum.  Quilts are what they’ve got in the permanent collection—downstairs—and quilts are featured in Sue Spargo’s “Creating Texture” exhibit on the second floor. 

Climb the stairs to floor three, however, and you won’t find anything to cover your bed on a cold winter’s night. Here is an exhibit of cutting-edge fabric art by the members of Whidbey Island Surface Design.

The name implies the creating, coloring and patterning any fiber or fabric with processes such as dyeing, painting, printing, stitching, embellishing, quilting, weaving, knotting, felting and paper-making.

All members of the group reside on Whidbey Island, but many have traveled the world to learn traditional techniques and design.  Challenging themselves with the theme “Out of the Blue,” they have come up with literal and figurative interpretations—contemporary quilts, handmade textiles, sculpture, mixed-media wall hangings and dazzling wearable art. 

“Estuary,” by Carys Ann Hamer, is an abstract collage of handmade, hand-dyed paper rectangles in blues, greens, orange and brown, with cut and torn edges suggesting a precious object washed in on the tide.  She brings to her art the experience of living with the Bemba of Zembia and the Ovambo of Namibia. She has also studied batik in Indonesia.

Danielle Bodine astonishes viewers with three-dimensional wall sculptures. Her laborious technique involves weaving an impossible “basket” out of twigs, over which she molds wet mulberry-bark paper. Once this paper form is dry, she removes it and paints, glues, re-forms, dyes and scorches it. The shell of paper is reborn as a numinous kayak, retaining only shadows of the absent twigs, ready for a dream voyage. Next to it hangs a companion creation in the form of an uncanny box, suggesting the egg capsule of a giant squid.

On the opposite wall hang three Japanese-inspired creations by Bergen Rose. In “Kimono Woman with Cricket Cage,” this artist has transferred an original image of a Japanese woman onto translucent silk organza, where it hovers above the same image on opaque cotton, to create a magical, shifting effect as you walk past.

Laura Stangel Schmidt dyes and paints fabric, paper and found materials. In three pieces entitled “Geography 4,” she has crafted subtle hangings of beige and brown using mono-printing, stamping, drawing, painting, dyeing, fusing and stitching (in her own words), combining into layered compositions that reflect her fascination with dualities.

Uniquely, one artist in the group uses constructions of a single color—in this case, a deep blue—to focus on the texture and sheen of her fabrics. Ilene Rae Sorenson has created a set of soft sculptures from wetted felt and silk called “Bluesome,” and they are striking.

An international flavor also contributes to the work of the other major exhibit in the museum: that of Sue Spargo. Her large and small traditional quilts reflect influences of travel to Zambia, England, Persia, Catalonia, and Sicily. Now she is based in Ohio, but will visit La Conner to offer a quilting workshop next October.

Spargo’s typical teaching approach is to construct one or two small quilts using, for example, her favorite icon—stylized bird figures—and then, construct a queen-size piece, such as “Robin Run the Hedge.” She uses commercially available materials as well as the gorgeous, hand-dyed fabrics from the studio of her sister, Wendy. Talent must run in the family.

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