Not your grandmother’s quilts

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Since its inception in 1997, the La Conner Quilt & Textile Museum has established an influence on fiber arts from the Northwest across the Pacific to Hawaii and Japan.

These are not your grandmother’s quilts. Fiber artists weave, hook, sew, stitch, draw, dye and knot, creating rich textures and three-dimensional compositions—it’s enough to make a mere painter throw down his brush and weep.

The “quilt museum” on the hilltop in quaint La Conner now hosts “Abstracted,” a show by 44 members of the Fibre Art Network of Western Canada that raises subtle artistic questions and probes both social and racial issues.

The curator of the exhibit, Vivian Kapusta, challenged her colleagues with themes such as “Glenn Gould,” “Milkweed,” and “Ichthyic Biosphere.“ One artist renders the theme realistically and another abstracts it.

So what is an abstraction? 

“As soon as an artist interprets the image the abstraction begins,” Kapusta says. “When the image is further simplified it becomes more abstract. A very abstract piece takes only the ‘bare bones’ of the design—but the relationship to the original design remains. The final abstraction reflects the feeling/emotion of the image and the meaning may not be obvious.”

Not obvious, indeed. In “Trees and Roots,” artist Kristin Miller interprets a wild windstorm on Gabriola Island with a brilliant swirl of objects flying through trees. Janet Bednarczyk responds with sizzling red roots and a subterranean family of fungal gnomes symbiotically supporting the life above ground.

Valerie Wilson’s Op Art tail-fin view of the ‘57 Chevy in “Fifties Flair” is as lush as your teenage dreams, but the minimalist response is equally effective: Brandy Lynn Maslowski’s bird’s-eye view of white lines split the asphalt where red squares recklessly dance, expressing speed and freedom.  

“Ichthyic Biosphere,” by Judith Panson, contrasts rainbow-colored, cartoon fish with an equally “realistic” scene by Kathleen Hamann Bukoski who embroiders fish skeletons in a dead ocean; beware of global warming.

Several themes resonate deeply with Canadians. The “Arbutus” images celebrate the sensuous branches of this delicate and beloved tree that hugs the shoreline far up into British Columbia. “Glenn Gould” evokes the eccentric Toronto musical prodigy who became one of the most celebrated classical pianists of the 20th century before his untimely death.

With the panels entitled “Chooutla,” emotional abstraction invades the “representative” side.  Diana Bartelings renders a bone-white institutional building framed by mountain and forest. Aiming at it is a menacing red hatchet that encloses a caribou—hung on a crucifix. 

Chooutla, in the Yukon, was one of the government schools where native children in the past century were stripped of their language, their sense of belonging, their very identity.  These victims of abuse are even now receiving monetary settlement and apology from the Canadian government.  The answering panel by Cathie King employs a phoenix design by a native artist, to symbolize the survival of the human spirit and rebirth of native culture.

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