Visual

Materialism

A collection that packs a punch

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

We’re profoundly lucky to have the Pacific Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum on top of the hill in La Conner. The hard-working curators consistently offer world-class exhibits, two of which may be the most powerful fabric art you’ll ever see.  

“How I Felt…A Woolistic Approach” (puns intended) displays the expressive abstractions of the deeply sensitive Flora Carlile-Kovacs. She moved to Seattle from a small town in Hungary, leaving behind friends, family and an established career. 

Kovacs brought with her the ancient craft of hand-felting wool. As she squeezes wet fibers in hot, soapy water, hand-dyes and constructs her fabrics, she finds herself expressing the inner world of a modern person through an ancient art.

And the results are striking: “Orange Marble” is an eye-catching abstract—viewers will want to fall into the spiderwebby depth of the fabric. Her blue series, with jagged abstract shapes and rich textures, is worth the climb to the third floor. There, visitors will also find her portraits of “Birches,” of “Sky” (helped by synthetic organza), and a stable of wearable hats whimsically shaped like garlic, a minaret, spiral and bubble—not to mention dresses, scarves, a purse and felted wool jewelry. There’s even a square of samples to touch.

On the second floor, you won’t mistake the artists’ gender in “Material Men 2: Contemporary Masters.” Guest curators Geoff Hamada and Kathleen Kok have assembled a collection that packs a punch.

Close up, Jack Edison’s queen-size fabrics look like what great-grandma used to toss on the bed. Retreat a few steps and a startling portrait emerges. Edison offers a male nude sur l’herbe (after painter Thomas Eakins), and tributes to John Lennon, Georges Seurat, Jean Frederick Bazille, and Bernini—the latter quilt built up entirely of “pineapple blocks,” a standard 19th century pattern.

Jim Vander Noot treats us to elegiac visions of celestial bodies, using not only traditional materials, but also polyester and metallic thread.  His “Clockwork Orange” is the real banana.

For something completely different, Shawn Quinlan’s story quilt, “The New American Heritage,” features George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Bozo the Clown, and skeletons. His “Here Come the Clowns” is a raucous send-up of Leonardo’s “Last Supper.” Quinlan, a news video editor by profession, glimpsed a sign at the NRA convention, Jesus for Guns, and was so “dumbfounded” he came up with the namesake quilt, which has since been shown at the Andy Warhol museum in Pittsburgh.

Descending further into quilted mayhem is the work of the aptly named Ben Venom. A self-proclaimed “metal-head with skillful needlework,” his similarly music-minded fans send him their stained and worn T-shirts, which he then pieces into his quilts—contrasting (in his words) the “menacing and aggressive counterculture of gangs, punk/metal music and the occult with the comforts of domesticity” and creating a functional piece of art.

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