Twenty years of fiber art
Wednesday, September 27, 2017
The classy Gaches Mansion atop the hill in La Conner has a new name, but it’s the same institution. Now known as the Pacific Northwest Quilt and Fiber Arts Museum, it continues to host exhibitions of the best fiber art in the northwest—and Oct. 6-8, will celebrate two decades of operations with a 20th Anniversary Festival.
Among several fine shows right now is “The State of WA(ter).” The Studio Art Quilt Association challenged its Washington members to interpret extremes of moisture—rainforest in the west and near-desert east of the Cascades. The winning submissions show off embroidery, stitching, quilting, dyeing and even digital photo printing on fabric.
You’ll enjoy brilliant tapestries of spawning salmon, a whirlpool, docks, boats, canals—and a menacing abstract by Barbara O’Steen, who foresees a desiccated Earth where only insects survive.
In “Reflections of Eldean,” Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry recalls a cruise through the San Juan Islands with an image of her boat’s reflection. It’s a striking composition with strong light and dark contrasts, enhanced by painstakingly quilted ripples and shadows.
Small waves are also the inspiration for the bold, abstract tapestry, “Ripple Effect,” by Bonnie Bucknam.
Deborah Ann combines “Rights” with “Rites” in a portrait of an irrigation canal, water just beginning to flow, framed at top by snowy peaks and below, a lush river. Ann has lived in the Yakima valley since 1995, where she’s part of “a vibrant community of fabric artists who have helped…push my work into a more painterly style.”
Fine landscapes, moon-glow anemones, oysters, a jellyfish ballet (by Mary Berdan), and nudibranchs (Carla Stehr) fill out the exhibit.
Another floor hosts “One by Two,” an exhibit dreamed up by the new curator, Katrine A. Eagling. She gave a different photograph to each of eight fabric artists and challenged them to design small “wall quilts” inspired by the image. Meanwhile, Eagling created eight of her own to compare with them.
Some are realistic, and some abstract. Improbably, Eagling incorporated a row of zippers into a hanging tapestry. Laura Smith bent the rules and gave Eagling a challenge—a photo of desert boulders. Eagling responded with a literal rendition, “Geology,” while Smith herself mischievously put up a cubistic nude, “Canyon Woman.”
History buffs and quilt experts will enjoy a display from the permanent collection, most of which is not usually on view. All are important cultural documents, many from the mid-19th century. I marveled at a table cover pieced together from several hundred silk cigar wrappers (of all things), including “Seal of Havana” and “Cuban Beauty.”
After the 1840s, mass-produced textiles freed women from weaving cloth for everyday wear and quilting became a satisfying creative activity. Neighbors quilted together and shared patterns. The new mail-order catalogs offered hundreds more.
“Crazy Quilts” became a big fad. Two on display come with touching stories—one was the work of a beautiful young woman who died at age 31; another, adorned with Disney cartoons, was completed in 1976 by a 75-year-old woman who had been quilting since age 9.
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