Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fiber PHILADELPHIA / The Other Philadelphia Story: A Prequel

Judith James, “Erasure” stitched resist discharge, silk, cotton, stitching  17” x 25” 2008. photographer: Gross McCleaf Gallery Gen [image provided by authors]

The Other Philadelphia Story: A Prequel submitted by Carol Westfall

Joan Dreyer is an artist and writer living in Alexandria, Virginia.
Joan San Chirico is an artist and independent curator living in Toms River, New Jersey
Carol D. Westfall is an artist and writer living and working in Jersey City, New Jersey.

During the spring of 2008, the city of brotherly love became a Mecca for fiber art enthusiasts. Artists, collectors, curators, and a curious public came to see, to learn, to enjoy what could be described as a cornucopia of visual delights.

A symposium at the University of the Arts entitled Materiality + Meaning coupled with an exhibition Contemporary Korean Fiber Art anchored the events, which ranged as far south as Delaware and Maryland and north to the Reading Museum in Pennsylvania that hosted the traveling Hot House exhibition from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. The breadth and scope of the gallery and museum exhibitions was awesome!

Yvonne Pacanovsky Bobrowicz, Cosmic Series, Knotted monofilament, gold leaf, 72” x 26” x 12”
2008, photographer: Chris Lawrence,  
part of Beyond Boundaries : Contemporary Fiber Art curated by Bruce Hoffman at the Arthur Ross Gallery [image provided by authors]

In early April, both the Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA) and the Surface Design Association (SDA) jointly sponsored the Breaking New Ground symposium in Wayne, Pennsylvania that was joined with other inspirational exhibitions. This symposium concluded what was a broad look at what the fiber art movement had achieved nationally and globally.

Let’s start this review with Center City Philadelphia and because there is so much to see and think about, we will try to be succinct and yet include as much as possible.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) hosted the William Kentridge Tapestries exhibition. The works, which were enormous in scale, were shown with “related collages, sculptures and etchings that suggest the visual and poetic thought processes informing all of Kentridge’s art”. These tapestries were woven in South Africa by trained weavers, spinners and dyers and are based on cartoons by the artist. There was a catalogue available.

Also, in the new Perelman Building, at the PMA, there was an exhibition featuring the work of three Philadelphia born designers including Ralph Rucci and James Galanos. (The Perelman Building now houses the Department of Costume and Textiles.) In the main Museum building, a hall Gallery on the first floor held works by John McQueen, Dona Look, and Katherine Westphal among others.

Rebecca Medel, The One, Linen, cotton, constructed, 10’ x 10’ x 10’, 1986. Collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Photographer: Chris Lawrence. part of Beyond Boundaries : Contemporary Fiber Art curated by Bruce Hoffman at the Arthur Ross Gallery [image provided by authors]

At the University of the Arts, the two main galleries showed the work of contemporary Korean artists. Some of the works were incredibly impressive in scale. Shin-Ja Lee’s The Han River, a pictorial panel, which filled three walls in one gallery in a continuous sweep, measured approximately 342 feet! A powerful indictment of the Iraq war entitled A Letter from Iraq, 2006 was spellbinding in its quiet simplicity and stark realism. A wall of elongated fingers on dyed gloves by Kyoung-yeon Chang provided a note of fun in an otherwise serious show of thought-provoking installations.

Lori Moum, Form #3, 58” x 40”, Cotton sateen, hand dyed, shibori dyed, over dyed. Five panels machine quilted with a grid and then satin stitched together. Artist created colors, rayon thread, cotton batting. 2006, Photographer: Lori Moum [ image courtesy of Art Quilt Elements].

Deidre Adams. Shades of White  48” x 48” Cotton fabrics, batting, acrylic paint. Machine pieced and quilted, hand painted. 2006 Photographer: Deidre Adams [ image courtesy of Art Quilt Elements].

Snyderman-Works Sixth Biennial contained the work of 92 artists. Curator Bruce Hoffman and his team hung the pieces so that each work’s space was sufficient to show it to best advantage. Standing outside the two big front windows, one felt the impact of the varied works within the gallery. To the right, a grouping of black crows echoed the menace of Hitchcock’s bird film of the ‘50’s. This work Murder of Crows I-IX by Bryant Holsenbeck included one empty perch that led the viewer to think that one wise crow had already taken flight. The left window contained works of exquisite craftsmanship. The efforts of the human heart, hand and mind were artfully presented. Pieces by Dorothy Gill Barnes, Debora Muhl, Jo Stealey and Charissa Brock created a visual dialogue of perfection. These two windows exemplified two currents in American craft – concept and execution. Bruce Hoffman and his team received huge kudos for this presentation.

Sean Buffington, the new President of the University of the Arts, and Professor Warren Seelig were two of the people who opened the Materiality + Meaning symposium with remarks about the genesis of all the fiber art activity in Philadelphia. Miguel Corzo, the former President of the UA and Professor Seelig worked to extend and expand this event into the entire arts community in Philadelphia. All three gentlemen received the gratitude of participants as well as viewers for the wondrous festival of fiber art that they created.

In his remarks, Professor Seelig celebrated the human condition and the role that fiber and fibrous materials play in every day lives in all cultures. We’ve entered a new technologically driven era with a revived sense of what is truly important to all mankind. The greening or sustainability of materials and the importance of the natural world to man’s future are vital concerns that affect everyone.

When introducing the keynote speaker, Professor Gerhardt Knodel, Professor Seelig paid homage to his former teacher and mentor and acknowledged Professor Knodel’s pivotal past roles as educator at and President of Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Gerhardt Knodel was a superb speaker. With the assistance of film clips from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Like Water for Chocolate, American Beauty and the dancing of Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire, Gerhardt deftly guided his audience into new ways of thinking, seeing and absorbing visual information avenues towards knowing something fully. The inch–by-inch meditations that are integral to many of the modes of creation in the fiber arts came clearly to mind as Professor Knodel spoke.

Sample Board w/ 
Sample Collection: Susie Brandt machine stitching and various materials; 1995-2007, Collection of the Artist. Custom Embroidery Samples; Hyman Embroidery Works, Philadelphia, 1930’s-1960’s; cotton, wool, silk, beads, ribbon, etc. Collection of The Design Center at Philadelphia University.

Sample Board from Susie Brandt: Rummage The Design Center Philadelphia University. this gallery has now closed and Philadelphia has lost an  innovative fiber art setting
Photos by Aaron Igler [image provided by Authors]

Professor Mi-Kyoung Lee moderated the second day of the symposium which included lectures by an American, Lydia Mathews and a Canadian, Sandra Alfoldy, two curators who spoke of the physicality and natural qualities of fibrous materials and in certain contexts, the importance at this point in man’s existence on this planet, in caring for the globe. Ms. Mathews highlighted the work of Fritz Haeg whose Edible Estates clearly expressed the ideal use of land – no more green, water gobbling expanses of lawns but rather sustainable gardens planted around suburban houses. There would be flowers but most importantly, these gardens would feature edible plants in an artistic, visually pleasing pattern. It should be noted that one of Mr. Haeg’s Estates was included in the 2008 Whitney Biennial.

In the afternoon session, Professor Lee introduced several Korean artists who added their concerns and comments to the contemporary art being created in Korea. Like the Japanese in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, a strong Korean presence can be felt at the University of the Arts, Yale and Cranbrook as well as other highly regarded institutions with strong interest in the techniques, concepts and materials of the fiber world.

 Astrid Hilger Bennett Shostakovich Series  57” w x42” h All fabrics hand painted, monoprinted by the artist. 2007 Photographer: Astrid Hilger Bennett [ image courtesy of Art Quilt Elements].

Bus trips were available to the conference participants who were interested in visiting some of the many galleries and sites of fiber exhibitions throughout Philadelphia and the surrounding area. The 2012 FiberPhiladelphia will also offer bus trips to all the current exhibition sites.

Let’s take a survey of the 2008 exhibitions that will give us a good idea of the upcoming 2012 exhibits.

7 Visions: Wood as Fiber at the Wood Turning Center gave a slightly different twist to fiber compared to the other shows. Here wood and the combination of wood with fiber techniques were well explored in a variety of ways.

The Beyond Boundaries: Contemporary Fiber Art exhibition, curated by Bruce Hoffman at the Arthur Ross Gallery, contained works by six well known artists. On entering this show, the Cosmic Series by Yvonne Pacanovsky Bobrowicz was mesmerizing. Knitted monofilament coupled with gold leaf create surfaces, which were both tantalizing and sensuous. An extraordinary work entitled The One by Rebecca Medel was recently taken into the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This powerful and serene work spoke eloquently to a mystic center where one finds spirituality, unity and the light of perception.

At the Crane Building, Libbie Soffer installed her exhibition entitled traces.  In these works, fiber became a metaphor for life’s journey – the passages and chapters, the ups and downs – those happenings that make each human being a unique element in the chain of life.

The Nexus gallery presented the work of eight young artists working in fiber: Atik, Gross, Dyhouse, Koziol, Landes, Lee, Perot and Shaffer look at the world through totally different lenses. Their work – refreshing and unique – created a cohesive totality despite their differing sensibilities.

On the same floor, the Borgenicht and Pontz exhibition – a collaboration linking metal, clay and fiber and utilizing aspects of the original building like two old floor urinals was great fun to explore. Both artists present a visually arresting array of disparate objects, which relate harmoniously and yet are deliciously deviant. Looking at a wall hanging by Ms. Borgenicht, the viewer perceived the deceptive quality of what appears to be a kind of cloth, which is easily touched and moved. However, the truth lies within the basic structure of ceramic modules, which comprise the piece. These elements will respond like cloth – folding and moving - but only in the sense that they are each distinct and separate elements and only in the interlinking do they become whole cloth. 

The Philadelphia Fabric Workshop advertised Ed Ruscha: Industrial Strength as its contribution to the fiber festival. The work at the gallery is only in its prototype form, which, quite unusual for fiber could be touched. Mr. Ruscha’s magnificent painting was being woven by a tapestry works in Belgium and had not yet been completed in time for the fiber extravaganza.

The show at Gross McLeaf Gallery included the work of two artists, Judith James and Emily Richardson. Trace Element is perhaps reminiscent of Ms. James’s hometown near the mill town of Fall River, MA with its building-like forms. The piece is a screen printed discharge that leaves parts of the black silk with remnants of rich brown forming windows accented with hand stitching. Since her move to Nebraska, Judith has begun to be influenced by the plowed land of the fields, as seen in the pieces Landscape, Middle Landscape, Crossing Open Ground and Common Ground II. James presented her work in custom–made shadow box frames, which provided an elegant enclosure. The overall feeling was rich and sophisticated.

Emily Richardson, Gumbotil acrylic on cotton and silk, hand stitched  41” x 29” 2004 
photographer: Gross McCleaf Gallery

In contrast, Emily Richardson’s work was a kaleidoscope of color. Her imagery evolves through hand stitching in watercolor influenced abstracts. Gumbotil, which is defined as deoxidized, leached clay that bears siliceous stones, contained the deep, rich colors of the earth; Wetland on the other hand, was quiet in its elegant and mysterious allusion to both earth and water. The next room was filled with 12 pieces of the same predominately red and blue color palette all titled with water/ocean terminology, with examples such as Undertow and The World Below the Brine.

Rosemont College Gallery is located in a beautiful suburb of Philadelphia. Ke-Sook Lee’s work, like Libbie Soffer’s, uses cloth as metaphor for various passages of a life. There can be an incredible beauty in a cloth that bears the marks of previous usage. It is like amplifying a story when an artist appropriates a used cloth and proceeds to add her own marks to the surface. This body of work was profoundly moving in intent and execution.

Selections from a traveling exhibition Hot House at the Reading Museum displayed a superb and in depth look at the work of the faculty and some of the graduates of the fiber program at Cranbrook Academy of Art. Bhakti Ziek’s Devotion #1 was a scintillating pattern on pattern surface extravaganza. The reductive work of Sarah Kabot was spellbinding in both its manifestations and the twenty-year opus known, as Heaven and Earth by Jessica Kincaid quietly held its own as visual poetry. Warren Seelig’s Shadowfield-Green Edge and Act 8 by Gerhardt Knodel were both show stoppers.

Erin Shie Palmer’s Copper Shroud presented a hypnotic surface in which the viewer could simply lose oneself. Anne Lindberg’s wall of White Cloud and Shadow Cloud was captivating in a different sense. These pieces are all memorable. Also included in this exhibition were objects related more to the field of design as opposed to fine art. Two, in particular, were intriguing in their visual impact: Laura Sansome’s Slipper Mat and Seth Winner’s JacqForm Pandas. A catalogue was available.

Sonya Clark Split Ends Plastic 144” x 65” 2007 photographer: DCCA

At the new and commodious exhibition space at the Delaware Center for Contemporary Art (DCCA), Sonya Clark’s installations – Toothless and Split Ends were captivating. Using the simple everyday black pocket comb as primary element, Clark proceeded to create entire worlds that completely transcended the basic material.

A special and most pleasant surprise at DCCA was Morgan Kennedy’s zip-cloth project, which held sway in a room adjacent to Sonya Clark’s work. Hardware cloth and zip-ties, thatched, sewn and woven, filled an entire room. Another space was filled with a juried exhibition, Interrogating Beauty, curated by Eleanor Heartney. This exhibit contained Moore College of Art’s Professor, Heather Ujie’s large digital print entitled Tree of Life. Joseph Barbaccia’s Useless Beauty and Monkey-Nature – Green were added pleasures. Both works, sculptural in nature, undulated on their respective pedestals lending a strong sense of motion to the space.

Back in Philadelphia, Bruce Hoffman strongly recommended two shows – Kai Chan and Susie Brandt. Both exhibits turned out to be places that were difficult to leave. Susie Brandt’s Rummage at Philadelphia University’s Design Center totally transformed the homey interior into a fiber art dream center. Using diverse materials, Brandt created fascinating installations that drew first impressions of delight – color, texture, form- and then- AHA! – a discovery made as to the diversity of the materials or the intent of the work. Margo Memsing’s comment, “Whatever arena she works in, Brandt questions the appropriate through the insertion of the inappropriate”. A handkerchief is made of pearl buttons and telephone wire.

 Kai Chan,  Spider’s Logic (Paris Diary), Installation at Liao Collection, Philadelphia, Pa. 95cm. x 415cm. x 4cm. plastic shopping bags, cotton cloth, thread 2004

Kia Chan. Mirage 178cm. x 229cm. x 2cm. silk thread, nails 2007 part of Mirage: New work by Kai Chan curated by Micheal Dunas, March 5-9 2008 

Kai Chan, based in Toronto, gently guided visitors through his installations at the Liao Collection space in Center City, Philadelphia. Like Brandt, Kai employs humble, mundane materials in a most extraordinary manner. Deeply sensitive and spiritual, this artist blends the East-West dichotomy into a quiet, serene series of works, which speak eloquently to the essence of a lifetime. Like Gerhardt Knodel’s images at the University of the Arts lecture, Mr. Chan has perceived the beauty in an airborne plastic bag – a sight most of us would dismiss as simply refuse. The transitory nature of being was amply explored in this exhibition. These works gave the viewer a sense of tremendous inner peace.

The Knapp Gallery showed the headgear of artist Christine De Cicco. With the possible exception of Carmen Miranda, a hat has never looked so good! In fact, they appear to be sculptures that are best served by being put on a base and pedestal and used for viewing only. Luscious, baroque, over–the-top imagery, these hats were superbly crafted in a diverse body of materials.

Installation shot from the Puppet Show at the Institute of Contemporary Art

At the Institute of Contemporary Art on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, The Puppet Show included the work of 29 artists. This international group exhibition focused on the imagery of puppets in contemporary art and concentrated on video, photography and sculpture. The anteroom of the show titled Puppet Storage contained a collection of historic puppets from around the world. In the eclectic grouping were traditional Javanese and Balinese shadow puppets, Andy Warhol’s hand puppets of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, various marionettes, rod puppets and ventriloquist dummies.

The featured work in the main gallery was Dennis Oppenheim’s motorized marionettes first seen in the 1970’s. The marionettes in the installation danced in the gallery’s central space at timed intervals. The clacking of the mechanical apparatus and the spastic movements of the marionettes startled visitors, but soon had them mesmerized. The face on these puppets is Oppenheimer’s own as this work is autobiographical: the artist was experimenting with performance art while not having to be physically present.

Kara Walker animated her trademark antebellum silhouettes onto film shown in one of the small viewing rooms. Some of the strongest sculptural work was assembled on a large, low platform to the rear of the central gallery. Here was Annette Messager’s unsettling Faire Parade, a stuffed child’s pajama pierced with color pencils. Nearby were Kiki Smith’s singularly suspended arms and legs made of plaster, wood, and cheesecloth. Anne Chu’s Landscape Marionette was a suspended mountain seemingly made from patched fabric that hovered above the ground. Additional participants were Louise Bourgeois, Bruce Nauman, Paul McCarthy and William Kentridge among others. Limited space does not allow for a comprehensive listing and review of all the works in this exhibition. 

Maggie Weiss Iris, 60” w x72”h Hand dyed torn edged silk background overlaid with commercial and hand dyed fused silk fabrics. Machine quilted and bound using rayon and cotton threads. 2007 Photographer: Paul Lane [image courtesy of Art Quilt Elements]
Art Quilt Elements, then in its eighth year, had grown from Art Quilts at the Sedgwick into a new venue in Wayne, Pennsylvania and a new biennial schedule. With 68 artists exhibiting, the show filled both large gallery spaces of the newly renovated Wayne Art Center. 
Some standouts included: 
-Lori Moum was the winner of the Surface Design Association Award. Her Form #3 resembled hand woven Ikat fabric but was constructed with rows of satin stitch used imaginatively for texture on a predominantly blue shibori-dyed background thus transforming the surface with stitches. 
- Astrid Hilger Bennett’s music-inspired Shostakovich Series, with its rich texture on red, incorporated wide brush strokes and kept negative space to depict the silence between imagined musical notes. 
- Iris by Maggie Weiss, who won the Fiberarts Magazine Award, depicted an illusion of three-dimensional irises with a delicate decorative quality.
- Quietly Red by Terry Jarrard-Dimond also used intentional blank space in her red minimal design delineated with stitching which altered the color of the panels. 
Terry Jarrard-Dimond Quietly Red 81.5” w x 46.5” h Machine pieced from 100% cotton fabric, dyed and machine quilted with cotton thread. Cotton backing and batting.2007 Photographer: Tom Dimand [image courtesy of Art Quilt Elements]
 Joan Sowada Cosmic Bicycle 60x35 Commercial and Setacolor hand painted fabrics, fused, machine apliquéd and quilted. 2005,Photographer: David Nicholas [image courtesy of Art Quilt Elements]
-Another representational piece, actually a diptych, stood out.Joan Sowada’s Cosmic Bicycle with its amazing perspective of shadows of bike racers was fascinating- Kim Eichler-Messmer’s Barren with its screen-printed large rabbit containing a womb full of smaller rabbits could be interpreted in many ways. Did it suggest that the multiplying bunnies are a parallel to the artist’s family or as based on the title, is the opposite true?

- Jill Ault’s Pods were created in translucent silks and shibori giving the work a quiet elegance.

- Sharon Bell’s Waterwords rendered in black letters on white background in vertical rows gave the illusion of droplets of water, with just a slight red edge of the backing fabric showing on the sides.

- Another monochrome piece was Barbara Watler’s Ontario Quest 3 in which black and white tree silhouettes suggest a windless, cloudy winter day.

- Linda Colsh’s Drift was quiet and elegant with its unforced use of techniques.

- Deidre Adams Shades of White revealed wondrous texture formed by first stitching and then painting which created hills and valleys of subdued color that showed though the white overcoat.

- Noreen Wallworth’s The Spaces Between was constructed of a kaleidoscopic array of tiny colored squares. Manically pieced during a difficult time in the artist’s life, the white depicts the good times while the 200 intricately combined blocks of color depict the bad.

Kim Eichler-Messmer, Barren 35” x62” Hand dyed and screen printed cotton, discharged, appliquéd, embroidered, pieced, quilted 2007, Photographer: Aaron Paden [image courtesy of Art Quilt Elements]

This was the first joint conference by the Surface Design Association and the Studio Art Quilt Associates. The opening reception was held in conjunction with a five-day symposium offering a tour of the many fiber related exhibits in Philadelphia as well as lectures and workshops. Shortly after registration was opened to the membership, all related events were filled and many were relegated to a waiting list. Despite some inevitable problems in managing a conference of this size for the first time, many attendees expressed their satisfaction that the two organizations had banded together to attempt such an undertaking. The symposium planned for spring 2012 is entitled Identity: Context and Reflection and is comprised of lectures and panel discussions, tours of exhibitions and workshops.

All of us – artists, curators, and the curious art going public owe a great debt of gratitude to those individuals who turned this Philadelphia event into an extraordinary fiber art extravaganza. Sometimes wonderful things happen when one person takes a great idea and shares that idea with a few other knowledgeable individuals. That is what happened in Philadelphia during the spring of 2008.

Now, in the winter of 2012, Philadelphia is preparing yet another extraordinary series of fiberart events under the banner of FiberPhiladelphia 2012. Having experienced the first celebration, there is no doubt that this second endeavor may well out do the first and certainly reaffirms Philadelphia’s foremost place as arbiter of fiber arts! 

FiberPhiladelphia 2012’s calendar of Events, Exhibitions, Shows, Receptions and Lectures can be downloaded from the website

for more information contact

The Other Philadelphia Story: A Prequel


Basualdo, Carlos, Editor, William Kentridge Tapestries New Haven and London, Philadelphia Museum of Art and Yale University Press, 2008
Contemporary Korean Fiber Exhibition (catalog), Philadelphia, The University of the Arts, 2008
Courtney, Julie (Introduction), Portfolio Collection #32: Susie Brandt, Bristol, Telos, 2004
Hot House; Expanding the Field of Fiber at Cranbrook, 1970-2007, Bloomfield Hills, Cranbrook Art Museum, 2007
Hung, Shu and Magliaro, Joseph, Editors, By Hand, the Use of Craft in Contemporary Art, New York, Princeton Architectural Press, 2007
Livingstone, Joan and Ploof, John, Editors,The Object of Labor; Art, Cloth and Cultural Production, Chicago and Cambridge, School of the Art Institute Press and The MIT Press, 2007
McFadden, David Revere, Pricked; Extreme Embroidery, New York, Museum of Arts and Design, 2007
Middlebrook, Nancy, catalog published 2007 with fellowship from Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.
Tellier-Loumagne, Francois, The Art of Embroidery; Inspirational Stitches, Textures and Surfaces, London, Thames and Hudson, 2006
Sonya Clark Curls, Plastic Variable size 2007 photographer: DCCA


1 comment:

Judy Martin said...

Joe, this is a fabulous review of the 2008 philadelphia extrvaganza. Thank you very much for posting it, and for doing all the research etc etc to get it up.
You are a marvel.