Juilee Decker, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Museum Studies Program and Hinda Mandell, Ph.D., Associate Professor, School of Communication at the Rochester Institute of Technology co-curated the exhibition Crafting Democracy: Fiber Arts and Activism and edited the beautifully designed catalog of the same name. Betty M. Bayer, professor of Women’s Studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, writes in the foreward to the catalog, “Every thread, fiber, weave, and stitch reinvents art and craft as democracy’s warp and weft—needling, in significant ways, relations of gender, race, class, and justice.”
The show features work by thirty-two artists. My piece, titled “Resist,” is included in the exhibition. For the catalog statement, I wrote:
Acts of resistance are documented in the literature about life in the Polish ghettos and concentration camps of World War II. I honor the individuals who had the courage to act morally in the face of life-threatening and deadly conditions with the weaving titled Resist. The word continues to resonate today.
The show runs through October 25, 2019 at the Anthony Mascioli Gallery, Harold Hacker Hall, Central Library of Rochester.
The North Platte and the South Platte Rivers meet near the city of North Platte, Nebraska, and form the Platte River, which flows 310 miles across the state where it meets the Missouri River. In the Kearney, NE area, it serves as a staging ground for the annual migration north of the Sandhill Crane. They feed in nearby cornfields by day and roost in the river by night, adding up to a pound of fat to their body weight before they take flight again toward their nesting grounds.
In 1714 Etienne Veniard de Bourgmont (born 1679) was the first recorded European to come upon a river which the Oto people called the Nebrathka, meaning “flat water.” The French word for flat is plat and eventually the river became known as the Platte.
Teliza Rodriguez, the curator of the Musuem of Nebraska Art, invited Jay Kreimer and me to create a piece for an exhibition titled “A River Runs Through It,” (February 26 – July 21, 2019) and requested we develop a work to place underneath the central skylight in the main exhibition space. The premise for the exhibition is the “Platte River – from the sounds and sights of the land, flora, and fauna that surround, inhabit, and visit it to the sky that stretches far above.”
This work began in October 2018. I designed the weaving using software called ProWeave. I wanted to use a weave structure that would show movement, like the current or movement of water, and I wanted the color to reflect the colors of a setting or rising sun. We often think that water is blue, but when looking at a river, the color is always changing and relates to the light in the sky, the depth of the water, the time of year and any number of other details.
Once I determined the size of the weaving—I calculated how big each weaving would need to be—I discovered it would take up to 30 lbs. of cotton thread. For the dye, I used plants I have collected. Fortunately I have been harvesting flower tops for many years and had dried marigolds, cosmos, and other traditional dye plants, weld and madder root, that I had on hand to use.
I modified a weave structure by Franz Donat, published in 1890 in Bindungs-Lexikon fur Schaftweberei downloaded from Handweaving.net. If you look at the ends of the weavings you can see the strips, but the diagonal nature of the weave structure, along with the red/orange of the weft color, alters the perception of the strip, so it is not clear to the eye.
I worked on the yarn preparation for this project for 1 1/2 months: winding over 4,000 warp threads; binding the warp so when I dyed and wove them they spelled out the word FLAT; preparing the yarns for dyeing, including washing the natural cotton to remove any natural oils and debris, mordanting them in a tannin bath followed by an alum bath; soaking the plant material to make the dye; filling big pots of water to cook the dye; dipping sections of the yarn into a ferrous pot to create the dark strips of colors; drying the yarn and rinsing it. The next step was to remove all the binding.
Meanwhile, Jay Kreimer worked on developing the clouds and the eight foot legs of the crane, dropping from the sky. He also created a score that combines natural and created sound to complete the piece. We consulted on color and how to work with the space of the skylight. When we deinstall the work in late July 2019, I will be able to see how the color holds up to the natural light coming into the space from the doors and skylight.
This weaving presents three compelling words in response to bloody and deadly protests taking place in Gaza from March to May 2018. “Gaza, Scar, Camp” speak to experiences both Jews and Palestinians have lived with in profound ways. For millennia Jews endured the scars of hate, ostracization, and pogroms. The horrific experience of the Nazi death camps is indelible and enduring. Palestinians in Gaza have lived in desperate straits over decades and generations. Israeli and Egyptian blockades, checkpoints and roadblocks make access to basic necessities such as school, food, health services, and work extremely difficult. A solution to the Palestinian crisis is a humanitarian necessity and needs to be addressed in the larger context of a volatile, destabilized region.
Fiberart International is a benchmark exhibition presenting the best in contemporary fiber art. FI2019 is the 23rd in an ongoing series of triennial exhibitions. I will be showing this new work called “Gaza, Scar, Camp.”
EXHIBITION DATES: May 31 – August 24, 2019, Pittsburgh, PA
Five Textile Society of America members are represented in this year’s exhibition, which runs April 14 – June 9, 2018 at the Yeiser Art Center, 200 Broadway St, Paducah, KY 42001, (270) 442-2453. Arturo Sandaval was the juror. You will find a complete list of artists on the Yeiser Art Center web page. Liztmannstadt Getto won Best of Show award.
I have returned to the city of Lodz, Poland again and again. It is home to an extraordinary group of weavers and textile artists whose innovation and creativity inspire me. Its history haunts me.
I first visited Poland in 1992 and have had the privilege to return a number of times over the years. In the late 1990s I worked with Polish and American colleagues to develop an exhibition of contemporary Polish fiber art that toured the USA, called Different Voices: New Art from Poland. When I returned to Lodz after a hiatus of almost twenty years, the monuments and memorials to the victims of World War II struck me.
Litzmannstadt Getto, 1940-1944. 2016. Photo by Jay Kreimer
When I revisited Poland in 2014 to teach a workshop on ikat we stayed in the Baluty neighborhood of Lodz. This neighborhood was clearly demarcated in present day Lodz as the site of the Litzmannstadt Getto of 1940-1944, stenciled on curbs around the perimeter and marked with a granite marker. The Lodz Ghetto was the second largest Jewish ghetto in Poland. The Nazis changed the name of the city to Litzmannstadt in November 1939 after a German general who invaded the city in World War I.
This brief immersion in the Lodz Ghetto has propelled me to return to my research about World War II, this time examining the European causes and consequences. The ikat technique, my interest in text and image, and the desire to grapple with history in visual terms have come together.
detail view of Litzmannstadt Getto, 1940-1944
The weaving, Litzmannstadt Getto, 1940-1944, 2016 is the first in this group of works, a major undertaking in which I have been able to combine text and pattern using an innovation of the Indian method of preparing the threads for dyeing.
I explore the world through woven fabric, constructed thread by thread, infused with color from plant and mineral sources. Inherently a slow process, I wind lengths of thread to become warp yarns, secure them around a frame to bind the desired pattern, immerse them in mordant and dye solutions so they can achieve a specific color, remove the binding to free the threads so finally I can transfer them to the loom to weave a fabric, inserting the weft yarn, row by row.