Last night we held an opening reception for our current exhibit, “Jazz Tones,” featuring ornate works of fiber art from the Connecticut Fiber Arts Collective. Prior to the exhibit, I was wholly unfamiliar with fiber art as an art form, and thought textiles were used exclusively for blankets and clothes (I know, I know.). That’s when I decided to interview the members of the Collective to learn more about fiber art, their creative process, and how jazz inspires them to continue creating beautiful pieces of artwork. Read on and don’t forget to visit 100 Pearl Street Gallery to peruse the textured collection for yourself.
1. What inspired you to create fiber art and how is it different from other forms of art?
Christina: I started sewing when I was nine years old; that led to learning to piece quilt tops, and from there, I asked “what’s next?” That led me to collage with fabric. I don’t just like fabric – I love it. I love choosing it, touching it, seeing its possibilities, cutting it because of its a comforting medium to work with. Fabric is potential energy.
Diane: My inspiration to create from fiber was born necessity: My family had more daughters than money, and my mother spent a lot of time at her White sewing machine, making and mending clothes for me and my three sisters. She was my role model for sewing. Of course, those were the days when sewing was taught in school, as part of home economics. I’d venture to say that every girl who came through public school in the sixties learned to operate a sewing machine. My grandmother, who lived on the second floor of our three-family house, was my role model for knitting, crocheting, hand weaving and embroidery. Through these two women, my mother and grandmother, I had my entrée into the world of fiber, born of necessity as a woman’s art.
Fiber is different from other art forms because its materials are more accessible and more readily available than fine art materials such as paints and brushes. Thread and needles were part of my childhood: I learned to sew buttons and buttonholes, mend socks, make doll clothes, and construct drawstring bags for my marbles. These materials did not have to purchased at art supply stores or used in special art lessons, both of which would have been laughably out of reach for my family.
Carol: I started as a traditional quilter who didn’t like to follow the rules. I found I loved the freedom of working with fabrics and colors in a more spontaneous way. I think part of what I love about working with fiber is that the fibers each have their own texture. We can bring the textures of silks and cottons and wool into our artwork. The process can involve surface design, stitching, and layering in addition to creating the original design. Some of us create our own fabrics that we incorporate into our designs.
2. What are your go-to textiles for creating fiber art?
Diane: I have three pieces in the show, but I’ll limit my description to the one that the GHAC chose for its postcard: A Love Supreme I, which takes its name from the John Coltrane composition. For this piece, I visualized the immanent spirit of the universe as a whirling nebula. I chose orange and yellow and white as its pulsing heart. The rainbow colors issuing out from that center reflect the gradual cooling of color, from orange through green and blue and purple. I used three-dimensional materials, mostly painted and stiffened cheesecloth, to give the piece immediacy and intensity.
Christina: I look for my most interesting fabrics and go from there. Color inspiration comes from nature, and I look at the fabric’s value – lightness and darkness, more than its color for use in my projects. I will use any textile that comes my way – upholstery fabrics, cottons, polyesters, so long as it contributes to the piece in a positive way. I like to have elements of surprise in my pieces if you look closely enough!
Carol: For “Crescendo and Diminuendo in Blue” I knew I wanted to work in blues and thought the subtlety of hand-dyed and hand-painted cottons would create the feeling of music gradually becoming softer and louder. When I first thought about “Black, Brown & Beige” I thought I would use hand-dyed cottons in earth tones. Then I was given a book of dupioni-silk samples. I love the bumpy texture of dupioni silk and it is a great “canvas” for hand stamping. The piece came together effortlessly. The fabric led the way, as it did in “Fragments and Colors of Me.” When I heard Maxine Martin play “Fragments and Colors of Me” at the Hartford Public Library, I immediately knew it would be a title for a quilt. My silk-dupioni samples in every colors of the rainbow were perfect for the task
3. The theme of the show is jazz and all of the works from the show pay homage to jazz artists. How has jazz influenced you and your art?
Diane: I’m likely to have jazz and blues playing as I work, and the music relaxes me, frees me up, and probably facilitates the sparking of new neural pathways in my brain.
Carol: Jazz, for me, is the perfect analogy for my style of fiber art, which involves improvisation. Ed Johnetta Miller and her “Improvisational Quilting” had a huge influence on my work. My work often involves designing as I go.
4. How do you think music has influenced art and vice versa?
Carol: Music and visual art both create beauty, convey a message, and bring together community. Both express our strongest feelings and desires about life such as joy, sadness, anger, awe, love, and justice. For many of us, listening to music inspires our artwork. The feelings are the same, the medium different.
Diane: Music is an aural art, and fiber is a visual art. The two media cross-pollinate one another: visual arts can be a way to make aural arts visible. I like the way Goethe, in a similar vein, described music as liquid architecture and architecture as frozen music.
5. How does public perception of fiber art influence the development of your work?
Christina: I have found people to be surprised that the ordinary fabrics that surround them can be morphed into an art piece, and that spurs me to keep going.
Carol: Most people think of quilts as something for the bed. We want them to also think of quilts as artwork they would put on their wall. Our job is to put our artwork out in the community. We feel that once people see what we have created, they will consider it for their walls, along with paintings, drawings, and photography. I try not to think about “the public” too much when creating my artwork. My artwork needs to be a true expression of my thoughts, feelings, and political convictions.
Diane: I think it’s fair to say that some of the public still considers quilting a utilitarian practice limited to women and homemakers. My response is that fiber art has leaped off the bed and onto the wall. For that reason, I mount much of my work on stretcher bars so that it is presented in the same format as more traditional fine art media.