You can’t have a discussion about fiber art without mentioning Ed Johnetta Miller. The award-winning and internationally acclaimed fiber artist has been an inspiration to a swath of artists who create ornate works of art using textiles. Since fiber art is sort of an enigma to me, I sat down with Ed Johnetta at the opening of the “Jazz Tones” exhibit last month to learn more about the art form and how she got started. Her interest in textiles stretches back to childhood when her father worked at a cleaning company specializing in entertainer clothing, “it was the only one in the area that could remove pit stains from silk,” she says, laughing. Her foray into textiles didn’t stop there. It was Ed Johnetta’s grandmother and aunt, Dora, both fiber artists, who introduced her to the art of quilting and crocheting.
Yet, like many artists who have to choose between their passion and a lucrative profession, Ed Johnetta was pushed into a more traditional career path, “I worked in business for 25 years,” she says, “I just wanted my parents to be proud.” Feeling drained by corporate life, she eventually took the leap into fiber art with encouragement from her aunt. “I wanted to be an artist. It was Aunt Dora who saw my potential.” It didn’t take long before her potential was realized around the world. Her first piece received international recognition in 1995, setting the stage for future fiber artists, such as Christina Blais and Diane Cadrain.
All five of Ed Johnetta’s quilts displayed in “Jazz Tones” embody African-American influences from jazz music to dance overlaying rich red hues and accents of black, persimmon, and yellow. The colors and cloth juxtapositions enliven the quilts, evoking, at once, passion and vigor . One quilt with Japanese script embroidering, aptly named, “And I Embrace All Cultures,” resonates with her belief that “fiber art connects different cultures.” Sure enough, her quilts represent a range of textiles, “I love fabrics from Africa, South America, and India.”
Like Ed Johnetta’s pieces, all of the artworks at the exhibit pay homage to jazz music and jazz musicians.
Me: The theme of the show is “Jazz Tones.” What is your connection with jazz?
Ed Johnetta: We [the artists] all grew up listening to jazz. We need music to keep sane. [Jazz] gives us a spark we all need. I listen to jazz while I work.
Me: Who is your favorite jazz musician?
Ed Johnetta: Jackie McLean – he was my neighbor. I used to live around the corner from him. He’d be up practicing early in the morning and I’d hear his music. It brightened my life.
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Ed Johnetta’s work is on display at several well-known institutions including The National Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, and is currently showing at 100 Pearl Street Gallery through August 23.