“Threaded: Contemporary Fiber in New England and Spend a Day with SDA” by Jennifer Lee Morrow
March 18, 2020
I strive for flow in my studio time but was also pleased to find it recently in a one-day gathering at the Mosesian Arts Center in Watertown, Massachusetts. New England states share the beauty of their waters from ocean to bays to lakes to rivers and streams, and on this day about 50 artists also enjoyed sharing–images, stories, tips, art, and fun. This image, from the upper gallery, is of Kristina Goransson’s Drained, a collection of felted stones tumbling down wide platforms set between two staircases, as it flows to Amy Genser’s Neptune created from tightly rolled strips of paper and layers of paint. For me, this arrangement mirrored the New England SDA members who flowed between the two floors of the Mosesian chatting, networking, admiring art, and feeling the energy created from in-person interactions.
Last summer, the Mosesian, a multi-disciplinary space for performing and visual arts, approached Nancy Crasco and Adrienne Sloane, SDA reps for Massachusetts and Rhode Island, offering to host an exhibit of contemporary fiber art by members of Surface Design Association. Nancy and Adrienne brought the idea to a meeting of the New England area reps in Boston in June and generously opened the call up to the four other New England states.
Aneleise Ruggles, Director of Exhibitions at Mosesian and Michelle Lee, an SDA Board Member and Membership Coordinator worked with the New England SDA reps to plan Threaded: Contemporary Fiber in New England and a one-day gathering in conjunction with the exhibit opening, Spend the Day with SDA. Adrienne and Nancy coordinated with the venue, and the other New England reps took on organizational roles. Eve Jacobs-Carnahan (Vermont), and Kate Dean (New Hampshire), spearheaded the search for panelists, Judith Daniels and myself (Maine) juried and organized the 20×20 presentations, Dayna Talbot (New Hampshire) outlined morning table activities and Roz Daniels (Vermont) organized the artist statement book. Judith also took photos at the event including most of these. We all met several times in online video meetings to iron out details.
Beth McLaughlin, Chief Curator of Exhibitions and Collections at the Fuller Craft Museum was selected to jury the exhibit which featured approximately 50 works created by 39 artists in a range of materials and techniques, expressing content from the political to the personal to the purely abstract. The pieces filled the lobby, circulation spaces, and adjoining café. Visitors to the center who include theater goers and workshop participants as well as those coming to view the exhibit, are treated to wall works, sculptures, garments, and book forms in all types of fiber, fabrics, paper, and mixed media. The selection of work displayed both the creativity and mastery of technique of the participating artists. I think this type of thoughtful, professional exhibition of high-quality work does much to expose the greater public to the cutting-edge of fiber art, excite curiosity about the field, and display the depth and variety of those working in the field.
In conjunction with the exhibition, Spend the Day with SDA offered the opportunity for 50 artists to bond with planned and informal activities. The day began in Mosesian’s black box theater which was set up with tables for five or six participants each as well as coffee and snacks. The energy in the room was high and participants slowly settled down to small sessions led by the area reps. It was an ideal way to get to know members in more depth. Each table had its own vibe, sharing conversation, expertise, actual work, websites, and much laughter and enthusiasm. This part of the day was rated highly in a follow-up survey, and there definitely is a desire to plan other way SDA members can interact in person within the region to expand upon the meetings already held in individual states.
As energizing as it was to share in small groups, we wanted to have the opportunity to hear even more about what was happening in the region. Next seven artists, Stacy Piwinski, Karen Henderson, Paulina Fuenzalida, Eve Jacobs-Carnahan, Carol Anne Grotrian, Ania Gilmore, and Virginia Mahoney, shared short presentations of twenty images projected for 20 seconds each. Topics included collaborative projects, personal technique, travel, commissions, societal messages, and reflections on vocation and career. This format highlighted the unique concerns of each artist yet connected to universal themes of interest to all the attendees. For future events, there have been requests to shorten this format, so that many or all of the attendees could present.
After a break for lunch and more conversation, participants reconvened to hear the eloquent thoughts of the panelists, Lissa Hunter, a nationally recognized artist and curator based in Portland, Maine and Sarah Parrish, Assistant Professor of Art History at Plymouth State University, Plymouth, New Hampshire. Lissa’s artistic roots are in basketry, but she has extended her practice to ceramics and drawing. Sarah’s academic research centers on issues of craft, gender, materiality, and globalization.
Using questions provided by Beth McLaughlin presented by moderator Adrienne Sloane, the two discussed trends in fiber arts including the recent recognition of big-name fiber artists such as Sheila Hicks, Anni Albers, and Faith Ringgold. The panelist spoke of the interaction of textiles and technology from the proliferation of information and techniques via the internet to the desire for more hands-on work in contrast to our tech-saturated daily lives. Both panelists conveyed their passion for the field, current trends, and future possibilities. There was time at the end for all the participants to chime in with their viewpoints and some questions.
To cap the day, Mosesian hosted an opening reception for the exhibit which coincided with intermission for the New Rep production of the love-rock musical, Hair. This gave everyone time to appreciate the selected artworks and one more opportunity for informal discussion. I had several non-artist friends join me, and it was interesting to hear their perspectives after the day of being immersed with my peers.
We are lucky in New England to have relative density which makes an event like Spend A Day possible. Still SDA members travelled for hours to have a chance to converse, learn, and feel included in the SDA community. The day highlighted the desire and appreciation for face-to-face meetings among artist sharing materials, techniques, and sensibilities.
– Jennifer Lee Morrow
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