Museum  February 10, 2021  Megan D Robinson

Subversive, Skilled, Sublime: Fiber Art by Women to Show at SAAM

Courtesy of Lia Cook

Lia Cook, Su Series Installation, 2016.

Often denigrated as mere "women’s work," fiber arts’ mastery requires the same ingenuity and skill as any other fine art discipline. A Smithsonian American Art Museum exhibition slated for 2022—Subversive, Skilled, Sublime: Fiber Art by Women—will showcase a diverse set of incredible fiber artists. Among these artists are three particularly fascinating women who have spent decades demonstrating the true artistic mastery, ingenuity, and skill integral to the craft.

Photograph by M. Lee Fatherree. Courtesy of the Forrest L. Merrill Collection.

Kay Sekimachi, Paired Box, 1990s. Orange, blue, and natural linen, double weave pickup. 4 x 4 x 4 in. Forrest L. Merrill Collection.

Kay Sekimachi (b. 1926)—a fiber arts pioneer known for three-dimensional woven sculptures, wall hangings, and intricate boxes and bowls—fell in love with the loom while attending the California College of Arts and Crafts. “There’s something very soothing about weaving, sitting at the loom and watching something grow.”

Sekimachi uses a variety of materials, including nylon monofilament, linen, paper, and found objects. Longtime friend and collector Forrest L. Merrill applauds her “great artistic sensibility and tremendously profound, technical capacity to figure out challenges so she can work with the material to create the kind of object she wants to present.” Sekimachi’s enthusiasm for problem-solving inspired her to create remarkable woven boxes.

Photograph by M. Lee Fatherree. Courtesy of the Forrest L. Merrill Collection.

Kay Sekimachi, Leaf Bowl, 2007. Maple tree leaf skeletons, Kozo paper. Forrest L. Merrill Collection.

Weaving the disparate parts, all on the same warp, as part of one connected piece, was a technical feat. “I love puzzles,” Sekimachi explains. “And it was really fun.” Sekimachi has enjoyed sharing her knowledge and expertise with other artists, and she’s still producing work at 94. The University of California Berkeley Art Museum will be exhibiting a Sekimachi Retrospective in May.

Courtesy of Lia Cook

Lia Cook, Three Fibers Revisioned, 2020. Cotton, rayon, woven, integrating plant fibers, neural connections, and early work. 22 x 13 in.

Known for her trailblazing use of the electronic Jacquard loom, Lia Cook (b. 1942) challenges the boundaries of arts, crafts, and science in her genre-bending textiles, combining weaving with painting and other media. Cook makes textiles both subject and object, frequently integrating images from medieval tapestry, portraits, and neurological scans into her work.

Fascinated with the evolution of patterns, and people’s emotional and neurological responses to artwork, her creations reveal visual surprises from different points of view. “I'm very interested in creating a pattern that always changes, that's never the same. So it has motion and movement to it.”

Courtesy of the Consuelo Underwood

Consuelo Underwood, Home of the Brave, 2013. Wire, silk, fabric, safety pins, synthetic, and natural threads. ​72 x 99 in.

Conseulo J. Underwood (b. 1949) draws attention to immigration, human rights, and the ecological and social impact of border walls with her textile pieces and installations, combining a joyful exuberance for life with a social conscience. Growing up as a farmworker with an undocumented father made Underwood very conscious of immigration issues. As a young artist, she “swore I would let people know how wrong the border was.”

Using bordered edges, barbed wire, caution sign imagery, religious iconography, and embroidered flowers, Underwood addresses the human cost of draconian immigration laws and the ecological harm caused by border walls. “Now as I begin my seventh decade, I am fiercely devoted to the loom. I feel my best work is waiting for me to manifest it. My main drive in life is to weave as many statements as possible. We can’t forget the problems and issues.”

About the Author

Megan D Robinson

Megan D Robinson writes for Art & Object and the Iowa Source.

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