“So many people have lost the proper way of living, but here it is.” The comment, delivered by someone contemplating two of the approximately 125 mostly woven works in The Threads That Bind Us, the annual exhibition by the Mary Meigs Atwater Weaver’s Guild at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center, underscored the achievements revealed by these artists in their works. Kim Deneris Brown, whose “Stone Wrapping I” and “Stone Wrapping II,” with ten stones between them, were the immediate subject of this viewer’s approval. Although not woven in the classic sense, wherein fabrics are formed by interweaving threads, here Brown, having selected ten individually shaped and polished river pebbles, each about fist-sized, circled each with a pattern of rattan cane bound with an antique Japanese knot. The tying of these individually conceived and adapted patterns wraps each stone in a rattan fabric and, in the process, each becomes essentially an act of meditation. Like the process of achieving it, studying the result teaches lessons about living in the material world and about ourselves. Whether the result is to be worn, used in some daily practice, or simply lived with, something similar is true of everything here.
Not that everything in The Threads That Bind Us creates such a somber effect. “Tea Time” and “Boxes,” beautiful hand towels by Sam Kievit, might only stop users in the midst of their tasks with sudden awareness of how much those labors can reward us. Elsewhere, a menagerie of animals — fish, a mother whale and her calf, a monkey, and other sculpted figures — hang out together. Michael Christensen, who as gallerist at UCCC has produced well over a hundred exhibitions in the Center’s challenging spaces, not only managed to fit so many examples into the room without crowding, but created the effect of half a dozen distinct areas, almost like smaller rooms, so that the various genres can each share in creating an overall effect. Brown’s stones are seen near Doni Peck’s “Kayenta” baskets, “Redware” and “Grayware,” which technically are baskets, but equally invoke ceramic bowls, while in Connie Denton’s “Pine Needle Baskets,” beads and other elements decoratively open up the woven sides.
Weaving emerged prehistorically and long played both functional and decorative roles, including the celebrated contribution of loom makers to early computer technology. As Marshall McLuhan pointed out, the replacement of any methodology allows an earlier one to subvert the later. For example, there are still stories in books that can’t be told in movies and so require reading. In the case of textiles, the mastery of basic weaving by machines has liberated hand weaving to push the outer boundaries of visual and, for that matter, tactile effects.
Some of these innovations may be adapted to machine weaving, but many cannot make the transition. One that is relatively new and has reached the ignition point in this year’s exhibition is painted warp, in which the longitudinal threads, which form the skeleton over which the transverse weft threads weave back and forth, are first hand-dyed by the weaver. The technique is related to, but very different in effect from, the familiar Ikat or space-dyed effects produced by pre-dying the weft threads before they are woven in. The older techniques may produce relatively solid geometric effects — worthy in themselves — while the newer ones allow a subtle range of results that defy the mechanical nature of weaving, even as they preserve all its virtues.
Among the numerous examples here, Ivy Dehart’s “Shades of Night” provides a strong example. Such works defy both photography and distant, hands-off viewing — unfortunately for the artist who wishes to display her work. First of all, the finished weave has a depth and complexity that can only be fully appreciated in person, as the parallax of three dimensions between the threads brings the fabric to life when it or the viewer moves. In person, furthermore, the eye can discern the pattern — in this case “16 shaft twill,” which adds another dimension that massages the eye. Anyone leaving The Threads That Bind Us who still thinks weaving is a static, unchanging medium, rather than a lively, steadily evolving art, will have missed much of the beauty on offer.
Regular readers of 15 Bytes will recognize some of the names here, which testifies to the healthy weaving together of art and craft today. Sheryl Gillilan, whose quilts were recently shown at the City Library and Finch Lane, here contributes “The Things They Wore,” in which recycled shirts and ties are joined by buttons, pins, and woven cloth labels to create a virtual map of the garment universe. Not far away, long time arts administrator and notorious collage-maker Kandace Steadman contributes a sweater knitted with yarn provided by friends, and so suitably (and perhaps autobiographically) titled “I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends.” The fun here has to do with her decision to use the Fibonacci number sequence to determine the pattern of stripes. Those who count rows are able to see how their number here and there add up to determine the number of rows that come next. Perhaps the remarkable thing is the way such universal, secret structures — the Fibonacci series measures the Golden Mean — tend to disappear into the works it organizes: in this case, what looks like a sweater remembered from school days.
The ten dozen works here range from delicate, ornamental lace and tatting to sturdy rugs, from exotic fibers like Tencel to recycled garment scraps. All are worth a second look, whether worn by a model or framed on a wall.
The Threads That Bind Us, Utah Cultural Celebration Center, West Valley City, through Oct. 18.
All images courtesy the author.