When Bruce Hoffman began planning a fiber-arts exhibition for the Hunterdon Art Museum, he noticed a curious pattern: many of the artists he considered featured nature motifs in their work. As he was struck by this recurring theme, he realized the Museum’s setting – a former grist mill built in1836 – would ideally complement a nature-focused exhibition.
The exhibition, titled “Nature’s Mark: Printing on Fiber,” runs from May 19 to Sept. 8 and features seven artists whose work is as diverse as the world of fiber arts itself: Nancy Crow, Dianne Koppisch Hricko, Richard Hricko, Georgeann Schellenger, Heather Ujiie, Jeanne Williamson and Wendeanne Ke’aka Stitt.
The opening reception for this exhibition is Sunday, May 19 from 2 to 4 p.m., and is free and open to all. Dianne Koppisch Hricko, Richard Hricko and Heather Ujiie are scheduled to give artists’ talks.
“The theme of Nature’s Mark evolved as an organic process because the artists represented were selected in a somewhat intuitive process,” Hoffman said, who is guest curating the exhibition for the Museum. “I chose works that would embrace the rustic, nature-inspired rooms of the Museum that once functioned as a mill. The Museum to me evokes a time when fabric mills were omnipresent along the rivers of the northeast region of the United States.”
The materials and methods employed by these artists span centuries: from the ancient Hawaiian art of kapa making to modern images digitally printed on fabric panels.
Wendeanne Ke’aka Stitt is one of just a handful of artists dedicated to reviving the ancient art of kapa making. Kapa making was a vital practice in the daily lives of Hawaiian women up until the middle of the 19th century when it began dying out culturally.
Kapa, made from the inner bark of wauke (the paper mulberry plant), is a long arduous process that involves stripping the bark from the tree, repeated phases of soaking, pounding and drying the bark, watermarking, dyeing and stamping a surface pattern. Stitt then quilts the kappa, frequently employing Hawaiian symbols such as lightning bolts and houndstooth to embellish the finished work.
In contrast, Heather Ujiie’s art reflects a more modern approach. Her work is a fusion of several artistic methods, including hand painting, drawing, stitching and printing with an innovative, cutting-edge, large-format digital inkjet printer.
The finished product is a gorgeous – and often massive – dreamscape that challenges viewers to question the human condition, and the natural works of growth, beauty, loss and decay. Ujiie, who considers herself more of a figurative artist these days, says large-paneled works like “Call of the Wild” and “Extinct” reference botanical studies and nature.
“If I can ignite deep spiritual forays into the imagination, and generate reflection on what is hidden, whether it’s our own personal demons or our lust for life, I feel I have touched a universal cord,” Ujiie said.
Jeanne Williamson, who considers herself a mixed-media artist, works with construction fences, and combines printmaking, painting, collage and occasionally stitching in her work. “I think in grids, and because of that, I fell in love with the fences immediately,” Williamson notes. “I began monoprinting their textures and patterns.”
Tapping Innate Memories
The Museum has featured textiles and fiber arts in several past exhibitions. One show included the baskets and painted fabric constructions of Pamela Becker, another showed the sculptural baskets of Nancy Moore Bess; still another, about two years ago, was the alliteratively titled “Knitted, Knotted, Netted,” and featured the creations of a dozen artists who took the technique of looping a thread or cord in fascinating new directions.
“Showing contemporary fiber is of great interest to us because of the many forms it can take,” said Marjorie Frankel Nathanson, executive director of the Museum. “It can be utilitarian -- for example, clothing -- or it can be a sculpture or a two-dimensional panel that’s decorative.”
Hildreth York, who has curated several fiber arts exhibitions at the Museum, said the diversity of textile and fiber artists makes it challenging to summarize their work.
“It spans past, present, future and is growing in directions that not too long ago would have been unforeseeable,” York said. “But those who observe fiber arts come to the table – or gallery – with their own preferences and predilections. Each view is inevitably skewed, as in the old tale of blind men feeling an elephant; what you think it is may depend on which part you are touching.”
Hoffman believes we have an innate shared memory for textiles because it spans human history and is so close to us physically. “Think about it – it’s the material that touches us our entire lives. We’re wrapped in swaddling at birth; for funerals we’re buried in our finest clothes.”