Archive for February, 2010

Sheila Hicks update: Two talks about benefactors and books
February 28, 2010

Sheila Hicks, The Silk Rainforest, about 1975, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Bob and Lynn Johnston through Educational Ventures, Inc.

Sheila Hicks will be giving two talks in March that I think will be of interest to readers of this blog:  Friday, March 19, in Washington, D.C., and Thursday,  March 25,  in New Haven, Connecticut.  Here are the details:

The Silk Rainforest,  a 21′ x 7′ bas-relief panel by Sheila Hicks (shown above),  was one of a pair of panels commissioned by AT&T in the 1970s for its New Jersey headquarters.  After AT&T sold its corporate campus and disbanded its contemporary textile collection in 2002,  the water- and mice-damaged panels were bought and rescued from a Basking Ridge,  New Jersey,  cellar by benefactors Bob and Lynn Johnston,  and were returned to Sheila Hicks’s Paris studio for restoration.

The wrapped cords had to be removed,  and in some cases re-wrapped,  and the base cloth of handwoven Bangalore silk replaced.  Ms.  Hicks was able to reassemble her original staff  to painstakingly restore the panels,  using the same silk,  linen,  and cotton that she had had in storage for thirty years.

Bob and Lynn Johnston donated the newly restored The Silk Rainforest to the Smithsonian Art Museum, where it is on permanent display in the Renwick Gallery’s Grand Salon,  which is where  on Friday,  March 19,  at noon,  Sheila Hicks will discuss the work and the restoration.  The talk is free,  and no registration is required.

In case you were wondering — as I was — what happened to The Silk Rainforest‘s companion panel,  Green Silk Forest,  (shown below),  the answer is that the Johnstons gifted it to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton,  New Jersey,  where it has been installed in the Dining Hall.

Green Silk Forest. Photo: Bruce M. White.

The two twenty-foot-long pieces were designed to hang opposite each other with no glass barriers so viewers could walk between them and experience the environment that they created,  so it is a pity that they have been separated.  But at least both pieces have been brilliantly restored,  under the artist’s direction,  and are on view again.

Until I saw Sheila Hicks:  Weaving as Metaphor,  the 2006 exhibition of Sheila Hicks’s work at the Bard Graduate Center (BGC) in NYC,  I only knew about her large,  sculptural,  public pieces,  like the ones shown above,  and the ones that she created for the restaurant SD26,  which I wrote about recently ( here).  But the work shown at the BGC was selected from years of small weavings that Ms.  Hicks did on a frame loom that she carries around with her.  These personal,  experimental works have the spontaneous feel of sketches,  and installed in BGC’s intimate townhouse-gallery,  they made one of the most inspiring shows that I had seen in a long time.

If you missed the show at BGC,  you can still see the artwork,  beautifully displayed,  in the exhibition catalogue,  also titled Sheila Hicks:  Weaving as Metaphor,  by Danto and Simon,  edited by Stritzler-Levine (the book is shown below).

The book was designed by Irma Boom,  a Dutch graphic designer,  whose innovative work has been lauded  by the cream of the international design world.  The Museum of Modern Art in NYC has several of her designs in its collection.  In 2007,  the Leipzig Book Fair awarded Sheila Hicks:  Weaving as Metaphor the Gold Medal as “The Most Beautiful Book in the World.”

The front cover is white,  embossed with a gridlike texture that echoes the woven image on the back cover.  The creamy,  inviting pages have rough,  handmade-looking edges.  Each page shows only one beautifully photographed piece,  in excellent color reproduction,  with the facing page providing information and artist’s notes.  The idiosyncratic printing was done in Holland by Drukkerij Rosbeek.

Ms.  Boom said in a Metropolis magazine interview, “At first the publishers [Bard Graduate Center and Yale University Press] said,  ‘it’s a white cover and it will never sell.’  But it sold out immediately.  And now the second printing is almost sold out.”  (The third printing should be available in March.  If you would like to buy the book,  best to contact BGC,  Yale University Press,  1-800-405-1619,  or Amazon.)

On Thursday, March 25,  Sheila Hicks and Irma Boom will talk about the book at the Yale Art Gallery, in New Haven,  Connecticut (link here). If you can’t make it to Yale, there is a brief but interesting video interview with Irma Boom about Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphorhere.

More to come: Sheila Hicks has also completed new artwork for the SD26 restaurant; I will post the details when I have them.


2010 Weave of the week #3: The accidental detective
February 8, 2010

"Pantalones Solola" Photo: Judy Sidonie Tillinger

It was not the striped pants pictured above that prompted me to write this post,  but what they are and how I found out what they are.

If the pants look familiar, it could be because you read my Faux Ikat post last year ( here), about knocking off a similar woven pattern.  Unfortunately,  in that post I incorrectly identified the original fabric (which I don’t have anymore) as Mexican.  Because of two accidental and serendipitous discoveries,  I know now that the original ikat fabric was actually woven on a backstrap loom in Sololá, Guatemala.

The first discovery occurred last year while I was researching a blog post about a Guatemalan cinta (hair ribbon) (post here).  I used a powerful image from Judy Sidonie Tillinger’s online photo gallery to illustrate how the cinta is worn.  Judy is a New York photographer and textile lover whose work I admire.  She has traveled to some of the world’s handweaving meccas and shares hundreds of her dazzling photographs online.  While I enjoy browsing through all her galleries, the traje (link here) in particular contains some of the most spectacular textiles I’ve ever seen.  And among that collection I happened to see an image of ikat-striped pantalones (photo at top of post) from Sololá,  Guatemala, that looked very much like the “Mexican” textile that I had copied years ago.  Below are close-ups of the true ikat (on the left) and my version (on the right).

Of course I was glad to be able to correct my mistake,  but the coincidence of finding the textile (which I hadn’t even been looking for) astonished me.

For the Guatemalan cinta post, I also got help from a longtime friend who is an expert in Guatemalan textiles,  Bhakti Ziek.  Her book, Weaving on a Backstrap Loom,  provided the second serendipitous confirmation of the cloth’s identity — the photo below of  “a woman of  Sololá wearing her town’s tied-dyed shirt.”

Photo: Bhakti Ziek

Her book also provided this insight:

Very often the women [of Totonicipán] purchase enough pre-tie-dyed material for a chosen number of stripes.  Then they need do only the weaving.  In Sololá,  men’s shirts and pants and women’s huipiles are backstrap woven of tied-dyed material.  Here,  too,  the women purchase the thread already patterned.

I nodded in recognition at finding that Guatemalan weavers take short-cuts,  too,  and I wondered whether they,  in their turn,  might nod in recognition if they saw my supplementary-warp version of their cloth.  I’ll never know,  of course,  but thinking about the question makes me feel closer to these marvelous weavers.

I enjoyed putting these pieces together,  and I’m bemused by the way in which the aptly named world wide web makes such (accidental) detective work possible,  by linking traditional weaving on backstrap looms in distant countries with modern commnication technology and digital cameras.

For their help with this article I would like to thank Bhakti  Ziek,  Judy Sidonie Tillinger,  and the weavers of Sololá,  Guatemala.  And before leaving this subject,  I would like to share this from my research:  ” Sololá has a breath-taking view of Lake Atitlán and ‘atitlán’ is a Mayan word that translates as ‘the place where the rainbow gets it’s colors.'” (More about Guatemala here.)