Sheila Hicks update: Two talks about benefactors and books

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.


7 Responses

  1. Dear Fern,

    Thank you for your thoughtful and articulate articles about Sheila Hicks and her work. I look forward to more!


    • Hi, Barbara,

      I really enjoyed writing the Sheila Hicks articles and look forward to writing more. Thank you for reading and for posting your encouraging comment.


  2. Thanks for another juicy post! I will be in NYC from April 1-6. If you will be around, I would love to get together for coffee and perhaps visit your studio.

    • Hi, Bonnie, Glad you liked it. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      You’ll be in NYC for the Easter Parade : ) Please e-mail me details of your trip.

  3. Fern,
    Tonight, sitting quietly in Paris, I read your posting and was delighted by the tone and amount of information you packed into it.

    I’m trying to finish a large work for the restaurant SD26 and hope to have it ready in March. It keeps changing and evolving but there is one constant – it is made of bright orange, Greek wool with a coir core.

    Thank you for your communicative enthusiasm. Rare and wonderful.


  4. These ‘forest’ pieces are beautiful and I love the understated and subtle design of the book. I have seen Sheila Hicks’ work at MOMA years ago and I really appreciate your wonderful and enlightening articles about it. Thank you, Fern!


    • Eva, Thanks for reading and posting. I deeply appreciate your positive comments.


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