Last Friday, four of us who are fiberista friends drove to the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa, to see the "Innovators and Legends: Generations in Textiles and Fiber" exhibit there. It's virtually a straight shot from Madison to Davenport through beautiful Midwestern farm country. The drive took about 2 and 1/2 hours on good roads with no problems other than the typical presence of semitrucks (though no double-bottoms). The museum is a beautiful building (below) with great exhibit spaces and dramatically located on the banks of the Mississippi River.
The exhibit includes 70 works by 50 artists in a broad spectrum of fiber techniques and materials. Some of the legends were obvious to me — like Kay Sekimachi and Katherine Westphal. But is Madison's Mery Bero (below) a legend or an innovator at this point in time and this stage in her career? i'm not sure if I know the answer to that or if just viewing the show provides an answer. One member of our group bought the companion catalog so maybe I'll find out if there's an official view on this when we get together next. There is also a companion exhibit, "Local Threads" which showcases the work of Quad Cities fiber artists.
Taken together, the works were overwhelming in scope, techniques, materials, and scale. It's the kind of show that one wants to visit more than once. A return visit after reading the catalog would definitely provide a more meaningful experience. I must admit, I was hoping to be inspired by these twin shows to create another fiber piece, the way I was after seeing Marty Petillo's work in Madison.
But many of these art works were done using techniques and even materials that I found more impressive than inspirational. The show of work by the Quad Cities artists contained some more whimsical and lighter works that I found a needed antidote to the seriousness of the main exhibit.
Karen Hampton, The Model, layered digital prints, hand stitched, 2011. Photograph from Figge Museum website.
Two things that struck me most after seeing "Innovators and Legends," and its companion exhibit: First, how many names were unfamiliar to me suggesting that I am not keeping up with this area of the art world to the degree that I assumed I was. Second, these were two great exhibits in a serious art museum. When is the last time the Chazen or MMoCA mounted an exhibit devoted to contemporary fiber? Other than the excellent exhibits at the Ruth Davis Design Gallery, located in the School of Human Ecology on the UW-Madison campus, our city continues to give fiber arts short shrift.
Despite having some mixed feelings about the Davenport exhibits, it was still well-worth the trip to see such an array of contemporary fiber art. And the Figge Art Museum itself is likely to prove enough of a draw for me to make the trip to Iowa again before too much time passes.