As close to us as the clothes to our bodies, textiles hold an intimate place in our lives. Though historically dismissed for its utility, it is precisely this closeness which makes fiber a powerful tool to explore our individual and collective experiences. This Summer, the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve is pleased to host The Ardent Thread, a textile invitational curated by Tony Williams which shares both the personal stories and passionate work of nine regional fiber artists. Featuring Phyllis Brody, Rebecca Cross, Aimee Lee, Cynthia Lockhart, Myrya Johnson, Char Norman, Jessica Pinsky, Ron Shelton, and Anne Weissman, The Ardent Thread showcases weaving, quilting, embroidery, papermaking, assemblage, and innovative mixed media work. The exhibition also includes artist Oral Histories, unique interactive audio recordings which trace their journeys with the fiber arts. Curator and fiber artist Tony Williams explains, “We have all learned the craft of fiber for different reasons. Some of us learn because it is something passed down from generation to generation. Some of us learn out of necessity. Some of us learn for its beauty and skill and want to express our voice in these techniques. The group of artists exhibiting in The Ardent Thread are all true masters. They express their love of their craft… creating extraordinary art as they intertwine their chosen thread into a life of its own.” Though the artists vary widely in process and style, each uses tradition as a springboard to investigate heritage, the boundaries of materials, and their relationship to the world. A powerful theme presented in the show is the deep connection of textiles to African American heritage. Artist Cynthia Lockhart describes, “Perhaps more than any other art form, textiles reflect the pulse of the African American Culture.” Lockhart’s own work in the exhibition deploys pulsing colors and organic shapes to “simulate the vivaciousness of her African ancestry” and address vital parts of the African American experience, including the slavery and the Underground Railroad. Myrya Johnson also channels the rich legacy of African American textiles as a source of inspiration and a means to access her creative center. She relates, “Color inspires me, especially the tribal colors of the African cultures and their connection with Mother Earth. I find that these colors bring me to a place of freedom and rawness of self-expression... I allow the Spirit that comes to me to guide me… I have learned to listen.” Aimee Lee draws from her Korean ancestry and hanji, the traditional process of Korean papermaking, to craft elegant and inventive new forms. “I excavate my heritage to reveal cultures and stories we rarely see or read,” Lee explains, “through hand papermaking I look for connections between humans and the wider world.” Phyllis Brody’s work for the Ardent Thread serves both as a reflection on her family’s history as well as on the long and problematic relationship of women and the textile industry. In addition to heritage, several artists in The Ardent Thread use fiber to reflect on human’s connections to and effects on the environment. For Char Norman, threads themselves serve as a metaphor of interconnectivity and the weaving process a way of binding back together the nature we have broken. On display are several of Norman’s Egret Series. Inspired by her surprise encounter with the birds remains, these sculptures serve as a rebuke of the Victorian millinery which nearly drove them to extinction. Multi-media artist Rebecca Cross employs fiber to warn of humanity’s profound impact on the natural world. Using the Japanese process of Shibori, Cross fashions highly colored silk sculptures which mimic the botanical specimens found in natural history museums. “At once a mourning and a celebration of the biological diversity that we need, and is rapidly disappearing, these objects suggest a speculative future where plant species of our era…only exist as artifacts.” Ron Shelton transformed his classical textile training into a call to arms over our deadly addiction to plastic. “My passion for textile arts began at the early age of six. I was fascinated by the elaborately crafted starched doilies that my "nanny" created....Later, as curator/publisher of the online arts magazine/non-profit organization, High Art Fridays (HAF), I began to observe artists using plastic... in their art. From Ghana to Serbia, El Salvador to Korea, they were making a statement…this devastating medium is wreaking havoc on our communities.” The Ardent Thread features several of Shelton’s plastic hats and garments, including translucent jackets designed expressly for the show. Another connection between the exhibiting artists, is their joy of experimenting with materials. Anne Weissman constructs elaborate fabric collages using “improvised embroidery stitches and a surprising range of textiles, including those she has hand printed.” Using her needle as a “drawing tool, the thread literally drawing together the elements of these complex, yet intimate, pieces.” Jessica Pinsky uses her vast knowledge of the fiber arts to push the boundaries of conventional materials and processes. “With lots of experimentation,” Pinsky describes, “I discovered I could make cloth behave very differently with the same basic materials.” Beyond technique, her weavings serve as metaphors for the human condition. “[We are all] made of the same material, but can behave very differently…Our communities are segregated based on these differences. How is balance achieved? We need cloth to survive. It is our warmth and our shelter. Maybe this unifier can not only demonstrate our differences but mend them as well.” The Ardent Thread will be celebrated with a virtual artist’s reception on Zoom, Thursday, July 16th, 6:30 – 8:00pm. The event features a video tour of the exhibition, a live curator’s talk by Tony Williams, and brief artist statements followed by audience Q &A. The Ardent Thread Artist Talks will also be held via Zoom on Wednesday July 29, 6 – 7:30pm and Wednesday, August 26, 6 – 7:30pm. Registration links to these free events will be available on artistsarchives.org On Saturday, August 15, from 1 – 2:30pm the Archives is pleased to host The Legacy of African American Textile Art with Cynthia Lockhart. This free, online virtual program will be presented on the Zoom online meeting platform. Lockhart is Professor Emeritus at the University of Cincinnati and has taught courses in Fiber Art & Fashion, the Art of Jewelry & Leather Accessory Design, and Master of Design Professional Development. As an exhibiting artist in The Ardent Thread, Lockhart reflects, “Perhaps more than any other art form, textiles reflect the pulse of the African American Culture. Symbolism of the cloth has been one of our connections to our African roots. The fiber artwork and quilts in this presentation celebrate the resilient and creative spirit of our African Ancestors.” Artists highlighted in the presentation reflect inspiration from Slavery through Emancipation, Reconstruction, Civil Rights, Black Life Matters, “Hands Up”, and present-day protests in honor of Mr. George Floyd. Registration links will be available on our website shortly For the full press release and a preview of the exhibition, please visit the http://www.artistsarchives.org/event/the-ardent-thread/ Featured image: Cynthia Lockart, The Journey to Freedom (detail), Mixed textiles, leather, snakeskin, beads
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