Textiles as Fine Art

The Dust storms during the Depression were fierce and you really feel this sensation in this work. The buildings are insignificant in the force of nature thus are only show in outline as if made of thin sticks.

The Dust storms during the Depression were fierce and you really feel this sensation in this work. The buildings are insignificant before the force of nature thus are shown in outline – as if they were made of thin sticks. See the full size below.

About a year ago I was teaching a course called “Building a Career as a Visual Artist” for the U of A’s fine arts certificate program when two students began a serious discussion about what was considered art. Now this topic can be discussed on many different levels but in this case it had to do with fine arts vs. crafts.

Considering that my major at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary was Textiles and Metals, you can understand how I voted but it was very interesting to me to see that there is still a stigma to what is often associated mostly with women – textile art.

Louis XIV

Louis XIV

Blame Louis XIV, the Sun King. He wanted to have complete control over all aspects of the arts so he separated all the disciplines into Academies. Up to that time, all the arts were inter-related. It took almost 400 years to break the control of the academy of painting and judging by the discussion in the class, this break hasn’t been successful for textile art.

It is a brave soul, therefor, that bucks the tradition of what is considered art and craft. One such person is Judy Weiss, an award-winning, Edmonton-based textile artist. I saw her latest work at the Stony Plain Multicultural Center last weekend as she, and Sharon Willas Rubiliak, explored what it meant for homesteaders to have “landed” on the prairies in western Canada.

Full size

Full size “Height of the Storm

The imagery was, by virtue of the show’s theme, realistic in its depiction but it was interesting to see how the artist’s work has moved beyond the expectations that one might have around such a theme. Judy uses many techniques and processes to arrive at her intended design: quilting, embroidery, resist dyeing, sophisticated “tie-dye” effects, and felting.

Judy’s work has toured and been exhibited in Canada, the United States and New Zealand. The show is on until September 29th. For more info and to view her other works of art, check out Judy’s website HERE.

4 responses to “Textiles as Fine Art

  1. Hi Johanne: You have a really interesting blog! I am hopeful that the traditional barriers to textile arts are coming down. As more galleries accept the work of textile artists, the perceptions of viewers and collectors change as well. ‘Surface Design’ is a growing area of textile work, but in reality, all artists are surface designers, whether they work on wood panels, canvas, the sides of buildings, or a computer screen.

    Thanks for your comments on my work. It was wonderful to have you visit the Landed exhibition at the Stony Plain Multicultural Centre. It has closed there now, but if your readers would like to see the full show, it is on until September 29th at Galerie PAVA, at 9524-87 St. in Edmonton.

    Sharon and I have added an installation called Pink Tea, honouring 100 years of women in Alberta having the vote (achieved in 1916). In the installation, a farm woman and a city woman correspond about issues of the day. They highlight the key influence of the United Farm Women of Alberta, and Irene Parlby, one of Canada’s Famous Five. I’ve created a new wall piece to go with it, called “Breaking Ground: Log Cabin to Courthouse Steps”, playing on traditional quilt block patterns, but using modern techniques of photo transfer and machine stitch. It’s a bit of fun for history buffs, and educational for younger people who haven’t been as exposed to our province or country’s history, or the incredible distance that women have come in just one century.

    • It may have been slower than I suggested however during the Renaissance top artists painted furniture and created “cartoons” for tapestries and there was no shame in that – artists did everything. They were under the patronage of a particular person and they did what they were asked. Da Vinci created backdrops for plays, for example. During Louis XIV’s time, the divisions between art and craft became more pronounced once he created the academies that regulated who could do what. The men the King chose to head these academies became very powerful. Of course it doesn’t help that textiles have been more associated with women. It’s interesting that even in the 19th century most home weavers were women but the men were the “professional” weavers.

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