Hammerpress Letterpress Studio, Kansas City

Hammerpress Letterpress Studio is a charming, larger-scale letterpress shop that takes on the production of posters, cards and other projects. Finding it was one of the unexpected bonuses of attending the exhibition tour at the Surface Design Conference in Kansas City in late May. Established in 1994, it’s been in this location for two years. I’ve included a variety of shots, both from the front sales area and the back room studio. At left is the helpful young woman in the cool t-shirt who rang up my purchase of notecards.






Who knew?

My daughter just received her PhD from the University of Chicago (Go Math Women!) The cost to purchase this stunning ensemble is $800. Fellow fiber artists, don’t you see an opportunity here? We’re not talking haute couture dresses.

My seamstress-self estimates about one and a half hours sewing time once the long yardage has been cut out. And when you wearables artists encounter resistance at a $400 price tag, you can just mention that maybe your customers might be happy purchasing an $800 cap and tam. As for my daughter, she returned her gown at the UC bookstore along with many other fellow PhD’s; the magic was dissipated but the bank account remained intact. We are enjoying the pictures, though, which also include faculty graduates from other institutions (below.)

Surface Design Conference, Day 4

It was my job to introduce sculptor Jerry Bleem, who led us on an entertaining tour through the worlds of ten outsider artists in his talk, Off the Grid: Unconscious Advice for the Self-Conscious. A faculty member in the fiber and material studies program at the Art Institute of Chicago, Bleem is a gifted speaker and readily involves the audience in his exploration. His own work is provocative: organic sculptural forms made from found materials and staples; crocheted flags using found flag materials, and more. His bio for his show at the Leedy Volkous Art Center includes the following:

  • Jerry Bleem examines the significance of common, discarded materials while transforming the nonprecious through time-intensive accumulation. In his exhibit Repeated Gestures at the Leedy Voulkos Art Center, Bleem continues to use society’s detritus to consider cultural assumptions and standards, and the meaning found in human experience. Collages of canceled stamps, crocheted surfaces made of faded U. S. flags, and drawings on found paper will join his signature stapled sculptures. Simple acts of pasting, looping, drawing and stapling create works documenting both the artist’s constructive processes and his reflections about politics and identity, value and knowledge, prestige and hierarchy.

After that, I wanted to see a demonstration of “Soy Wax Three Ways” by Jane Dunnewald. Always interested in batik, I’ve been turned off by both the fumes and the drycleaning requirements of paraffin and beeswax, which I once used. Soy wax looks promising, and ironically, it’s the brainchild of Michael Richards, a fellow Iowan (and former New Yorker) who I believe, invented it for candlemaking in a business in which he employed homeless workers. I remember the first articles in our local paper about his project. His current efforts have also committed to helping Cedar Rapids, where his business is located, recover from the devastating flooding of one year ago.

Our Northcentral Regional Lunch led us to discoveries of like minded individuals in several states, plus resources unknown to us. The well known Chicago ceramics enclave, Lill Street Studio, for example, now has a textile studio, and resources at the city’s Columbia College make a collaboration between the two institutions a fertile resource for a future regional meeting. We also spoke of the Cleveland Museum of Art and its Textile Art Alliance. An Illinois sheep farmer, wool grower and spinner mentioned that 2009 is the International Year of Natural Fibers.

Off Which Grid, the closing remarks for the conference were made by Jessica Hemmings, whose summaries of the conference itself plus discussions about the arts, and fiber art in particular, in Europe, were particularly insightful.

In the time that remained, several of us visited the Nelson-Atkins Museum’s New Wing, which was a wonderful experience and highly recommended. Two fiber favorites are Kerry James Marshall’s Memento #5, and Kaiho Yusho’s Japanese screen ( 1533-1615.) I always pay homage to this screen when I visit Kansas City. Austere, selective, –fog and mist: so large one just inhabits.

Post script: While most conferees left Kansas City on Sunday, a few stayed on for some of the marvelous pre- and post-conference workshops. In these images, Rebecca Ringquist gets ready to teach a machine embroidery workshop, and longtime fiber educator Jean Cacicedo shows her sketchbook as students gather their materials before starting their session. If all of this has you intrigued, consider joining us in two years for the Surface Design Association’s biennial conference in a new location, Minneapolis, MN.



Surface Design Conference, Day 3

I’m deep into over-stimulation by now and loving it. We can only attend one third of the concurrent sessions available, so this listing will not be complete as far as the conference as a whole is concerned.

Victoria Rivers shares a lighthearted, zany life of artmaking that soon profiles a dedicated, focused interest in Asian “mirrored” cloths and her own very complex wall pieces. The sheer number of research projects and studio work accomplished as well as teaching, was eyepopping. Her current research area: Russian ceramics that show the ikat patterns of central Asia.

Jane Dunnewald in Mining for Meaning: Intentional Content takes us on a different spin through the land of studio reinvention. Dunnewald mirrors what several have said and I too have thought, about the move towards a simpler way of imaging/imagining, and also of thoughtful ways to reinvigorate studio practice. She talked about Barbara Schneider’s daily photograph, from which additional visualizations through Photoshop emerge.

Papermaker and University of Wisconsin faculty member Mary Hark led a small group through Material Poetry: Textiles in Ghana, West Africa, a stunning 500-image slideshow of her Fullbright textile research in Ghana. She lived with an extended family of adinkra cloth makers in Kumasi. The sheer variety of colorful market cloths, from Kente cloths (woven by younger boys), batik (made by families for grocery money), commercial “blockprinted” Ghanaian cloth, and adinkra cloth was wonderfully overwhelming. Adinkra is important for funerals. The dyers receive older clothing, often Kente or other, to overdye, then apply adinkra symbols. The materials used for the symbols is derived from a certain bark and later washes out, and the clothse are then re-stamped for future reuse. Local seamstresses sew these clothes to correct body measurements, altering after subsequent fittings. According to Hark, the city has the largest market in West Africa and the sheer number of fabrics is mind boggling.

Ironically, it’s interesting to see Mary’s photos. She was a student of Chris Roy’s at the University of Iowa. Roy spent time in Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) in the Peace Corps in the late 1960s, teaching then unknown batik methods. In Iowa in the early 1990s, Miranda Akyea, a Ghanaian friend (and Queen Mother) also did batik. She said that the European donated clothes in the local markets became known as the “bend down boutique” and were disdained, as locals had a proud clothing tradition. They developed their own patterns and a more Africanesque cloth. At that time, packaged foam from appliances and TVs was ingeniously repurposed to make stamps for stamping batik wax. Miranda did this type of batik. I did a small piece on this for Fiberarts Magazine 15 years ago. Among other things, what interested me in Mary Hark’s presentation was how far those batiks have come in their complexity of pattern and more skilled use of the technique.

Fellow Iowans: Rebecca Ringquist, now of Lill Street Studios, Ursula McCarty, who was Rebecca’s teacher at Cornell College, Mt Vernon, IA; and Mary Hark, now of the University of Wisconsin.

Then it was time for fun. Kerr Grabowski led us through a demonstration of de-constructed screen printing, which she first taught at SDA ten years previously. Trained as a printmaker, she allows mark-making to guide the development of her designs. It’s basically a blank screen, run over textured surfaces with a dye with squeegie, then allowed to dry. Then sodium alginate is squeegied over the surface, allowing the dye to release in patterns. Or perhaps the dye is direct painted on the screen, then charged once more with alginate. The result is playful and spontaneous. As Kerr says, “make a mess, then solve it!” She admits to being very loose in the image generation, and meticulous in the finishing (steaming, washing, etc.)

At 6pm, we attended the Off the Grid Fashion Show, a private viewing in the new wing of the Nelson-Atkins Museum. Starting with a performance by mixed media artist Sha Sha Higby, who presents mythic stories in elaborate almost tribal, almost Kabuki costumes, we progressed to a non-traditional runway show of non-traditional and all handmade clothing. They fell into two categories- the artrageous, art-as-theater style (ie shawl featuring plastic forks -see first image) and the awesomely-made elegant show pieces. I’m afraid I can’t tell you the individual makers, but a variety of artists were represented.


the last two pieces shown are handmade felt by Jorie Johnson, now living in Japan.

Exhibit Day at the Surface Design Conference

Exhibitions at the Belger
A wonderful warehouse space in itself, complete with old fashioned freight elevator and loading dock for trucks. Here’s a list of all the shows I attended.

Stitches in Time: The Art of Ray Materson: narrative embroideries that reveal a poignant story of renewal through creative work. A fifteen year sentence for drug related armed robberies, unraveling socks for embroidery on new boxer short fabric, minute stitching. Creative work became a source of power within a prison community. Importance of support for prison art programs.

  • Surface Matters: SDA Members’ Show featured 18″ square format pieces by 200 members. This show included a wide array of member styles, competencies and techniques and allowed all members an opportunity to participate in a conference exhibition. (image at left and below. Shown: Stone Silence by Luanne Rimel, cotton flour sack cloth dishtowels; digitally printed, collaged, layered, stitched.)

    El Anatsui, Three Pieces, 2009. This Ghanaian artist and teacher at the University of Nigeria, is now world known for large scale installation pieces using aluminum (from cans, etc) and wire. These are powerful, awe-inspiring pieces.

    Jennifer Angus, Small Wonder, Secrets of a Collector, Nova Scota native now teaching at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, installations using dead insects from around the world, choosing those only in abundant supply. These mirror the beetle art of 19th century.

    Alice Kettle, A Pause in the Rhythm of Time, from the UK: large-scale figurative machine embroideries, dyed backgrounds. Also collaged fabric portraits, very cubist, embroidered. Astonishing work.


    Elsewhere in Kansas City:

    Teresa Cole, Full Circle, another strong show at the Blue Gallery, relief & screen print on hand-dyed tarleton, BFK Rives paper. Trained as a fiber artist, now a professor of printmaking.

    Teresa Cole’s Full Circle, -she trained as a fiber artist and now teaches printmaking. Printed tarleton, below.

    Also notable:

    • Jerry Bleem shows that provocative sculptural forms can involve materials of humble origins, such as the staple. Bleem gave a stunning performance in a lecture later in the conference.
    • Daniella Woolf, Away with Words, featured encaustic mixed media works of great interest to surface designers with more of a mixed media bent.
    • Memory Cloth, Leslee Nelson’s embroidered vintage household linens, Lynda Barry-style.
    • Regina Benson, On the Curve, Dimensional Works from Nature’s Studio, rusted and discharged fabric in sculptural format. (Byron C Cohen Gallery)
    • Landscape with Floating Biology, mixed media installation by weaver Wendy Weiss, & Jay Kramer, Cocoon Gallery at the Arts Incubator.
    • Evidently, the Dolphin Gallery’s show of Anne Lindberg, Asiatica and others drew gasps of praise- I was unable to see it.
    • I would have liked to see the International Student Show, Points of Departure, at Pi Gallery but didn’t make it.
    • Likewise, HEather Allen-Swarttouw’s Transition in the Community Christian Church chose several themes executed in different media (fiber, clay, etc) and was said to be a strong show. When I tried to attend, the Church was closed.
    • In the trunk show later that evening, Mary Hark’s indigo and walnut dyed papers.

    my view from my piece of pie: can’t escape the spool of thread!