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.