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.