A Stitch in Time

            The Marion Council on Aging’s headquarters at the Cushing Community Center has become a destination for everything from elder services to live performances, exercise classes and, yes, a space to exhibit art. The latest installation of works created by artists from the south coast features Fiber Art pieces by Debrorah Kuhlman Hussey, Christine Anderson and Joann Vierkant.

            Considered a craft versus an art due to primarily being created by women, Fiber Art can and does fall on both sides of the equation – art and craft.

            Fiber Art, or works of art created from textiles and cloth, has an amazing rich history spanning nearly the entirety of human evolution. As human intelligence evolved, bringing us fire and the wheel, so too did the development of cloth-like materials used to cover and protect the body.

            Consider, if you will, the discovery of Otiz, a man who lived and died between 3350 and 3105 BC. His body and the manner in which it was clothed demonstrates to us how early humans used animal hides roughly sewn together, making larger pieces that could cover more of the body.

            As time went on, early humans would use flax, hemp and other grasses. How they made the leap from gathering grasses to weaving them is one of those mysteries we may never fully understand, but suffice to say they did.

            Indigenous people around the globe weaved baskets to transport and hold everyday items. American indigenous tribes became famous for their blanket weavings and, as for decorative elements, created densely sewn-on bead work, bone and shells on ceremonial clothing.

            In the vast documented history of threads and their uses, it is noted that China led the way with weaving around 3500 BC, followed by embroidery and whip-stitching techniques around 300 to 700 AD. But it was the invention of the loom that really propelled the use of a variety of natural materials being employed to create clothes.

            The internet sources we researched pointed to Egypt, where pottery found in the ancient sands (of time) depicted a frame loom with treadles to lift warp threads, leaving the weaver’s hands free to beat and pass the weft threads.

            By the 1200s, embroidery workshops had been established in France and England, where the nimble fingers of young girls and women created lush, decorative pieces to both grace the homes of the wealthy and powerful, as well as stitching gowns and head scarves.

            In 1785 the first power-driven looms for wool combing were constructed by Edmund Cartwright, an English inventor. This took manual weaving in new directions and eventually to mechanized production.

            Antimacassars, aka doilies, were crocheted primarily to protect upholstered chairs and couches against dirty hands and greasy heads. That they became works of intricate art speaks to the women who, once again, found a way to create not only utilitarian items but works of art.

            In the 1960s and the 1970s, revolutions of all sorts became the headline news, not because of bombs but because of fashion trends. Fiber Art (as textile-crafted pieces are grouped together) enjoyed a renaissance. Artists returned to the looms, crochet hooks, knitting needles and more, and began making everything from crocheted clothing pieces to macrame plant hangers, windchimes, carry bags, headbands, kitchen towels, wall hangings and doilies.

            Today many works formerly relegated solely to crafts versus fine art are, in fact, recognized as fine art by those with broader points of reference.

            The exhibit at the Marion COA brings home the significance of Fiber Art as an artform worthy of attention. Quilted wall hangings, woven wall hangings, carry bags and even a pair of slip-on shoes are wonders to behold. Vibrant color and intricate weaving await you at the Marion COA now through mid-May.

By Marilou Newell

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