Addressing social issues via textile arts


Many of today’s artists make use of centuries-old craft techniques but employ them in new ways. In the past crafts were largely made to serve a functional purpose.  Although the creators might ultimately have created items of beauty, and taken pride in doing so, their end products still began as utilitarian items, not as art. Today artists often wish to make a political statement with their artwork, although still paying homage to the craft traditions of the past, and often also combine their mediums with more modern ones such as photography and 3D printing.

In INTIMACY AND MATERIALITY, a show currently on view at the Helen Day Art Center in Stowe, Vermont, thirteen contemporary artists from around the U.S. use traditional labor-intensive skills such as weaving, embroidery, knitting, felting, crocheting and printmaking to create colorful, lush objects that often criticize modern mass production and focus on other social or political issues they feel need addressing. Some of the works are created through a participatory, group/collaborative process. As described by the show’s curator, Rachel Moore, “Inspired by, but not bound to the processes and techniques used from fashion to hardcore craft, these thirteen artists created both gorgeously rich and actively relevant cultural and two -dimensional works. Their departure from the traditions of weaving, knitting, screen-printing, costume design, embroidery and felting both honors this history and reinvents it by engaging contemporary culture.”  The exhibit’s name “refers to the intimate nature of the labor-intensive techniques used to create the pieces, in contrast to the mass-produced wares and materialism that many of the artists seem to be subtly questioning or, in some cases, mocking.” (The Stowe Reporter).

SARAH AMOS is an Australian artist who lives and works in both the U.S. and Australia. Her recent artistic experimenting has led her to print onto untraditional surfaces, making large-scale  “constructed collagraphs,”  to collage pieces, hand-stitching and 3-dimensional padded applique elements that create abstract landscapes, with thread now replacing drawing and felt replacing paper. This new approach  has allowed her to merge painting, sculpture, printmaking and drawing, all of which she loves, “into one cohesive textile composition,” as she puts it. Ms. Amos’s work is in numerous collections nationally and internationally. She has also earned many fellowships and awards, and taken part in numerous exhibitions and residencies.

EMILY BARLETTA lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.  Her specialty is embroidery, but her delicate, abstract designs are done on paper instead of the traditional canvas.  She speaks of the stresses and difficulties of day-to-day living, and feels that her hand-stitching on paper helps “slow down time and record it,” and that the needle “allows me to create a mental space slower than the rest of the day,….creating delicate worlds that are softer and kinder ….” Ms. Barletta has received a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant and was a New York Foundation for the Arts fellow in Crafts. Her work is also currently in a group show of thread artists entitled “Passing Through,” at Schema Projects in Brooklyn, New York through April 10th.

JODY COLELLA is a mixed media sculptor from Somerville, Massachusetts.  Working with a broad range of materials and adapting traditional handwork techniques, she creates 3D abstractions of natural forms, provocative, tactile works that often involve public participation.  “I combine process, interaction and whimsy to realize community, fill the void between people, and nourish the search for connection.”  Needlefelted “Spawn,” (2014,16″x15″x13″)and “Blast II, (2014, 31″x 24″x 22”) using wood , fiberfill and wire, look like colorful, bulbous pod sculptures.  In “Hive” (2012, 7’x11′)and “Undercurrent” (2008, 6’x 9’x 7′) she uses aluminum window screen material and steel wire to create wall-hung sculptures. Using curvilinear shapes intermeshed with lace-like effects, some layered over others, the pieces create shadows on the wall and a multidimensional effect, and “Hive” is flexible enough to adapt to the space where it is shown, one end creeping over a door in this show.  Ms. Colella’s award-winning work is in many private collections and has been included in national exhibitions, including the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C.  She also teaches fiber workshops at several public and private venues.

Using knitting and weaving techniques, and drawing upon her background in textile design and fashion and suspended sculpture, LIZ COLLINS makes large-scale and colorful pieces on canvas. “Belly of the Beast,” (2014, c. 12′ long, 3.5′ wide) suspended from the gallery ceiling to the floor in waves of blue on one side and a pattern of blue on the reverse,, makes a dramatic statement; “Euphoria ” (2014, 84″x 60″) is made of woven and cut jacquard, in tones of mainly hot pink, is exuberant and striking. Ms. Moore explains that after the weaving is done, the artist “pulls the thread out to deconstruct it and create more of a textural composition.”  Ms. Collins is a New York City-based artist and designer with experience in fashion, especially knitwear.  She has had a number of solo exhibitions and residencies around the U.S.  and has received many awards and accolades.  Her Knitting Nation performance/installation was shown in Zagreb, Croatia and at several New York City museums.  She left a faculty position at  RISD to more fully pursue her art and design career but continues to teach and lecture.

Hailing from Houston, Texas and now residing in  Burlington, Vermont, WYLIE SOFIA GARCIA is influenced by historic textile design, tends to focus on the ornamentation of surface, and relates to her own work in installation and performance art. “Cloaking Device,” (2013, 66″x24″x 36″), made with hand needle, felted wool and spandex, is displayed on a mannequin and resembles a long pink dress covered by a lovely robe/gown made of multiple overlapping multi-colored triangles in a quilt-like abstract pattern.  Ms. Garcia says that her work is often done late at night when she is alone and the rest of the household is asleep, at which time the quiet gives her intimate time to reflect and draw upon the various events and influences of her daily life. Her art has been exhibited in various museums and institutions in the U.S. and she has received several fellowships and grants.

AMY HONCHELL is a Chicago-based artist whose work ranges from installations to drawing and photography. One of her pieces, “Swell, 14 Miles Distant,” (2015, 36″x 20″ x14″), a mixed media wall hanging, using a variety of media including textiles, thread, scale lumber and styrene plastic, appears to depict swirling blue waves upon which is perched a distant, small black lighthouse. She explains her current work: “Geography, memory and value are themes explored in my cliff-like landscape sculptures made from stitched layers of patterned cloth that lie beneath a sheer surface. The cloth is built up like strata with miniature architectural fragments populating the soft terrain and hinting at a lost population’s industry, power, or failure.” Also, “I am interested in inventing things and turning them inside out. I enjoy playing with scale.”  Ms. Honchell has exhibited in group and solo shows nationally and internationally, including venues in Japan, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

Also on view are a grouping of thirteen photos entitled “HumanUfactoryY(ng)Workstyles: The Labor Portraits of Mildred’s Lane” (2014), created  by Rebecca Purcell, J. Morgan Puett and Jeffrey Jenkins in collaborationEach focuses on one or more figures posing formally in elaborate costumes with elements of their ‘trades,’ or specialties (pots and pans, bolts of cloth).  With humorous titles such as “Ambassador of Entanglement,” “Digestion Choreographer,” and “Master of Applied Complexity,” they resemble portraits by Dutch masters centuries past but are clearly contemporary.

Mildred’s Lane, situated in rural northeastern Pennsylvania, is an ongoing artistic/social collective with participants from around the world. According to its website, it is ” a working-living-researching experiment centered on domesticity.  The entire home and site has become a living museum, or rather—a new contemporary art complex(ity).”  J. Morgan Puett, originally from Hahira, Georgia, is the architect of the Mildred’s Lane Project where she lives and works.  A transdisciplinary creative producer with accomplished work in installation art, clothing and furniture design, architecture and film, among others, she exhibits, lectures and teaches extensively at venues that include MoMa, New York; Spoleto, Charleston, South Carolina; and the Victoria and Albert Museum and Tate Modern in London, and has received several prestigious awards and fellowships, including one from the Smithsonian Institution.

“Intimacy & Materiality,” Helen Day Art Center, 90 Pond St, Stowe, Vermont, 05672, through April 10, for more information, visit