fiber arts

Music, poetry, and visual art, all within walking distance

Yamhill County calendar: Linfield College offers a little of everything, shows are changing at the Chehalem Cultural Center, and nearby, Salem goes steampunk

Totem Shriver uses various media to explore imagery in PATH SKY DREAM at Linfield College. Photo by: David Bates

We close out February in wine country with a rich bundle of cultural opportunities on the Linfield College campus in McMinnville. In the James F. Miller Fine Arts Center on the southwest side of campus, you’ll find Totem Shriver’s PATH SKY DREAM, an interesting collection of sculpture and imagery. The show runs through March 21.

This Thursday would be a great day to drop in, because afterward you can head over to the Nicholson Library and hear Dartmouth College professor Joshua Bennett read from his work. Bennett is a nationally recognized poet, the author of The Sobbing School (Penguin Books, 2016), and a junior fellow in the Society of Fellows at Harvard University. His Linfield appearance runs 5 to 6 p.m. Feb. 27. Then, at 7 p.m., you’ll find Linfield music instructor and flutist Abigail Sperling in the Vivian A. Bull Music Center. All events are free and open to the public.

STEAMPUNK CELEBRATION IN SALEM: Portland is still the weirdest, but Salem is doing what it can to keep up. Exhibit A this weekend would be the third annual Salem Steampunk Ball of Oregon. This year’s event promises a “circus element” and runs from 8 p.m. to midnight in the Reed Opera House Mall downtown. Craven Valentine serves as the ringmaster, and steampunk band Faerabella will provide the soundtrack for a pool of jugglers, magicians, burlesque dancers, and a parade led by Capitol Pride. Proceeds benefit Prisms Gallery, which strives “to make art accessible for all.” Tickets are $25 presale, $30 at door.

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Unwound and unbound

Ko Kirk Yamahira's intriguing painting/sculptural/fiber hybrids at Russo Lee Gallery defy easy categorization and interpretation

By RACHEL ROSENFIELD LAFO

In the 1970s and 1980s, fiber arts—weaving, textiles, tapestry, embroidery, knitting, crocheting, sewing, quilting, etc.—along with other “craft” media such as ceramics, glass, and wood—were usually classified as a separate category of art and were shown primarily in craft and design museums. As a result, artists who worked exclusively in fiber, such as Lenore Tawney, Claire Zeisler, and Sheila Hicks were often excluded from the critical discourse within the “mainstream” contemporary art world.

There were notable exceptions to this exclusion. Artists such as Faith Ringgold, Magdalena Abakanowicz, and Alan Shields, among others, despite their embrace of fiber as an artistic material, achieved critical attention and inclusion in “fine art” exhibitions during those decades. By the 1990s, however, the wall that separated “art” from “craft” had begun to crumble. By the time the Whitney Museum of American Art exhibited The Quilts of Gee’s Bend in 2002, the show’s critical success and popularity further erased any remaining boundaries. Today there has been a dramatic increase in the number of artists working either exclusively in fiber or incorporating it into their work in other media. 

One such artist is Seattle-based Ko Kirk Yamahira whose exhibition Fractions is on view at Russo Lee Gallery through February 1. A self-taught artist who moved to Seattle from New York City in 2015, he is a founder of the artist collective Art Beasties and a member of the Seattle collective SOIL. His elegant, reductive, and tactile artworks hover somewhere between paintings, fiber art, and sculptural installation and reflect modernist principles in their emphasis on materials, techniques, and processes.

During a recent gallery talk the artist described his works as paintings while acknowledging that they could also be considered drawings or sculptures. Yet they also present as fiber art, due to the artist’s unusual technique of deconstructing the canvas support into individual strands of fiber. Ultimately what is important is not how we categorize Yamahira’s artworks but how we perceive them. As the artist Alan Shields once said in an interview about his own hybrid artworks, “It doesn’t really matter what you call them. It’s the experience you’re looking for.”

Ko Kirk Yamahira. Untitled (Pink and Blue Intersection) (2019). acrylic, graphite, partially unwoven canvas, wood.

Yamahira begins by applying a coat of acrylic paint, graphite or transferring a silkscreen image to the surface of the canvas. Then, with a process that is the obverse of weaving, he deconstructs all or part of the canvas, meticulously and painstakingly removing individual threads from the weave of the canvas using an X-Acto knife, unweaving and exposing the warp (vertical) and weft (horizontal) components, so that the strands of cotton fiber drape loosely or stretch tautly across the wood stretcher bars. He then progressively disrupts the rectangularity of the grid by dividing the canvas into sections, deconstructing all or part of the canvas, hanging panels off kilter on a diagonal, allowing loose fibers to drape towards the floor, projecting part of an artwork off the wall, or suspending one piece from the ceiling. 

The artworks are all untitled, distinguished by their formal properties of shape, color, and surface treatment. The viewers are left to deduce their own interpretations. The exhibition title, Fractions, refers to the relational measurements of one part of each painting to another. With the exception of one work that has an image silkscreened on the canvas, the paintings are non-referential and elude specific meaning, focusing attention instead on material and process. 

Ko Kirk Yamahira, Untitled (Silkscreen Sculpture) (2019) acrylic, silkscreen, unwoven canvas, wood

The varied permutations of these conceptually based artworks range from formal, geometrically centered compositions to those with skewed edges and draping fibers. For an off-white square painting hanging over the gallery desk Yamahira unwove the fibers of the canvas, tightly stretching them horizontally and vertically to form a cross with arms of equal length. In another square painting the geometry is relaxed so that the unraveled cotton threads sag organically across the surface, resembling a belly with a slight bulge. There are many variations on this theme, as each artwork assumes a different shape, color, relationship to the wall, and level of surface deconstruction. Motion is both implied and actual – implied by the hanging fibers, tilted panels, and resulting shadows cast on the wall, actual when air currents activate the loosened threads. This sense of motion is notable in a large black-gray painting in which approximately three-quarters of the middle section has been unwoven resulting in a sweeping swoosh of fibers that move from left to right. 

Ko Kirk Yamahira, Untitled (Black Horizontal) (2019). acrylic, graphite, partially unwoven canvas, wood.

The most sculptural piece in the exhibition hangs suspended from the ceiling. Originally a triangular canvas painted pink, it has been completely deconstructed and then folded so that the fibers descend in straight vertical lines from the wood support, causing them to sway gently as visitors pass.

Yamahira poetically alludes to the characteristics of the unwoven fibers in an accompanying wall text:  

Vibrations.
They are just purely captivating.
Wavering and trembling.
Continuous, sustained, and momentary.
Sensual and Sensory.
Ripples that are static or dynamic.
Sound and voice.

Ko Kirk Yamahira

For Yamahira the meaning of his art comes from the process of making: “There is no specific aim to find a meaning,” he writes on his website, “neither in the creative act itself, nor through the creative process. The totality of the meaning can be found in the continuation of the process.” 

The artist begins with small geometric drawings made in his sketchbook. Since the process is more important to him than the final outcome, he is not fixed on a specific configuration for each work. Instead he is open to working with art installers to arrive at the appropriate hanging arrangement for each piece depending on the exhibition space. He also encourages collectors who purchase his artworks to find an installation arrangement that is most to their liking. Adhering to the premise from conceptual art that the artwork isn’t finished until the viewer completes it, he writes:  “The moment of Now that exists as the Artist creates their work looks toward the future when it will be encountered by the viewer, at which point that future becomes the Past, producing a sort of index of time in the work.”

Ko Kirk Yamahira, Untitled (Suspended Pink Triangle) (2019) graphite, partially unwoven canvas, wood

Ko Kirk Yamahira’s intriguing painting/sculptural/fiber hybrids defy easy categorization and interpretation. One progresses from wondering how they are made to realizing that for the artist the canvas is not only a support, but a material that can be manipulated like any other. Through a process of deconstruction and reconstruction he transforms flat monochromatic surfaces into areas that are organic and textured. Intellectually and formally satisfying, Yamahira’s artworks retain a sense of mystery and a meditative quality that is deeply engaging.


Fractions by Ko Kirk Yamahira is at Russo Lee Gallery until February 1, 2020. The gallery is located at 805 NW 21st Ave in Portland is open Tuesday through Friday from 11-5:30, Saturday 11-5:00 and by appointment.

Rachel Rosenfield Lafo is an independent curator and arts writer.

Calendar: Fiber arts, author talks, musical theater and whimsical cello

It's a busy month in Yamhill County, with art openings, open mics, author readings, romantic comedy, and music ranging from chamber to Latin jazz

It’s one of those weeks that illustrates the rich artistic and cultural opportunities that abound even in small Oregon towns — a reminder that one need not live in Portland to see good shows and films or hear authors speak. Let’s get to it, in more or less chronological order:

CURRENTS GALLERY IN DOWNTOWN McMINNVILLE just closed a show displaying the work of many fiber artists, only to follow it with another featuring the work of a single artist. Marlene Eichner, one of the gallery’s many owners, unveiled Just Say Sew on Monday, featuring one-of-a-kind wall hangings, pillows, purses, and screens. Stylistically, the collection is all over the map, ranging from the extremes of abstract and realism, and made using an equally diverse range of techniques. I popped in briefly during the installation and was struck by the painterly look of the pieces. The show runs through Nov. 10. A reception is scheduled during McMinnville’s 3rd on 3rd art and wine walk.

"Happy Place," by Marlene Eichner, was made with mosaic and applique techniques and is based on a watercolor by an artist friend, Joan Weins. Eichner calls it a "stylized representational landscape." Photo courtesy: Marlene Eichner
“Happy Place,” by Marlene Eichner, is made with mosaic and applique techniques and is based on a watercolor by an artist friend, Joan Weins. Eichner calls it a “stylized representational landscape.” Photo courtesy: Marlene Eichner

Eichner has been working with fabrics most of her life. Her mother made all her clothes through high school, and she made her own clothes and dolls in junior high home-economics classes. She has a degree in English literature and worked in California’s public sector after her daughter was born, while continuing to dabble in various artistic forms.

“When I retired at 54, I returned to my sewing roots and started a serious cottage industry, merging art and fabric,” she said. “I have made everything conceivable with fabric, including purses, pillows, banners, room screens, etc., starting with traditional projects and styles and gradually gaining confidence to evolve into serious fine art.”

Marlene Eichner unveiled her new fabric show at Currents Gallery in McMinnville this week. The show runs through Nov. 10. Photo by: David Bates
Marlene Eichner unveiled her new fabric show at Currents Gallery in McMinnville this week. The show runs through Nov. 10. Photo by: David Bates

She focuses on wall pieces using not only traditional quilting/piecing techniques, applique, and mosaic, but also incorporating free-style, free-motion machine thread-painting, and embroidery.  “My interest is in the interplay of light and color when using disparate fabrics to form a cohesive finished product,” she said. “So I play with many genres, from very abstract pieces, to both stylized and detailed representational pieces.”

Eichner said she uses either the highest quality fabric she can find, or she makes it herself in one of three ways: She’ll photocopy items such as textured paper and plant material, scan, and even manipulate them digitally, and then print on treated fabric.

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Carving her own path

Two pieces by woodcarver Monica Setziol-Phillips will be installed at Salishan, within steps of work by her famous father, Leroy Setziol

It’s been a struggle for artist Monica Setziol-Phillips to escape the shadow of her famous father, Leroy Setziol, often referred to as the father of woodcarving in the Northwest.

“It’s challenging,” Setziol-Phillips said. “Because people look at me, especially people who knew him, and think of my father. It’s a bit of a fight.”

But with the installation of the latest works of art at Salishan Resort in Gleneden Beach, Setziol-Phillips will literally take her place next to her father, on the grounds of the resort where 15 of his teak carvings are showcased.

The pair of wood carvings, 7- and 8-feet tall, will be celebrated Oct. 4 at the Salishan lodge with an opening talk at 5 p.m. by Setziol-Phillips, followed by a reception. The freestanding columns are carved on four sides from yellow cedar. They will be outside the lodge, visible from the reception area.

Monica Setziol-Phillips carves at the same bench her father, Leroy Setziol, used. A resident of Sheridan, she is former president of the Yamhill County Cultural Coalition. Photo by: Stuart Eagon
Monica Setziol-Phillips carves at the same bench her father, Leroy Setziol, used. Photo by: Stuart Eagon

Setziol-Phillips described the pieces as mostly abstract, but with a recognizable cloud form and sun form. “They come from the energy of the ocean, the abstract patterns that form in the sand, the weather,” she said. “To me, it is a very coastal piece. It has to do with referencing the attitude of the ocean, because it’s always amazed me that the ocean can be so fearsome and yet so soothing. And something to be grateful for. It’s somehow puts you at one.”

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‘It takes a lot of patience and a good seam ripper’

The 29th annual Quilts by the Sea show will draw nearly 300 quilts -- and some of the best quilters in Oregon -- to Newport

Twenty-odd years ago, Cindy McEntee found herself with a sewing machine she had no interest in, but that a well-meaning aunt thought she should have. There it sat in its cabinet, unwanted and taking up space in McEntee’s living room.

One gray Sunday, McEntee fell asleep in that room and awoke just as OPB’s Sewing With Nancy was going off the air. Not long after, McEntee found herself in the local craft store looking for something that might occupy her hands. She left with two quilt projects.

“Heading Home,” a joint effort by members of the Oregon Coastal Quilters Guild, will be raffled off at the Quilts by the Sea show.
“Heading Home,” a joint effort by members of the Oregon Coastal Quilters Guild, will be raffled off at the Quilts by the Sea show.

“I ripped them right out,” McEntee recalled. “I made two large quilts in like two weeks. I thought, this is really fun. I took them to Craft Warehouse and I said, ‘Did I do this right?’ She said, ‘You finished them already?’

“That’s how it started. It was just a fluke. Nancy was talking to me in my sleep. I was just glad I wasn’t sleeping to This Old House; I’d have a pickup truck with a  bunch of tools.”

These days, McEntee is one of two certified professional Quiltworx instructors in Oregon, past president of the Oregon Coastal Quilters Guild and winner of 18 ribbons – including two best of show – at the annual Quilts by the Sea. McEntee, along with most every other serious quilter in Lincoln County and beyond, is gearing up for the 2019 festival, Aug. 2 and 3.

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Craft or art? Who cares? HEATWAVE fiber art is amazing

The show at Newberg's Chehalem Cultural Center demonstrates that fabric art is so much more than "just quilts"

I have an embarrassing confession, but that’s actually a good thing, because it goes straight to the heart of an important artistic question that is raised — or perhaps I should say, is powerfully answered — by an exhibition at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg.

It’s an occasion for a teachable moment.

“Hot Flash!” A collaboration by Sherri Culver and Mary McLaughlin. Commercial cotton and silk fabrics, threads. Raw edge, fused, machine appliqué; machine quilting; hand embroidery; fabric paint and inks (for eyes). 37 x 35.5 inches. Photo by: Hoddick Photography

HEATWAVE is a themed exhibit produced by High Fiber Diet of the Columbia FiberArts Guild, which has been around for nearly half a century in the Portland area. What I must confess is that when I clicked my way to the page for this exhibition on the center’s website and saw that it’s a show of “art quilts,” I felt … well, a little underwhelmed.

“Oh,” I thought. “Quilts.” A bias that I wasn’t really conscious of was triggered, one perhaps based on distant, faded memories of being bored as a child while my mom took forever in a fabric store. I was mildly disappointed that this exhibition in the Parrish Gallery was just quilts — not painting, or sculpture. Not, well, art.

Sheryl LeBlanc’s “Fire in the Log Yard.” Disperse dyed polyesters, silk chiffon, trupunto. 29.5 x 32.5 inches. “Like a storage of ordinance, I have often wondered what a fire in a full log yard would look like on an extremely hot and dry day … perhaps during a severe drought, when the logs have not been recently sprayed with water.” Photo by: David Bates

Then I went and saw it.

I’ve seen it three or four times now, marching in on each occasion to look specifically at that exhibition, to spend a few more minutes with this piece or that. I am repeatedly drawn to the intense crimson, yellow, and green in Diane English’s Remembrance, which uses the imagery of blooming poppies as a “symbol of remembering those who have passed in the heat of wars.” Sheryl LeBlanc’s Fire in the Log Yard is, quite simply, one of the most extraordinary images I’ve seen in any medium recently.

Detail from “Fire in the Log Yard.” Photo by: Jon Christopher Meyers

The work is astonishing and beautiful and, occasionally, mysterious. One afternoon mid-November I had my 9-year-old son with me. Anything but bored, he ran around the Parrish Gallery, exclaiming, “Look at this one, Daddy!” Then, darting around a corner, “Look at this one!”

Back at home, I dived into a study of the Arts and Crafts movement and, specifically, an inquiry into what I quickly came to regard as an artificial and mostly semantic divide between art and craft, this idea that the two are somehow separate, that “craft” does not rise to the level of “art”. When I suggested to an ArtsWatch editor that he dispatch someone with a deeper background in visual arts to cover the show, which runs through Jan. 5, he kindly advised, basically, I do my job.

“I think there’s some explaining to be done about how people approach it, how it fits into the world of ‘fine’ art, which so often treats it like a stepchild,” he said. He pointed to the historically sexist and even classist attitude about this — one that I, perhaps, had at some level internalized, one that was surely at the root of my “Oh … quilts?” moment. Fabric and other non-painting and sculptural forms are too often seen, somewhat dismissively, he added, as “women’s art” or “folk art.” Or a “craft.”

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