June 2, 2015

'Touch of Kismet' quilt exhibition begins at Hillestad

Installation view Jan Myers-Newbury:  A Touch of Kismet

Jan Myers-Newbury: A Touch of Kismet

The Robert Hillestad Textiles Gallery is presenting “Jan Myers-Newbury: A Touch of Kismet – Quilts, Color Pattern, Chance,” an exhibition of recent work by one of the widely acknowledged leaders of the art quilt movement.

The exhibition will run from June 1 to Sept. 4.

For more than 35 years, Pittsburgh-based textile artist Myers-Newbury has explored the interface between hand-dyeing and the pieced quilt. Her lyrical and sensuous quilt surfaces have set a high standard for color artistry in the studio quilt domain. This exhibition brings together a collection of works that exploit the pole wrapping shibori technique that Myers-Newbury has helped to popularize among non-traditional quilt makers and surface designers.

Commonly known as “tie-dyeing,” these processes and their expressive outcomes are as diverse as the cultures that have developed them. Shibori originated in Japan, but its variants – jiao xie in China, plangi and tritik in Indonesia, mudmee in Thailand, adire in Nigeria, tie-dye in 1960s America – have explored and expanded what can be achieved with simple folding, pleating, twisting, tying, clamping and fabric binding techniques. Each method creates resists to the dyes, resulting in unique and highly variable fabric patternings that play off the contrasts of dyed and undyed areas.

Contemporary artists have adapted these techniques in diverse ways. Foremost is Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada, credited with introducing the art of Japanese shibori in the United States. Ana Lisa Hedstrom, a gifted innovator who combines arashi shibori techniques with other strategies including digital scanning and digital printing to create arresting fabrics, studied with Wada. Hedstrom’s work was featured in her solo exhibition Process=Pattern in the Hillestad gallery in 2004. Carter Smith’s opulent work was likewise featured in a Hillestad Gallery exhibition, “The Art of Shibori: Untied Treasures,” in 2008. Other internationally known practitioners include Michelle Griffiths of the United Kingdom, Reiko Sudo of Japan, and Junco Sato Pollack of Japan and the United States. Each has contributed bodies of original work that have enriched these ancient dyeing traditions.

Myers-Newbury’s advocacy of the shibori processes has increased the reach and influence of resist dyeing through an enormous subgroup of makers in the textile art field.

“You would think that as many times as I have unwrapped a pole after dyeing, I would become ho-hum about the results,” she said. “But it never fails: I can’t wait to see how each piece turns out. I guess that’s because I’ve realized I only have a certain amount of control and the rest is kismet.”

This surrender of control – albeit an “educated” surrender, one informed by years of experience and practice – is not so much abandon as embrace. Myers-Newbury sets the stage intentionally. She prepares dyes of specific hues and saturations, she organizes particular fabrics, selects poles of certain dimensions around which to wrap, and controls the wrapping and binding of those fabrics around the tubes that serve as the process’s spinal columns, giving stability to the fabric in the dyeing and over-dyeing stages.

The stock of dyed and patterned fabrics are then sorted and mentally catalogued as the artist begins the actual quilt-making process. This involves a geometric articulation of the quilt surface – a disposition of rectilinear shapes most usually, with circular forms as variants in some instances – that will provide the armature for the surface design’s development. The linear networks in each of her patterned fabrics both contrast with and complement one another, and from them arises the compositional unity that each of her quilts embodies.

Myers-Newbury will speak at 3 p.m. June 7 in Room 11 of the Home Economics Building on UNL’s East Campus, as a guest of the Department of Textiles, Merchandising and Fashion Design and the Friends of the Robert Hillestad Textiles Gallery. The talk is free and open to the public. A reception with refreshments will follow in the Hillestad Gallery on the second floor.

The gallery is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and by special request. Inquiries can be directed to the department at 402-472-2911.