Sunday, June 18, 2000

The Arts Life: Wrapped up in fiber art


Area trio brings Handweavers Guild of America to Cincinnati its 'Olympics'

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        This is the sixth in a monthly series focusing on small arts groups and the people devoted to them.

        Dot Schmader was born in Norway, raised in Texas and lives in Blue Ash. She was taking sewing lessons at age 9, so young “the teacher almost didn't take me.”

        A late childhood illness put her in a back brace for five years, and sewing, knitting and weaving became forms of personal therapy. She was happy to leave them and the back brace behind, “but I came back to sewing and weaving in my 20s.”

[photo] KITTY UETZ, LEFT, AND DOT SCHMADER
(Mike Simons photo)
| ZOOM |
        Paddy Thornbury of Norwood says she can't remember a time when there weren't quilts and crochet around the house when she was growing up. “I loved to go to fabric stores — I still do — and look at the colors.”

        She moved to Cincinnati, took up weaving and hunted out the local weavers guild as a form of companionship.

        “My mother was a seamstress,” says Kitty Uetz of Milford, “and there was never a time when I wasn't around fibers. All I ever wanted to be was an artist and a teacher.”

        Ms. Uetz is a fiber artist and teacher at Xavier University.

        For most of the past decade, since 1991, Ms. Uetz, Ms. Thornbury and Ms. Schmader have been part of a small steering committee of women who have been living and breathing fiber arts. Their goal has been to get Convergence 2000, the biennial national conference of the Handweavers Guild of America, to the Cincinnati Convention Center this week.

        It is, says Ms. Uetz, “the Olympics of fiber arts.”

        Think about it, urges Ms. Thornbury. “We're surrounded by fiber from birth to death, from baby blankets to shrouds.”         Beads, basketry, collage, textiles, paper-making, felt-making, quilting, knitting, tapestry, spinning, dyeing, braiding, machine- and hand-embroidery, and, of course, weaving — it's all fiber art.

        The definition is ever-expanding. These days fiber arts go wherever artists want to take them, whether it's Lia Cook creating large-scale textile images for the digital age (on view at Miami University Art Museum through Aug. 6) or the fiber performance art of Chicago's Nick Cave, who dons Sound Suits and sets fiber to music and song. (He performs Saturday at the Convention Center.)

IF YOU GO
What: Convergence 2000 Cincinnati, Handweavers Guild of America national conference.
When: Thursday-next Sunday.
Where: Albert B. Sabin Convention Center. Related gallery exhibits are on view throughout the region.
Tickets: Commercial Hall exhibits, vendors, demonstrations, “make it-take it” sessions and lectures are open to the public. Daily admission $10. Friday evening dinner and juried runway fashion show (8 p.m.) $65; Saturday evening dinner and Sound Suits performance by fiber performance artist Nick Cave and local dancers, drummers and singers (8:30 p.m.), $65.
Information: (513) 591-2500.
        Ms. Uetz and Ms. Schmader co-chair the exhibits committee. (Other members are Judy Dominic of Harrison, Ginny Dewey Volle of Westwood and Pat Maley of Delhi Township.) As director of community exhibits, Ms. Uetz's serious work started back in 1995 when she sent out the first letters to local galleries, inviting their participation.

        “She did it on her feet,” says Ms. Schmader. “She made appointments, phone calls, did follow-up, follow-up, follow-up, looking at gallery spaces, thinking about scale of work, taking books of slides to gallery owners, matching individual artists with galleries, putting together small group shows.”

        The result is more than 50 fiber shows around the region, some on view just this week, others that will run the course of the summer.

        Ms. Uetz has featured art in two regional gallery shows. Her mixed media “tree spirit cradles” are part of a group show at Malton Gallery in Hyde Park through June 28 that includes work by her former teacher, the University of Cincinnati's Beverly Semmens.         What Ms. Uetz loves about fiber arts is “there are no limits. You can paint on it, sculpt it, draw on it. There's nothing to limit the imagination.”

        For Body and Soul is a one-woman show completing a two-month run at Dayton Visual Arts Center on Saturday. “I applied for that in 1998,” she says. “It didn't have anything to do with Convergence. I wanted to do a show in my hometown.”

        It did add to the work load, she acknowledges. “It's been exciting — and exhausting,” laughs Ms. Uetz. “I focus on exciting.”

        Ms. Uetz warns that people shouldn't be taken in by Ms. Schmader's modesty. She coordinated the Convention Center exhibits which will include (among many others) the themed Fantasy, Myth and Legend, doll show All Dolled Up for the Future of Fiber and Jubilation: Celebrating African Textile Traditions.

        Ms. Uetz hopes that Convergence 2000 goes a long way to resolving — at least locally — the long-term debate about fiber as art vs. craft.

        “I think we're changing it right now,” she says.

        Fiber art is art, emphasizes Dot Schmader, whether it's traditional domestic art or museum-quality work.

        The conference planners agree that events like Convergence 2000 give people the best possible opportunity to make up their own minds about what is and isn't art.

- The Arts Life: Wrapped up in fiber art
   Fiber arts exhibits blanket Tristate



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