by Emily Schlemowitz, Exhibit Curator, Wisconsin Museum of Quilts & Fiber Arts

    • August 15 – November, 2019
    • Wisconsin Museum of Quilts & Fiber Arts
    • Public Gallery Night, Saturday, August 24, 2019 5:00 – 7:00 p.m.
    • “Celebrating Our Waters”, a day-long program with invited speakers, Saturday, August 31, 2019
    • Link to exhibit info

Water brings together an exceptional group of contemporary artists whose work is inspired by the expressive possibilities of water. Water covers seventy percent of the earth’s surface—it is ever changing and ever present—a powerful and valuable resource that contours our landscapes, permeates our lives, and spurs our imaginations. This exhibition, located in a region rich with fresh water, aims to bring attention to this valuable, yet vulnerable, resource through the lens of fiber- and video-based works, sculpture, and an installation piece on the museum’s grounds.

The work in Water addresses issues of conservation and climate change while embracing water’s evocative qualities and formal beauty. Many of the artists created new work for the exhibition and include top nationally recognized fiber artists (three have work in the Smithsonian’s collection), a multimedia artist, and a sculptor.

Terese Agnew, Susan Falkman, and Nnenna Okore’s work explores our environmental impact on water’s natural landscape. Arctic melting and changing water patterns inform Falkman’s marble sculptures. Falkman, who carves stone to portray the softness of fabric and flow of water, created six new sculptures for Water, one of which will be permanently installed on the museum’s grounds.  Agnew’s intricately embroidered quilt, which took years to complete, depicts a pastoral, watery scene of a proposed deep-pit-mine site in rural Wisconsin. Internationally known for her work concerning environmental devastation, Okore’s richly textured fiber sculpture evokes the form of underwater plant life.

Themes of ecology and reuse run throughout the work of Karyl Sisson and Akiko Ike. Undervalued and discarded items, such as straws and zippers, form the building blocks of Sisson’s intricate sculptures that conjure sea creatures and anemones. Utilizing only recycled fabrics, Ike, an artist from Niigata, Japan, created three new large-scale carp, utilizing a special stitching technique called “chiku-chiku”—an onomatopoeic word for the sound of a stout needle going in and out of the cloth.

Wisconsin artists Heidi Parkes and Nirmal Raja draw us close to home through their sensitive observations of Lake Michigan. Parkes’s contemplative quilts evoke the lake’s deep shades and color palette, and Raja’s video stitches the water’s surface and horizon line.

The undulations and abstractions of water also inspire the work of shibori artists Frank Connet and Mary Mendla, paper artist Jennifer Davies, and quilters Sarah Nishiura and Sarah J. Lauzon. While Vicki Reed made a new installation using cyanotype, a photographic process on treated fabric, that interprets water as a metaphor for understanding our maternal history.

Water will be on view at WMQFA from August 15 through November 17, 2019. WMQFA will host a public gallery night on Saturday, August 24, from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. A daylong program about water in the region with invited speakers, titled “Celebrating Our Waters,” will be held at the museum on Saturday, August 31, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. This exhibition is supported by grants from the Wisconsin Arts Board, Kohler Foundation Inc., and the Cedarburg-Grafton Rotary Club.

The artists featured in the exhibition include Terese Agnew (WI), Frank Connet (IL), Jennifer Davies (CT), Susan Falkman (WI), Akiko Ike (Japan), Nnenna Okore (IL), Karyl Sisson (CA), Sarah J. Lauzon (FL), Mary Mendla (WI), Sarah Nishiura (IL), Heidi Parkes (WI), Nirmal Raja (WI), and Vicki Reed (WI).

Exhibition Highlights

Sarah J. Lauzon, Waterfall, 2018; cotton, batting, thread; 50 3/4 x 31 1/2 in. Courtesy of the artist. “This is an abstract and minimal take on a moonlit waterfall, inspired by Minor White’s photo Watkins Glen, New York, 1963. It is intentionally proportioned to approach the Golden Ratio and to give a nod to the mid-century modern aesthetic.”

Karyl Sisson, Flight III, 2013; deconstructed vintage zippers and thread; approx. 5 x 32 x 22 in. Courtesy of the artist. “I do not plan in advance what the sculptures will be—they evolve and grow abiding by the natural laws that govern all growth and natural patterning. To my amazement, the work often resembles organic forms, particularly ‘sea creatures.’”

Terese Agnew, Proposed Deep Pit Mine Site, Lynne Township, Wisconsin, 1993. Collection of Jack M. Walsh III.

Jennifer Davies, Medusa, 2014; pigmented kozo fabric; 78 x 27 x 2 in. Courtesy of the artist. “I push paper to extremes by folding, twisting, and dyeing it for long periods of time in buckets.  I want to encourage unplanned consequences and end up with paper that looks aged, and highly textured.  I then layer the sheets into works that suggest aerial views, or maps, or the surface of the earth.”

Susan Falkman, What Lies Beneath (Part One) (of a four part series), 2018; marble; 2 x 48 x 24 in. Courtesy of the artist. “This is a quilt landscape with a river running through it. All the comforts of our lives, represented by the quilt, come at a price. The water that flows over and under our land runs to the sea, where it can rise and threaten our world.”

Sarah Nishiura, Untitled Quilt (green and blue), 2015; recycled and new materials machine pieced, hand quilted; 84 1/2 x 92 1/2 in. Courtesy of the artist. Sarah Nishiura utilizes traditional techniques to craft one-of-a-kind quilts from her own designs. Nishiura’s quilts are pieced entirely from recycled cotton and vintage materials that she hand quilts. It can take up to four months for her to complete one work. Based in Chicago, Nishiura has received many accolades for her quilts and is currently an artist-in-residence at the Hyde Park Art Center, where she is completing a quilt for this exhibition.