TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Beautiful Adriene Cruz, Portland Fiber Artist

My local fiber art group, Paducah Fiber Artists, meets once a month for a pot luck, show and tell and general good fun. It's a monthly highlight for me. I arrived a bit late (as usual) to our June 2008 meeting to find this gorgeous woman sitting there. She was a guest artist from Portland, Oregon, spending a month at A.I.R. Studio located in the heart of Lowertown, our art district. Adriene Cruz embodies color, life, elegance, and texture, both in her persona as well as in her art. Her work has obvious African influence, but she incorporates pieces of textiles from around the world and their origins also add their voices to the final creation.

Adriene's website, which she claims is horribly outdated, gives continuity to her work. It is bright, decorated with borders taken from her textiles and filled with words of love and a vision of peace.

Adriene is a transplant from New York, and although her heart is still there, she has become actively involved in Portland's community life. Their local PBS station, Oregon Public Broadcasting, has a program called Art Beat, which interviews local artists and then develops curriculum based for children based that artist's story.

Adriene is there and her video will explain a lot of where she comes from, what inspires her and how she creates her pieces. If you have children or work with them, you might enjoy the three projects on Adriene's page as well as the other artists in the program. Lots of great ideas!

Her community involvement has led her to collaborative work with other artists that have permanently changed Portland's landscape. She has worked on murals, billboards and other public art. The most impressive this train stop:

The North Killingsworth Street MAX Station
Interstate Avenue at N. Kilingsworth

Portland, Oregon's public transit system, the MAX, is beautifying its stations through the designs of a variety of public artists. The North Killingsworth Street Station, which opened May 1, 2004, was developed through a mentorship between Adriene Cruz and design team artist, Valerie Otani.

Adriene's work has been published in several books and her pieces are in private collections all over the world. The Exhibits and Honors page on her website lists the many prestigious places where her work has found a home or made an impact. Has this gone to her head? Nope. Adriene's feet are planted firmly on the ground. And her struggle to survive as an artist continues as a difficult, albeit joyous, path. I had the pleasure of visiting with her a bit at the studio while she was here. Her mother was also here, from New York, and I saw where Adriene learned her spirit of giving and love. Her Mom has the warmest, softest hands I have ever felt. Her smiles radiated benevolence, eyes sparkled with life.

If we are chips cut off from the block, Adriene's block has been solid and good. Speaking, or writing, about cutting, Adriene has no fear in transforming textiles into something new. She bought a Turkmen coat from me very similar to the one on the left (available in my Etsy store, hint, hint), chopped it up and made a beautiful bag out of half of it. She had forgotten to bring one with her, so... no problem! Chop, chop, sew, sew, and there you go! Another accessory to complement her best art piece: her self!

Adriene used the embroidery from the side of the coat as the front flap of her bag and incorporated the embroidery along the hem and front as the strap:

I am inspired by artists and people like Adriene. They help build bridges among people and she has also contributed toward enhancing the physical space of her city. It makes me feel good to know that she is out there and the brief time I had with her here was a sunny day in Paducah!


Friday, July 25, 2008

Bazaar Brazil: Bringing Fair Trade from South to North

Brazil has had a long tradition of handicrafts. Most of the larger cities and metropolitan areas have what we used to call, "Feira Hippie", or Hippie Fairs. Many of the craft skills were brought by European immigrants, but these melded with both African and Indigenous influence into new interpretations of the crafts that are identifiably Brazilian. For example, the Portuguese brought bobbin lace making as an art with them during the colonial days. The skill spread up and down the coast among fishing villages, especially in the NorthEast. Lace techniques were used to make fishing nets, hammocks, bed spreads, curtains and other household items. In the 1970's, Brazilian artisans enjoyed a true renaissance in craft mediums. The craft fairs really were populated with the hippie generation trying to make a living from their cottage industries.

Imports from Indonesia, China and other countries almost devastated craft production as they could undersell the products of local artisans. However, with the growth of fair trade projects around the world and increased opportunities through online marketing and sales, Brazilian artisans found supportive audiences both at home and abroad.

Brazilians have three things in abundance that make fair trade products viable: excellent raw materials, an abundance of rural and urban poor who need work, and the entrepreneurial spirit that is necessary for project success. Bazaar Brazil embodies these elements in their wonderful selection of Brazilian fair trade crafts. Located in Redwood City, California (US), the shop is owned by two Brazilians who are doing their share to represent these artisans:

Mara Sallai is from the same area I grew up in. My brother was born in her city of Londrina. We had a brainstorming session trying to figure out if we had any acquaintances in common. We didn't, but we do share a love for Brazil and a hope that these crafts will empower the people they represent.

Bazaar Brazil focuses in on products that recycle waste and that are made by truly disenfranchised people. Many of the artisans are handicapped, have served time in prison, or live in areas where there is either no or very low-paying work.

Coasters, boxes and other objects are made from recycled wood by people with down syndrome.

Recycled polyester that are cast offs from large factories are made into textured pillows and throws.

Two of Mara's favorite products are banana fiber vessels and the Baniwa baskets. She describes both in terms of their local economic importance.

Baniwa from the Rio Negro- weavers of tradition

"The Baniwa basketry are made of "Aruma fiber" and have a sustainable feature - each cut fiber creates seeds for another two or three. The fibers need to be dyed before they are cut in under steam; the dyes are 100% natural.

Patterns of the baskets express their language and symbolize their environment. Authentic and without the touch of the western influence, the weaving tradition becomes a statement itself. Baskets can be used as storage units to help declutter your home, bottle and card holders, or bread and fruit displays. Each piece promotes indigenous design, culture; and helps provide protection to the Amazon rain forest.

Ethnic designs of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest cross rivers, waterfalls, distances and challenges to mark their significance in the "Western" market. Before arriving to the biggest city in the Amazon rainforest, the fair traded baskets travel 4000 miles navigating through three rivers and sixteen waterfalls."

Vessels made from recycled cardboard pulp covered with banana plant fiber.

Mara continues:
"In the interior of Minas Gerais (a Brazilian state), banana plant fiber and recycled cardboard pulp have changed the lives of a group of rural workers. The hands that once tilled the soil, crocheted or kneaded dough, now separate and and work the fibers from banana plants. Instead of making bread, they make papier machie. Their decorative pieces are winning the world over.

Sixty artisans now produce 800 pieces a month, on order. The decorative plates have found distributors in other Brazilian cities, Germany, France, Italy, and in our own California Redwood City, USA. They work within a cooperative system and have learned that the banana plant not only gives them fruit, but also sustains their families. They have also seen that their products fulfill both eco and fair trade principles."

Mara also works with individual artists. This one is from her home town of Londrina. The artist recycles used coffee filters as a canvas for her objects:

Many of the fair trade shops one sees around have been selling the same crafts for decades. Although they still play a vital role in the economy of the lives they represent, Bazaar Brazil offers a fresh selection of high quality handicrafts and decorative items. On the first page of their website, there is a link to a wonderful little video interview with Mara that shows the store and other products nicely. Bazaar Brazil does not have a web store, but I'm sure they would welcome your inquiries and if you are in the neighborhood, it's a must visit!


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fiber Art to the Max: Tree Shaping and the Dictates of Nature

My first exposure to sculpting with living plants was through my best friend's father when I was a kid in Brazil. Our city was 30% Japanese and her father had immigrated from Japan after World War II. He spent hours with his little bonsai trees and in his garden. Over the years, my appreciation for art as it relates to nature has continued to grow. I am drawn to environments that blend in with their surroundings and that seem to have a conversation with all the elements around them. In college, I fell in love with artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser.

Way before there was even a green movement, Hundertwasser explored how buildings can function as organic structures, both in design and in incorporating living plants and trees as part of the architectural dictates of the environment. Never square, buildings replicate natural mountains. Roofs are gardens, both insulating the living spaces and allowing the mind and body to breathe.

Since then, people have been experimenting with nature in a partnership of art, form and chance. My friend Pam sent me an e-mail with some images of artists who have been taking the ancient bonsai practice to another level. Most had no source information, so if anybody out there knows where these images came from, please leave a comment so we can credit them. I got a big kick out of the time, effort and patience it took from conception of the idea to its fruition.

This bicycle in a tree reminds me of my mother's cousin, Darren, who for years has been sculpting a garden and cemetery in Western Minnesota. His forest is filled with bathtubs, old cars, and other discarded household appliances that are planted with nature and slowly eroding back into the soil. Maybe my interest is partly genetic...

All knotted up...

Star of David


A living hut

Tree ladder

One of the photos did have a name on it, so I was able to trace it, Pooktre. Australian artists Peter Cook and Becky Northey have transformed their land into a living sculpture. Calling themselves tree shapers, they work on two kinds sculptural work, pieces that are eventually harvested and others that remain planted. The two photos below show Peter with a couple of his living chairs:

Pete's favorites are his trees shaped like men:

Explore their site. They seem like wonderful people. Apparently, they have never sold a piece yet, but had a show in Japan that made the bonsai community wild with excitement. They are thinking of having workshops in the future.

All of this coincides with another Canadian fiber artist that I had recently bookmarked, Alastair Heseltine. You see, to me, working with these plants and trees is fiber art in its most raw and basic form. Yet, it cannot be done without tremendous patience, skill and foresight. Heseltine also plays with tree shaping, but most of his larger pieces involve juxtaposing created structures with nature's background. Here is a living bush that is replicating a basket weave (Heseltine also makes traditional baskets):

And, here is a large sculptural piece that has been assembled by a body of water:

Many of Heseltine's pieces are functional, such as this bench, which I absolutely love:

But, his mastery of basket weaving is especially shown in this gorgeous figurative sculpture:

What I take from this as a fiber artist is that the materials are secondary to the vision. Developing our skills to their fullest potential is a life time of hard work, patience and pushing the elements to tell a new story. Hundertwasser was considered a nut in his early days. He passed away in 2000, finally receiving recognition as the visionary that he was. Most of us will never be famous or rich, but we can enjoy our craft and let it lead us to new places that right now might only live in the murky lands of our imagination.

Alastair Heseltine


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Patchwork Quilts by Donna Hussain

A quilt is made of three layers: a top (usually patchwork or a cloth background for an appliquéd design), batting (a lining of cotton or wool for warmth), and a fabric back. These three layers are held together with quilting stitches or ties.

The patchwork designs we use today are traditional geometric patterns favored by quilt makers in the past. One of the first blocks all beginning quilters learn to sew is the nine patch. Two designs can be created by this block depending on the placement of color.

Formerly this block was made by cutting nine fabric squares of the same size with scissors. These nine squares were placed in three rows, three squares per row. Each row was then sewn together by hand or machine. (Quilters sew ¼ inch seams.) Finally, the three rows were joined to create a nine-patch block.

Quilters today have tools that make the cutting of fabric and the construction of quilt blocks like the nine patch much easier to sew. We have cutting boards, rotary cutters, and plastic rulers that allow us to measure and cut fabric with speed and accuracy.

In turn, modern-day accuracy in cutting strips of fabric allows quilters to modify the construction of traditional blocks. For example, beginning quilters now learn to make nine-patch blocks as follows.

With one additional sewing skill, quilters can make hundreds of traditional quilting blocks. That skill is accurate sewing of a half-square triangle.

Simple, you might say. Just cut out two triangles of fabric and sew the triangles together. Unfortunately, this will result in a distorted half-square triangle unless the seamstress is very skillful. The reason is that threads in fabric are horizontal and vertical. If cut along these thread lines, called the straight of the grain, fabric cutouts are fairly stable. When fabric is cut on the bias, diagonal to the straight of the grain, the cut edge will stretch. (In cutting triangles at least one edge will be a bias cut.) With the use of rotary cutters and plastic rules, however, even beginning quilters can sew half-square triangles with great accuracy using a number of different construction techniques. The method I favor is as follows:

1. Cut two squares of fabric of different colors.

2. Place the squares one on top of the other, right sides together. On the wrong side of the top fabric draw a diagonal pencil line between two opposite corners.

3. Stitch ¼ inch away the diagonal line on both sides of the line.

4. Cut along the diagonal line. (Note the cutting is done after sewing the bias seam.)

5 Press open both sets of half-square triangles. Trim with a rotary cutter and ruler for size accuracy.

Here is a sampling of tradition quilt blocks that use only squares and half-square triangles in their construction. Each block is sewn row by row like the nine-patch block described earlier in this article.

After only six classes of beginning quilting I was able to sew the quilt below:

Can your figure out what block was used in making this quilt?

California quilter, Donna Hussain, has exhibited in major quilt shows around the country, authored books, and is a regular contributor to Fiber Focus. Click on name to see all of her past articles. The photo shows Donna with her husband, Pascha.


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