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A new look at 'Women's Work'

Brenau show reveals fiber arts to new generations

POSTED: July 24, 2014 1:00 a.m.
Chelsey Abercrombie/The Times

Melanie Martin (left) and Christine Durkin of the Georgia Mountain Handspinners Guild spin wool into yarn at the opening of "Women's Work," a fiber arts exhibit at Brenau University.

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“Women’s Work,” the new exhibit showcasing at Brenau University’s Sellars Gallery, takes a new look at the idea of traditional female roles and tasks.

In the past, women may have been required to sew, crochet or quilt to supplement their family income or because they had no other choice, whereas all the women who contributed to “Women’s Work” did so for enjoyment. Career artists and novices alike created pieces for the exhibit, which is defined in part by a desire to stay connected to the past.

“We’ve done a lot of textile shows in the past, but we’d never done anything with fiber arts that was contemporary, new and exciting,” said Allison Murphy, the Brenau Gallery manager. “We wanted to talk about how contemporary fiber artists were inspired by their ancestors, maybe a mother or a grandmother who taught them how to do a technique like quilting or stitching, and now with that inspiration they take it to another level and into an art form.”

More than 20 pieces make up the exhibit, and the forms vary from the tradition of coats, hats and quilts to the nontraditional, such as a crocheted anatomical heart. A pair of 1920s-era felt hats adorned with glass beads greets patrons as they enter the gallery. A free-floating, 3-D collage of colorful crocheted tendrils takes up the entire back corner, which patrons may interact with as they wish.

“I think we have a whole spectrum represented,” Murphy said. “It’s not just contemporary work.”

Just as women have been connected through the centuries by needlework, many artists used their work to connect with their heritage.

Flora Rosefsky, a Decatur-based artist who usually works in mixed media and collage, contributed to “Women’s Work” as a part of the Peach State Stitchers. The Peach State Stitchers is a division of the Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Needlework, an organization dedicated to sharing the knowledge and techniques necessary for creating handmade items for “Jewish ritual and cultural use.”

Rosefsky first became interested in Judiac needlework when she attended a quilting class at a Jewish Community Center in upstate New York.

“The teacher said if you can thread a needle, you can sew,” Rosefsky said.

The Peach State Stitchers’ contribution to the exhibit, “Shabbat Traditions,” focuses on the Jewish tradition of Shabbat dinner, the traditional festive meal held to welcome the Sabbath. “Shabbat Traditions” is made up of 14 different variations on a place mat theme, each produced by a Stitchers member. Rosefsky’s contribution, a place mat decorated with lace and rosettes, has a direct connection to her faith.

“Mine is a metaphor of fabric, because the Sabbath is welcomed as a bride for her beauty and a queen for her rules,” Rosefsky said.

Whether they are lifelong artists or those who have picked up needlework as a hobby, all Stitchers recognize the longevity of fiber arts.

“It is something to pass through generations,” Rosefsky said. “Many of the women here have grandchildren and kids. We make things for our families, whether it’s heirloom gifts or for Bar Mitzvah. Instead of buying something, you make something for that child.”

Latifah Ali, a Lawrenceville-based artist, contributed a quilt titled “A Crescendo of Cloth.” It was inspired by the musical ability of her grandmother, who made quilts for her family.

“(My grandmother) was a pianist, and I always wanted to be a composer,” Ali said. “I would listen to her play beautiful music on the organ, the piano, and I said, ‘This is my time to be a composer.’”

In addition to several layers of cohesive color, Ali decorated the piece with bells, bottle caps and cowrie shells meant to represent her grandmother’s musical stylings. Ali never took up quilting until adulthood, as she preferred more traditional methods of making art, but preserving the art of quilting through the generations has become her new passion.


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