Sheila Hicks: 50 Years (Yale U P)

Addison Gallery of American Art & Yale University Press

This is the second publication about the American artist Sheila Hicks to appear in the past few years. In 2007 Yale University Press also published Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor – a beautiful thick but appropriately diminutive hardback that focussed on Hicks’ miniature weavings. In this publication Hicks’ large-scale commercial commissions and gallery work are also documented. But for readers familiar with the 2007 book there will be moments when the images in this publication feel a little too familiar.

Essays by Susan Faxon, Joan Simon and Whitney Chadwick provide historical background with much attention given to retracing and piecing together introductions and contacts from Hicks’ early career. Connections, some coincidental others less so, that link Hicks to the Addison Museum (currently holding a retrospective on her work through February 27) are explored at length in Faxon’s “Twined Thoughts”, which adopts a certain mythologizing tone surrounding the era in which Hicks was a student at Yale University. Perhaps more interesting for readers who are not purchasing the text as a memory of the exhibition is Chadwick’s essay “Ancient Lines and Modernist Cubes”. Here Chadwick acknowledges Elissa Auther’s research of textile/fibre work in the United States during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s and uses artists such as Eva Hesse as a point of comparison and the different ways Hesse and Hicks negotiated the worlds of textile design and textile art.

This is a book with strengths and weaknesses in equal measure. To my eye, some of the images of the miniature weavings are printed out of focus. In contrast, the full-page photographs of more recent installations such as Les Escargots (2003-4) and Prophecy from Constantinople (2008-10) are exquisite. In “Unbiased Weaves” Simon, who also contributed an essay to Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor, incorrectly refers to Sarat Maharaj as “her”. Without being accused of making a big fuss over a little typo, it is telling that the mistake assumes the voice of textile inquiry is female in gender. Otherwise, the editing of this publication is thorough. Images are helpfully referenced with page numbers in each essay so that the reader isn’t left hunting for examples. But documentation of some of Hick’s more recent commissions, such as the project for King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, feels thin. Instead a comprehensive bibliography and illustrated chronology are included that will be helpful to anyone interested in further reading.

Crafts (March/April 2011: 56)