Jessica Hemmings

Textile Writer

Threads of Memory: Contemporary Narrative Textiles


Threads of Memory: Contemporary Narrative Textiles

The presence of narratives in fiber art can be implied by the artist or imagined by the viewer. For every artist working in fiber with the intention of celebrating art for art’s sake, there is another who uses the medium and a vehicle for conceptual expression. As a result, narratives in fiber art have come to be defined by ever widening parameters. Intent, accessibility, and clarity and their subsequent relevance to the communication of the narrative need to be determined. “Threads of Memory: Contemporary Narrative Textiles” was on display at the Metropolitan State College of Denver Center for the Visual Arts from March 8th through April 20th. Curated by Connie Lehman, the exhibition included examples of woven, quilted, embroidered, and beaded work.

The selected works displayed an enormous diversity of material and conceptual execution. For many works, the narrative element appeared in the form of explanatory text or literary references. In others, narrative was explained to be the source of inspiration and guide to the creative process but was difficult to detect in the finished work. All arguably encompass an aspect of narrative, but the sheer breadth of interpretation the exhibition drew from made a consistent theme difficult to discern.

Political statements appeared in several works. Cindy Hickok’s Women’s Work presents an embroidered compilation of images of women that paid homage to what we have come to associate with “women’s work”. Beth Nobles similarly drew from a personal interpretation of the political. In the case of Selma Story: March for the Vote 1965, Nobles references the American civil rights movement.

More intimate narratives were seen in the works of Tom Lundberg and Darrel Morris. In both cases, these small-scale embroideries refuse to reveal their narrative content with speed or any certainty. For example, Lundberg’s Change of Seasons, part of a four-part series, is brimming with symbols. In each piece, some symbols are repeated and others altered. As viewers struggle to establish their own connections within the series, a multitude of narratives appear. Reminiscent of the children’s books that allow the reader to alter the course of the story by turning or skipping pages, Lundberg’s work may be one of the most engaging examples of narrative investigation in the exhibition.

Darrel Morris depicts equally enigmatic images, although a more specific singular narrative is apparent. In Bed depicts a young boy languishing in a mixture of despondency and inner conflict. Beautifully rendered in the background is a ghostlike figure, discernible only through the imprint of the stitched outline. One can only surmise whether this figure is another version of the boy, alone after futile waiting, or a second character. In either event, there is an engaging narrative intent.

Finally Carol Shinn’s Time Trans-Shifting renders composite embroidery images of cars and vegetation. Shinn states that her work is an investigation of the passage of time, as she terms the “transitory nature of life”. In this regard, the work is one of the man red herrings of the exhibition. No amount of contemplation will reveal details beyond Shinn’s premise regarding the passage of time. While the work is stunning in execution and concept, it, along with many others on display, showed exceedingly tenuous connections to a concrete concept of narrative.

Textiles, both historically and in contemporary practice, are infused with a multitude of intellectual and aesthetic considerations. Narrative, while it need not follow the strict literary definition, needs to convey a specific storytelling intent. Or does it?

FiberArts Magazine, (Nov./Dec. 2002: 61)