CONTEMPORARY FIBER ARTIST: EYE OF THE NEEDLE – SARAH FITZSIMONS
Sarah FitzSimons has always felt connected to water, it’s beauty and it’s utility. “Water is something that exists outdoors and we have to bring it indoors to use. It’s one of those things that fits into the category of indoor and out-door and ‘THAT’ fascinates me,” according to FitzSimons.
Growing up near lake Erie and spending time near the Pacific and Atlantic oceans left an impression on FitzSimons. When she landed a teaching job at the University of Wisconsin, she wanted to bring the vastness of the sea inland. Intrigued also by intimate spaces and their relation to conscious and unconscious thought, FitzSimons decided to combine the ideas into a quilt called, ‘The Pacific”. “Textiles have this great connection to the body, no matter if it’s clothing or a quilt. I also wanted it to be about this idea of water flowing and fabric flowing and I like that comparison”.
The quilt is massive, much bigger than what might fit onto a queen or king-sized bed. It is 21 by 23 feet with breath-taking undulating hues of blues and greens all outlined in current and depths patterns. FitzSimons wants the viewer to sense the complexity of the ocean. “I love the fact that my hands have touched each part of this piece. I have gained this closeness I feel like to the ocean.”
And the connection “The Pacific” a quilt, makes to the body during rest adds another layer of understanding. According to FitzSimons, “We dream about the actual world, taking our experiences outdoors and bringing them into ourselves as our dreams and then put them back out to be eroded”.
Several life events, including marriage and having a daughter happened during the 5 years it took to complete the project. FitzSimons says “The Pacific” was always in the back of her mind. But she says the passing of years just added to the work. “ I just want people to come away with the immense complexity and beauty of the ocean as a natural system; that overwhelming scale, and in my mind, beauty. When we look at the ocean from overhead you don’t see the currents. I wanted to reveal the complexity of the natural system”.
The assistant professor of sculpture at the University of Wisconsin Madison has continued her fascination with water with what she calls “ Water books”; sleek Plexiglas books full of H2O from different bodies of water. The “water books” are meant to sit alongside other books in a public or private library. “I’m excited to work in spaces that aren’t typically art spaces, attracting people to the work by offering it in non-traditional art spaces” , according to FitzSimons. She is also working on a project where she carves her dreams about water onto stones taken from the lake and then returns them. She hopes to make it a community project that will facilitate discussion about the environment. “I’m passionate about environmental issues and I believe these pieces are a way of talking about those issues.”
Visit sarahfitzsimons.net to view more work.
CONTEMPORARY FIBER ARTISTS: EYE OF THE NEEDLE – SANDRA AND WENCE MARTINEZ
Sandra and Wence Martinez fell in love with each other’s artwork before they ever met. Sandra commissioned Wence, who was living in Mexico, to weave a tapestry of her abstract work. “ I think there was something about the drawing and where it come from. I just saw it and I said, Ok, I’m doing it”, Wence recalls. The resulting weaving was so captivating, Sandra took a Polaroid of it to Mexico to find Wence and meet him in person. That was 1988 and the two have been working together ever since. Sandra says, “There’s a ton more energy that gets injected because there’s two people riffing on the object being made.”
The painterly weavings start out as Sandra’s “symbolist” drawing or paintings. Her contemporary works on paper are usually no more than 8 by 11 inches; often referencing human, plant and “shelter” forms.
Sandra says the translation deepens the viewer’s experience. “ For a viewer when they start wandering around this stuff, they get calm and centered and I think it opens them up to the kind of imagery that I do, it moves them to a different understanding of being human”.
Once the image has been selected, the two spend a lot of time talking about color and scale. Wence says,“ I like it because you have this little study and you get this cool jump in scale and you get this great resulting object”.
Each piece takes 3 months or more to make. Once the colors are selected, Wence hand dyes the wool he personally collects from the mountain “spinners” in Oaxaca Mexico. He says each dye batch is different. And that is one of the reasons why the weavings are so interesting. Moreover, the actual process of weaving is meditative according to Wence. “ You forget about everything, especially when I’m working on a piece with different colors. When I’m into a piece you have to focus and loose yourself into it”.
Born in Teotitlan del Valle Mexico, a village famous for it’s woven rugs and tapestries, Wence learned weaving from his father and grandfather at 9 years old. They taught him the Zapotec tribal patterns of his village. But it was only after a scholarship landed him in Mexico City that Wence learned weaving could be a fine art form. Even so, Wence says the process of weaving hasn’t changed much. “Our designs are evolving all the time”, Wence says, “The ancient tradition of weaving is the same, the materials the way it’s done by hand, it’s constant. It’s not loosing that thread. It’s strong.”
And so is the 30-year long partnership between Sandra and Wence. It resulted in a life and marriage of creativity. Their door county studio practice has sustained a family and a body of work that’s been exhibited all over the world and even at the Smithsonian. An achievement the both are proud of. Wence says, “It just makes me feel like, I want to do even better work and newer designs”.
CONTEMPORARY FIBER ARTIST: EYE OF THE NEEDLE – JULIE VONDERVELLEN
Julie VonDerVellen wants all of us to try and “walk in her shoes”. Not literally, but metaphorically. The paper artist and assistant professor of graphic design at Carroll University has had a lifelong fascination with the object. But VonDerVellen’s shoes aren’t the ones most of us have in our closets. Hers are made entirely of paper. It all started in graduate school after VonDerVellen took a bookmaking class. “I’ve always tried to make the connection back to the book structure in terms of how we narrate and how we tell stories and that physical object is what I’m trying to draw the connection and recording of memory”.
The first was a pair of tennis shoes, which took a year and a half to complete. “Once that piece came together, I think it was a catalyst for others”, according VonDerVellen. Then she moved on to making a pair of running shoes called “26.2 miles” for a friend who finished her first marathon. “I really enjoy the engineering and the problem solving that does into shoes and I think they are so symbolic of that journey and path you’ve taken”, according to VonDerVellen. She’s also made a pair of black and white woven Oxfords and then a pair of wedges with her resume printed on them. The wedges called “ Foot in the door” help to land her first job.
Since then, VonDerVellen has gone on to make other nearly life size objects including watches, dresses and jackets. The goal with all of these is to evoke memories of life changing events.
Recently VonDerVellen made a series of school supplies out of pages of old library books for the “30 by 30” exhibition at Var Gallery in Milwaukee. VonDerVellen says, “These common objects that seem so simple but they can embed so much context and correlate to those moments that change your life”.
The process of making these objects are very time consuming. “It’s all about problem solving”, according to VonDerVellen. “It’s heavy on observation and trial and error”. This laborious process that makes VonDerVellen think about each and every move she makes. “This process makes me slow down and pause and think ‘How do I make this? It’s a constant how do I do this and what materials are necessary?”
VonDerVellen uses the same strategy in creating paper weavings out of hand-made papers. The goal is the same as her sculptures, to create a memory of an event and also to stir a curiosity in the viewer. “ It’s interesting for me to see someone look at my work and I can see their minds wondering to the question of just how I did it”, according to VonDerVellen.
The recent pandemic has the artist now thinking about home items that are damaged or incomplete. “You know that sock that has lost it’s pair or that chipped coffee cup”, according to VonDerVellen “This time indoors has made me really look at everyday items and how that can evoke a memory of this specific time in history”.
About Linda Marcus
Linda b. Marcus b. 1961, Los Angeles, California is a multidisciplinary artist living and working in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Drawing on her long history as a TV News journalist and fashion designer, Marcus’s work in fiber and sculpture touch on issues of memory, identity and materiality.
Marcus is a self-taught artist. She graduated in 2004 with a Master’s degree in journalism and philosophy from Marquette University and in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley.
Marcus has won numerous journalism awards and her fashion designs were featured nationally when she was a contestant on season 16 of Project Runway.