Saturday, June 20, 2015

Rachel Brumer presents "Work and Meaning"

Rachel Brumer contemplates a question from the audience at the June 13 CQA meeting.
CQA's June 13 speaker, Seattle-area artist Rachel Brumer, is a thoroughly modern person who includes some antique methods in depicting her chosen themes that also tend to look back:  "tribute" and "memorial."

Born in Oakland, CA, Brumer came from the background of an immigrant New York Jewish family. "There were no garment or quilting sewers in my family," she relates, though several of her grandparents were tailors. Dance became her first means of self-expression, as she began ballet lessons at age 10: "I was already quite tall," she laughs. Her dance training taught Brumer all the basic elements of art, but in the framework of the body on a stage. From ballet she moved to modern dance, and for ten years was a professional modern dancer in New York and Seattle. She holds a BFA from Mills College and, after more years of training, worked for several years as an interpreter in American Sign Language for the Library for the Blind.
One of Brumer's first quilts, "Danny, Are There Really Five Moons?" created for a friend who died of AIDS. Friends contributed to the borders. Below, closeup of part of a poem created for the quilt.

For the past 18 years, Brumer has been a mixed-media studio artist. "Common themes in my work are tribute and memorial," she says. "I am always asking myself, 'Why am I interested in remembering? Why does my work harken back....?'"

Her work takes many forms: quilts with mostly traditional materials; mixed-media pieces involving fiber and photography, and full-wall installations with photography, silk-screening, metals, paper, wax and other materials. Some of the photographic treatment involves a light-reactive process developed in 1842--VanDyke printing--for achieving images on fabric. "It's like cyanotype," she adds, "except that it's brown-printing instead of blue-printing."
Part of the installation for "Cover Them," with the quilt "Paula Jonap, 2/11/25" at left, and pages from Klarsteld's book at right

Brumer has worked in series for many of her pieces, often creating a public installation with the results. One, "Cover Them," was an installation at the King County Art Gallery in 1997. She was inspired to create this work by Serge Klarsteld's 1996 book "French Children of the Holocaust," which she searched to find names of girls who shared her birthday. She created 10 large quilts (over 80"), each named for one of these girls, that were then crudely quilted and nailed, unbound, to the gallery walls. Some of the quilts included rubbings from pebbles and gravestones.
"Mathilde Dziubas 2/11/28" above; closeup below. Fabrics hand-dyed; birds appliqued
"Francoise Kadosh 2/11/26"
"Marie Fitzman 2/11/32"

Another part of the installation she made was a stack of 30 small, utilitarian-type children's quilts. One of these was hung from a peg beside a notice encouraging visitors to take that quilt for a child, and to hang up another from the nearby stack. "I received a number of notes telling me where some of these quilts were taken," she relates.
Sign at left invited viewers to take the quilt off the peg for a child, and hang another from the stack at the right. Local quilters donated quilts as the level of the stack would go down.

Another series, created in the late 1990's, is called "Marker" and comprises 20 quilts inspired by headstones of women buried in cemeteries across Washington state. Most include the figure of a dress form as a stand-in for the woman, and embroidery of phrases taken from the headstones.
"Marker I"
Detail of "Marker I." Words from gravestones were embroidered on pieces in this series.
"Marker II"
"Marker III"

"Slumber, the Nights" (2007) was a gallery installation of seven small  "beds" in a room, evocative of a dorm room or an orphanage, inspired by a friend's adoption of child from Kazakhstan. The only light in the room came from the beds, which were really light boxes. Brumer punched tiny holes in the form of traditional quilt patterns in the "bed covers" for the light to shine through and illuminate the room.
Tiny holes punched in the "covers" in traditional quilting patterns allowed light to show through and provide the room's only illumination in "Slumber, the Nights"

A delightfully quirky installation, created in 2006 as Brumer's part of a 12-artist exhibit, is "Describing 10,402 Days of Dairyness," which used an old wooden library card-catalog cabinet in depicting the lives of a couple who owned a dairy farm. The "cards" in the cabinet were fabrics in different colors of white ("like milk") dipped in beeswax to stiffen them!
A library card-catalog cabinet holds "cards" made of white fabrics dipped in wax in "Describing 10,402 Days of Dairyness"
The times carved into the boards represent the times of daily milkings: 3:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

In 2008, Brumer made a trip to Poland and Ukraine with her mother and several relatives, resulting in a series titled "Memory's Main Gate" depicting objects from her grandparents' history. The purchase of some pieces of antique lace in Krakow resulted in a series of mounted wall pieces, "Krakow Fragments," where the lace was distressed, then combined with photographs of the same lace intact, intending to represent the destruction and renewal of buildings seen in the area.
"Memory's Main Gate" 2009. Fiber on board.
"Memory's Main Gate I" 2008. Fiber and metal. Statue of Liberty at left--the first view of America an immigrant sees; portion of Brumer's grandmother's bowl at right.
One of Brumer's "Krakow Fragment" pieces

A project Brumer started in 2010--depicting still lives with objects of meaning--grew into a much longer-term commitment than she realized, but was one with great personal rewards. She asked 15 friends to select some objects that had meaning for them, and to sit with her and tell her all about them--meetings that, by mutual consent, could extend over a whole evening. Photographed, the images were brown-printed on hand-dyed fabric; the backgrounds were then bleached out and the pieces printed again. One result, comprising a number of images, is a quilt titled "Small Regional Still Lives"; larger, single-image pieces are board-mounted in a series titled "Large Regional Still Lives."
"Small Regional Still Lives" quilt, 63 x 68

Among Brumer's newest series are large oval or circular pieces, some completely in fiber as  wall quilts; others mix fiber with additional materials in often tiny individual pieces that have to be mounted independently on the wall. One of the latter is "Partial Floor Plan of a World," which combines board, fabric, paint, French knots and's definitely 3-D! Her "Enhanced Sunspots After Galileo" pieces are round, created with a sun-print process, and entirely fabric--and loaded  with French knots and tiny hand-painted flower "petals."

"Partial Floor Plan of a World" 76 x 61 x 1

Closeup from "Partial Floor Plan..." showing 3-D structure. Pieces of torn fabric are "lifted" off the board by beads underneath. French knots decorate the tops.

"Quire: Book of Findings" wall exhibit at Seattle Art Museum
Closeup of a section of "Quire..."

Brumer references the written and printed word in one of her newer series, "Moveable Type," with tributes to books and libraries. Some pieces use  her own visual "language" (in "Printers' Ornaments") created by photographing small, similar-sized found objects (e.g. bottle caps, etc.) and combining and photographing them into what appear to be rows of letters. Views of these letters were also a major element in "Quire: Book of Findings," a large installation at the Seattle Art Museum in 2001 that also includes fiber and metal.

Closeup of a portion of "Printers' Ornaments," showing the small found objects Brumer collected and photographed to create a "language"
Some pieces portray the outer bindings of books as art objects--for example, "Chemise  Binding Green"--where she notes that the original name for a book cover was "chemise." Her love of doing massive numbers of French knots is clearly evident in the "Illuminated Letters" series. More books are on display in her "Shelves" series, where paint, embroidery, fiber, wax and hand-dyes are combined in objects on purpose-built wooden shelves.
"Chemise Binding Green"
"Upright Readers' Brigade" from Brumer's "Shelves" series. 39 x 15 x 2

This prolific and versatile artist obviously spends a lot of time working in her studio, where she says she loves working at night when it's quiet and distractions are lessened. However, she has also taken her creativity "outside," in several three-month residencies at the Mission Creek Correctional Center at Belfair, WA, where she goes twice a week to conduct three-hour classes at this women's prison.

Brumer is represented by two galleries: Friesen Gallery in Ketchum, ID, and Patricia Rovzar Gallery in Seattle, where she will have a solo show opening July 2 for the "First Thursday Art Walk" and running to the end  of July.

For more about Brumer and her work, go to, her excellent website that is loaded with photographs and informative artist statements. There is also an extensive, interesting interview with her, with photos, at

Saturday, June 6, 2015

O'Steen wins "People's Choice" award at 2015 Patchwork Design show in Brazil

CQA has just received word that the winner of the People's Choice Award at the 2015 Patchwork Design show held in Rio and Sao Paulo, Brazil, this past March is Barbara O'Steen, for her piece titled "Fragment" that was featured in the CQA exhibit portion of the show. 

"Fragment," O'Steen's winner of the "People's Choice" award in  Brazil

O'Steen reports that she was thrilled by the news--but also surprised. Her assumptions were that the Brazilian attendees would like bright colors and her piece is mostly neutrals.  She thinks they liked the details created by her combination of three quilts into the one piece, as well as the three-dimensional effect in the shaping of the top quilt (which doesn't show as well in the photo of the full piece; see the closeup view for clarity). 

Detail view of O'Steen's "Fragment"
The piece, 66.5" wide by 44.5" high, measures 2" in depth. It was created entirely of commercial cotton fabrics with added paint. Part of the piece was finished in 2001, then revised with further additions in 2006.

"The history of this quilt is a reminder that the Brazil show does not care about the age of a piece, only that it be interesting," commented O'Steen. "This is very helpful considering that so many shows want only new pieces."

By winning this award, O'Steen will be the guest of the Patchwork Design show producers at the event in Sao Paulo in the spring of 2016.

(To see images of all the CQA pieces in the 2015 show, go to…/Brazil_2015.html)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

C!QA hears from Jean Williams Cacicedo, icon of wearable art

Jean Cacicedo shows annotated samples of some of her techniques at the May 9 joint CQA/SDA meeting in Seattle. (Photo by Christina Fairley Erickson)
As quilters, many of us dye various fabrics to get the colors and effects we want. While she's not a quilter, Berkeley artist Jean Williams Cacicedo goes even further--she first creates her own cloth! Cacicedo, an icon of the wearable art movement of the 1970s, showed samples of her unusual garments May 9 as she addressed a joint meeting of the Contemporary QuiltArt Association (CQA) and the Seattle chapter of the Surface  Design Association (SDA).
Cacicedo models one of her "pieced, felted, slashed" coats (Photo by Christina Fairley Erickson)

Closeup of the felted, dyed, slashed coat fabric

When Cacicedo was studying drawing, painting and sculpture at Pratt Institute in New York, textile art wasn't on her radar--there were no textile classes available at that time. She received her BFA from Pratt in 1970, in sculpture. It was viewing a tapestry at the Cloisters that inspired her to express herself in fiber and textiles, which became her media for the next 45 years. "Cloth is with us from birth to death, in every culture," she said. "We're beholden to our ancestors, who first tied threads from flax...then the history of spinners, weavers, dyers and so on."
One of Cacicedo's earliest crocheted pieces: fabulous butterfly coat.

Some of her first works were done in crochet, which at that time was somewhat "anti-establishment." Indeed the '60's and '70s were an era of counter-culture, and working with one's hands was a big part of the U.S. craft movement at that time--as it is in the more current "maker" movement of today.

Coat created for Wyoming Wool Growers' Association. Cacicedo's spinning, dyeing and crochet work.
An early piece: "Chaps: A Cowboy Dedication"

 During this period Cacicedo spent seven years in Wyoming, and fell in love with working with wool--spinning, dyeing, crocheting, sewing: "Wool is our first language," she says.

Chart showing the "toothiness" of various fibers, with the rougher fibers better for felting and dyeing. From left: Coarse wool, fine wool, alpaca, cashmere, silk, linen, cotton, polyester.
Closeup of a Cacicedo piece, showing internal layers after a "burn-out" type technique. Wool layered with a single-knit poly jersey.

From crochet, Cacicedo began to work with layers or "substrates" of materials to create finished cloth. One of her first chosen layers was Melton cloth, a tightly woven, smooth-finish wool often used for overcoats. Later she came to use a lot of wool jersey that, unfortunately, became harder to find. To each of these fabrics (and later selections of wool and other fibers) she would add a layer of a fine gauze that would shrink when hot water and pressure were applied.

A "pre-coat" shape of shrinkable gauze, to which Cacicedo will add wool or yarns for subsequent shrinking.
Closeup of gauze. Cacicedo's chosen version, from Japan, is all wool and shrinks 50%.

 The gauze she now uses is a high-twist, pure wool from Japan...that costs $38 per meter and has a 50% shrinkage rate! She can create near-felt with these layers through the application of water, pressure and agitation. She warned that in this method it's best to do the shrinking process before any dye is applied as the dye will prevent some of the shrinking.

Stitching with a heavy white thread is added to a layered scarf.

In 1997, Cacicedo attended an international shibori symposium, and was delighted to discover new techniques to apply to her work. While many of us think first of "tie-dye" when we hear the word shibori, to her it's more the process of the stitching that's the hallmark of this craft. She will stitch heavy wool into the lightweight gauze, often using the stitching as a resist, drawing up the threads and then dying (and shrinking) the result. Sometimes she will stitch polyester to wool to achieve the designs that occur as the wool shrinks and the poly does not.
This felt-like coat includes hand dyes and printed motifs.
Printed and dyed, this coat is of Asian motif.
The scarf (above) and coat (a closeup below) appear printed, but the dark areas are actually tissue-thin from a "burn-out" type process.

Her garments can be described as "pieced, sewn, slashed, felted, dyed." Some of her work includes printing on the final cloth, and her method involves the use of sodium alginate as a print paste (often including dye). Once totally dry, the printed material is then immersed in an aluminum sulfate (alum) bath so the water and alum attach to the sodium alginate, then a water softener is used to remove the alum.

Cacicedo extensively documents each  of her methods, including experiments with various types of yarn and fabrics, with annotated samples. She finds the documentation process as exciting as making the final pieces themselves.
(Above) Attendees at the meeting survey Cacicedo's extensive array of annotated technique samples. Closeup of one technique below showing her layering method.

Cacicedo states that "Art is not about fashion. We are pawns of the fashion industry, but wearable art can differentiate the wearer....can transform the spirit of the wearer. The art we wear can tell stories of journeys both real and spiritual." She reminds that "There is no art-making that can take place without first having craft," and that "there is no one way to approach design...we all go in different doors."
"....stories of journeys both real and spiritual..." (Above) Part of Cacicedo's "Down Under" jacket. (Below) "Red Sea" coat.

Among Cacicedo's most recent design explorations is "notan," the Japanese design concept of the use of black and white in the dynamics of positive and negative space. She has begun conducting workshops involving this principle.
"Reveal Handbag," above, a sculpture of black wool stitched with white wool and shrunk. Inside is an armature of reed.
A beautiful visual pun, this "Raincoat," now in the de Young Museum in San Francisco, is full of punched holes!

Her work has been exhibited in museums and galleries throughout Western Europe, Japan and the U.S., and in 2000, the de Young Museum in  San Francisco mounted a 30-year retrospective of her work. She is the author of the book "Jean  Williams Cacicedo: Explorations in Cloth," published in 2000 by the Museum of Craft and Folk Art. For more on Cacicedo and her work, go to

(Thanks to Christina Fairley Erickson who contributed notes and photos to this report.)