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

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