The poems of Whitman, Thoreau and Frost have to continually bounce around the minds of artists Pat DaRif, Joanne Weis and Valerie White. Working within the medium of art quilts, these women take the vibrant environment of the Ohio Valley and create works that remind you of the simple beauty of just being in the unspoiled world of nature.
“Rooted in the Earth” is their current exhibit at Spalding University’s Huff Gallery and it continues to solidify the fact that quilts are indeed art. In 1971, the Whitney Museum in New York adorned their walls with quilts and what everyone once thought was just a woman’s hobby turned into a recognized art form that only keeps expanding. By definition, a quilt requires three things: a top layer, a middle layer, and a back layer. That’s it. So you can see how easy it would be for an artist to transform the patterned bed covering into an illustrated wall hanging.
Each artist approaches the subject of the earth differently and yet the overwhelming unity of the show is that it is about life; the life that continues to perpetuate in the natural world without the hindrance or aid of man. Wild plant life stretches for nourishment toward the mighty sun in White’s High Noon. A school of fish swims in the current of a transparent stream in Weis’ Water Dance (Floyd’s Fork). A limitless root system of six Mangrove trees anchors their stability into the earth’s crust in DaRif’s Mangrove VI. These pictures of natural life are also alive with color that pops with each turn of the head.
The amazement comes when you step closer to these works and get lost in the stitching of the designs. The colorful thread leads the eye in intricate mazes, which begs to find a solution to the patterns, but gets carried away by their arrangements. What painters do with brushstrokes, quilters do with thread.
Among the art quilts are a series of sketchbook pieces by Weis featuring the area of Floyd’s Fork. On one page is a quickly drawn nature study, which could easily work as charming illustrations in any book and on the other page is her stitched version of the same composition. She states, “I photographed details and made pencil sketches on location. I then interpreted the sketches using stitch, not as landscape but a rendition of color, texture, line and composition.” This idea of stitch interpretation is incredibly interesting.
This isn’t the first time these artists have exhibited together. In 2009, their group exhibition “Earth Works” shown at the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany, IN. It is clear that the earth, and more specifically the scenery of the wilderness, matters to these artists and their work captures the complex beauty of the natural landscape that many take for granted.
“Rooted in the Earth” will be on view at the Huff Gallery, located in the Spalding University Library, from Feb. 26th – April 8th. There will be a gallery talk with Joanne Weis and Pat DaRif on March 3rd at 12:15 p.m.
Feature photo: Pat DaRif, "Mangrove VI" (detail)
More photos at artintheblue.com
Valerie White, "Serenity" (detail)