There’s a banquet of tapestry on show right now in upper downtown Tacoma, both local and international, as the Tapestry Artists of Puget Sound and the American Tapestry Alliance annual shows coincide at Brick House Gallery and the Handforth Gallery, just two blocks apart, and with a joint reception this Saturday afternoon.
It’s a smart time to check out both shows, which offer a wealth of tapestry in two and three dimensions, a myriad of fibers and a range of genres. The Handforth, located in the Tacoma Public Library main branch, has pretty broad opening hours, but Brick House is on third Thursdays and by appointment only. Since you can easily stroll down the hill from one to the other, the joint opening makes a golden opportunity to see both, and compare.
At Brick House there’s a chance to go deep into the art of several local tapestry artists in “TAPS: Contained.” Three of the biggest hitters are Cecilia Blomberg, Mary Lane and Margo Macdonald, and in fact one of the best works in the show is by all three: “Labyrinth,” tucked away in a side room, was woven by the three women side by side, with Macdonald in the center linking Blomberg’s and Lane’s very different styles. A tan labyrinth pattern floats abstractly over ripples of chartreuse, purple and teal – a mental labyrinth in an imagined forest. (The three women have also co-woven three works hanging near the elevators at Mary Bridge Children’s Health Center.)
Also collaborative is the signature work “Contained” – a delightful pattern of color fields that in fact represent Tacoma’s shipping containers. Some are pure color – gold, ochre, red – others are patterned, one’s labeled ‘Hanjin.’ They’re lengthwise, end-on, a Tetris of industrial shape and color, juxtaposing a gritty subject with a soft, clean medium.
Blomberg, Lane and Macdonald each have other work in the show. The most striking is Blomberg’s “Birch Rolls,” nine pale white cotton strips some six inches wide and ten feet high, drifting down from the ceiling like skinny birch trunks and blowing slightly in curator Peter MacDonald’s fan breeze. He’s placed the right in front of the window, with lilacs offering a green background outside, and the effect is gorgeous – soft fiber creating its own space in nature. The rolls appear also at the Handforth, where Blomberg has rolled them up for a completely different effect – the detail of the gray-flecked weaving now transformed, the edges becoming a textured side themselves.
Lane shows her fascination with woven images of garments with two untitled works. Half a child’s sweater, pistachio-striped, is covered with checkered weaving as if by a soft quilt. Nearby are delicate flowers by Inge Norgaard, peach petals on baby blue and yellow backgrounds, just hinting at shapes and stems and tumbling slightly as if at the end of a perfect summer. They’re hung sensitively around the fireplace, inviting you in.
Blomberg also shows her figurative chops with “Mates,” a view from a rowing boat into a shadowed, rippled water; Macdonald also weaves rivers in “Skokomish at Staircase,” but her whitecaps and pale blue rocks have simpler, more abstract lines than Blomberg’s impressionistic shimmers.
Other highlights are Norgaard’s “Nesting,” a square of buttery creams fading in and out, overlaid with tree-brown fingerlings and hints of bird; Joyce Hayes’ abstract checker boards exploring contrasts of hue and pattern; and Ellen Ramsay’s “Awakening,” an eye-catching splash of sumi-e weaving, where the ‘ink’ smudges black through a Japanese character and retro reflective slit yarn flares unexpectedly out of the matte cream background, offering dimension.
Over at the Handforth, the works are smaller (after all, it’s the ATA’s annual “Small Tapestry International”) but subtitled “Outside the Line” it’s dotted with works that take tapestry out of tradition and into sculpture, conceptual art or jewelry.
First place is deservedly won by Korean Taeyoun Kim with “This is Not a Plastic Bag.” Cleverly woven from shiny yellow-and-green shopping bags, her bag shape is just a façade, a pretense at both bag and tapestry, fooling the eye and asking questions about the nature of reality and artificiality. Friede Voet of Belgium has, like Blomberg, transformed two dimensions into three by folding her woven off-white bandage strip into a complex accordion with no visible ends, sculptural yet soft. Canadian Stella Tang offers a tiny tapestry necklace pendant glittering with baby blue beads that flow like water, a metallic spill.
Others pull their weaving out of two dimensions into relief sculpture. Dorothy Clews (Australia) shrouds a rippling pool of still, murky green with the dry-grass yellow of an Australian summer in “The Space Between,” while Sharon Crary’s “Coloring Books” pinches a vivid, tangerine/red mountain range into horizontal ridges and valleys, like a crumpled dress. Hungary’s Judit Pázmány scrunches deep brown wool into a skinny heart with brilliant ivory and silver silk and metal, like pain bound up.
Many of the works are representational, like Macdonald’s translation of the stark beauty of Whidbey Island’s Ebey’s Landing into soft wool shapes on a paper collage. Many are small, calm abstracts that make excellent use of the repetitive weaving patterns and minimalist fiber. Others use creative materials: the sari silk, twine and Mardi gras beads tracing a life’s journey in Stacy Miller’s “Bet on the Road Less Travelled.”
A fun addition is a wall with two hands-on picture-frame looms, for visitors to find out exactly how weaving’s done.
“Outside the Line” is a reflective show and well-balanced, but lacking the drama inherent in big works. Aligning it with “Contained” is a smart move that shows off far more of what tapestry’s capable of.
The American Tapestry Alliance’s annual “Small Tapestry International 3: Outside the Line” shows at the Handforth Gallery, featuring 38 international entries. Tapestry Artists of Puget Sound members show “TAPS: Contained,” at Brick House. Both shows have a reception with lecture at 2:30 p.m. June 29 at the library. Handforth: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through Aug. 3. Free. Tacoma Public Library main branch, 1102 Tacoma Ave. S., Tacoma. 253-292-2001, tacomapubliclibrary.org. Brick House: Open third Thursdays and by appointment through August. Free. 1123 S. Fawcett St., Tacoma. thebrickhousegallery.com