State of the Art: Discovering America Now

I spent a quiet hour wandering “State of the Art” at the Minneapolis Institute of Art recently.

From the website, “Featuring a diverse range of working artists from across America, “State of the Art” offers a snapshot of contemporary art that examines the ways in which people innovate with materials old and new to engage deeply with issues relevant to our times. Drawing from every region of the United States, this one-of-a-kind exhibition brings together more than 130 artworks ranging from works on canvas and paper, to photography and video, to installation art, and more.”

Following are a few of the works that particularly caught my eye. (Click on the smaller photos to see at full size.)

Joel S. Allen, Hooked on Svelte, was in the first room.

Joel S. Allen, Hooked on Svelte
Joel S. Allen, Hooked on Svelte

Laurel Roth Hope, Biodiversity Suits for Urban Pigeons. I like the description on the accompanying didactic text, that Hope considers herself “an artist who wishes she was a scientist,” and that her work bridges these two things.

Nathalie Miebach’s work is fascinating – each of these is derived from technical data collected during a specific weather event or period of time. Different types and colors of reeds represent different data: wind speed, temperature, tide level, etc. Read more about her work in American Craft.

Gina Phillips starts these works with a painting, and adds fabric and textiles in layers.

Pam Longobardi sources some of her materials from the plastic garbage patches in our ocean, prompting awareness of the destructive environmental effects of mass consumption.

Pam Longobardi, Ghosts of Consumption (for Piet M.)
Pam Longobardi, Ghosts of Consumption (for Piet M.)

Watie White uses traditional printmaking to create urban landscapes.

I have enjoyed Sonya Clark’s work for years, most recently at an exhibition at the Minnesota Museum of American Art, and a lecture at Mia. This piece is Albers Interaction, referring to Josef Albers and his Homage to the Square series, with materials that reference black hair. Composed of thread-wrapped combs.

Elizabeth Alexander makes these of hand-cut bone china.

This is cut paper by David Adey, made from a three-dimensional scan of his body.

A lovely visit to a lovely museum.

French pumpkin herringbone trio


This is the trio of ropes I’m working on to highlight this pumpkin bead color dear to my heart. I had originally thought I would have more 4-around solid color non-pumpkin ropes to intersperse, but I like these three together. I will likely string the ropes on a stringing medium to get the arch of each closer to the same, since the different diameters have different flexibility. I still don’t know how I want to do the clasp, or how long I want the finished necklace.

This is a good traveling project for me – and I’m mostly beading at home lately – so this is going very slowly. I’m trying to plan a little time here and there to work on this. Maybe by the end of the summer?

Bead shopping at the thrift store


This was strung on elastic, these wonderful blue and green beads. I had a clasp from a bracelet I took apart (I don’t trust elastic), and now I have this understatement of a bracelet.

Material Mythologies at the Minnesota Museum of American Art

Recently closed in the Minnesota Museum of American Art’s Project Space is “Material Mythologies.” From the Museum’s description: “Material Mythologies brings together textiles, beading, metal, ceramic, and glass by five artists from around the country, all of whom are working at the edge of contemporary craft and sculpture…With their innovative use of functional and non-functional forms, some of which include thousands and thousands of intricately assembled pieces, these artists and their works decode some of the entrenched assumptions about craft as they relate to gender, labor, history, and what is considered fine art.”

Following are galleries of the artists included. First, Teri Greeves:

Next, Sonya Clark, who also recently gave a talk at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

Mary Giles, whose work I’ve written about before, and who recently gave a talk to fellow American Craft Council staffers and volunteers:

Helen Lee:

Jae Won Lee:

A wonderful exhibit. I can’t wait until the MMAA is fully open!

Made of Thunder, Made of Glass II: Continuing Traditions in Northeastern Indian Beadwork

The Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University recently opened “Made of Thunder, Made of Glass II” on its campus north of Niagara Falls, New York. The exhibit “explores the intricate details and intimate meanings of Haudenosaunee, Wabanaki, and Chippewa beadwork through exquisite historic works and elaborate contemporary creations.”

There are more than 200 historic pieces, as well as beaded portraiture by contemporary artist Gerry Biron, and other contemporary artists. To see more of the work, there is an active Facebook page for the exhibition. I was in the area last summer. Shoot!

BEad Inspired design contest from Whimbeads

I am one of many, many participants in the BEad Inspired design contest from Whimbeads. Beki, proprietress and beader extraordinaire, made kits we bought sight unseen, inspired by pictures of the seasons. By July 1st, I am to create something from my “Fall” kit. One of the rules is that I am to share no photos or descriptions of the work in progress, but I can show you the beads:

Whimbeads-contest-kitAnother rule is that we are to noticeably use at least half of the beads in the kit. I have numbered the bags – 15 in total – so I know where I stand as I work. I have mentally tried and discarded two ideas, and actually tried a third and discarded it as well. I have three more ideas on my current list, and I’m rather hopeful for one of them. It’s a thing. Made out of beads. That is all that I’m prepared to say.

Thanks to Beki and Whimbeads for providing this opportunity to challenge myself, and to play with more beads. Now, I think I’m going to have to order more of at least one of the colors. Which one, I will not disclose…

Hmong textiles

The Hmong are an ethnic group that began coming to Minnesota in 1975 as refugees from the Vietnam War that decimated their homelands in Laos. The United States recruited Hmong men to assist in the war as a secret operation, with a total of 30,000 – 40,000 Hmong soldiers killed in combat, an estimated 1/4 of all Hmong men and boys fighting for the U.S. After the war, many Hmong escaped or evacuated to Thailand as the Lao monarchy was overthrown by Communist leadership, and the Communists launched a campaign to capture or kill the Hmong involved. From the refugee camps, many Hmong came to Minnesota starting in 1975, with the largest wave arriving in 1980, and the last arriving in 2004. Please note the length of time that some people were in the camps; I went to a talk given by a man who was a child in the camps.

Today, there are more than 66,000 Hmong in Minnesota, and the Twin Cities metro is home to the largest concentration of Hmong in America. Last year, the Minnesota History Center mounted an exhibition celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Hmong in Minnesota, “We are Hmong Minnesota” This is translated from “Peb Mog Hmoob” in White Hmong, one of the three main dialects. All signage was in White Hmong and English. It was a sobering, colorful, interesting, beautiful exhibit, and I’m grateful that I was able to visit.

I have lived in Minnesota since 1980, and I have seen Hmong handwork since moving here, always appreciating and admiring it. This is the first piece of Hmong handwork I have the pleasure of owning, a gift from a friend.

This bag is 7×6″, so you can see the piecework is very tiny.


This pillow was purchased at a school’s garage sale fundraiser, is 9″ square, and lives on the couch in my living room. The cut work is all hand reverse-appliquéd, and the triangles are satin-stitch embroidery. The spiral is a common motif called a snail, and the outer shape is a star motif.


Finally, recently, I was at a thrift store and horrified/delighted to find two pieces of Hmong embroidery for almost nothing. The person who priced them didn’t know how spectacular these pieces are. I saw a corner of the binding peeking out from some embroidered hankies, and immediately recognized the Hmong style of binding. This first piece is cross stitch, and 27 x 28″.


A detail:Hmong-cross-stitch-detail

And this, a truly spectacular piece that I am very grateful to be able to own. It is 34 x 32″, hand-embroidered with silk.


I work with someone who is Hmong, and I brought these to work to see if she could tell me anything about them. I was wondering if this piece depicted a fable, and she told me it is the animals of the forest. Click to see a larger picture.

Some of these embroidered pieces are called “story cloths” (paj ndau), and tell the story of current or pre-war life, or more poignantly, the war and escape. The Minnesota History Center has a huge story cloth that was on display during the exhibit. Here is a picture of it (65 x 95″). If you would like to see more, there are images in the MHS digital collections.

My workroom with my beads has no available wall space (bookcases, windows, and doors are in the way). I’m hoping that within a couple years, I will be able to repurpose a room into a sewing room, where I will hang these on the wall. I am pleased to be their next caretaker, and I will treat them well.