Focus: Fiber 2016 Lecture by Jane Sauer, Fiber Artist and Gallery Owner.

Last weekend, my husband and I traveled to Ohio to visit the Cleveland Museum of Art, to attend the lecture by Jane Sauer as part of the Focus : Fiber 2016 Exhibition, a National Contemporary Fiber Art Show coordinated by the Textile Art Alliance, Cleveland Museum of Art and hosted by Kent State University Museum.

This was my first visit to the Cleveland Museum of Art and it has just had an eight year, $350 million renovation and expansion which was completed in 2013 and well worth the wait. A beautiful and inspirational institution full of world class art, well worth another visit.

“Fictional Fabrics” with Jane Sauer. A thought provoking summary of an art gallery director’s experience selling fiber arts in a Fine Art Gallery

Sauer’s  talk was based on her 20 years plus experience as a Gallery owner and director, in Santa Fe, NM. She started the lecture by referring to Fine Artists who use textiles as their medium for expression and asked:-why were these artists not called Fiber Artists? She gave as examples-El Anatsui, whose enormous woven pieces resemble kente cloths, Magdelena Abakonowicz who is known for her huge felted pieces, and Christo and Jean -Claude, whose thousands of yards of fabric wrapped the Reichstag (“Wrapped Riechstag” ) These artists use textiles and fibers as their medium, and are known as Fine Artists. Sauer then talked about the artists she has represented in her gallery and how the use of textile fibers and materials has changed over the 20 years.

Sauer described:

  • An artist from Australia who weaves strips of patterned glass into pieces that look like kente cloth and has since created glass that looks like lace.
  • An artist who makes small circular hollow glass forms, which are tie together with wire and  hangs on the wall like a hanging-but it is in fact, very heavy and unable to drape.
  • An artist who carves out intricate designs with a laser on circular 5′ x 5′ wide pieces of wood that mimic crocheted doilies
  • A potter creates a form that looks like wrapped fabric covering objects while other potters mimic a batik surface and other textile processes to give the illusion of a fabric
  • A potter weaves with small clay pieces to form the look of ancient baskets while still remaining a ceramic form.
  • An artist has a commission where she proposed wrapping and coiling 1000 birds. After making the initial bird, she decided to cast the bird in clay instead, while keeping the “marks” of the coiled textile forms to represent the textile surface.

In answer to  questions from the floor about being recognized as a fiber artist,  Sauer encouraged fiber artists to be open to move in new directions. She admitted that fiber art and textiles are still not regarded in the same way as Fine Art, and that buyers needed to be educated more about fiber arts. One of the major concerns was about the longevity of textile and fiber pieces. As Sauer points out-paintings are made on a canvas which is a fabric! (It hasn’t stopped anyone so far from  investing in a Picasso, Van Gough or Titian !)

Questions, questions, questions!

As an artist and fiber artist, this lecture raised so many questions ! It was a fascinating and insightful presentation. It really cuts to the definition of what textile and fiber art IS and it also questions the function of the textile and the underlying philosophy of- why did you create this and for what reason? In the examples of art that Sauer gave, it appears that the textile form/structure/ surface  was used as a reference to a textile to conjure up associations with that textile form-while creating a form that may have the completely opposite attributes. For example, the 5′ x 5′ wooden doilies-really gorgeous pieces- had an extra  “punch” that would not have been there, if you did not recognize that the form was referring to a small, soft, hand crocheted or knit doily which in turn could be associated with – the past, old traditions, family members that knitted or crocheted.. and so forth. If you looked at the pieces and just saw an intricately patterned  wooded circle- it would have lost most of it’s meaning, other than being decorative and a pleasing pattern. And part of the response is due to the juxtaposition of the large, hard, unyielding wooden form in contrast to the small and delicate textile that was the source of the wooden form. So other than “Wow, that’s an interesting juxtaposition!” is the piece saying anything else? Well. Yes. It works better, as in so many things,  if you know and recognize the associations and realize that the doily is a cultural object, and being presented in such a way as to question your perception of the object and it’s meaning to you. Many of the art pieces in this presentation challenged your perception of what you were looking at by using textile references ( soft, draping, floating, interlaced) with objects that were the exact opposite of what was represented. The most interesting and intriguing part of the presentation was that there were very few actual fiber/fabric pieces, with the majority being in glass, clay and wood.


I welcome any comments about  the place of fibers and textiles in our society, our culture, in the art world and in the world today!

What is textile and fiber art ? What is its purpose? What is the philosophical intent? Which direction are we going in? Are textiles for textiles sake gone?


I apologize for not having the names or images of the artists from the presentation- I did not have a notebook or pen- or this may have been a much longer piece!