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Renwick Gallery Is Exclusive East-Coast Venue for Dominic Di Mare Retrospective

Contact: Smithsonian American Art Museum's Public Affairs Office AmericanArtinfo[at]
American Art's Web site:
Recorded information: (202) 633-8998

Dominic Di Mare, an original voice among America's contemporary craft artists, is featured in a retrospective exhibition at the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum from March 19 through July 25, 1999. The show assembles more than forty works created between 1963 and 1997. They demonstrate how Di Mare transforms simple materials—such as wood, clay, bone, metal, abalone, feathers, paper, animal teeth, twigs, cotton, silk, and horsehair—to achieve unexpectedly mysterious and spiritual effects. "For over three decades, Dominic Di Mare has been on a personal journey of self revelation," said Renwick senior curator Jeremy Adamson. "The first of its kind, this retrospective includes a full range of his wondrously poetic objects."

Di Mare is profoundly influenced by memories of boyhood deep-sea fishing excursions off the coast of northern California and Mexico with his father, a Sicilian-born commercial fisherman. "It is my feeling that all my inspiration comes from a young boy, still cradled in the ribs of a small fishing boat miles out at sea … on a seemingly endless journey," the artist has said.

The sixty-six-year old Di Mare began his art career as a printmaker and painter, but found in weaving a connection to childhood experiences of watching his mother crochet while his father knotted lines, mended nets, and fashioned lures. Ventures in ceramics and papermaking also followed, but his themes—references to fishing, the sea and shore, connectedness and separateness, and spirituality—have remained consistent. The spiritual side of Di Mare's art stems from his Roman Catholic upbringing, superstitions from the Sicilian fishing community ("those magic things that let you get through the world"), and the mystery and archetypal resonance of the objects themselves.

Di Mare's techniques reveal the exacting quality of his craftsmanship and his attraction to, in the words of Jeremy Adamson, "the transcendent consciousness he had experienced at sea."

The haunting "Mourning Station #11" (1988), acquired by the Renwick in 1992, illustrates his obsessive workmanship. Framed by sanded hawthorn sticks harvested from a backyard tree, this tall and ethereal ceremonial structure supports a horsehair shroud Di Mare created by knotting single strands of hair through hundreds of tiny holes. "Sometimes I sit here for a whole day tying knot after knot. To me sometimes it's like the heartbeat … this knot, knot, knot. Like rowing." In some other works in this series, family photographs are hidden behind horsehair curtains.

The muted colors of "Mourning Station #11" are typical of Di Mare's earthy palette—bleached wood, a brown ceramic pendulum, black and white horsehair. A flourish of red feathers crowns the piece. Red represents the redemptive blood of Christ, pagan practices, and his own mother's superstition of taping a piece of red yarn to the window as protection from evil.


"Rune Bundle (Red)" (1979) also conveys a sense of mystery. The small, shrinelike work is wrought with tensions created by rows of tightly twisted paper strips suspended from a string grid. Dyed in patterns of black, white, and red, the paper cords unfurl at the ends like delicate tails, a gesture that lends a sense of fragility and movement. Two wands accompany the piece, further suggesting ceremony.

"Dominic Di Mare," said Adamson, "is one of those rare artists who are capable of effortlessly blending autobiographical references with signs and symbols of the universal order, balancing significance of a transcendent sort with revelations that are intensely personal. There are few leading artists in contemporary craft or other media whose works are as profoundly meaningful."


The soft-cover catalogue Dominic Di Mareis available for $25 ($20 for museum members) in the museum shop. This 72-page book features 46 color plates and essays by exhibition curator Signe Mayfield; poet, essayist, and scholar W. S. Di Piero; and Renwick senior curator Jeremy Adamson.

The exhibition was organized by the Palo Alto Cultural Center in California and is made possible through the support of the National Endowment for the Arts; the Palo Alto Cultural Center Guild; the Drew Gibson Foundation Inc.; Friends of Fiber Art International; Gray Cary Ware Freidenrich, P.C.; the Herbert K. Cummings Charitable Trust; the California Arts Council; and the Arts Council Silicon Valley. The exhibition's presentation at the Renwick Gallery is funded in part by the Smithsonian's Special Exhibition Program.

Free Public Programs

  • March 21 Lecture, 2 P.M. Signe Mayfield of the Palo Alto Cultural Center and curator of "Dominic Di Mare: A Retrospective" gives a slide-illustrated lecture of Di Mare's work.

  • March 21 Gallery Talk, 3 P.M. Signe Mayfield informally discusses the Di Mare exhibition.

  • April 10 Family Day at the Renwick, 1–4 P.M. Craft demonstrations and workshops will be featured, including the making of Shaker boxes and baskets, performances using a wide variety of musical instruments, highlight events for the entire family, and tours of "Dominic Di Mare: A Retrospective" and "Shaker: Furnishings for the Simple Life."

The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum is dedicated to exhibiting American crafts of all periods and to collecting twentiethth-century American crafts. The Renwick is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street, near the Farragut Metrorail stations. Museum hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, closed December 25. Admission is free. Recorded information: (202) 633-8998. Public information: (202) 357-2700; (202) 786-2393 (TTY); (202) 633-9126 (Spanish).