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Smithsonian American Art Museum to Open "High Fiber" at its Renwick Gallery

Media only: Susan Kenney (202) 275-1592
Laura Baptiste (202) 275-1595
Amy Hutchins (202) 275-1694

Public only: (202) 633-1000

"High Fiber" is on view at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum from March 11 through July 10. The exhibition presents many important milestones of the American fiber art movement and illustrates the diversity of contemporary craft created from the mid 20th century to the present. The exhibition features a variety of objects—quilts, baskets, tapestries and sculpture among others—by artists such as Anni Albers, Lia Cook, Kiyomi Iwata, Mary A. Jackson, Ed Rossbach, Jon Eric Riis and Claire Zeisler. "High Fiber" includes 69 objects by 61 artists.

Kenneth R. Trapp, curator-in-charge of the Renwick Gallery from 1995 to 2003, chose the objects in "High Fiber" from the museum's permanent collection. This exhibition is the fifth survey of the craft collection in a series that focuses on a specific medium—glass, clay, fiber, metal and wood—or by a specific craft category. Rebecca A. T. Stevens, consulting curator for contemporary textiles at The Textile Museum, is the guest curator of the exhibition. Robyn Kennedy, chief at the Renwick Gallery, is coordinating the exhibition.

"'High Fiber' celebrates the vibrant creativity of craft artists across the United States who are working with a wide range of both traditional and innovative materials," said Elizabeth Broun, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. "The exhibition is filled with works that are evidence of the wonderful legacy Ken Trapp left to the museum though his acquisition program."

Fiber describes materials such as thread, yarn and grasses or objects such as baskets and quilts that are made from these materials. In the 1930s, artists began to explore the creative possibilities of fiber. Anni Albers, Mariska Karasz and Marguerite Zorach are some of the early artists represented in "High Fiber" who transformed predominantly functional forms into expressive works of art.

"By the mid 20th century artists really discovered the expressive potential of fiber, something the influential artist Anni Albers called 'the language of thread,' and traditional objects and techniques were used to create eloquent works of art," said Stevens. "The works in this exhibition represent moments that changed and expanded the way that fiber was used as a material."

Several of the works in the exhibition represent milestones that mark a change in the American fiber art movement. Albers was one of the first artists to declare that any craft materials could be used to make art. She used the threads in her weaving, "Ancient Writing," like pen strokes are used to draw an abstract composition. Michael James applied the vocabulary of pattern, texture and scale to his traditional patchwork quilts in works such as "Quilt #150: Rehoboth Meander."

Ed Rossbach was one of the first artists to show that baskets were also sculpture. His piece, "The Plains," looks like a 19th-century basket but its cross cultural imagery and contemporary technology place it firmly in the 20th century. Nancy Crow, another pioneer, was at the forefront of the contemporary art quilt movement. Her quilt "Crucifixion" is a tribute to the expressive potential of the pieced quilt as an American art form.

Some objects in the exhibition depart entirely from functional forms and become purely sculptural. Dominic Di Mare uses fibers to create personal works, such as "Mourning Station #11," which is a tribute to his father. The animated threads in Claire Zeisler's "Coil Series III—A Celebration" suggest the motion of a dancer.

The variety of objects in "High Fiber" illustrates how similar techniques and materials serve an artist's personal vision to create strikingly different works. Compare Mary A. Jackson's "Low Basket with Handle" to Billie Ruth Sudduth's "Fibonacci 5" or Jon Eric Riis's "Pair of Prickly Pears" to James Koehler's "Summer Dances III."

As artists were challenged to expand the expressive boundaries of fiber, they experimented with new materials like plastic and metal and looked beyond western cultures for inspiration. Kay Sekimachi was one of the first American artists to create three-dimensional weavings. Her piece titled "Nagare VII," is made from stiff nylon monofilament that holds its shape after being removed from the loom. Asian influences are evident in Tim Harding's "Cloudwave Kimono" and in Kiyomi Iwata's "Orange Box."

Other artists in the exhibition use fiber to express ideas about the world and current events. Gyöngy Laky expresses her concern for fragile ecosystems though her work. She considers the delicate balance between man and nature in her piece "Spike," which is made from tree prunings she collected and mass-produced nails. Carolyn Mazloomi, founder of the Women of Color Quilter's Network, uses imagery from African art and American jazz in her quilts that reflect on the nature of African American families.

"High Fiber" is organized by the Renwick Gallery with support from the James Renwick Alliance, the Stephen D. Thurston Memorial Fund, and Samuel J. and Eleanor T. Rosenfeld.

A schedule of public programs, including lectures, artist demonstrations and performances is available in a brochure. Call (202) 275-1500 to request a copy by mail or visit the museum's online program calendar at

The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum is dedicated to exhibiting American crafts and decorative arts from the 19th to the 21st century. The Renwick is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W., near the Farragut North (Red line) and Farragut West (Blue and Orange lines) Metrorail stations. Museum hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Admission is free. Smithsonian Information: (202) 633-1000; (202) 357-1729 (TTY). Recorded information: (202) 275-1500. Please visit the museum's award-winning Web site at