Sisterhood of Sublime Fiber Artists

Artists and visitors mingled at the Subversive, Skilled, Sublime: Fiber Art Open House 

A photograph of a woman.
Katie Hondorf
Public Affairs Specialist
June 13, 2024
Media - 2019.15 - SAAM-2019.15_1 - 137377

Emma Amos, Winning, 1982, acrylic on linen with hand-woven fabric, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase made possible by the Catherine Walden Myer Fund, 2019.15, © 1982, Ryan Lee Gallery, New York

Influential textile artists L’Merchie Frazier, Consuelo Jimenez Underwood, Lia Cook, Ed Johnetta Miller, and Susan Iverson gathered at SAAM’s Renwick Gallery for a bustling open house to mark the opening of Subversive, Skilled, Sublime: Fiber Art by Women, where their selected works were on display. What was truly special in this open house was not just the celebratory atmosphere or the opportunity to talk one-on-one with these distinguished women, but the sense of comradery between the honored guests.

Kicking off the event was Mary Savig, the Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft, who gave a gallery talk about the development of the exhibition, later introducing each artist on their “tour stop” in front of their respective artworks. From there, each woman discussed their artistic process, chosen media, and the messages behind the work on display. It was evident that guests appreciated the artists’ careers and were excited to meet these living legends—and they did not disappoint—they were naturally gracious, informative, and engaging as one would hope as a fan of textiles. During the tour, these special guests would leave their stations and listen to their peers during their respective “tour stop” often taking photos and videos, just as enraptured as the visitors.

Two women sitting in a gallery looking at a work of fiber art hanging on the wall.

Lia Cook discussed her work on Crazy Quilt and the materials used, including rayon, while updating the audience on her current works that focus on being “in the moment” while working with plant fibers.   

A person sitting in a chair looks up at a person in front of her. Behind them, a black and white artwork hangs on an orange wall.

Sitting in front of her quilt, Ed Johnetta Miller sounded touched to have her Rites of Passage II placed next to a quilt by her mentor, Carolyn Mazloomi, The Family Embrace, highlighting the importance of community and reflecting on twenty-five years of working on quilts. 

A person sitting in a chair looks up at a person in front of her. Behind them, an artwork hangs on a yellow wall.

During her remarks, Consuelo Jimenez Underwood talked about how her mission as an artist has changed over the years, and she eventually believed that her role was to bring people together and heal.  

A person sitting in a chair looks up at a person in front of her. Behind them, an artwork hangs on a yellow wall.

L’Merchie Frazier paid homage to her parents while speaking in front of From a Birmingham Jail: MLK. Her father worked as a tailor and did embroidery and her mother quilted and crocheted; she spoke eloquently about the legacy they passed on to her as she traveled the world, drawing on common experiences while creating lace in Brazil, inspiring her to reflect upon other at threads that bind humanity and store grace.  

Two women and a man pose for a photo in front of an abstract artwork that hangs on a blue wall.

Susan Iverson (left), who drew inspiration from Pre-Columbian textiles while in school, noted the abstraction of early textiles was very powerful.  Archaeological digs often noted the value of textiles, as each tapestry marked the beginning of one moment of time in Peru.  

A woman sits on a bench with her arm around another woman. They are smiling for the camera.

The mutual respect and admiration shown between these artists throughout the gallery talk was truly inspiring.  

Two women smile at each other. Behind them, an artwork hangs on a bright yellow wall.

You can hear from ten of the featured artists in Subversive, Skilled, Sublime: Fiber Art by Women through the Backstitch podcast, from SAAM and the Archives of American Art. Take these interviews with you wherever you go and get a direct look into their lives and creative practices.

Additionally, SAAM’s Drawn to Art comic series features biographies of four artists featured in the exhibition: Miriam Schapiro, Kay Sekimachi, Consuelo Underwood, and Emma Amos.  

Subversive, Skilled, Sublime: Fiber Art by Women is a collaboration between the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Archives of American Art; thirty-three artworks from SAAM’s collection are combined with artist materials, sketches, and letters from the Archives.  

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