Ian Wilson writes “A great distance, and that not only physical, separates the heart of Africa from fiber artist Yvonne Morton’s studio in Dorset in southern England. Morton makes the cloth whose inspirational source lies deep in the Congo. Her early medium was armor – her works is shown in Salisbury District Hospital and is based on the medieval surcoat which knights wore over their armor. While she was bedridden and concerned that the imagery that she was using was in danger of becoming “too cozy” she saw a catalogue from a London dealer – she was introduced to Kuba cloth. These are fine pieces of linen-like lengths of cloths. They are embroidered by the women with applique designs after the fabric has been woven by men from raffia which they had harvested from the African Palm tree – Raphia ruffia. Other fabric that are associated with this part of the world are the widely known cut-pile raffia often termed “Shoowa velvet” – this is characterized by dazzling geometric designs and the bark cloth produced by pygmy tribes-people. The Kuba empire is in currently the central Congo area and is the home to a variety of tribes.
Morton prefers her work to called fiber because she constructs it from scratch. She started felt-making using silk, as she was excited by the beautiful sheen emanating from this yarn. In constructing her cloths, she begins with layers of commercial scrim, then flax, and then the silk fiber layer – through which glimpses of flax are visible. These are not flat surfaces thus have a dimension which makes the hand and eye aware of the underlying surface. Feeling herself to be very much a pattern-maker, she is alert to the fact that a large part of the appeal of these cloths is that while breaking the organizing principle of exactitude that can be associated with repeat designs.
Morton stated that she is aware that her work of this cloth is a western interpretation of these Congolese cloth, but in the Comfort series she believes that the muted palette and more especially the layering and stitching and embellishments which she employs form surfaces which exist in possibly unexpected, but immensely uplifting textile harmony with their African antecedents.
Pieces of these Congo artifacts can be seen in the British Museum and the Pitt River Museum in Oxford.
1. Kuba cut pile of cloth, raffia in collection of Morton 21″x21″ early 20th century – 2. Yvonne Charm Vest Tussah silk, muslin,raffia, pastel, cotton and silk threads, pieced, patched and machine stitched. 21″x20″ , 2003 – 3. Yvonne Morton Gentle Cloth, Tussah silk, linen, raffia, thread, fabric marker, pieced, patched, machine stitched. 22″x21″, 2004 -4. Comfort by Yvonne Tussah silk, dyed muslin, cotton thread hand and machine stitched 29″x31″, 2002.
Bantu by Yvonne Tussah silk, muslin, pastel, thread, machine stitched 10″x”,2004
Kuba Parcel by Yvonne Tussah silk, raffia, bead, machine stitched, wrapped 14″x15″ , 2003
I found this information in the Winter 08 of Surface Design.
It is important to see how others execute their art and what inspired them. We are traveling to Africa next month and I hope to be able to see some of the works from these tribes.