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Ragged Cloth lives! Introducing Ragged Cloth 2

Ragged Cloth is art blog written primarily by fiber artists about any issues concerning artists.  All art forms, subjects, and time periods may be discussed. This is not a blog for self promotion or a place where we sell our work. but rather a place where we explore topics of concern to artists in any medium, but often with a fiber slant.  Here is the mission statement written by June Underwood, originator of Ragged Cloth :
“A new home for fiber & textile artists of all sorts.
The Ragged Cloth Café is a place for serious artists (who are also serious talkers) to verbally circle ideas about their own work, the visual arts, and the theories, histories, definitions and philosophies of arts while relating these to the textile arts. The group was begun by textile artists and most, but by no means all, of us
continue to have textile art as our base of reference. We are prone to go deep into any given topic, likely to go on for hours circling an idea, bringing in tangent ideas, never entirely resolving any issue, but seldom descending into boring repetition. We are practicing artists by day; thinking artists by night; verbal artists whenever we see the chance.The café invites civil discourse, discussions which probe and prod, and which are well-salted and sugared with references that will expand our horizons. Join us if you are willing to do your homework, looking up and seeking out what you don’t know as well as sharing what you do know. The list moderators and old hands will seed the discussion and keep it somewhat on track, but the group as a whole will, as they do with all email lists, have to draw up a seat, get their preferred cup of stimulus, and keep the comments, questions, and conversation going. Within this group, you will find fiber artists, art quilters, creators of complex/art cloth, wearable art, art dolls and others.”

We are a small band of dedicated posters who welcome comments, occasional or frequent, and new posters.  Join us.
cornell.rose-vents.small cornell.medici-boy.small cornell.habitat-group.small
Roses de Vent     Medici Boy    Habitat Group

Joseph Cornell was the first artist I admired.  I saw an exhibit of  his work in NY (perhaps at the Museum of Modern Art) when I was 11 or 12.   His constructions captivated and inspired me.  I knew nothing of Surrealism of course, but I found his odd juxtapositions endlessly fascinating and instantly liberating.  I immediately began to make my own collages or assemblages (I think I called them dioramas) in shoeboxes.  Anything that interested me could go into a diorama, and I was free to choose the theme, the objects (stones, twigs, grasses, magazine images, pieces of wood, or glass,  shells, dolls, etc.), and their arrangement.  Strangely enough, long after I had abandoned my first career as a teacher and become a fiber artist, I had to rediscover the empowerment to choose what I was interested in as my subject matter, and the “objects” and their arrangement.  I am fortunate to live in Chicago where The Art Institute has a room full of Cornell’s boxes.  I visit them at least once a year.  My own personal pilgrammage.

To see more : Cornell boxes

SoI’d love to know who inspired you first and  how  that inspiration affects your current work.


Coming to an End

A quick note: the domain name for Ragged Cloth Cafe is up for renewal. I have been maintaining the name for some years but am now ready to let it lapse. If anyone is interested in taking it over, please let me know soon.

You can send me a note via “comments” or in a personal email. For the last batch of posts, Olga has done a heroic job of trying to keep the ideas and images flowing, but even she finally dropped back. However, the site will be here for a bit longer, and if anyone, including (or perhaps especially Olga), would be interested in maintaining it, I think there are ways to transfer the name. Just let me know, and I’ll figure out the details.

And just for the record — the Ragged Cloth Cafe has some of the most fascinating materials on textile art I’ve found on the web. It would be great if it could continue and regain its momentum.

Thanks to everyone who participated over the years.


Art Where You Least Expect It (by Clairan Ferrono)

High Line

This past summer I read a fascinating article in The New York Review of Books (Aug 13,  2009) called Up in the Park by Martin Filler.  The question arises in every urban environment as to what to do with outmoded infrastructure. Often it is torn down to create room for yet another mall, or housing development, or high rise, but more and more frequently these days it is being recycled “into a new kind of public recreation space.”  This is the case in NYC, where a “long-defunct cargo railroad trestle” called the High Line, which traversed about 1 1/2 miles through the West Side of Manhatten, was turned into a park. opening in June 2009.

The High Line, an elevated train 30 feet in the air, originally built during the Great Depression to facilitate delivery of goods to manufacturers  as part of the West Side Improvement Project, “followed a mid-block, back-door path in the Chelsea district between and through spaces behind buildings, which made the tracks virtually invisible.  It was last used in 1980, fell into disrepair and was virtually forgotten.  Joshua David and Robert Hammond discovered their mutual interest in the High Line and dedicated themselves to saving it–as a city park in the sky. What could be a more magical (and useful) transformation?

Recently I came across another example of art in an unexpected place — Japanese rice fields.

Farmers in rural villages in Japan, by carefully planting different colored rice, create monumental images of mythological figures or gigantic field murals.

These murals cover 45,000 sq yards of rice paddy fields in the village of Inakadate.  Of course the designs are invisible from ground level, so viewers must climb to the top of the local village office to see the murals.  The village started rice paddy art as a local revitalization project in 1993.  Now it has spread to other villages.  The warrior seen here is in the town of Yonezawa. Computers are used to plot the planting of four different colored rice varieties.

Talk about thinking outside the box!

What the surface Reveals: The Threads Project 2001 –2007 by Nancy Engstad

NEThree In Red-gray-copy2

THREE IN RED  Triptychs  2003
Pastel on wrinkled paper, thread on tulle, thread on cotton
Each approximately 17 x 17 inches

I have just found the Ragged Cloth Cafe blog and it is an extremely timely discovery. As I write, my book What the Surface Reveals ~The Threads Project 2001-2007 is being printed by the on-demand company Blurb.

In this book I document my work of over six years in which I attempted to answer the questions put forth on Ragged Cloth concerning the issues of fine art and craft.

I was prompted to write when I read from the archives the article and comments on Angela Moll’s “Craft vs. Art, One More Time,” published March 7, 2008. It is clear that the subject is still, as I commented in the book, of great interest and remains open to further discussion. In particular, the response to the article by Lisa Call refers to the primary question I sought to answer with The Threads Project, “How do process and material affect meaning?” and by extension, “How is value then perceived based on these?”

In 2001 I began an extensive body of work which came to be known as The Threads Project. This body of work is an attempt to find a resolution to a personal issue that I felt hampered my creative work, and which may speak for other artists as well. The issue was the result of my own quandary and stalemate: on one hand my fine art seemed acceptable while on the other, my interests and experience with surface design and textiles, referred to as “craft”, seemed less so.

There seemed to be a division based on distinctions and judgments of assigned value, of gender issues relating to techniques and materials, of historical context, and perception and definitions of art.

Although over the years I had intellectually resolved the art vs. craft question as much as anyone, by the time I began thinking about this again in 2001, the reality of this issue still seemed less than equitable. During the initial period of inquiry I determined I needed to find a way to blur the distinctions that still divided fine art and craft. I needed to find a bridge between the two. I did, of course, find that bridge and the means and methods with which to use it. The sources for this journey extend back to my earliest interests in art where one was as likely to find me with paper and pencil as with needle and thread.

Drawing has been the lifelong focus of my work, and over the years I have created both figurative and non-representational work. At the same time I have always had an affinity not only for the surface often used in drawing-paper-but for the equally tactile surface of cloth.


Color pencil, thread, pastel, paper on black paper with hand-sewing
26.75 x 19.5 inches

I began using fabric in my work in the 1970’s, making sculptures and wall pieces. During this time artists were encouraged to break down old concepts of art, process, and techniques formerly defined as craft and narrowly assigned as fiber art.

Velour, cotton, batting, thread, marker
8 x 10.5 x 2 inches

In 1989 I began a serious exploration of surface design on fabric, including ancient dyeing methods such as shibori as well as painting and printing. After years of enjoying the creative results of working with fabric as a textile artist, (while continuing my fine art practice) I realized that I thought of my textile work as separate, eventually leading me to question the long-standing issue of art vs. craft on a very personal level. I needed to find a way to blur the perceived divisions between the two in my own work.

Early on several events provided clues that would guide my investigation. I attended an exhibition of Sean Scully’s paintings, which feature geometric bars and patterns that immediately called to mind quilt patterns. (This was before the exhibition of the Gees Bend quilts in which the value of quilts as legitimate art made such an important statement.) At the Scully exhibition my first thought was “If a similarly-sized and patterned quilt were to be hung next to this painting, created by an unknown maker, ‘Anonymous’ perhaps, what value would be placed on each?”

This led me to think that if two pieces were hung side by side in a gallery or museum, one of traditional method and material, for example, oil on canvas, and one a textile piece, each with similar size, shape, related perhaps in color and composition, then it would not be possible on immediate viewing to place a value based on the materials or processes used.

A short time later I came across a gallery announcement for an exhibition which paired 20th Century color field paintings with ancient dyed textiles. These events provided important formats for the bridge between fine art and craft- pairs and analogous images.

Although I never envisioned that this project would endure for over six years, I did have an idea from the beginning that it would be one based on a formal and detailed plan so that there would be a cohesiveness in the work. I began with two lists. In one, terms relating to traditional methods of making art such as drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, collage; and in the other, terms pertaining to textiles such as sewing, applique’, quilting, thread. Using the terms from the two lists then, I began to make works which combined fine art elements with those referring to textiles. This proved to be a fertile method for blurring the distinctions of art and craft. Over the years of the project, of course, many new directions developed. I will share some of the events and discoveries that were part of this six-year journey.



A Sampling of Notes for the Threads Project, 2001/2002

I attended an etching workshop at Crown Point Press in San Francisco. During the workshop I was struck, in particular, by the surface quality of aquatints. These bore a resemblance to some of my hand-dyed cloth. I decided to create an etching echoing the appearance and size of the cloth and to pair them side-by-side on a single sheet using the method of chine colle’.

RUST 1   2001
Hand-dyed cotton, spit-bite aquatint etching, chine colle’
Each: 4.5 x 3.5 inches

Another idea, using thread as both medium and subject led the work in an interesting direction; I unspooled tightly-wound loops of thread onto large sheets of watercolor paper, sewing and gluing them to the surface, resulting in a raised thread drawing. This took the idea of a thread drawing from two dimensions to three as the loops rose above the surface of the paper. Works such as Dusk (below) were then also analogous in imagery to thread-like drawings on paper with color pencil as seen below Dusk in Threads: Visual Energy.


DUSK  2001
Thread, glued to watercolor paper
30 x 22 inches


Color pencil on black paper
27.5 x 19.5 inches
Expanding on the idea of thread drawing I used rectangles of white sateen as though approaching a sheet of drawing paper. (I did not want this to reference embroidery.) The black thread stitches on white cotton are marks or thread drawing, while the in-and-out pull of the stitches created a textured surface. Small rectangles of black and white cloth are the analogous collage element on the piece below, from a suite of four Quilted Thread Drawings.


Black cotton, cotton, thread on cotton sateen
12.5 x 17.75 inches

A spontaneous triangular stitch used initially on a textile piece became a significant motif. I used this stitch-mark as a linear drawing technique in drawings, paintings, and frottage pieces, as well as, of course, in textile pieces.

Thread, color pencil, Okawara paper
Approximate dimensions: 12 x 17 inches

The combining of elements on the initial two lists developed much farther than I ever anticipated. Overall, during these six or so years, the work created in The Threads Project not only explored the issue of fine art vs. craft, in this case cloth and paper, textiles and drawing, but went on to challenge my definitions of drawing, my primary means of expression. It opened my eyes to digital drawing and to a deeper investigation into painting, mixed-media work, printmaking, artists’ books and sculpture. The issue of fine art vs. craft was the beginning, but in the end became the means.

I consider myself an artist. I make quilts occasionally but do not consider myself a quilt artist or a fiber artist. I use cloth and textiles to create as I would use paper, paint, and canvas. As an artist who was present and participated in the early discussion of art vs. craft, I am gratified to see the changes that continue to blur the divisions between them. As I state in my book, I hope that my efforts in The Threads Project add to the discourse and perhaps create a unique body of work reflecting the changes being made.

In the context of our time it is clear that the art world is arriving at the same conclusions as art and craft find common ground. Definitions such as art, craft, and design are increasingly fluid. An example of this changing outlook is the renaming of The American Craft Museum in New York to The Museum of Art and Design. Their mission statement speaks for the wonderful potential today for creativity in all its aspects:

“Today, the Museum celebrates materials and processes that are embraced by practitioners in the fields of craft, art and design, as well as architecture, fashion, interior design, technology, performing arts, and art and design-driven industries. The institution’s new name, adopted in 2002, reflects this wider spectrum of interest, as well as the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of the Museum’s permanent collection and exhibition programming.”

While my work with The Threads Project seems finished, its impact continues in other work. I have continued painting using the thread-stitch triangular motif in a series of paintings, three of which were juried into “Paint” at the South Shore Art Center in Cohasset, Massachusetts in 2007. Currently a series of Black Drawings which descend from a major textile piece in The Threads Project, “River, Stones,” can be seen on the website of The Drawing Center’s online Viewing Program in New York.

Following the publication of What the Surface Reveals~TheThreads Project 2001-2007, I plan to document the drawings and paintings which continue the motif of the stitch-mark begun in The Threads Project. This will be titled Webs and Threads and will give a wider view of works which were too large in number to include in the first book.

Works from The Threads Project have been exhibited in solo exhibitions in the United States and group invitational and juried exhibitions in the United States and Africa.

What the Surface Reveals: The Threads Project is available from Blurb Books for $44.95 (softcover); $58.95 (hardcover, dust jacket); $61.95 (image wrap)


A biographical note:

Nancy Engstad lives and works in San Francisco. Her work includes drawing and works on paper, painting, sculpture, artists’ books as well as textile design and jewelry. Since 2005 digital photography has become an important medium as well.

Her work has been exhibited and collected in the United States, Japan, Europe, and Africa. More photos of her work can be found on flickr

Musing on Museums (by Clairan Ferrono)

Before I get started on my museum musing, let me note that mine was the last post on this blog.  And that was over a month ago.  Is anyone out there interested in posting regularly or occasionally? This blog has been an important ingredient in my personal art education, so I should hate to see it fade away.

(Now I must also tell you that most of the images you will see in this post are not those I saw at the museum, but ones I scooped off the internet!)



Last week  another art quilter (Glenys Mann of Tamworth, Australia) and I went to the recently opened Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago.  As you might imagine, this has gotten rather a lot of press here in Chicago.  Not only is a major portion of the modern collection  available for viewing and gathered together for the first time, the building itself is attracting a lot of attention.  We entered from Millenium Park, itself a worthy attraction!  I have no way of knowing the architectural significance of the building, but I can say it’s a pleasure to be in and look at art in:  light, airy and spacious.



On the ground floor is a special exhibitions hall.   I was happy to see the Cy Twombly exhibit (see a previous Ragged Cloth post on Twombly); all the work was new to me, but I felt like he was an old friend.  I could go through quite quickly, knowing where in his oeuvre things occurred and how they connected, and just concentrate on paintings I was particularly drawn to. And this viewing, then, provided a context I hadn’t expected for the rest of my visit.



The sections we visited were divided into American Art 1945 – 1960, American Art 1960-present, and European Art 1945-present.  As regular readers of RC know by now, I love Abstract Expressionism, so the 1945-1960 section was attractive to me.  The Rothko, Newman and Pollock were very nice, but not my favorites, so I moved on.  I was reminded that I don’t like de Kooning, Rothtenburg, or Kline, but maybe I’d like to learn more about Kline.  As you know, I believe that it’s hard to like or even to look at with appreciation artists that one has no “way into.”  And that’s how I feel about Kline.  So perhaps further study will lead me to appreciate him more.

I was particularly drawn to Joan Mitchell’s City Landscape (below).  It seems to represent the ganglion of a city’s nerves in the center of the painting which is vibrant and energetic and full of motion.  Note to self:  look at more Mitchell.

Mitchell City Landscape

Mitchell City Landscape

We then moved on to the more contemporary Americans.  I was immediately struck by a fairly recent Jasper Johns encaustic piece whose name I did not remember to write down, although I sketched some parts of it and wrote extensive notes about it.  It was a large painting, almost entirely gray, hinged on the side with parts of doors and  a cord hanging down from it.



I was particularly impressed by the painting, which  had shapes reflecting the shape of the cord, an actual shadow produced by the cord, and painted shadows.  Reflections of reflections of reflections.  I had never before been particularly interested in Johns, although I do remember wanting to see the Grey exhibit and not being able to.  So now I shall have to investigate Jasper Johns more thoroughly.

Then I looked at some paintings by people I had never even heard of (which is not surprising as I know very little of the contemporary art scene) :

Ellen Gallagher Untitled 1999 , Mary Heilmann Heaven 2004, and Margherita Manzelli Dopo la fine 2008. (I remind you that these are not the images of the paintings I’m writing about.)



I was very intrigued by these three and spent quite some time taking notes on each of these artists’ works, vowing to look them up and see more work by them.



By the time I had found the David Hockney and the Gerhardt Richter, I was too tired to look more than cursorily.  After all, I am a member of the museum and can come back and look whenever I want–how lucky am I?!  And then my friend came back and insisted I look at the Joseph Cornell with her!  And I adore Cornell, so off I went, glancing at Lucien Freund and Francis Bacon as I went (two I don’t like, important as I know they are. . . .).



After we had sat down and had something to eat, my friend and I were able to discuss what we had seen.  And I started to think seriously of what the curator does and how it affects our vision of art in a museum.  Why are certain paintings grouped together? We so rarely get to read why a curator makes the decisions he/she makes.  If I am in a room with 4 or 6 or 10 artists, loosely associated in time, and my knowledge of art history is weak, then what do I learn by the association?  I have to be very, very attentive to make out the connections (assuming the curator is a good one and there are connections other than simple chronology), unless I have prior knowledge  of a group or a period.  I have realized that I really prefer to see a large body of one artist’s work at a time so that I can educate myself, make observations and connections, and get a feel for what the artists is doing over a  period of time.  But a large collection, like that of the Art Institute, is great for introducing me to the myriad of artists I have not seen before, or showing me a side of someone I had previously rejected, or revealing to me themes or ideas  or commonalities I had been previously unaware of  among a group I know something about (our old friends the Abstract Expressionists, of course!).

I wonder if your recent viewing experiences at museums have been at all similar to mine?

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