COLUMBIA — When artist Nicole Ottwell looks at a rag, she sees potential, not trash.
Her latest artwork focuses on the diminishing role of handmade objects in our society and will be featured in the "FATE (Fiber Art Tour Exhibitions) Fiber Show: Seven," on display through mid-June at the Columbia Art League. The exhibit, which opened Tuesday, features seven artists who have received a master's degree in fine arts from MU or who are working toward that degree.
What: "FATE Fiber Show: Seven" exhibit
Where: Columbia Art League, 207 S. Ninth St.
When: Through June 13. Gallery hours are from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays.
The exhibit includes installation pieces, sculptures, wall hangings and free-standing works. It coincides with "Mind+Body: International Surface Design Association's Biannual Conference," which will be held at the Kansas City Art Institute this month.
The exhibit at Columbia Art League is just one of the venues for the FATE Arts Tour and Exhibitions. The tour features a variety of downtown and on-campus venues including Perlow-Stevens gallery, Orr Street Studios, MU's Museum of Art and Archaeology, Bluestem Missouri Crafts, Poppy, Boone County Historical Society Museum, First National Bank, Boone County National Bank and MU's George Caleb Bingham Gallery.
MU art professor Jo Stealey, a fiber art expert, said the art league's exhibit will give conference attendees an opportunity to see as much fiber art as possible before leaving Missouri. "We do these exhibitions as a way for people who attend the conference to get outside of Kansas City and see textile and fiber exhibitions less than a day’s drive from Kansas City," Stealey said.
Ottwell said fiber art is unique because fibers are not merely an artistic medium but are routinely integrated into people's lives.
"I think part of the reason I enjoy working in fiber is everyone has a daily interaction with cloth," Ottwell said. "We are constantly surrounded by cloth — we wear it, we live in it, and that can't be said about paint or another medium. Viewers can connect with cloth because they’re familiar with it."
Ottwell said the pieces she contributed to the FATE exhibit were inspired by her grandmother, who taught her the usefulness of handmade objects. Ottwell's "Hand made or machine made?" consists of stacked bundles of rags, potholders and other square cloth items; its intent is to challenge the viewer to distinguish between mass-produced textiles and fibers that have been created by hand.
"The majority of the work I’m showing in the show is work in which I’m looking beyond just the cloth to the tools used to make the cloth and the people involved in creating it, and how obsolete those things are becoming," Ottwell said.
The fiber medium has a practical and artistic history, and Stealey offered this outline: In most cultures, textiles can be valuable trade items and can help define an individual's status. Artistically, fiber art gained prominence during the 20th century after the industrial revolution changed the way cloth was manufactured, Stealey said.
Bauhaus artists from Germany such as Anni Albers greatly contributed to the redefinition of the role of textiles at this time, extending the use of textiles from practical means to artistic ventures, Stealey said. Textile art has evolved into an increasingly contemporary craft, resulting in a revival in the 1960s that launched successful exhibits such as an annual international biennial exhibition of textiles in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Stealey, who has been involved with the fiber art community since its revival in the 1960s, describes the evolution of the fiber movement as an explosive success.
"People started thinking about nontraditional materials and using traditional materials with nontraditional techniques, and it really just exploded," Stealey said. "It has been continuing to explode ever since, and now I think of it as the connective tissue of all media."
Diana Moxon, director of Columbia Art League, said she looks forward to giving Columbia's fiber artists an opportunity to gain more recognition for their art.
"This is the first fiber show we’ve done," Moxon said, "and I think that’s probably one of the mediums where the artists find it hardest to get recognition and to get their works displayed."