Artist Nicole Ottwell believes fiber is an instant tactile experience.
“Not everyone understands the texture of a painting,” she said. “But with fiber you can, like the childhood memory of a quilt.”
Fiber — the kind you touch, not the kind you eat — is the star of a citywide Fiber Art Tour and Exhibition this month, and Ottwell’s work is included in a branch of the show at Cherry Street Artisan. She and two other MU graduate students, Bob Hartzell and Hannah Reeves, are showcased in “Connections.”
In the Artisan show, Hartzell’s work is easily identifiable by the bold red, white and blue fiber star cutouts.
“I centered my art around the idea of patriotism,” he said. “I want my art to elicit thoughts and conversations about it.”
He has also been working on fiber books that he intends as “easy propaganda,” because people distribute them and spread messages in a subtle way. And this is exactly what Hartzell loves about fiber art.
“All my art has this underlying meaning (of patriotism),” he said. “And it’s not meant to single people out.”
Ottwell’s theme reflects her connection to land and farms.
“I didn’t realize how much it affected me until I came here,” she said. “To me, Columbia feels urban.”
Her familiarity with rural Missouri is in her blood and upbringing; a long line of relatives on her mother’s side have made the country their home.
“They’re definitely a farming family,” Ottwell said, laughing. “My mom was the first generation to actually leave the farm, and she went off and married a city boy.”
Ottwell’s influences from the land show, especially in the colors she chooses — muted earth tones — and in the shapes that emerge from the designs. They contrast with the brighter work of Hannah Reeves. In her pieces, which are self-standing and call sculpture to mind, Reeves seeks to convey isolation coupled with nostalgia using everyday objects. Pieces of her red silk tea set shine as they sit in the Artisan’s windowsills in a playful yet orderly way.
“I feel like people of our generation feel isolated because they want to dissociate with tradition,” Reeves said. “But then we’re not relying on tradition and that leaves them feeling nostalgic.”
Reeves said the tea set embodies an idealized domestic life, one that is unreal but still desirable. Despite its appearance of perfection, the material from which it is made makes it “blatantly unusable.”
“(This idealized home) is not a real place, not like our childhood homes,” Reeves said.
Jo Stealey, an MU art professor who coordinated the citywide fiber art exhibition, said she was surprised at how the idea for it grew to include a dozen locations. She is happy to see her students — Hartzell, Reeves and Ottwell — exemplify the hard work necessary to communicate with an audience through creating art.
“They push themselves to the limit,” she said, “and you see that in the work that they execute and show to the public.”