Smithsonian Craftshow: Textile Topographies

 

April 26, 2013

At the Smithsonian Craftshow: Textile Topographies

   

Leah Evans titled this work “Soil Survey.” All images  courtesy of the artist
Though she doesn’t consciously start with a place in mind, Leah Evans says her  textile wall hangings often end up becoming their own kind of geography. Taking  the aesthetic of soil surveys, agricultural plots and maritime maps, Evans  creates colorful abstractions of familiar forms, some of which are up for sale  at the annual Smithsonian Craft Show through April 28. These zoomed out  views offer serene meditations. Evans also takes the close-view in her work,  echoing microscopic imaging. The two perspectives, from landscapes to cells,  share a certain symmetry. At its core, our world is built up of color and line.  To create her works, Evans uses a Kenmore sewing machine, chalk, needles,  rulers, compass, staple gun, and scissors, as well as synthetic dyeing,  needle-felting and hand printing.

“Lost Boat” by Leah Evans.
A somewhat fantastical but true tale informs this piece, titled “Lost Boat.”  While visiting the Steamboat Arabia Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, Evans  learned about the strange fate of the pre-Civil War steamboat, the Arabia. Lost for 132 years after sinking in the  Missouri River, the boat was finally found far about a half-mile inland. Over  the years, the river’s course had meandered from its previous location. (The  Army Corps. of Engineers has since “set” the river so it can’t wander as it once  did.) Evans included an outline of the boat in the upper right corner. She says,  “I used pieced materials to show fields and top stitched binding to show present  and past outlines of the river, including the current “set” boundary to explore  how humans both shape their environment and are shaped by it.”

“Green Satellite” by Leah Evans.
The patchwork look of this work, “Green Satellite,” is borrowed from  satellite imagery of irrigated farmland. Evans used repurposed fabrics,  including upholstery and vintage kimonos for a unique palette.
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“Crossing Over” by Leah Evans.
Unlike many of her pieces, this work is an actual map of a specific location:  Gee’s Bend, Alabama. Evans says it was inspired by J.R. Moehringer’s  Pulitzer-Prize winning article, “Crossing Over,” which includes the passage:
It won’t look all that dramatic, just a new ferry taking a 63-year-old  great-grandmother and her cousins across a Coca-Cola-colored river. But in this  damp cellar of the Deep South, where the river has separated blacks and whites  for 180 years, where even the living and the dead are less divided than the  black and white towns camped on opposite shores, a new ferry will be like the  river itself: more than it looks.
The area’s history lies in a community of freed slaves who managed to make a  thriving life for themselves despite marginalization. They also created a legacy  of master quiltmakers. Evans says, “The pieced sections of land reference the  strip quilting of the women and property divisions common to the South. . . .The  place names are those of existing cemeteries and the dotted lines represent the  passage between the graves and the river.”

“Cranberry Farm” by Leah Evans.
The pink stain of this piece, “Cranberry Farm,” references the fruit that  inspired it. Evans’ home state of Wisconsin also hosts many cranberry farms and  even the Cranberry Highway which drives right through the heart of cranberry  country.
Evans says people often ask her about the places she represents. But most aren’t based on  anywhere in particular. ”For me they are intimate explorations of map  language and imagined landscapes. Through my research and experience, I  have decided that maps create more questions than they answer.”
The Smithsonian Craftshow is on view April 25-28, 2013 at the  National Building Museum and all of the proceeds benefit the Smithsonian  Institution.
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