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January/February 2004


Immigration and Integration

A portfolio of work reflecting the experiences
of immigrants and their descendents

With each passing century, people become more mobile. Today, in much of the world, it's commonplace to move from your small town to the big city, from your big city out into the countryside, from one side of a country to another, from one side of the world to another.

With globalization, airplanes, telephones, and email, a long-distance move may seem less momentous. But still today, with a move one severs ties, leaves the familiar, has to forge new relationships and learn new terrain. Some welcome these changes with a sense of adventure, others grieve; perhaps most feel a combination of emotions. All must rethink their place in the world.

We noticed several recent exhibitions and artists were addressing themes related to emigration (leaving one's homeland) and immigration (making a new country one's home). We share a sampling here.
- S.P.

Andrea Kalinowski, Anna's Quilt, 2000; 94 by 77 inches. Kalinowski digitally manipulated text, photographs, and scans of fabrics; had the completed image printed on canvas; then added cotton fabric sections with the help of community quilters. Photo courtesy of the Museum of New Mexico.

The Pioneers
"Who were these Jewish women pioneering the dusty trails of the West? Brave and willing to stray from their familiar lives in order to endure adventure, hardship, and illness?" These were questions New Mexico artist Andrea Wexler Kalinowski asked as she embarked on a project to tell the stories of Jewish immigrant pioneer women. The project resulted in nine large-scale mixed-media textiles, which make up "Stories Untold: Jewish Pioneer Women 1850-1910," a traveling exhibition organized by the Museum of New Mexico.

In each textile, Kalinowski focuses on one pioneer, combining photographs and text from diaries and memoirs with classic quilt patterns from the era. For example, one piece depicts Anna Fruedenthal Solomon, who was born in Poland in 1857 and emigrated with her husband to Arizona; the text describes Solomon's arduous journey across the United States and her challenges in setting up housekeeping with "no furniture, no cooking stove and not anything else that belongs to the comfort of the human race."

"Stories Untold" will be at its seventh venue, the Sylvia Plotkin Judaica Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, January 1-March 31. It will then travel to Boston, Miami, and St. Louis. For more information, visit

Hope and Courage
Australia, like North America, has been a destination of many immigrants. The Australian Quilters Association gathered many voices on this theme in a juried exhibition in 2001. Exhibited at the Museum of Craft & Folk Art in San Francisco last year,"Quilted Journeys: Immigration Stories by Australian Artists" included 25 works.

"My father was full of hope for a better future for us all," writes Olga Walters. In See the Light Down Under, she depicts the 500-year-old house that her mother was born in in Amsterdam and images of her family in 1957 when they sailed for a new country "where they would be free from the threat of war, having suffered hardship during the German occupation of Holland."

Olga Walters, See the Light Down Under; cotton, wool batting; photo-emulsion screen printed, machine pieced, free-motion machine quilted, embroidered, trapunto, hand-quilted, appliquéd; 75 by 56 inches. From the 2003 exhibition "Quilted Journeys: Immigration Stories by Australian Artists," at the Museum of Craft & Folk Art, San Francisco.

Sue Dennis focuses on the suitcase her father packed in 1949 in What Would You Take?. "I am an Australian because my father packed this small suitcase, escaped from his homeland in Europe after World War II, and came to Australia," she writes. "How many others have been faced with an open suitcase, waiting to be packed for a fateful journey - a journey to a new land, a new lifestyle, leaving all you know and love behind. ... If it were your suitcase, what would you take?"

Sue Dennis, What Would You Take?; cotton, cotton thread; photo transfer, free-motion writing, machine pieced and quilted; 47 by 45.5 inches. From "Quilted Journeys" at the Museum of Craft & Folk Art.

Jane Whiteley portrayed her thoughts more abstractly in Red Tape. In the 19th century, her great-grandmother eloped and left her family and Basel, Switzerland, behind, settling in England. Two generations later, Whiteley moved from England to Australia. In her quilt, which involves hand-stitched lines on an old tablecloth, she used the plain-sewing skills of her great grandmother's time. She writes: "She doesn't know where she is going, whose path she will cross. She knows what she takes with her and what she leaves behind. She hopes her stitching will connect her to herself, her past that is severed, and beyond. ..."

All 25 quilts with artist statements were presented in the Museum of Craft & Folk Art's publication, A Report (vol. 19, no. 1); see Resources on page 78 for ordering information.

Vita Plume, Alien's Passport, 1999; cotton; digitally manipulated image, handwoven jacquard; 55 by 65 inches. Photo: Karen Ruet.

What Does Culture Mean To You?
Vita Plume's textile art reflects her Latvian heritage and her quest to understand the meaning of cultural identity. Her parents emigrated to Canada from Latvia in 1954; Plume was born soon after in Montreal.

Plume's heritage has worked its way into her work in several ways. The traditional Latvian blouse and Latvian text formed the basis for a series she did a dozen years ago. In her more recent work, created on a jacquard loom, she's interested in woven structures as cultural identifiers; Latvian weaves are layered with images, such as the "alien passport" her father was issued when, as a displaced person, he entered Sweden from Latvia. Behind the brief data given on the passport is the Latvian identity through which he interacts with the world.

Plume herself recently became an "alien" herself when she moved from Canada to the United States, where she's an assistant professor in the Department of Art & Design at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. She will be exhibiting work at Elon University in Elon, North Carolina, January 9-February 13.

Top: Julianne Ahn, Mother #1, 2003; fabric silk screened and embroidered with textured yarn on striped cotton; 28 by 28 inches. Bottom: Father #1, 2003; fabric silk screened and embroidered with textured yarn on synthetic linear fabric; 30 by 30 inches.

The Second Generation
Julianne Ahn, a 2003 B.F.A. graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, wrote to us about her senior degree project, titled 1949;1981 (the years of her father's and her own birth). Composed of 15 pieces that incorporate silk-screening, embroidery, and weaving, the project draws on portraits of Ahn's parents.

"An American-born citizen with parents from South Korea, I attempt to identify myself through my mother and father in a different country," she writes. The combination of photographs with a geometric background "provokes a memory of the past while anticipating the future. Because the language I share with my mother and father is broken, I am drawn to the visual aspect of the identity I was born from and currently live in."

Since graduating, Ahn has moved to Boston, where she is exploring graduate school and career options.

Vesna Todorovic´ Miksic´, VESTED INTEREST: tailored, 1997; U.S. currency, thread, matchsticks, wire; 20 by 16 by 12 inches. Photo by the artist. From the "Home/ Land" exhibition, organized by the Society for Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh and showing at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft January 16-March 28.

A Nation of Immigrants
Encouraging dialogue about cultural differences in the United States was the goal of "Home/Land: Artists, Immigration and Identity," an exhibition organized by the Society for Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh and showing at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft January 16-March 28. Writes Janet L. McCall, executive director of the Society, "'Home/Land' celebrates the rich historical origins of immigrant art while also recognizing that culture is never static but dynamic, responding to present conditions, environment, and times."

Included in the show is work by 19 contemporary craft artists, a number of whom use fiber media. Some objects speak of journeys and practical needs; for example, Vesna Todorovic´ Miksic´'s vest of U.S. currency, created as part of a "trousseau for immigrants, refugees, and nomads" (Miksic´ came to the U.S. from Serbia in 1990). Other objects relate stories: Dinh Q. Lę's "photo-tapestry" combined photographs of military scenes with a technique traditionally used for making grass mats in his native Vietnam (Lę came to the U.S. in 1979). Others, such as the tufted wool pieces by Martha Donovan Opdahl, address cultural identity. She writes, "I am the product of a Latina parent and upbringing and of a gringo parent and Midwestern education. I may look gringa but I feel Latina: there's always been a disconnect. ... I use the tension created by countervailing forces as a metaphor for the oppositions inherent in my dual identity."

Dinh Q. Lę, Persistence of Memory #16, 2001; C-print (photographic print), linen tape; 45 by 65 inches. Photo: Adam Reich. Courtesy of PPOW, New York City. From "Home/Land."

"The United States is, and always has been, a nation of immigrants," writes historian Nicholas P. Ciotola in the exhibition catalogue. [For ordering information, see page 78.] He concludes about these artists' work: "Taken collectively, their work heightens our appreciation of the trials and tribulations faced by these particular immigrant artists themselves, as well as the millions of nameless, faceless immigrants who preceded them."

Martha Donovan Opdahl, Arroyo Seco #1, 2002; tufted wood pile; woven; 80 by 55 by 1 inch. Photo: Dan Morse. From "Home/Land."

This article first appeared in:

Jan/Feb 2004

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