Untitled (Turandot/David Hockney),
2002; cotton thread (warp), paper thread (weft), dyed
and painted handmade kozo paper (lining); handwoven
(plain weave), hand stitched; 26 by 47 by 2 inches.
Photo: Michael J. Walter
(See the web-exclusive
photo gallery for additional images not included
with the published article.)
Keeping an ancient art form alive is only part of Illinois-based
fiber artist Linelle Dickinson’s complex motivation
for her work. Through her chosen medium, shifu—the
fine weaving of thread manipulated from what was once a
combination of handmade and fabricated paper sheets—Dickinson
creates intriguing wall reliefs and sculptural artwork that
subtly address social issues. Though the process is meticulous
and laborious, Dickinson’s commitment to shifu springs
from its rich history and her own upbringing.
Originally developed during the 16th century by Japanese
peasants needing an alternative to hemp clothing, shifu
was later adopted by the Samurai and refined to create fine
apparel and other commodities. Unfortunately, interest in
shifu severely declined during the 19th century. Today,
only a handful of artisans worldwide continue its practice.
After working 20 years in interior design, Dickinson enrolled
in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to add fine-arts
discipline to her professional career. There she was introduced
to shifu by instructor Helen O’Rourke; she has remained
committed to the art form ever since.
Dickinson’s grandparents were missionaries in China,
settling a few hundred miles outside of Peking, where they
lived from 1920 to 1941. They brought back with them a collection
of artifacts and a profound respect for Asian culture that
fascinated and inspired Dickinson as a child and continues
to subtly influence her aesthetic development.
Though Dickinson’s treatment of shifu is not wearable,
her intuitive awareness of its potential for sculptural
design has garnered well-received solo exhibitions at Touching
Stone Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and many group exhibitions
across the country. (She has also lectured at the Museum
of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, and her work has
been featured at the University Club of Chicago.) Her past
creations range from pieces inspired by Peruvian burial
bundles to more familiar tunic and kimono-style garments.
Each piece begins with a sketch to capture her initial inspiration,
followed by meticulous planning. Throughout the process
of dyeing, cutting, and rolling the paper into thread and
weaving it upon the loom, intuition intercedes, guiding
Dickinson toward what the piece truly wants to be.
Her most recent exhibition at Touching Stone, entitled “Color
Corps,” was a study in the human response to color,
a departure from the traditional indigo and natural-parchment
colors she typically uses. By limiting the forms to three
distinct shapes—an overcoat, a vest and apron, and
a chest plate—she explored the compositions’
color by juxtaposing two hues within each piece.
“I admire artists who can capture beauty, simplicity,
and quiet aesthetics with intellectual depth and passion,”
says Linelle Dickinson. She fully expresses that ideal in
Chris Hart is a freelance writer out of Chicago.
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