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Summer 2003


London: Chelsea Crafts Fair

Thousands of visitors to the 23rd annual Chelsea Crafts Fair eagerly streamed into Chelsea's Old Town Hall on Kings Road, London, in November. Presenting their work were 230 exhibitors, chosen from nearly 900 applicants, an amazing number that speaks to the importance of the fair and to the vibrancy of crafts. The exhibitions were split into two different sets, each presenting on one of the two weekends of the show. All craft media were represented, but one did not have to hunt for fiber artists (especially if the term was defined broadly).

Janet Stoyel, Blue copper cloud dimensional Sonicloth (detail), 2002; silk and copper (weft); woven cloth with pattern and coloration created using ultrasound.

Highlights included work by several artists who exemplify the crossover between industrial and textile design. Janet Stoyel creates magical, opulent Sonicloth by applying ultrasound to cloth woven from a silk warp and metal weft. Heat, vibration, and pressure encourage interlocked fibers to become densely packed into seemingly random patterns combining two- and three-dimensional surfaces. Stoyel demonstrates that something exceptional is as much an intellectual as a practical achievement.

A more painterly approach is taken by Ptolemy Mann, who hand dyes rayon and cotton with saturated colors inspired by the Mexican architect Luis Barragan. After weaving her textiles on an upright loom, she stretches them over wooden frames to give them an architectural structure. Scottish weaver Margaret Wilson exhibited work such as Tankerness Scarf, which integrates more traditional twill weaving with a herringbone pattern and deep fringe in grays and black. The maker references a hooded yoke once found in a peat bog in Orkney, Scotland. Another nod to the past is the felt revival, a trend that was very evident in Chelsea as it has been "across the pond."

Susie Freeman in collaboration with Dr. Liz Lee, A Packet a Week, 2002; nylon monofilament yarn, cigarette ends; pocket knitting. Photo: ChloŽ Stewart.

Using an industrial knitting machine, Susie Freeman traps tiny objects in pockets of silky monofilament netting, exploring modern "medico-political" issues. One work on view, OTC - a veil inserted with candylike over-the-counter pills - asks whether they can easily be confused with more dangerous prescription medicines. Another provocative work was a pocket-knitted maternity dress containing 840 cigarette butts, which equates to A Packet a Week for nine months.

The Chelsea Crafts Fair, sponsored by the U.K.'s Crafts Council, provides a launch pad for many emerging artists; this year, 67 of the 230 exhibitors presented their work for the first time. Believed by most to be Europe's finest craft fair, the bustling show created an impression of abundance, urgency, and innovation. The diversity of work exhibited indicates the healthy state of textiles in the U.K.

- Marina D. Whitman

[The summer issue of FIBERARTS also includes reports on three other recent events: the International Shibori Symposium (Harrogate, U.K.); the Pyramid Atlantic Book Arts Fair (Washington, D.C.); and the 2nd International Tapestry Art Biennale (Beijing, China).]

Marina D. Whitman, Ph.D., is an art historian and art appraiser.

The 2003 fair will take place October 14-19 and October 21-26.

Janet Stoyel, Woven metal-brass, 2002; brass wire; cloth woven with transverse weft and longitudinal warp, surface face and coloration created with ultrasound.
Ptolemy Mann, Stripe and Colour Study 3 (with detail, below), 2002; mercerized cotton, vicose rayon; woven on a Dobby loom, then stretched over a wooden frame; 56 by 20 by 2 inches.
Margaret Wilson, detail of Tankerness Scarf (after Iron
Age [ca. 430 A.D.] woolen hood buried in peat at
Tankerness, Orkney Isles, Scotland), 2002; wool; twill
weave with ribbed borders and deep fringe; 60 by 13.5
inches (including fringe).

Susie Freeman in collaboration with Dr. Liz Lee, OTC-An
assortment of over the counter pills, 2002; nylon monofilament
yarn, pills; pocket knitting; circle 30 inches in circumference,
12 inches wide. Photo: ChloŽ Stewart.

This review first appeared in:

Summer 2003


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