The last week of June brought hundreds of fiber aficionados to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for the Handweavers Guild of America’s Convergence conference. Held June 25–July 1 at the De Vos Place Convention Center by the Grand River, the conference offered workshops and seminars, lectures and exhibitions, and a chance to gather with other passionate fiber fans.
As we discussed four years ago (in our November/December 2002 issue), the vast majority of Convergence attendees are still over the age of fifty, despite HGA’s efforts to draw students with its assistantship program. Attendees, regardless of age, had a wonderful opportunity to listen to, study with, meet, and see the work of a number of influential and interesting fiber-art leaders. For example, Yoshiko Wada taught seminars and a workshop on manipulating silk and wool fabrics to create permanent 3-D textural effects. Artist/weaver Helena Hernmarck shared information about Swedish tapestry art and her own commission work. Kate Anderson, who is known for her knotted art teapots and is a former gallery director, spoke on how to go about selling through galleries. Tapestry weaver James Koehler shared his experience with color, design, and the creative process. Chunghie Lee taught a number of classes, on pojagi (the Korean wrapping-cloth-tradition), as well as on felting and on using a sewing machine to layer thread and cloth on water-soluble base fabric. She also exhibited, at Grand Rapid’s LaFontsee Gallery, a beautiful show of pojagi-inspired silk-screened works on the theme of No-Name Women, which shared a gallery with strong work in layered handmade paper by her daughter, Jiyoung Chung, a recent Cranbrook Academy of Art MFA grad.
Other seminar leaders whose work has appeared in Fiberarts: Tapestry artist and Asian-textile dealer Jon Eric Riis, whose work will be featured in our November/December 2006 issue, spoke about embellished textiles past and present. Gail Rieke, whose travel journals appeared in our Summer 2005 issue, led sessions on The Artist as Traveler. Amy Clarke Moore taught two seminars on beading on cloth; she won the top prize in the Small Expressions exhibition sponsored by HGA and exhibited at the Gerald R. Ford Museum. Catharine Ellis, who developed the process of woven shibori and recently published a book on the topic, taught seminars and exhibited dyed overshot weavings at the Grand Gallery. The woven shibori technique was seen in a few makers’ work in the HGA exhibitions.
Cranbrook Academy of Art’s director, Gerhardt Knodel, gave the opening remarks at the conference. He described the first Convergence (held June 8–11, 1972) and how, then and now, it links the experimentation with fiber that was going on in art schools with the American tradition of handweaving. The name “Convergence” symbolizes that coming together for an exchange of ideas. Matilda McQuaid, exhibitions curator and head of the Textiles Department at the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, gave a lecture about the Extreme Textiles exhibition that she had curated at the Cooper-Hewitt in 2005, which displayed fascinating functional textiles that have been developed by corporations and the military.
Curator Melissa Leventon, who last year presented Artwear: Fashion and Anti-fashion at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, gave an interesting talk on the development of wearable art/art-to-wear/artwear (she uses the terms interchangeably, but she has found more makers favoring the word artwear lately)over the past half century. Speaking about contemporary work, she felt the movement had been running out of steam in the 1990s but that a resurgence has taken place in the past five to six years, exemplified by makers such as Carol Lee Shanks, Horst, and Cat Chow. She noted that “shibori, after a very successful thirty-year run, seems to have run its course as the default dyeing technique for wearable art.”
AIDS activist and artist Mary Fisher taught seminars, juried the Celebration! exhibition of spiritual fiber work, and gave the closing lecture of the conference. She spoke warmly to the attendees about the fiber community’s reception of her: “You have, as mentors and artists, welcomed me, the rookie, as if I were coming home.” She related the emotional and artistic journey that she has traveled as she has dealt with her disease—during which “weaving became a form of comfort” and her art-making process became a way of “pouring out what is in my soul”—and encouraged listeners to listen to their own souls and share their own unique voices through their artwork. Her show, ABATAKA, at the Ford Museum, included mixed-media sculpture and handweavings with digitized embroidery, all on the theme of AIDS orphans in Africa and how the crisis there affects not just Africans but all humanity.
Beyond the lectures and workshops, there was much to see around town. Arts colleges and commercial galleries in the area exhibited a range of fiber work, from solo exhibitions to juried shows, a number of them organized by HGA. American Tapestry Biennial 6, a strong showing of contemporary work sponsored by the American Tapestry Alliance, debuted at the Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts (it will travel to Bellevue, Washington, and San Jose, California, and is accompanied by a catalog). Schacht Spindle Company again organized the Schacht Student Showcase of handwoven work, which they had first done two years ago in Denver; this show received a lot more entries in its second edition and was well received by viewers. Garments in HGA’s Making a Grand Entrance show were first displayed on models in a fashion show on July 27, then hung on mannequins in the convention-center gallery for two days so that the fabrics could be appreciated up close. As is usual for this type of event, some of the garments drew oohs and aahs as the models moved in them, others revealed exquisite details when viewed up close; the rare garment was successful in both contexts. The small-format shows—the aforementioned Small Expressions, at the Ford Museum, and Grand Ideas: Small-Format Tapestries, at Kendall College of Art & Design—had to be appreciated in person: some of these pieces are so intricate and the detail so fine that no photograph can possibly capture their essence. Knitter/artist Lindsay Obermeyer arranged The Red Thread Project, a community-participation project (you can read more about it and see pictures in the September/October 2006 issue of Fiberarts) that involved hundreds of participants.
Shopping opportunities abound at Convergence, and the vendor hall at the convention center featured supplies, wearable art, books, and more. Fiberarts, with Interweave,had a booth, and we enjoyed seeing so many familiar faces and meeting new readers during the week. We exhibited work by Akihiko Izukura of Hinaya, whose work appeared in our April/May 2006 issue (the garments are even more amazing in person than they appear in photographs). Five lucky winners won silk toe socks and arm/leg warmers provided by Hinaya. Elsewhere in the vendor hall, people were interested in dobby looms, according to Dave Van Stralen of Louet. Brand-new spinners were buying spinning wheels, according to artist Kathryn Alexander, who was demonstrating wheels for Lendrum. At Habu Textiles, always a popular booth because of its unusual yarns, many from Japan, items that were going strong included stainless-steel yarns, white yarns, simple cotton yarns, and tussah and degummed silk yarns.
The next Convergence conference will take place in summer 2008 in Tampa, Florida. HGA’s website will have more details as the time draws nearer.