A common thread

Diverse works of ‘fiber art’ all bear the mark of the West

“La Molonera” by Juan Silva.

“La Molonera” by Juan Silva.

Photo By David Robert

The Random House College Dictionary has a number of definitions for fiber, but they boil down to this: Fiber is matter or material composed of filaments. A filament, states the same volume a few pages back, is basically a “fiber or fibril,” or a long cell or series of cells.

No one can accuse the current show at Silver State Gallery, Hot August Fibers VIII, of having too narrow a focus. In terms of medium, the works—made of yarn, kelp, gourds and straw, just to name a few—are united only by the ambiguous tag “fiber.” Nor is there an overt theme present; the exhibition actually has little to do with Reno’s flashiest and most crowded shindig, Hot August Nights. Only a single wall hanging and one throw pillow display classic cars.

But that is not to say that the art is grouped completely at random. As one would expect from a gallery by the name of Silver State, these various artworks, made by various artists and from various materials, all bear the indelible mark of the West.

The eye-catching works of Juan Silva wear their regional markings particularly well. Silva, the only two-dimensional artist in the show, uses yarn to “paint” tribal themes of his mother’s people, the Huichol Indians of Mexico. His use of color—brilliant turquoise paired with purple or red, set against a neutral background—is alone worth the visit to Silver State.

Many of Silva’s pieces show women going about their lives. We see women at work, making pottery and the like; we see women at play—two women sitting at a bar, for instance; and we see women in repose. The yarn gives a wonderful, rich texture to the art, and also a look of craft, but not the homespun, cutesy variety. The yarn can convey movement beautifully, particularly in “La Molonera,” where a young woman has, it seems, been interrupted from her work. Her head is turned sharply to the side; you can see the continuation of her startled movement in the way her long, voluminous scarf falls and twists about her body.

The other works in Hot August Fibers are three-dimensional. Many of these are crafty, and some are downright functional, like throw pillows and beaded jewelry. More sculptural and slightly less functional are the pieces of “gourd art.” Made from this member of the squash family, gourd art looks like odd pieces of pottery, made to hold jewelry or fruit. They are lightweight, almost wood-like, and range in size: Some have the dimensions of a pear; others, a hefty cantaloupe.

Gourd artists such as Cheryln Bennett and Connie Mygatt, whose works are on display here, make their designs by cutting open the dried, hardened gourd and scooping out the innards—pulp, seeds and such. They then engrave the gourd’s surface with a wood-burning tool and decorate it with dyes, inks, acrylics, etc. Some of the gourd art is almost pictographic—the animal and human figures look like those found on cave walls. Other gourd art bears more portrait-like paintings of Native Americans.

This collection of “fiber art,” as shown in the examples above, does not invite a cold, critical gaze, nor in-depth analysis. For the most part, this art is meant to be picked up, touched, perhaps brought home and used or set on the mantle.

Still, one might be wondering—why “fiber?” Is this show more than a random grouping of art and craft?

“People go, ‘Fiber? What’s fiber?' and I say, ‘No, it’s not breakfast cereal,' " gallery owner Carolyn Barnes answers with a laugh. "We say that fiber ties our lives together."