Life's a Stitch

Though Norgaard and Matthews keep their figures almost vaporous in form, some tapestry makers use yarn to create extremely realistic scenes. In "Coal Combustion," Sonni Wendt of Tucson, Arizona, captures a lifelike image of flames that's almost as crisp as a laboratory photo--one of which, in fact, provided the inspiration for this work. One of the most sharply detailed pieces in the show comes from Alexandra Friedman of Hartford, Connecticut, whose "Who Are You?" pictures a small child looking through the sidelight of a front door. This tapestry is a tour de force, possessing an essentially abstract character that only snaps into focus once the child's face is made out.

Some of the most compelling tapestries in the Foothills show are those that recall the magnificent American Indian weavings of the Southwest. These include the ethereal "Four Corners/8," a tapestry by Rebecca Bluestone of Santa Fe. On a field that goes from black at the top to gray at the bottom, Bluestone has placed a series of red, blue and yellow squares according to a mathematical sequence. The weaving is reminiscent of both a Navajo rug and a minimalist painting. It's the same combination that Bluestone's Santa Fe neighbor, Jeremy Koehler, conjures up in "Koshare Window IV," in which red bars frame a rectangle of black and white ones.

As edifying as these contemporary homages to Navajo weaving may be, there's nothing like the real thing. That's what the Denver Art Museum has to offer in Daisy! Master Navajo Weaver & Spinner, a brief retrospective surveying the work of Navajo weaver Daisy Tauglechee, who died in 1990 after a career that stretched from the 1930s to the 1980s.

Tauglechee is considered to be one of the greatest Navajo weavers, all of whom traditionally were women. She is associated with the Two Grey Hills style named for the New Mexico trading post close to where she grew up. The trading post is celebrating its centennial this year, and DAM planned the show to mark the anniversary. The eleven Tauglechee rugs on display have been culled from the museum's impressive permanent collection and from several private collectors.

The Two Grey Hills style is defined by geometric patterns and muted colors. Only natural-colored yarns are used, reflecting the real-life palette of sheep wool--white, gold, brown, tan and black, along with infinite variations of these shades. And Tauglechee's rugs are supreme examples of the style, which is one of the great classical traditions in twentieth-century weaving. Though this is a small exhibit, it's well worth seeing.

These three fiber-art shows have more than one thread in common. The most obvious similarity is that they are populated almost entirely by women. So could sexism be behind the idea that art is superior to craft? Could this be one reason the art mainstream has long relegated the crafts to a position subservient to that of painting, which until the last twenty years was almost exclusively the realm of men?

We'll never know. But in the meantime, we all could stand to add a little fiber to our diets.

Contemporary Fine Art Quilting and American Tapestry Biennial I, through April 13 at the Foothills Art Center, 809 15th Street, Golden, 279-3922.

Daisy! Master Navajo Weaver & Spinner, through November 30 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 640-2793.

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