Monday, April 14, 2014

Juxtaposition Makes for Beautiful Art

The Fine Art of Crochet: Innovative
Works from 20 Contemporary
Gwen Blakley Kinsler,
 published by Authorhouse, 2013
 and available here on Amazon
Female artists are still vastly underrepresented in the fine arts world (by approximately 3:1) and still represent bargain shopping at auction.* It is a rather amazing fact, although not surprising considering all the time and artistic ground women need to make up in the male-dominated fine arts legacy.

So it is with a wide, satisfied smile on my face that I provide a review of Gwen Blakley Kinsler’s The Fine Art of Crochet: Innovative Works from 20 Contemporary Artists. Kinsler, the founder of The Crochet Guild of America and an accomplished artist and designer in her own right, has curated a simply fantastic group of artists in this book that celebrates, through each artists’ selected works, the crochet art movement from 1915 to the present. (Full disclosure: Kinsler interviewed me in spring 2013 for Crochet World Magazine’s Talking Crochet newsletter. However, as will be demonstrated below, my interest in and appreciation of fiber art was well established prior to her interview, so this review is conflict-of-interest free).

Kinsler immediately grabs the reader with her pick of cover art - Bonnie Meltzer’s Global Warming is not only visually arresting but also timely. Kinsler then opens the book with a brief introduction and background of the crochet art movement. In the opening quote, she lays the juxtaposition groundwork by quoting Bruce Hoffman, Director of the Snyderman Gallery, on the emergence of crochet in contemporary art, and then writes that “Crochet is a craft whose time has come.”  Some aspect of “craft” in female voice/“art” in male voice is a running theme (either stated or unstated) in almost every artists' work in this collection, which includes four men and 16 women. Some artists, such as Georgina Valverde, Leslie Pontz, Carol Hummel, Pate Conaway, Nathan Roberts and Kathleen Holmes, openly explore the link between gender, craft and art. Other artists may be silent on the explicit link, yet conveyed to Kinsler the connection they feel with the women who handed down the crochet legacy that informs their work. Yet others, like Arline Fisch and Bonnie Meltzer, were among many female pioneers in the artistic crochet movement in the 60s and 70s.  One minor point: I do wish Kinsler would have included the year the works were created in the individual artworks’ captions; it would not only have been informative, but also provide a link to the fact that some of these artists have been working with crochet techniques and the fiber medium for several decades.

Paper Lanterns, Arline Fisch, from
 Arline Fisch: Creatures from the Deep
I am fortunate to live in a part of the country that recognizes, explores and celebrates the fiber arts, for I’ve seen two of the included artists’ work in separate local major museum exhibitions in the last four years. I can state unequivocally that Arline Fisch created a whole new world with her crochet and knit pieces in the Creatures from the Deep exhibit, and one of the pieces from the collection is included in Kinsler’s book. Fisch’s talk connected with the exhibit was a watershed moment for me, as she discussed her use of non-traditional materials. Additionally, one cannot think of fiber artists and not also think of Jo Hamilton, whose incredible “crochet painted” portraits were included in the BAM Biennial 2012: High Fiber Diet exhibit, which I also had the pleasure of viewing.  

I am thrilled to have added The Fine Art of Crochet to my personal library. The artists’ respective inspiration and art will no doubt inform and inspire me. Kinsler has added a much needed female voice to the male-heavy fine arts conversation. I know which works included in the book are my personal favorites, and I urge everyone to seek out this book and find your own unique inspiration within its pages.

* For more on these topics, see Redressing the Balance: Women in the Art World, and In the Art World, Women on the Verge, two of many, many online articles.

I'll be participating again this year, blogging up a storm for an entire week.


  1. Thank you, Denise, for your kind words and in-depth review of my book! @crochetkween