Fiber strikes a chord at Vergennes’ Creative Space Gallery

VERGENNES — By a chance of fate, two New York artists happened upon Creative Space Gallery on Vergennes’ Main Street last Saturday, and left with unexpectedly fierce encouragement and inspiration for their own work.
“I think that the work in this gallery is some of the most innovative that I’ve seen,” said one of the artists, Jill Luigs of Oswego, N.Y.
Luigs’ reaction is not unique. A pair of former artists from the British Isles who had given up on their work — two of the day’s 67 gallery visitors — told gallery co-founder and Vergennes artist Eloise Beil that Creative Space’s display had reinvigorated them to pursue art again.
The most recent art under creative consideration is “Flights of Fiber Fancy,” Creative Space’s fiber art show, up and encouraging through Nov. 5. The exhibit features pieces in many categories of fiber art — most by Addison County artists, but also by craftspeople from further afield.
Burlington artist Marilyn Gillis explains the appeal of fiber art in her artist statement: “Fiber is (my medium of choice) because it is an integral part of our lives — every day, from birth to death.”
Perhaps it is the unavoidably personal nature of the medium that has excited visitors. Fiber — in a class of threadlike filaments that make up tissue in plants and animals — appears in Creative Space through a variety of mixed media presentations with wool, wood, reeds, silk and paper fibers.
“It’s using what we have, what we save, and making it speak,” said Luigs.
These artists take what is common and transform it into what is uncommon.
Take Panton artist and gallery co-founder Marsha Chase’s two mixed media pieces in the gallery’s first room. These framed works combine photography, handspun wool and silk-based felt, and pressed plants. Chase’s powerful layering creates over-exposed shadows and expressive contrasts in tiny spaces — from the photographed bright pink flower to felt that looks like a parched-green map face, all backing the ethereal float of petals that dip off the frame and into the mounting.
The power of each fiber art piece comes not just from what lies in the “frame,” however. Like Chase’s uncontainable petals, the inspiration of the artwork comes from how it is framed, as well — how the grouped artwork speaks holistically.
“The architecture of the gallery has these little alcoves in the front rooms — they lend themselves to making groupings,” said Beil, who was the exhibition’s primary arranger. “The connection between the work of the fiber artists and the (other artists) — is what sends a message. The grouping enhances a story. You look, and it is all harmonious.”
Each visual decision is thoughtful, provoking, and inviting of reaction. This persuasive invitation begins before a visitor even walks through the door.
Outside, it is not the usual bold “WELCOME” sign that flutters. The gallery’s flag is an acrylic image of an artist’s palette that emits sunbeams over a lakescape: violet, goldenrod and navy tones bleed together under purple letters that spell out “Open.” A tiny hot air balloon dangles beside the flag.
It is easy to see that from the flag to the farthest corner of the gallery, Creative Space boasts dedication to its mission of inspiring a connection between creative arts and the community.
The connection first evidenced at the door continues in the window, where Jill Abilock’s “fiberscapes” hang. From the Charlotte artist’s “Wonders of Creation” series, these feature mixed fibers and machine-stitched patterns. Abilock disrupts the coarse yet shimmering schemes with subtle, tenderly placed scraps of fabric: a measure of music, a tiny teapot.
These pieces do not hang in isolation. Beside them, delicate paper cranes dance on string, bringing together the soaring nature of both works.
However, the placement of the cranes beside Abilock’s work is more than visually unifying. They were made by artists and are also part of the 1,000 cranes folded by students at Mount Abraham High School after the Japanese tsunami last spring. Abilock and her husband — both Japanese translators — will take the cranes from Addison County to communities in Japan.
The community will find the gallery’s fiber art show relatable and inspirational at once — from the way Charlotte artist Mary Jane Russell’s tilting-stitched quilt almost bleeds into the “Sound of Blues” reed basket by Northfield’s Tamara Wright, below, to the way that Panton resident Kathy Mitchell’s deep olive-toned “Pitcher and Pears” glints below a continuation of those olive tones in Chase’s hand-felted “Blue Morph” above, featuring a wool-winged butterfly.
The physical line-up of Gillis’ “25 Sunsets,” Vergennes-based co-founder Karin Hardy’s “Seabrook Sunset” and Vergennes resident Judith Rey’s “Adirondack Sunset” is proof of this interconnectivity of art. But more than that, an expression of themes and perceptions to which any individual or community can relate.
Glass artist Alyssa Oxley has recently moved to Vergennes. When she saw the show she expressed excitement for the vibrant artistic life of the community.
“We have so many resources,” she said. “We’re in hard financial times, but people are still making stuff. It is very encouraging.”
Making with what we have — what we acquire and rediscover, seems a pertinent theme at Creative Space Gallery that Oxley finds reassuring.
“Having lived in many places sort of by accident,” she said, “I finally chose where I want to be, and this is it. For the pursuit of my art, it is all ahead of me.”
It is all “ahead” indeed for the Vermont artistic community, unless you are on your way out of Creative Space Gallery. Then, a part of “it” — that part that spurs on the artistic-minded — is behind you, and fluttering with the “Welcome” sign that invites you to re-imagine, re-create, and re-examine the fibers of our lives.
Creative Space Gallery at 235 Main St., Vergennes, is open Thursdays and Friday, 1-5 p.m.; Saturdays 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; and Sundays 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. More information is at www.creativespacegallery.org or 877-3850. 

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