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browngrotta arts presents Catalog Lookback: Fan Favorites

July 13, 2020 - July 31, 2020

Leading up to their “Art in the Barn” exhibition Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber Art for Three Decades, opening this September, browngrotta arts continues their online surveys with Catalog Lookback: Fan Favorites – a grouping of works by contemporary artists Mary Merkel-Hess, Kay Sekimachi, Hisako Sekijima and Gyöngy Laky, inspired by a retrospective of a selection of exhibition catalogs, published between 1992-2001.

Through 50 catalogs, showcasing the works of 172 artists, browngrotta arts has been dedicated to researching, documenting and raising awareness of fiber art and Modern Craft through exhibitions and catalogs for over 30 years. Merkel-Hess, Sekimachi, Sekijima and Laky each have been the subjects of more than one catalog –  solo or two-person or special groupings  – and each has been featured in several themed survey publications. These artists explore different materials or forms, creating objects and works for the wall.  That willingness to innovate and reinvent has made them continuously collectible for those who acquire works in breadth and for those who pursue the work of individual artists in depth as well.

Exhibition Highlights
Mary Merkel-Hess is known for her “landscape reports” – sculptural basket-like forms inspired by the natural surroundings of her hometown in Iowa. She was the subject of one of browngrotta arts’ first exhibition catalogs in # 21, 1992. While the works in this first solo show were vessels of brilliant green, indigo, cornflower, red and bronze, the gallery’s catalog technology at the time allowed only black-and-white printing. Despite the lack of color in the small catalog, the lyrical works of paper cord and reed sold out. Her work was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art that year, as one of the first contemporary baskets to enter the museum’s collection. The success of that exhibition spurred a second show of works by Merkel-Hess alongside Leon Niehues in catalog #152, 1996. Ironically, Merkel-Hess eschewed her hallmark vividly colored works and produced a show of translucent white papers made of gampi, kobo, abaca, flax, with some tinged with gold.  These works turned out to be as popular as those in color. Since then, her works have become larger and more sculptural and her recognition has grown while her popularity with collectors has remained a constant.  Her work will be part of Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber Art for Three Decades, catalog #503 in September of this year.

In catalog #34, 1992, still in black and white, Kay Sekimachi’s wall weavings and intricate vessels were coupled with wood bowls turned by her husband, Bob Stocksdale. Sekimachi has reinvented her practice several times in her lengthy career. She studied weaving with Trude Guermonprez in San Francisco and Jack Lenor Larsen at Haystack in Maine in the 1950s. By the 1960s she was working with complicated 12-harness looms to create ethereal hanging sculptures of monofilament, then a new material, one of which was featured in MoMA’s Wall Hangings exhibition in 1963. Sekimachi also participated in Deliberate Entanglements at UCLA in 1971 and the Lausanne Biennial in 1975 and 1983. She was part of the contemporary, nonfunctional basket movement with other California artists in the 1960s and 1970s.  This body of work included small woven baskets and woven folded boxes made of antique Japanese papers. For the browngrotta arts exhibition in 1992, she created gossamer flax bowls and patched pots of linen warp ends and rice paper. For the 1999 exhibition, catalog #245, she created woven boxes and books as well as bowls in typical Japanese ceramic shapes that she formed using Stocksdale’s turned bowls as molds. Still the subject of museum recognition and collector acclaim, Sekimachi continues to work at 94, weaving intimate, abstract weavings reminiscent of drawings in pen and ink.

In 1993, browngrotta arts produced their first catalog featuring Gyöngy Laky’s work, catalog #56, with that of Leon Niehues. The exhibition included 13 vessel shapes and one wall work. In 1996, browngrotta arts visited Laky’s complex construction again in an exhibition and catalog #167. “I think of myself as a builder of sketches in three dimensions,” she said of her textile architecture. The exhibition featured Laky’s three-dimensional words, an important aspect of her oeuvre. The two versions of the word “No” or “On” illustrated the myriad ways in which such themes are deftly articulated by Laky. Affirmative No. 1 was made of brightly colored, coated telephone wire, piled and sewn. Affirmative No. 2  was much larger — the “O” made of branches still covered with bark, the “N” made of pieces of stripped, unfinished wood.

The catalog also contained an image of That Word.  Now in the collection of the federal court in San Francisco, the work spells “ART” in 7-foot tall, 3-D letters made of orchard prunings. Laky has continued to create word sculptures that combine natural and manmade materials, as disparate as bleached cottonwood branches, plastic army men and construction bullets of metal. In 2008, The New York Times Magazine commissioned her to create titles for its environmental survey, “The Green Issue.” The works that resulted were awarded a Type Directors Club Award. Laky will have two works in Volume 50: a large vessel-shaped sculpture and a type-related, free-standing arrow.

The first catalog, #88, of Hisako Sekijima’s work included works in a wide variety of materials including cherry bark, kudzu vine, cedar, willow, hackberry, bamboo. The New York Times Magazine featured a work of kudzu vine in an article on the uses of the invasive plant species. A second show in 1998, paired her pieces made of zelikova, apricot, hinoki, walnut and palm hemp bark,  with jacquard weavings by Glen Kaufman that featured photographic images of Kyoto. In the third exhibition in 2001, Japan: Under the Influence, Innovative basketmakers deconstruct Japanese tradition, catalog #309,  Sekijima was featured with four of her students from Japan — Norie Hatekeyama, Kazue Honma, Noriko Takamiya and Tsuroko Tanikawa— each of whom had, like their teacher, given Japanese basketmaking tradition a twist. Sekijima wrote in Japan Under the Influence, that Kay Sekimachi (also featured in the catalog) was one of the American artists whose “new notions of basketmaking” and “new forms” had a decisive impact on her as she studied basketmaking in the late 70s. “Since then,” she wrote, “Sekimachi has always been one of my teachers at a distance. Her work has always reminded me of a Japanese respectful expression orime tadashii, which literally means, ‘one’s kimono preserves neat lines of folding which connotes integrity of behavior.’” Sekijima’s work, A Line Willow IV is part of our September exhibition. Like the works these artists have produced over nearly three decades, A Line Willow IV, represents a line that is knotless, homogeneous and flexible. 

1 Mary Merkel-Hess, vol 2, 1992 

2 Mary Merkel-Hess and Leon Niehues, vol 15, 1996

3 Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber Art for Three Decades, vol 50, 2020 (available September 2020)

4 Bob Stocksdale and Kay Sekimachi, vol 3, 1992

5 Bob Stocksdale and Kay Sekimachi: books, boxes and bowls, vol 24, 1999

6 Leon Niehues and Gyöngy Laky, vol 5, 1992

7 Gyöngy Laky and Rebecca Medel, vol 16, 1997

8 Hisako Sekijima, vol 8, 1994

9 Japan Under The Influence: Innovative basketmakers deconstruct Japanese tradition, vol 30, 2001

10 Glen Kaufman and Hisako Sekijima, vol 19, 1997


July 13, 2020
July 31, 2020
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browngrotta arts
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Mary Merkel-Hess, Kay Sekimachi, Hisako Sekijima, Gyöngy Laky,
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Mixed Media


browngrotta arts
276 Ridgefield Road
Wilton, CT 06897 United States
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