When poet Naomi Shihab Nye stepped onstage at a Poetry Center of Chicago reading last year, she brought along an intricate and brightly colored box, handwoven on a loom from paper, broom straw, pieces of maps, and silk thread. Laced through the side panels were strips of paper bearing the words of her poem "The Man Who Makes Brooms." "This is what happens," Nye said as she held up the box, "to poems that get lucky."
The box came from the loom in the Ravenswood studio of Aimee Picard. An admirer of Lenore Tawney and her "free weaving" or "open warp" weavings, which use such objects as feathers, shells, and paper, Picard has been weaving since she was 14 and supports herself by making simple, traditional fabrics for use in the home or as altar cloths and church vestments. She's also a writer, but says she prefers making tangible objects to working with the intangibles of language. For her own show, which opens Friday at August House Studio, she's plunged into the business of helping poems, passages, and abstractions "get lucky" by weaving them into hauntingly beautiful objects.
Story Unfolding turns the 18th-century poem "Weaving at Night" by Ho Xuan Huong, a Vietnamese concubine whose daring verse interwove the language of daily life with sexual innuendo, into a graceful silk, paper, and wood fan--each rib baring a new line of poetry as it is opened. Picard's also created a sensuous dresslike garment she calls Second Skin, made of silk dyed to resemble a bruised snakeskin, and the thoroughly modern Hair Shirt--a spare but sturdy tunic of wool and fishing line dressed up with found objects, ad copy, and quotations from various advocates of "suffering" as well as those who promise deliverance.
Another work, Map of the Human Genome, weaves together strips of fabric printed with family photos and some of her favorite quotations, such as one often misattributed to Chief Sealth: "Humankind has not woven the web of life / We are but one thread within it." The result is a swirling double-helical chain that she calls her own visible "metaphor or map of who we are."
Picard's currently an artist in residence at the Cliff Dwellers Club, and the work in this show was funded by a Community Arts Assistance grant from the Department of Cultural Affairs and the Illinois Arts Council. Ohio's Ursuline College has invited her to display Hair Shirt in an upcoming exhibit of work by emerging craftswomen.
In her notes for the show, Picard writes that "textiles provide an intriguing lens for looking at the world--they alternately conceal and reveal, cover and uncover: a curtain blocks the view into a room while silhouettes hint at the scene inside; a garment hides the body or clings to its form." In that spirit she's titled her show "Visible/Invisible." It runs through April 29 at 2113 W. Roscoe, and there's a free reception Friday from 6 to 10 PM. Call 773-327-5644 for more information.
--Hank De Zutter
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dorothy Perry.