March 1-April 13, 2024
Opening Reception on Friday, March 1st: 5p-8p
All artworks are available to collect in person or online. See the online gallery to purchase through the Bells Gallery Website.
With its humble utilitarian beginnings, fiber art has always served us functionally and aesthetically. Often thought of as women’s work, the techniques of sewing, quilting, hand dying and stitching, and crotcheting (etc.) have been a form of expression and family tradition. Most fiber artists learned from a mother, aunt, or grandmother. This familial thread and practice history deepens the artist’s connection to the medium, further enriching the medium’s score and enduring place in our past, present, and future. While Fiber Art is rooted in traditional craft, its trajectory of significance in the contemporary Artscape should not be underestimated.
Every Fiber is a group exhibition on view at Bells Gallery on March 1 – April 13, 2024 with artists Megan Adgate (PA), Heather Baumbach (AL), Camisha Butler (GA), Coulter Fussell (MS), Kathie Halfin (NY), Amanda Hamick (AL), Tenee’ Hart (FL), Mariah Anne Johnson (CA), Colleen Toutant Merrill (KY), Ali O’Leary (NC), Sadie Sheldon (NY/LA), and Andrea Vail (NC).
Learn more about the artists below.
“I am a textile artist who works with natural fibers to create dimensional tapestries. My process sets out to challenge the very foundation of weaving itself — the grid. So, contrary to the traditional up-and-down approach, my frame looms are warped in an unsystematized, scrambled way, creating a canvas that allows for overlapping layers, curvature, and negative space. While this technique utilizes both control and manipulation with the aim of exploring what lives below the surface, I also use materials — such as wool, cotton, kudzu, and nettle — to create organic shapes and layers out of the underlying chaotic structure, which result in a piece that appears to still be growing.
The inspiration behind my work is twofold. While I had been weaving intermittently for several years, it was only at the end of a long-term emotionally abusive relationship in 2018 that weaving took on a new role for me and I began my daily practice. Using fiber to make sense of the space on the loom helped me navigate what I was currently working through in my personal life. I was able to find calm in the tactility of letting each inch of fiber pass through my fingers before it settled into the final piece of the work. In addition, I am fascinated as to how organic life interacts and develops within its environment. For example, how living things form a symbiotic relationship with other species, such as lichen on a tree; or, how they might find a home in an otherwise inhospitable environment, such as a plant growing from a cliff face. The interactions of life with its environs, and its ability to take on a new form under hostile conditions, is certainly reflected in the technique, material, process, and motivations of my art.”
Megan Adgate is a textile artist who works with natural fibers to create dimensional tapestries. Her process sets out to challenge the very foundation of weaving itself — the grid. Contrary to the traditional up-and-down approach, her frame looms are warped in an unsystematized, scrambled way, creating a canvas that allows for overlapping layers, curvature, and negative space. While this technique utilizes both control and manipulation with the aim of exploring what lives below the surface, Megan also use materials — such as wool, cotton, kudzu, and nettle — to create organic shapes and layers out of the underlying chaotic structure, which result in a piece that appears to still be growing.
“My studio practice explores the complexity of my relationship with the physical body, skin, and the cloth that covers it while expressing cultural concepts of gender, domesticity, and craft. By cultivating a sensitivity to materials and an attentiveness to narrative, I manipulate hand-dyed textiles, creating meaning through sculpted layers, openings and folds. My work frequently highlights themes of acceptance and rejection, drawing attention to both the hidden and the exposed.”
Heather Baumbach’s work is inspired by her community, her travels, and the beauty of everyday life. She enjoys working with her hands, creating works notable for their deft finish and tactile nature. Her visual art has been exhibited at The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, The Wiregrass Museum of Art, The Georgine Clark Alabama Artists Gallery, Lowe Mill Arts, and The Charles W. and Norma C. Carroll Gallery at Marshall University. In addition to art shows in Alabama, she has participated in juried festivals and exhibitions in Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, Florida, West Virginia, and Missouri. She also holds over 20 years of design and production experience in stage, television, and film, her credits include The Cherry Lane Theatre, The Theater Outlet, The Santa Fe Opera, The Los Angeles Opera, Maine State Music Theatre, Center Theatre Group, Carsey-Warner Productions, and Comedy Central. Heather holds a BFA in Costume Design from UNCSA and is currently pursuing an MFA in Visual Art at Lesley University.
“Textiles are the silent yet omnipresent companion of the human body. Life experiences can even be traced and documented through dress and decor. Fibers engage our lives on a daily basis, equally across race, class, and nation. However, the Black American human-textile relationship is a sprawling tale steeped in lack, luxury, reclamation, and identity. My work delves into this union through the utilization of craft as a means to preserve and honor familial lineage. As a bridge of remembrance to connect our past experiences to our future selves, I employ traditional craft methods such as embroidery, weaving, macrame and garment construction to tell the timeless stories of joy, resilience and self-determination.”
Camisha Butler is a textile artist/educator. Her work is informed by Neo-Luddite philosophy and the act of preserving and promoting the traditional craft practices of the ancestors. A natural storyteller, she uses a colorful, joyful aesthetic to communicate social commentary and autobiographical reflections through craft-based media such as weaving, applique, embroidery, and hand-building pottery. Her work has been shown at The Bakery, The Hambidge Center’s Cross Pollination Lab, Penland School of Craft, MINT Gallery, Reginald F Lewis Museum, and Dalton Gallery at Agnes Scott College. She is currently preparing a body of work for her first solo exhibition.
“My goal every day in the studio is to tell personal stories with the physical remnants of others’ personal stories as my material. I do this in an effort to make connections. Sifting through these old fabrics is an exercise in archeology. I whole-heartedly believe that textiles tell those stories. Another way I go for connections is by grafting artforms. By this I mean having my pieces no more quilt than they are painting and no more sculpture than they are pillow. My work is not a quilt that looks like a painting or a painting that looks like a quilt. I want something else to be born like when you graft a plum branch to a peach tree to create a whole new fruit.
All my works ride on the foundations of traditional quilting and doll-making methods and that is my main vehicle. I sew first and last. What happens in the middle is up for grabs. Personally, I think craft is the beginning and end of all art, so that is my mind frame every day.
Other than all that, I work on the floor. I don’t sketch anything or plan ahead. I start a work when I see a piece of fabric that makes a spark––one that makes me think I can tell a story. I use a lot of scrap wood and take apart old furniture people give me to use in the works. I hand-sew most everything because it’s pretty and sensible and my main tools are needle, scissors, a jigsaw, and Velcro. Balancing pragmatism with wild abandon is my favorite thing.”
Coulter Fussell was born and raised in Columbus, Georgia, an old textile town. She is the youngest family quilter, hailing from multi-generations of seamstresses and quilters. She produces quilt works using discarded and donated textiles as her sole materials.
Coulter has exhibited works across the country, including The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art and Mindy Solomon Gallery in Miami. Her textile works are in the permanent collections of the Columbus Museum of Art and the Mississippi Museum of Art.
Coulter is a 2023 Mississippi Arts Commission Individual Artist Fellowship recipient, the 2023 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Visual Arts Inductee, a 2021 Museum of Arts and Design Burke Prize Finalist, the Jane Crater Hiatt Fellow and winner the 2021 Mississippi Museum of Art Biennial, a 2019 United States Artists Fellow in Craft, the 2019 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Visual Arts Inductee, and the Finalist for the 2017 SouthArts Southern Prize.
Coulter lives in rural north Mississippi with her family.
“I am a New York-based interdisciplinary artist. I work in fiber media art, performance, and installation. In navigating the complexities of personal identity, I emphasize issues of migration, sustainability and holistic healing practices. I embody a caring agent who stands in direct interaction with her surroundings to bridge between cultural and spiritual contexts that I inhabit. Drawing from my immigrant journey, healing modalities, and personal mythos, I forge channels for healing among humans and between humans and the Earth. My woven sculptures and multi-sensory performances allude to the mythical space for communication through tactile woven surfaces, scent, sound, natural elements, and fresh plants. My work emphasizes the interconnection between humans, gives agency to plants, and tells stories with natural elements, weaving together realities that may seem disconnected.”
I employ both materials inspired by my birthplace and the environments I lived in and visited. These material qualities attribute meaning to my work and often serve as sensory agents that evoke memories and build new connections. More recently, I use paper as a sculptural weaving material. I spin paper into a yarn, which I further dye and weave into a three-dimensional sculpture. This process has a slow ritualistic rhythm and the meditative quality as I reverse the processed generic paper into a yarn that has an imprint of hand touch and an organic origin.
I learned the practice of weaving that is the anchor in my work from the teachers and predecessors who opened up the possibilities to understand weaving not necessarily as a flat rectangle but as malleable three-dimensional shapeshifter. I learned that the quality, flexibility, and texture encode the cloth with the capacity to expand, hold the information, and transform itself. My woven sculptures carry theatrical and mythological motives, serving as a spiritual and political container for speculative storytelling and re-imagination.“
Kathie Halfin was born in Crimea, Ukraine, and raised in Israel. She is a New York-based interdisciplinary artist in fiber media, installation, and performance art. Halfin earned her MMFAasters with honors in Fine Arts from the School Of Visual Arts (NY) and BA from Shenkar College in Israel. Halfin presented her work in group exhibitions at the Bronx Museum AIM Biennial (NY), The Immigrant Artist Biennial (NY), AIR Gallery Brooklyn (NY), and Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center, NY. Halfin had a solo show at the Ely Center Of Contemporary Art, New Heaven (CT).
Halfin presented her performances at the Immigrant Artist Biennial: Contact Zone, Itinerant Performance Festival in Smack Mellon ( NY), Knockdown Center: Sunday Series, (NY), and Art In Odd Places Performance Festival, (NY).
Halfin has been an Artist-in-Residence at The Icelandic Textile Center in Iceland and Cha North Residency (NY). She was an AIM fellow at the Bronx Museum Of Art (NY) and received a full Fellowship at Vermont Studio Center. Halfin had two months of full Educational Fellowship at Wassaic Project Residency (NY) and was an artist in residency at A-Z West (CA).
“The goal is to create items through natural dyeing that inspire us to reflect on the deep relationship with ourselves, man-made objects, and nature. Botanical color speaks to the pulse of our own lives and celebrates the life living all around us. I strive to have conversations with the earthly illusion of life and death. The recycling of textiles with dying plants is something that I enjoy on multiple levels. These botanically dyed textiles live with you and fade in unique ways due to your own personal journey with them. Such as life, a never ending cycle of renewal.”
After over a decade in New York City, Amanda Hamrick disconnected from city life to start a family in 2019 and reconnect with the natural world. Now a resident of Eufaula, Alabama, she strives to use her creativity in arts and fashion to help others have a meaningful engagement with themselves and the world around them. Motherhood has inspired her most recent exploration in textile design, playing with life longevity through discovering the true beauty of the natural world in natural dyeing with plants and flowers.
Amanda’s knack for the arts started at an early age. In middle school, she attended pre-college courses at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. Every summer, she attended art and fashion classes, including an art & design intensive in Italy, until she was accepted to Parsons School of Design at 16. Skipping her senior year of high school to start at Parsons launched Amanda into NYC life for over a decade. At Parsons School of Design, Amanda studied under several prominent artists such as Jean Pierre Roy, Susan Cianciolo, Gabby Asfour, Pascale Gatzen, & Martha Wilson.
“Sitting at my grandmother’s feet, the thunderous roar of her sewing machine would cease with a sudden clank of the lever falling into place, the sound of an unraveling spool led to the severing of this single tie. Excess would be snipped away, and with each pass of the metal edges, the pile would grow larger. I was lured to these remnants sinking into the carpeted floor, their frayed edges and abstract bodies. Sifting through the rubble consumed me, knotting ragged ends together to create a bouquet of mishmash worthy of praise.
Similar to most craft-based processes such as knitting, weaving, and sewing – my practice is process-based. Influenced by the artistic traditions such as craft, labor, and the act of making, I embrace these practices that are considered ‘the domestic’ or ‘women’s work’ as a form of empowerment and resistance to this long-held perception. There is evident interest in domestic materials, material culture, and what these tactile objects are capable of symbolizing. When considering their inherent properties and limitations, I liberate these household trappings’ intended use in favor of their aesthetic capacities. Through delicate and sometimes aggressive material manipulation, I aim to challenge the traditional connotation of such ‘everyday’ materials.
Throughout my practice, I pursue themes of feminism that delve into topics of beauty, anatomy, and the inequality of women. I embed personal narratives through material context and nostalgic visual languages. My wrapped, knotted, and house-paint-slathered sculptures resemble abject mutations of female anatomical forms. Subverting the spectacle of decoration I push the seductively beautiful towards the overwhelming artificial. Combining, re-contextualizing, and reconfiguring disparate materials is my way of reconciling my role as a woman and challenging the societal expectations ingrained in us all.”
Tenee’ Hart is an ‘unconventional’ fiber sculpture artist pursuing themes of feminism that delve into topics of beauty, anatomy, and women’s inequality. Wrapped fibers, gushing forms, and the manipulation of the ‘everyday’ are crucial components within Hart’s works. Her abstract forms remain committed to an intriguing physicality from palpable and intentional material usage. Hart hails from Virginia, where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Mary Washington in 2011. Later, Hart earned her Masters of Fine Arts degree from Florida State University, where she has been teaching at the college level since completing her degree in 2015. Hart is the Co-Head of ODL for the FSU | Department of Art. Beyond her role as an educator, Hart is the sole Graduate Advisor and Coordinator for the Department of Art at Florida State University.
Mariah Anne Johnson
“I am concerned with the poetics of gaps, of unexamined spaces behind doors and under stairways, between trees and under rocks. Between initial impressions and deeper, more elaborate understandings. Between memories. Between articulated thoughts. Between pockets of usable time. Because these spaces are overlooked, awkward, or otherwise not functional, they are vessels for the imagination to fill with processes and materials that are themselves awkward or fantastical. I explore such gaps through the methodologies of drawing, installation, and contemporary dance, using the accumulation of material and the shape of my own body to illuminate their potential.
My artwork takes a variety of forms, from works on paper, to site specific installations made from bed linens, to videos built from movement sequences that I create with my body. For me as the maker these forms are intimately bound up with each other. The observational intensity honed by one way of making spills over into and clarifies the daydream revery of another. The sidewalk puddle found after rain is the source for a drawing, and an action. The scrap of paper from the sidewalk that becomes part of a collage is collected on a daily walk that is research for a new video. What all of my works share is a rootedness in pedestrian activities and concrete sensory experience that forms a physical, phenomenological basis for art making. I work to uncover the wonder of everyday experience. In this time of climate change, as our species faces the ramifications of our way of being, it feels essential to engage in this deeply felt examination of my surroundings.”
I bear witness to what we have before us. I watch it change and grow and give way over time.”
Mariah Anne Johnson explores the physical realities of bodily experience and art-making in the landscape through drawing, movement, and installation. Originally from Little Rock, Arkansas, she focused on art and literature at Rice University while performing with Rice Dance Theater. She earned her MFA from the University of Illinois in 2006. Mariah’s work has been exhibited around the US and abroad, particularly in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., where she lived and worked from 2009 until 2018.
From 2011 to 2018, Mariah taught painting and drawing at The George Washington University. She has undertaken international artist residencies, including the Riddergade AIR Fellowship at Viborg Kunsthal in Denmark, and performed with Hayley Cutler’s darlingdance company. She currently lives with her family in Los Angeles, where she continues to find adventure in art making.
Colleen Tountant Merrill
“The work from Day in & Day Out playfully scrutinizes how social domains hold influence over our most interdependent relationships. Repurposed textiles are used to suggest historical notions of gender ideals within the home and are shaped to reference bodily complexity and fragility. Recently, I have taken inspiration from children’s books and folklore. Taking obscure imagery and metaphors from these stories, the work examines how their morals and tropes mirror contemporary societal norms as they relate to bodily autonomy, families, and overall quality of life.”
Colleen Merrill is based in Lexington, Kentucky. Select exhibitions of her work have been held at Tiger Strikes Asteroid in Greenville, North Carolina, VisArts in Richmond Virginia, Compare Collective in Brooklyn, New York, Parachute Factory and Institute 193 in Lexington, Kentucky, Zephyr Gallery and Carnegie Center for Art & Art History in Louisville, Kentucky, Arc Gallery in San Francisco, California, The Pittsburgh Center for the Arts in Pennsylvania, and the International Textile Biennial in Haacht, Belgium.
Merrill has received grants from the Kentucky Federation for Women and the Great Meadows Foundation to travel and research in New Orleans, England, and Scotland and to attend Residency Unlimited in Brooklyn, New York, for three months. She has been awarded fellowships for attending the Byrdcliffe Artist Residency in New York and the Pentaculum Textiles Residency at the Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts in Tennessee. Select publications of her work include the book, The Craft Companion by Ramona Barry, in Pint, an international publication by Milked Magazine, and in Textiel Plus Magazine, printed in the Netherlands.
Merrill is an Associate Professor of Art at Bluegrass Community & Technical College and an occasional Fiber & Material Studies instructor at the University of Kentucky.
“Today’s world is mediated through a screen; images are both literally flat and thin while depicting texture and volume in high resolution. We yearn for luscious images while our relationship to tangible, historic and archival objects dwindle and erode. My artwork explores how self-representation, historic and personal narratives play out while going between digital and tactile environments.
I digitally combine my own handcrafted embroideries, hand-dyed fabrics and antique textiles with sleek photographs. The digital collage of these are then printed large-scale on new fabric and re-stitched back into in order to create textures that invite touch while evading a clear understanding of how they exist in space. The confusion between photographic printed and three-dimensional elements reflects how we navigate between digital flat spaces and our physical, dimensional world. My fiber work references craft, “women’s work,” and the maker movement and reflect on themes of belonging, Southern, feminine, and social media identity.”
Ali O’Leary grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She earned her bachelor’s from Barnard College at Columbia University in New York City and a post-baccalaureate certificate at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, MD. Ali went on to receive an MFA at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2013. Before returning to the South, she lived in New York City for several years, where I worked in a fashion design studio and for an architecture firm. I have experience teaching art and design to a wide range of students and doing freelance work in Photography, Fashion, and Publishing. I have exhibited in galleries across the Southeast, live in Atlanta, and currently work as an Adjunct Professor of Photography, Art Appreciation, and Design at Georgia Gwinnett College and Georgia Military College.
“I create site and time-specific projects from found materials. Projects engage with ideas related to adaptability, renewal, and appreciating the objects of our everyday life. Projects result from various research and obsessions, as well as accidental discoveries made while trying things. I travel to feed my curiosity and to understand the abundance of perspectives in our world. These encounters with people and places regularly bring me into new relations with my surroundings and lead to new ideas that call previous norms into question. My work reshapes the way we experience, and often take for granted, the stuff of our world–both its raw materials and ideas.
I’ve made work about consumer culture, mass disposability, dreamscapes, change blindness, the wild woman archetype, environmental degradation, parallel worlds, semantic satiation, vibrant matter, living nomadically, and a former life in the circus. The connective tissue often lies within the materials I use and the layers of process I employ when constructing pieces. Almost all of the elements I use are harvested from discarded piles of waste, which I reimagine for greater purposes in storytelling.”
Sadie Sheldon is a multimedia artist based in Brooklyn and New Orleans. She is a member of the Aquarium Gallery and Majaks Theatre and an MFA graduate from Tulane University. She has been an artist-in-residence at Basement6, the Birdsell Project, the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, Laboratory, The Aquarium, Vermont Studio Center, Kuona Trust, Breck Create, Elsewhere Museum, Stove Works, and was a 2018 recipient of the Pitch Night grant to exhibit at Grand Rapids Art Prize. Her immersive installations reflect our rapidly changing landscape, magnifying the effects of post-consumer materials and plastics on the natural world. Sourcing materials from the city in which it’s created, her works explore community identity from the things we leave behind.
“I am interested in the emphasis that American culture places on amassing stuff in pursuit of happiness and the ironic emptiness to which it leads. My research explores trends of mass-production, habits of consumption, and systems of artifice and authenticity. Hinged on textile traditions and techniques, my practice materializes as sculpture, installation, and collaborative exchange.
The materials that motivate me most are home goods deemed stylistically obsolete by current mainstream standards. This is specific to mass-produced domestic objects depicting nature; particularly the relationship those objects have to their intended function and the façade they project. The way these things interacted with their previous domestic landscape is a springboard to how they can be reinvigorated, undermining their mass-produced and artificial origins to create something authentic.
This type of work explores the potential of textiles’ inherent collaborative nature in an era that increasingly lacks human interaction. Making connections to people, objects, and the households from which they came subverts both the stuff’s and the culture’s isolative qualities.”
Andrea Vail is an interdisciplinary artist based in Western North Carolina who makes connections between objects, people, or their collective communities. Vail’s work has been exhibited nationally including Oregon College of Art and Craft, Portland, OR; Form & Concept, Santa Fe, NM; Cameron Art Museum, Wilmington, NC; Meramec Contemporary Art Gallery, St. Louis, MO; Wiregrass Museum of Art, Dothan, AL, CAM Raleigh, Raleigh, NC; Tiger Strikes Asteroid GVL, Greenville, SC; Mint Museum, Charlotte, NC, and was included in Toricho Art Festival, Fujisawa City, Kanagawa, Japan. Her work has been supported with awards from Watauga Arts Council, Arts and Science Council; North Carolina Arts Council; HappeningsCLT Visual Artist Grant; CultureWORKS; and residencies with Goodyear Arts, McColl Center for Art + Innovation, and Elsewhere Museum.
Vail received an MFA in Craft/Material Studies from Virginia Commonwealth University and a BFA in Visual Art from UNC-Charlotte.