If you have ever been to the Saks Fifth Avenue at Keystone at the Crossing, or any clothing store, you’ve seen fiber arts of a wearable variety. Known for carrying renowned designers and a mix of classic and trendy designs, Saks has a reputation for quality. At any given time you can peruse gorgeous formal wear, everyday basics or unique, cutting edge pieces.
This past month, in their upstairs gallery, shoppers had the opportunity to see elements like crochet, embroidery, weaving and fabric manipulation that are typically reserved for clothing reimagined as fine art. Four local Indianapolis artists who specialize in fiber arts were invited to be included in the show Common Thread. Though each of their interpretations of the genre is quite different, the work of Kyle Channing Smith, Jamie Lynn Williams, Abi Ogle and Emily Bennett blended beautifully with one another.
When I entered the gallery, a sheet that Ogle had delicately covered with intricate red embroidery was draped from the ceiling, and threads hung down at eye level. Beyond, Jamie Lynn Williams’ canvases decorated with colorful geometric designs looked like paintings at first glance, but up close I could see that the shapes were made up of stitches. Next to these, Bennett’s 3D sculptures almost looked like Williams’ designs if they were to jump off of the canvas. Bennett creates multidimensional shaped figures then wraps, weaves and ties various colors and textures of yarn between edges, creating new planes that change the overall shape of the structure. Smith’s works actually begin with a completely different medium. The first part of her process is photography. Then, she takes the images and makes a pattern to follow as she crochets the image to life. The results are sometimes large, almost blanket-sized portraits and profiles of faces, while others are small squares that reveal smaller portions of images.
It’s rare to see a partnership like this one between one iteration of an upscale national chains like Saks and the local artists who reside in the area, and that unlikely pairing is just what made this show special. If this body of work were to appear in a gallery, it would still be an interesting look at various interpretations of similar mediums. The work would still be gorgeous, and we would perhaps have more insight into what makes each of these artists unique. But what makes the context of a department store a fascinating setting for the show is how it reveals what brings the works together, not what sets them apart.
We all have a relationship with fibers and fabrics, whether it be our clothing, our sheets or our furniture. We use it to express ourselves, to bring comfort, for protection. But for artists like Smith, Williams, Ogle, and Bennett it provides a language with which to communicate in an entirely new way. This show was a way for some who may not stumble across these artists normally to see how something they are already shopping for can be used to communicate in a different way.