Beyond the Surface exhibit in La Conner

13 11 2015

“Beyond The Surface,” the third exhibit by Whidbey Island Surface Design Group at the La Conner Quilt & Textile Museum, includes work on fiber and fabric. The processes used by members to embellish these surfaces are as varied as the artists’ pieces: dyeing, wrapping, felting, stitching, weaving, image transfer, beading, quilting, painting, printing and collage.

To view more of their work, visit their web page here. For more information about this show visit

Beyond the Surface exhibit

Teshima Art Museum by Fine Gelfand

21 08 2015

In May of 2015, I had the privilege of joining a textile-focused trip to Japan. The group was led by Yoshiko Wada, author of several books on shibori techniques, lecturer, curator, founder of Slow Fiber Studio and co-founder of World Shibori Network. The trip was jam-packed with textile-focused workshops, artists’ studio and museum visits. We had the opportunity to browse and be inspired by shopping in antique textiles shops and specialty cutting-edge designer boutiques. Three weeks of full-on textile delirium. I addition to the regular itinerary, I chose to participate in the optional pre-trip extension which led us to three small islands in the southern part of the Japanese inland sea. The islands have been rescued from industrial ruin and restored to health by creating an economy based on art tourism. Unexpectedly, one of the most impactful experiences of the entire trip was one unrelated to textiles. The photos and the essay that follow relate to this experience on Teshima Island.


What do you call it when a work of architecture affects your soul? An extreme art experience? An epiphany? A re-assertion of the heart?

We were lucky to have relatively few co-visitors at the Teshima Art Museum in late May. It was of some significance in my experience. I was in a state of “beginner’s mind”, not having done any reading in preparation for this visit. It is only afterwards that I wanted to know that the architect was Ryue Nishizawa in collaboration with artist Rei Naito who conceived of the “living art piece” that interacts, complements and completes the architecture. I have never been in a structure, a piece of art, that has affected me this much.


I approached the entrance to the museum taking pictures of the setting and the exterior of the structure and completely missed the sign forbidding photography inside. Fortunately, the camera was set for “no flash” and thus my rule-breaking was not noticed until a few (now precious) photos of the interior space had been taken.

The structure resembles a slightly misshapen shell, convex side up, with two holes at opposite ends, not visible together from any outside vantage point. The entrance is deliberately designed low and narrow like a tunnel so that the impression of entering into the space below the “shell” is one of enormous opening. The color scheme is simple, the roof and interior ceiling are white and the floor is a soft, matte, light grey.


The idea exemplified in the Pantheon in Rome is employed here and amplified by having two openings instead of one. But because of the extreme abstinence of decoration of any kind, the effectiveness of the play of light and shadow is magnified as the beams of light falling through two openings influence and enhance each other. The wonderful expansion and contraction of light on the ceiling and on the floor changes every minute of the day, every day of the year, a visual and sensory reminder of our temporal limitations in the physical world. What would it be like to sit in one place, let the light spill and expand on your retina in one pattern, specific to that moment, then close your eyes to rest and absorb the image for a while? An hour later, consciousness would resurface to a completely new experience of the same space and location. It would be a way to refine, extract, distill the essence of nature because the mind would be focused on only one, life giving aspect of our natural surrounding: the Sun.

After taking in the glorious, expansive impressions and feelings generated by the light and space, the eye eventually settles down to the floor. A great expanse of floor, only imperceptibly curved here and there to contain little mysteries that capture the imagination and lead it on a journey of its own. Something is moving! What is that? Small rivulets of water emerge somehow from the floor, increase in size, merge with other larger, moving accumulations of water, halting briefly, then lurching forward, held together with surface tension strong enough to create three dimensional volume. Everything is constantly in motion, emerging and mysteriously disappearing from the floor and into the floor. The reasoning part of the mind interjects questions periodically: Wait a minute! How it this possible? Where is the water coming from and where it is going?


But reason stands no chance in the presence of wonder. The mystery is all encompassing in its complexity and simple beauty in the same moment. The experience is one of entrainment into the ebbing and flowing of life itself, the bliss of knowing without knowing. Being immersed unreservedly in this flow of energy and matter is like receiving a gift that is given without explanation or need for justification.

The detailed intricacy and complexity of the small moving bodies of water draws the attention to the ground as if to the details of our bodily existence. Add to that another aspect of physical reality: sound. The acoustics of the shell are intense and what starts as a whisper at one end of the space is magnified a hundred times at the other end, if it were ever allowed to be heard. What would it be like to hear a single child’s tender voice sing Ave Maria here? Or to have Yo-Yo Ma play a full-throated Astor Piazzolla solo? The imagination soars.

The shape and size of the shell-like ceiling have the effect of simultaneously feeling like shelter as well as encouraging the mind to sweep up through the openings, as birds would, to rise up and feel uplifted. It seems like the ultimate space for prayer, communion and contemplation, no matter what the original intent was. It is called a “museum” but the sum total of the spare architecture and art here creates a spiritual response.

I was left standing at the perimeter of this creation in tears for a long time not comprehending my own reaction. Whatever I was responding to was wildly moving: powerful, beautiful and magical.


Slowly and incrementally clarity flooded through me:

This is what it feels like to be in the presence of perfection.

Whidbey Surface Design Members In “Paper Transformed” at Northwind Arts Center (Port Townsend) til July 26

11 07 2015

Paper transformed postcard front Octopodocus Sea Anemone 39”Hx9”Wx8”D _Danielle Bodine_jpg IMG_1487 %22Fran's Fan Sande Wascher James



Three members of Whidbey Island Surface Design have mutiple artworks in the exhibition currently showing at Northwind Arts Center. From left to right the poster design of the show which also includes the work of Dona Anderson, Mary Ashton, Jean-Marie Tarascio and Lois James. Artwork pictured left to right: Danielle Bodine’s “Octopodocus”, Zia Gipson’s “Rainfall” and Sande Wascher-James’ “Fran’s Fan”.



“Paper Transformed” is an exhibition of the work of eight Western Washington artists who transform machine and handmade paper into artist books, sculpture, jewelry, baskets and other visual objects. Dona Anderson, Mary Ashton, Danielle Bodine, Zia Gipson, Lois James, Dorothy McGuinness, Jean-Marie Tarascio and Sande Wascher-James all use paper for its inherent infinitely malleable character not just as a substrate for traditional artists’ media. To paraphrase philosopher and communication theorist Marshall McLuhan, Paper Transformed is an exhibition where “the paper is the medium and the message”.

For these artists, paper is flexible and rigid, forgiving, shape-shifting, ubiquitous, easily stacked, bound, and collated into books, permanent (nearly) and transient, thick and thin, durable, recyclable, translucent and opaque, and gossamer thin. It can be folded, stained, painted, cast, felted, cut, torn, sewn, and woven. With paper in hand, these eight artists become sculptors, papermakers, naturalists, storytellers, printmakers, acute observers/manipulators of fiber made from cotton, linen, abaca, hemp, mulberry, mitsumata, and recycled wood pulp,

The paper work of Lois James, Zia Gipson and Danielle Bodine carries the record of cultural tradition, personal memory and story telling. Dona Anderson’s and Mary Ashton’s paper sculpture resonates with the living things which give the work its connection to nature. Jean-Marie Tarascio’s and Sande Wascher-James’ artist books celebrate paper’s long history of being used to make books. Dorothy McGuinness’s intricate paper baskets are made from richly colored and patterned paper cut with surgical precision then folded and woven into rhythmic shapes. The eight artists in “Paper Transformed” show us how paper is infinitely alterable taking the observer from the flat smooth surface we use daily to record the most mundane of life’s events to the richly textured surfaces of handmade three-dimensional objects.

Paper-related workshops are being offered by Danielle Bodine and Mary Ashton. Bodine will teach Paper Vessels July 11 and Ashton will offer Western Papermaking on July 18th and Asian Papermaking on July 19.

Other special events include a panel discussion featuring several of the artists on July 12 from 1-2 PM in the gallery followed by mini demonstrations.

Artists’ websites (in alphabetical order):

Mary Ashton                

Dona Anderson         

Danielle Bodine         

Zia Gipson                  

Lois James                

Dorothy McGuinness

Jean-Marie Tarascio           none at this time

Sande Wascher-James


WISD at WICA Lobby Show 2015

17 05 2015
Bug Dream by Natalie Olsen

Bug Dream by Natalie Olsen

For the third consecutive spring, the artists of Whidbey Island Surface Design (WISD) have mounted a group exhibition at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts (WICA), 565 Camano Ave. in Langley, WA.

The exhibition runs May 5 – June 8. On display in WICA’s lobby are quilts, weavings, paper and felted sculptures, encaustics, monoprints, bojagi, paintings and other surface design techniques.

Artists’ reception: Saturday, May 23, 6:00 – 7:30 pm. The reception will be held prior to the evening’s Classical Music Series concert: A Schubertiade with Sheila Weidendorf and members of Island Consort.

Through the Garden Gate by Nan Leaman

Through the Garden Gate by Nan Leaman

Participating WISD artists include:

Danielle Bodine, Mary Burks, Fine Gelfand, Carol Jerome, Janet King, Patti King, Lorraine Amann Kirker, Nan Leaman, Nancy Loorem, Natalie Olsen, Bergen Rose, Laura Stangel Schmidt, Ilene Rae Sorenson, Larkin Jean Van Horn and Colleen Wootton.

Keeping Whole by Mary Burks

Keeping Whole by Mary Burks

Concert information: A Schubertiade
with Sheila Weidendorf and members of Island Consort

Four Flowers by Fine Gelfand

Four Flowers by Fine Gelfand

Dancing in the Moonlight by Larkin Jean Van Horn

Dancing in the Moonlight by Larkin Jean Van Horn

Focus on Creativity by Larkin Jean Van Horn

4 01 2015

Chaos Theory by Larkin Jean Van Horn

I have been involved with needle and thread for nearly 60 years now. I’ve been hanging out with fiber folks for about 35 years, including guilds and groups and working in a needlework shop for a few years. Every once in awhile, I have found it beneficial to dip my toes in other waters for a change of perspective, some new vocabulary and insight into how others think and talk about their art making.

There I was at the library, minding my own business, and the reader board announced something called “Focus on Creativity.” Intrigued, I decided to show up just to see what was what. It turns out this group was started by several people who met taking a painting class together, and kept meeting after the class was over. They opened the group up to any interested parties, and meet twice a week. On Thursday afternoons, when the weather is cooperative, they are out plein aire painting or drawing at some location on the island. When the weather is lousy, they work indoors on a still life, from memory, or from photographs. On Friday mornings they meet to show their latest work, drink coffee and talk art. At that first meeting there were several painters, a photographer, a poet, a stained glass artist, and me, the lone fabric artist.

Trial by Fire by Larkin Jean Van Horn

Trial by Fire by Larkin Jean Van Horn

The more I hang out with these folks, the better I get to know them and how their life path has influenced their art. There are engineers, architects, scientists, teachers, salesmen, graphic designers and more, all together because they love what they are doing and want to work and talk with other like-minded people. They have found their tribe. And I was instantly accepted as a member of that tribe. No business meetings, no dues, no officers or committees – just one person who sends out a reminder email every week with the location for Thursday. The camaraderie is wonderful, I am absorbing much about other art media, but I am also sharing my own work and am delighted that they are interested in learning about working with needle and thread. The fact that they expect everyone to bring some recent work to talk about helps to keep me productive every week.

My point in writing this is that I have found it invaluable to spend time with artists in other disciplines, and would encourage others to take a workshop in some unfamiliar art form, or join a small general art group that isn’t focused solely on one medium. It is enlightening, exciting, and helps keep my own work fresh. I love working in fiber and fabric and beads, and that isn’t going to change. But I am learning things that add depth and nuance to my continuing explorations.

Silent Night by Larkin Jean Van Horn

Silent Night by Larkin Jean Van Horn

Whidbey Artists Keep Taking Classes, Live and Online by Diane Reardon

1 10 2014

Humpbacks Count (detail) by Diane Reardon

Many artists in our local Surface Design group refresh their creativity by taking a class. It can provide the jolt of learning a new technique, a review of design basics, or a chance to hone one’s personal vision. It’s also just fun to hang out with those who are just as bonkers as we are about making great stuff.

Live Classes

We’re very lucky to have three great ‘schools’ handy. Coupeville’s Pacific Northwest Art School brings international artists in photography, fiber, painting, and mixed media. Gail Harker continues to bring the quality of London’s City & Guilds series to LaConner, and Maiwa in Vancouver offers especially tempting textile skills.  Nothing like taking 4 or 5 days to immerse yourself in hand-dyeing fabric, learning to use oil sticks, or making your own paper.

Online Classes

Lately we also have the option of online courses. Gail Harker and Jane Dunnewold have begun offering sessions this way.

I’m currently in a 10-week online art class with Lisa Call that uses the tools of the internet so students can upload their weekly artwork, join in on live meetings with images, and connect with each other through a WordPress comment section. I’m working hard and learning a bunch. The benefits are that I’m working in my own studio and have choices about when to access the audio and email material.

Although this particular class focuses on the creative process of working in a series, there are many shorter technique courses. For example, I learned how to create the crackly seaweed in the image above from Linda Robertson’s encaustic demonstration class.  (See for my whale art and for info on whales.)

Choosing an Online Class

Courses vary in

  • How much audio, video, and written information is provided
  • How it’s delivered and how long it’s available
  • How much feedback teachers offer
  • How students are able to interact

And, of course, cost.

If you’re not an artist, other online courses are sprouting up all over the wild west of the internet. Google your favorite passion or check out for a set of free university level courses to spice up your winter.

Textiles in India by Mary Burks

6 08 2014

This winter on a tour with Mawai to India I had the opportunity to experience textiles that were remarkable.


It was amazing to see whole communities involved in some aspect of a particular process. We visited villages where weaving was king, where wood blocks were produced…


Where fabric was dyed and laid out in the sun to dry…


I saw embroidery work that was unimaginable in its detail…


It was an overwhelming trip, rich in inspiration and content. It has left me so bewildered about where I go next with my own journey with textiles that I have had to step away from the studio for awhile and think. Looking at the magnificent work being done for generations makes me aware that I will never be able to do production work again and that the only way to honor what I have experienced is to truly do one of a kind pieces that reflect who I am and what matters to me, that I really have to listen to my own voice and project that voice through the textiles. Finally I have been able to go back to the studio and to begin to create. I was struck by the doors and windows and courtyards that I saw in India and I am looking at the concept of doors and windows as means to create boundaries, and as a means of traveling back and forth through them to other worlds. At least seven new pieces are awaiting stitching. I am excited…

— Mary Burks


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