Fiber artists remember friends and family

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NEW MARLBOROUGH -- Joy, sorrow, sex and everything in between awaits visitors to "Fabulous Fabric & Fiber Show" at The Meeting House in New Marlboro, where a baker's dozen of local crafters is exhibiting art quilts, baskets and hooked rugs. The show runs from June 14 to July 7.

While many of the displays are memorials to loved ones, with memories woven into fabrics and stitched into appliques, others are testaments to skill and discipline. Some quilters just cut up any old fabric and create art from a bag of scraps. Others use organic cottons and silks and create their own dyes.

"I spent 40 years of my life, on either Saturday or Sunday, visiting Grandma with my brothers and sisters," said Susan Delmolino Ives, self-described as born and raised in the Berkshire Mountains. "Then one day, she died. I didn't know what to do with myself."

Not that her grandmother's passing was a shock -- she was 101 -- but long habit was broken, Ives explained.

"I always wanted to quilt, and when she left us, I started sewing," she said.

Like nearly everyone of the exhibitors, Ives learned to sew when she was a youngster.

"When she passed away, I cut up her old dresses and made a Raggedy Ann doll," Ives said. Shortly afterward, Ives stitched her first quilt.

For Teresa Mills of Sandisfield, the path to quilting started with loss.

"When I was a small child, I had a simple patchwork quilt," Mills said. "I fell asleep with it every night."

After her father, a real-life cowboy who rode the range and herded cows in Oregon, passed away, Mills felt the need for that long-ago comfort quilt.

She created "Going Home," a tribute to her father's life and the love of horses she shared with him. "There's a special connection," she says.

While basting their grief into long stitches, hemstitching sorrow around appliques, many quilters find inspiration in the natural beauty of the Berkshires. Trees, especially pines, are evoked representationally as well as graphically. Woodland gardens, with Jack in the pulpits, wild orchids and various ferns, spring to life in quilts of tulle, organza, silk and wool.

Pamela Johnson's woodland garden, with a twisting path down a slope, inspires creations such as "Bluebell Woods." A retired computer engineer, she draws precise plans, cuts exact motifs and sews beautifully. A pile of her work delights in blues, greens and purples. However, a fiery red and orange abstract design poked a corner from below the mass of cool shades.

"That's called Fire," said Johnson, a Yorkshire, England, transplant to the U.S. "Friends were caught in wildfires in Maryville, Australia, a small town near Melbourne. I was talking to their daughter on the phone when it happened. She wasn't sure if her parents had survived."

"I stayed on the phone with her for hours," said Johnson. "The entire town was razed. There were only three houses remaining. Her parents were in one of them. The fire jumped over their house."

Johnson was so shaken by her friends' miraculous delivery that she was inspired to create a series of quilts depicting abstractly the fire leaping over the houses that survived.

"Their daughter has three of my fire quilts on her wall," she said.

Perhaps the most skilled exhibitor in the show is JoAnn Kelly Catsos, who has taken basketweaving to its highest level, earning a certificate of excellence from the Handweavers Guild of America, after studying and creating Shaker reproduction baskets for decades.

Her recent work is more expressive of her own tastes.

She uses freshly cut black ash, often trees felled by her husband, and she pounds the wood to separate the rings. The rings are split into long strips, some as narrow as 1/64th of an inch wide. The strips are left to dry. Some are dyed for the blacks, brown and cherry colors that mark her designs.

While quilting has taken some artists deeper into themselves, basketry pushed Catsos out into other cultures around the globe.

"I studied basketry all over the world," she said.

If you go ...

What: ‘Fabulous Fabric and Fiber' show,' quilt artists, rug hook artist and basket weavers

Where: New Marlborough Meetinghouse, Route 57

When: Show runs through July 7 in the Meeting House Gallery, open on weekends

Admission: Free

Information: newmarlborough.org


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