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Student and Teacher Bring Big Fiber to the Peanut Gallery PDF Print E-mail
Art - Reviews
Tuesday, 12 October 2004 18:00
Rowen Schussheim-Anderson and Monique McDonald have several of their woven and beaded artworks on display at the Peanut Gallery in downtown Rock Island, and aside from a misstep into glib politics, the show offers two artists adept at their craft, even hinting at new directions.

Monique McDonald was a student of Schussheim-Anderson at Augustana College, where the latter is a professor in the art and art history departments. Their work is similar, but where Schussheim-Anderson uses more weaving techniques, McDonald has gravitated toward beaded artwork.

The piece of McDonald’s that I most enjoyed was Oma’s Beaded Rug. In this work, McDonald took her grandmother’s rug and beaded portions of it to create a wall hanging, with the beadwork highlighting the texture and patterns of the original rug. The finished product has a quilt-like feel, with squares of dark maroons, burgundies, grays, and blues offset by hanging light-colored tendrils of fabric.

Of all the pieces from both artists, the one work that shows the most promise of moving in a new direction is McDonald’s Canyon. It has a lamb’s wool background with beaded figures and designs. The composition reminds me of a tropical coral reef. With a name like Canyon, I suppose that’s an inappropriate reference, but the blue variegated lines ascending from the gray rock-like shapes reminded me of stick coral with white reef fish swimming among them. It takes the craft method and elevates it to an art form using shape, texture, and color to create a pleasing composition.

Schussheim-Anderson has significant experience with her craft and art. According to her Web site (http://www.TapestryArt.com), her artwork is a part of 17 permanent collections, and she has been featured in American Craft and Fiberarts magazines.

Fiesta is my favorite of her work in this gallery installation. It combines six rectangular fabric panels in various hues of pink, with ribbons of fabric tying them together. The textures of the fabric panels run on a top-right to bottom-left diagonal, except for the middle panel of the top row of three, with a diagonal that runs the opposite direction. Even though I’ve described the diagonals, the patterns are not geometric; rather, they organically flow in a general direction. You indeed get a festive feeling looking at the panels, and it would be a great piece to live with.

But with How Many Pink Slips Does It Take to Change Presidents??? , Schussheim-Anderson strays into propaganda. This piece features a small forest of fabric-covered rods with geometric shapes mounted at varying heights, from about one foot to about four feet tall. That’s next to an overturned box of pink index cards with various captions printed on them. All the cards start with the word “Termination,” followed by various buzzwords: “Health Insurance,” “Education,” “Jobs,” and “Manufacturing Jobs,” for example. Anderson told the Peanut Gallery that she will donate the purchase price of the piece to the Kerry-Edwards campaign.

Political art can be incredibly powerful if the artist stays true to his or her media and to personal experience. But when it shifts away from experience, it raises an ethical question: When does art cease to be art and become propaganda? Propaganda owes no allegiance to the truth, and often seeks to create a perception based on a half-truth.

I’m pretty sure that How Many Pink Slips … does not arise from Schussheim-Anderson’s direct personal experience, and as a result the work doesn’t ring true, and it lacks a factual or statistical underpinning. The artist, for instance, separates manufacturing jobs from jobs in general, yet according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, (http://www.bls.gov), the private sector outside of manufacturing created roughly 1.5 million jobs from 2000 to 2004, while 2.9 million manufacturing jobs were lost.

The work also steps outside of the media that Schussheim-Anderson uses so well. A piece such as Fiesta could have been transformed into a similar political work because it has enough of the form of pink slips to make the allusion.

Once you get past the propaganda, though, there are some fine fiber works on display at the Peanut Gallery, giving a glimpse into the world of two talented artists.

The Peanut Gallery, at 300 21st Street in Rock Island, is typically open from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. To make an appointment to see Big Fiber, call (563)326-5344.
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