Sonoma State University Art Gallery reopens with a wealth of woven artwork

Scholars can trace the origins of weaving back to ancient Egypt around 3400 BC. AD, but that doesn’t mean the art form can’t be modern. Like any artistic discipline, it has never stopped evolving.

Are you ready for a massive wall hanging woven from extension cords? You’ll find that and more in Sonoma State University Art Gallery’s brand new exhibit at Rohnert Park.

“A Beautiful Mess: Weavers & Knotters of the Vanguard,” which opens this week, is the gallery’s first exhibition since it closed nearly two years ago due to coronavirus concerns.

The gallery’s last exhibition to welcome in-person visitors was the “Juried Student Exhibition 2020,” said gallery director Jennifer Bethke.

“Jurors had just judged entries for this show on March 12, the same day the campus sent students home and announced a closure,” she said. “The initial thought was that we would only be closed for a few weeks, but of course we all know how that went.”

With the entire campus closed and classes being conducted online, the gallery has been frustrated in its dual mission of offering its resources to students and the wider community. But it struggled, as have many artistic venues.

“We had online exhibits, but I think any art lover will tell you that’s not the same,” Bethke said.

Now, at last, the gallery can not only open its new exhibition to the public, but the new exhibition is one that the director thinks viewers will find new and meaningful.

“Fiber arts have been a longtime interest to me, so I’m thrilled to bring this show to our visitors,” Bethke said.

Organized by the Bedford Gallery at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, the exhibition features 17 works by 10 artists pushing the boundaries of what woven art can be.

“I have long admired Bedford Gallery curator Emilee Enders and the work she has done,” Bethke said. “I also had my eye on Dana Hemenway, who is based in San Francisco and one of the artists featured in this exhibit.”

One of the pieces featured in the exhibit is a 10-foot-tall wall hanging by Hemenway, woven from 42 extension cords and complemented by fluorescent light fixtures and wood.

“Traditionally, people tend to think of weaving as a craft or just a hobby, and serious museums are for painting or sculpture – that those are the things that count as serious art,” said said the gallery director.

Still, there are pieces in this woven art exhibit that easily qualify as artistic images or even three-dimensional sculptures, and the subjects of the work are not limited to traditional themes.

San Francisco-based artist Windy Chien depicts computer imagery in her 2021 work titled “Circuit Board,” which she created using rope, vintage 24-karat gold Japanese wire, and synthetic Chainette wire. .

And the materials used are certainly not limited to traditional fabrics. For her 2018 wall hanging, titled “Orange 2,” Chicago artist Jacqueline Surdell used braided cotton cord and a steel bar, all anchored by a 15-pound weight. The entire piece weighs 96 pounds and stands nearly 8 feet tall.

“What excites me about this exhibit is that it’s not just about weavers or textile arts, but these artists are each changing the medium in their own way,” Bethke said. “The work speaks for itself. It’s colorful, fun and playful, and some of them are huge in scale.

You can reach editor Dan Taylor at dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5243. On Twitter @danarts.

William E. Bennett