Tag Archives: Josef Albers

Fibers Rooted in Nebraska

June 23, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The world-renowned fiber artist Sheila Hicks never forgot that she started in Nebraska.

“Why am I coming to Nebraska?” says the Hastings native. “I’m coming because I owe it to Nebraska. It gave me so much. Such a feeling of well-being. I had an extended family of grandparents and great aunts, and cousins.”

Hicks says her formal art career, which is “sometimes relegated to the category of craft, sometimes to fine arts,” began taking shape at Yale University School of Art and Architecture, where she studied under Bauhaus artist Josef Albers.

It was a trip to South America, however, that inspired her unique work in textiles.

“Having been given a Fulbright to go to Chile (in 1957-1958), I economized and ended up visiting every single country in South America except Paraguay,” Hicks says by phone interview from her home in Paris. “I found I could go down the West Coast starting in Venezuela. One year later I had missions and tasks to complete; I went all the way down to the southernmost city in the hemisphere. Then I came back up on the east coast. I did a show in Santiago at the National Museum. It was  a great privilege. I did an exhibition in Buenos Aires.”

SheilaHicks2That next year, she came back to Yale and earned her MFA, partly because Albers convinced the faculty that her trip counted as field work. She relocated to Paris in 1964, where she has continued to work for more than 50 years.

Her current art exhibit, on display at Joslyn Art Museum through Sept. 4, will give Omahans a glimpse into Hicks’ unique work.

“We are so delighted to be able to share such a large and important body of work by one of the world’s most exciting and engaging artists,” says Jack Becker, Joslyn Art Museum Executive Director and CEO. “Sheila’s work at present is featured around the globe in Australia, Asia, throughout Europe, and this year, in Omaha.”

“They will never have seen anything like this, the innovative use of materials,” Hicks says. “They are meant to go into the history of our civilization and to earlier civilizations and earlier cultures. That’s why I’ve chosen this medium because people can see textiles historically.”

That innovative use of materials includes using corn husks in her work, a tribute to Nebraska. A concurrent show running in Hangzhou, China, includes shells of things she has eaten, such as seafood. Hicks was particularly excited about this show as Hangzhou has the world’s biggest silk museum.

Textiles, Hicks says, “Also helps with remembering things from other cultures as being reinterpreted and actualized.”

As much as the use of materials, it’s the use of color for which Hicks is known. She once painted her childhood bedroom royal blue with scarlet and orange accents, and has preferred bright colors her whole life.

She feels inspired to work with fibers because they are so intertwined in people’s lives and belongings. But she also enjoys working in many other mediums.

“I don’t consider myself a fiber artist any more than I consider myself a watercolor artist or a black and white photographer,” Hicks says. “I am a maker of things. I love to invent and make things.”

This particular show will impress people with the breadth and depth of the work. Hicks says, “It swims back and forth between painting and sculpture and environment and architecture.”

“I think that we are most excited by the diversity of the work and the remarkable way Sheila employs color and design to engage viewers,” Becker says. “The accompanying catalogue provides a lasting record of the exhibition while advancing the conversation and scholarship around this important artist.”

One thing is for certain. No matter where she goes, she knows her Nebraska roots have helped her feel at home in many places.

“I am up to my ankles in Nebraska,” Hicks says. “Wherever I go and whatever I do, I don’t feel foreign or confused. I am a very well grounded person coming from a Nebraska family of many generations.” 

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Art Meets Information

February 24, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Originally published in March/April 2015 Encounter magazine.

At the W. Dale Clark main Omaha Public Library branch, people can check out books, use the Internet, take classes, and research government documents, along with a host of other collection-based activities. And in the Michael Phipps Gallery, they can also view artwork by a wide-range of Omaha artists whose work is by turns beautiful, challenging, provocative, and always engaging.

While the gallery has long offered exhibitions, they haven’t had the same high profile as the library’s other offerings—until, that is, Alex Priest, a 27-year-old independent curator, volunteered his services.

Despite having curated exhibitions featuring works by such famed artists as Josef Albers, Grant Wood, and Robert Rauschenberg, Priest is committed to making the general public feel comfortable viewing them, whether those pieces are traditional landscapes or avant-garde installations. “As a curator, I’m not asking people to spend two hours looking at art work, just two seconds more than usual so they can look a little closer,” he emphasized.

Inspired by the way his public library’s offerings influenced and inspired him while growing up in Iowa, Priest wanted to give back by volunteering his services to the Michael Phipps Gallery. One of his primary goals was to make the space an integral part of the library, not a separate area unto itself. “To me the library is about accessing information in a broad context,” Priest explained. “It’s so important for aggregating information. What I really wanted to do is make the gallery another place to do that.”

To that end, the library added comfortable seating, reading tables, and warm lighting to encourage people to spend time in the space, irrespective if they’re reading a good book, having quiet conversations, or simply viewing the artworks. “This provides a link between the gallery and the library,” Priest said.

The exhibitions, of course, have played a key role in that link. Last July’s Social Studies by artist Laura Carlson served as both an exhibition as well as a platform for collaborative dialogue workshops with the public. It was the kind of exhibition that couldn’t have taken place in a traditional gallery setting, but one that meshed perfectly with the library and its public programming.

Patrons have responded enthusiastically. “Alex has changed the whole feel, and people are noticing,” said Linda Trout, the library’s community outreach and partnership manager. “It’s so exciting. It’s a better atmosphere for reading, talking and visiting. People love the ability to go, sit, and enjoy the space.”

For Priest, this means his curating has been a success. “This is a huge gallery in a major public space,” he noted. “This is a way to access the assets of the library and a way to facilitate dialogues through art.”

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