Tag Archives: textiles

Absence Makes the Heart

September 10, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Where are you from?” 

This common question is a complex one for Los Angeles-based conceptual artist and summer 2018 Bemis artist-in-residence Jenny Yurshansky. She was conceived in Moldova in the late-1970s, when it was part of the USSR; while her refugee parents were en route to the United States, she was unexpectedly born in Rome. The family ultimately settled in the San Fernando Valley in 1979. 

“I was technically stateless when I was born,” says Yurshansky, whose Jewish parents experienced systemic oppression before fleeing Soviet-era Moldova under great duress. In punitive acts by the Soviet regime as it worked to expel hundreds of thousands of Jews, they were forced to abandon their jobs for a year and surrender all educational documentation before leaving. Yurshansky’s surprise, early arrival in Rome caused an additional delay of a few months while her parents worked to assemble the proper paperwork for the family to complete its journey to the U.S.

But Yurshansky’s story is just one small stitch in a larger, intergenerational family fabric of borders, fear, fleeing, and absence. From her grandmother’s escape from the Nazis to her parents’ decision to leave their hostile homeland, the family’s ongoing diaspora deeply affected not just the individuals who had to leave, but the places they left behind.     

“There are two pockets of emptiness: One in the group that leaves—because as traumatic or difficult as their relationship with home may be, it’s still where they formed their identity and the core of who they are—and also in the place that’s left behind,” says Yurshansky of the refugee experience.     

Yurshansky’s past work explores the topic of immigration as it relates to the way we think about human migrants using the allegory of invasive plants species. During her Bemis residency, Yurshansky focused on her Crusted Memory project—a more personal exploration of immigration that looks at her family’s legacy as migrants from a matrilineal perspective. 

“Instead of dealing with migration on a general level like I did with the plants, I’m looking at my own family’s history as being a refugee story,” Yurshansky says. “It’s a case study that can be used to reflect on the refugee experience, not solely on a diaristic level, but also as a way to reflect one story onto other stories and experiences. I’m looking at the state of being a refugee, in terms of traumas experienced by the people who leave and also by the place that’s left behind.” 

As a conceptual artist, Yurshansky uses many mediums. Crusted Memory incorporates textiles, glass, sculpture, photography, and other elements to explore a family legacy she says is rooted with her maternal grandmother. Her grandmother was a highly skilled seamstress whose budding career was interrupted by World War II when, instead of heading to Paris for an apprenticeship as planned, she fled Moldova for Uzbekistan, narrowly escaping with her life. 

Fittingly, it was Yurshansky’s grandmother who taught her how to sew as a child during a visit to the U.S. Yurshansky calls sewing her “initial place of creative output” as an artist. “Since my mother’s mother is the root of the story, a lot of the work [in Crusted Memory] will focus on weaving or embroidery,” says Yurshansky.

In 2016 and again in 2017, Yurshansky and her mother traveled to Chișinău, Moldova’s capital city and her mother’s hometown. 

“Neither of my parents had been back because [it] was too traumatic,” she says. 

On their journeys, Yurshansky collected notes, artifacts, photographs, and conversations which inform the works in Crusted Memory. One piece—an embroidered, soft sculpture—draws from a visit to Yurshansky’s great-grandfather’s overgrown gravesite, where she did a rubbing of the towering headstone that mimics a limbless tree, symbolizing a life cut short. Another poignant piece is based around traditional rose-patterned Moldovan rugs.    

“At the house I grew up in, my mother planted 116 rose bushes,” Yurshansky says. “When we went to Moldova, I saw roses everywhere—from fabric patterns to medians—and something clicked. I said, ‘Mom, now it makes so much sense to me why you planted roses at home and had so many around—you were basically replicating home.’ But she said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about. There were no roses there.’ For her, a lot of memory is suppressed, and that’s what I mean about these kinds of gaps, both in the person that leaves and the place that’s left behind. So, I’m recreating this carpet, but with the roses dropped out. A lot of my work deals with absence and plays with that tension of what’s there and what’s not there through how I’m presenting these objects.”

Yurshansky feels fortunate to have the resources provided during her Bemis residency to tackle this important project. “I’m really lucky to have this much room to play in and such an amazing set of resources,” says Yurshansky, who welded at Bemis’ Okada Sculpture & Ceramics Facility and did ceramics at The Union for Contemporary Art in addition to the multifaceted work she completed in her studio. “Being a conceptual artist, I start with the idea first and then find the materials, methods, and techniques that best express that idea, and Bemis is really wonderful because there are so many resources available to me and the people are so helpful. That has been invaluable to my work.”

While Yurshansky had never been to Omaha before, she’d been aware of the Bemis for a long time. 

“I had no idea what to expect from Omaha and I’m very pleasantly surprised,” she says. “There’s a lot going on and it’s really hip. There’s great food, concerts, the culture is awesome, the museums are great, and the people are just amazing.”

In addition to her summer in Omaha, Yurshansky has been exposed to many other locales, having also lived in Sweden for 11 years and traveled widely, which greatly informs her global perspective. Though she acknowledges the heightened current conversation around immigration, she says it’s actually long been a been a major issue.

“It just continues to escalate,” Yurshansky says. “I think that’s a reflection of our world as it becomes more undeniable that the idea of a border is actually an arbitrary thing, considering what a globalized society we are in terms of policy, economics, and how much, especially in the U.S., we have a hand elsewhere in the world.” 

Just as each thread is crucially connected in the tapestry of our globalized world, Yurshansky’s work showcases the poignant interconnectedness of people, places, and empty spaces—the places that made us who we are, those that make us who we will become, and the empty spaces we create along our journeys. 


For more information, visit jennyyurshansky.com.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Encounter. 

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.” 

SheilaHicks1

Q&A: Amy Boesen

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

As a designer with Decor & You, Amy Boesen helps clients struggling with decorating dilemmas, frozen with indecision, or just facing empty space, create wonderful environments to work and play—and at any budget.

Q: What is Decor & You, and what services do you offer?

A: Decor & You is a national franchise based in Southbury, Conn. I am the owner/operator of a local franchise territory. Decor & You designers work with clients in their homes and commercial spaces to help them create spaces in which they love to live and work. Typically, clients work with us on projects that fall into the following broad categories: 1) color and finish selections and space planning, 2) window coverings and decorative window treatments, 3) accessorizing, which includes art/mirrors, lighting, area rugs, decorative accessories, and more, and 4) full room(s) design, including all of the above as well as furniture.

Q: Give some reasons why homeowners would hire a Decor & You consultant/designer? 

A: Some people call us because they have a fear of color and need an expert to show them the possibilities. Others hire us because they lack the time and expertise to tackle a decorating project and they fear making costly mistakes. Still, others have concern over the health of their families and the environment and want to work with a professional who is certified in green decorating practices. Many times people need a master plan so they can bring their decorating dreams to life one phase at a time. We listen very carefully to the needs of each client and we design a space unique to their needs and personality. There is no one “look” that typifies a Decor & You design. We’re rather chameleon-like in that way.Living Room After 3

Q: What career/work experience did you have prior to becoming a Decor & You franchisee/decorator?

A: My bachelor’s degree (from the University of Nebraska) is in Textiles, Clothing and Design with an emphasis in fashion design. After graduation, I decided to stay locally, and interior design was not a viable career choice in Omaha at that time. As such, I took a job with a printing company and five years later, began work with First Data Resources, where I spent the next 15 years. A round of corporate downsizing in 2003 gave me the opportunity to choose a second career, and I chose to revisit my creative roots by pursuing interior design.

Q: Why did owning your own Décor & You franchise appeal to you?

A: My husband will tell you that I like shiny things, so being surrounded by beautiful things was definitely a draw! This business allows me to marry my creative side with my background in client relationships and business management. It also allows me schedule flexibility so I can spend time with and enjoy family, church, friends, and community service organizations.MBR After 2 copy

Q: What education, training, and talents do you offer as a designer? 

A: Aside from my bachelor’s degree in Textiles, Clothing and Design, I am a Certified Interior Decorator, a Green Accredited Professional, a Certified Color Expert, and a Hunter Douglas Window Fashions Specialist. My talent lies in seeing the potential in every space and each object in that space and using them to their best purpose. I truly believe in designing with the quote from Louis Sullivan in mind, “Form follows function.”

Q: What is the biggest problem homeowners come to you with? 

A: If I had to choose one, I would say that it’s the lack of a master plan. I also think that’s the biggest decorating mistake most people make. When they take a myopic view of their room—say, purchasing a single item like a sofa hoping it will make a dramatic change in their room—they often find themselves dissatisfied, but they can’t put their finger on the reason why. A master plan helps them see the possibilities for their completed room and gives them a roadmap for how to tackle the project in stages.003 copy

Q: Share a special design challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it. 

A: One of my favorite stories is of a couple who wanted me to display in their great room every family portrait and candid photo taken in their 20+ years of marriage. The husband suggested we frame all of them and run them up the walls on either side of the fireplace all the way to the two-story ceiling. But this solution conflicted with the other request of the couple, which was that I make the space feel formal, yet inviting. After asking them to cull through the photos, they presented me with an envelope with the 200 or so photos most important to them. Through the use of frames on the wall and on floating shelves and the creative use of tabletop photo frames and albums (including a digital frame), I was able to incorporate all of the photos in a tasteful way, but it was a challenge. Whew!

Q: Tell us a bit about you personally. 

A: My family moved to Omaha from Salt Lake City, Utah, when I was a sophomore in high school. With the exception of a one-year stint in Boston the following year, I have been in Omaha ever since. My husband, Dennis, is a banker, and we have two adult sons, James and Derek. We have two Scottish Terriers named Dexter and Stewart and a “mystery” breed of dog whose markings resemble a black and white cow, hence his name “Moo.”Foyer

Q: How would you describe your own home design style? 

A: My own design style tends toward the contemporary side of transitional. I enjoy finding the balance between classic and contemporary furnishings, typically unifying disparate elements through the use of color. I enjoy whimsical touches, especially in accessories. Oh, and I’m a fabric junkie, so I enjoy mixing textiles to achieve a blend of color, texture, and pattern.