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Sonoma State University Art Gallery reopens with wealth of woven artwork

The world of weaving

What: “A Beautiful Mess: Weavers & Knotters of the Vanguard”

Where: University Art Gallery, Art Building, Sonoma State University, 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park

When: Thursday, Feb. 24, through Sunday, April 10. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Admission: Free

Information: 707-664-2295; artgallery.sonoma.edu

Scholars can trace the origins of weaving back to ancient Egypt around 3400 B.C., but that doesn’t mean the art form can’t be modern. Like any artistic discipline, it has been evolving all along.

Are you ready for a massive wall hanging woven out of extension cords? You’ll find that and much more in the newest exhibit at the Sonoma State University Art Gallery in Rohnert Park.

“A Beautiful Mess: Weavers & Knotters of the Vanguard,’’ opening this week, is the first show at the gallery since it closed almost two years ago due to coronavirus concerns.

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

“The jurors had just juried the entries for that show on March 12, which was the same day the campus sent students home and announced a closure,” she said. “The original thought was that we’d only be closed a few weeks, but of course we all know how that went.”

With the entire campus shut down and classes conducted online, the gallery was frustrated in its dual mission of offering its resources both to students and the larger community. But it struggled on, as many arts venues did.

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

Now, at last, the gallery not only can open its new exhibit to public, but the new show is one the director believes viewers will find novel and significant.

“The fiber arts have interested me for a long time, so I am excited to bring our visitors this show,” Bethke said.

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

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

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

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

Yet there are pieces in this woven art exhibit that easily qualify as artistic pictures or even three-dimensional sculptures, and the subjects of the artwork aren’t limited to traditional themes.

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

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

“What’s interesting to me in this show is that it’s not just about weavers or fiber 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 it is on an enormous scale.”

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

The world of weaving

What: “A Beautiful Mess: Weavers & Knotters of the Vanguard”

Where: University Art Gallery, Art Building, Sonoma State University, 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park

When: Thursday, Feb. 24, through Sunday, April 10. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Admission: Free

Information: 707-664-2295; artgallery.sonoma.edu

Dan Taylor

Arts & Entertainment, The Press Democrat

Do you take fun seriously? I know I do. Tell me what you want to know about arts and entertainment in the North Bay to make the best use of your leisure time and money. As a longtime local arts journalist, I have learned where to look and who to ask.

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