Read Between the Lines
Contemporary fiber collage,
25" x 17"
What’s black, white and read all over? News about the “Oil Patch” in North Dakota! These newly recoverable underground resources are predicted to last at least a generation. The talk about this resource tends to fall into “black” and “white” categories. “NO WAY!” or “FAST FORWARD!” summarizes much of contemporary opinion. Meanwhile, the land bleeds red. People in North Dakota have deep roots. Their ancestors (often Norwegian) settled here long ago. They worked hard and built fortunes in terms of human values. “Mineral Rights” trumps many of these values. How does this conflict unfold now in North Dakota? “Read Between the Lines” suggests we ought to listen with our heart to discern the direction.
Read Between the Lines, detail
Contemporary fiber collage,
25" x 17"
What sustains us? What nurtures us? What holds us in connection? What is satisfying? What is enough? What challenges turn us toward awareness? Collaborative, contemporary fiber artists Donna Kjonaas and Vicki Kessler explore these fundamental questions in their artwork. They reclaim historic, vintage and practical fiber through a variety of processes including discharge, painting, monoprinting and overdyeing. Rich embellishment with stitch, beads, buttons or felting completes each piece. What was once old or useless emerges as an energetic and unexpected creation. Tactile and interactive, the art invites viewers to move to the inside of each piece. Their abstract compositions focus on color, connection and imaginative use of commonplace materials.
Donna Kjonaas and Vicki Kessler began their work as collaborative artists in the mid-1980’s with liturgical installation art. In the last three years, their combined efforts have produced a body of work that varies broadly in scale while honing specific techniques. Each one’s hands engage each piece of art, and the exchange of individual pieces provides reincarnation at multiple layers. Vicki and Donna have a long, rich history in fiber handwork, from sewing to needlepoint to quilting to contemporary fiber art compositions.
My first stitches, uneven and unsteady, were fashioned with bits of yarn on left-over scraps of fabric. Sneaking into my mother’s sewing basket for small treasures, I sought to repeat the image of beauty everywhere around me in my homeland of southwest Wisconsin. The wide and turbulent Mississippi River taught me about the subtleties of color shading. Muddy, brown shore waters gradually shifted toward blue until they reached the islands, where greenish hues took center stage. Tall, verdant hills with rocky outcrops demonstrated the power of texture and contrast. Wild, dappled valleys revealed their secrets in undulating rhythms and surprising bursts of color. These true delights of earth became my first teachers.
Color, rhythm and shape are key components in my art. As in nature, the whole is more than the sum of parts. The hideous stands beside the beautiful, the predictable companions the surprise, the exotic and the mundane are born in the same ground. The ancient, seasoned and well-worn offers perspective. Newly emerging patterns bring a leap of inspiration.
Working with old fabric, linens, quilts, yarn, sweaters and clothing provides a balance to consumptive patterns and habits that threaten us. It offers an opportunity to reflect on values of connection and relationship, and helps me feel that with each stitch, I am mending a little portion of the world.
Vicki Kessler, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, was born and raised in southwest Wisconsin. She currently resides in Fargo, North Dakota. She is a self-taught fiber artist who has been experimenting with cloth and stitch since childhood. Vicki is a founding member of The Women’s Fiber Art Collective in Madison, Wisconsin. Her work is permanently installed in the Wisconsin Conference of the United Church of Christ in DeForest, Wisconsin; Pilgrim Heights Retreat Center in Green Lake, Wisconsin; First Congregational United Church of Christ and Community of Hope United Church of Christ, both in Madison, Wisconsin.
The abundant, wide-open plains of North Dakota stretched into endless horizon under the dome of blue sky; this became first home to my imagination. Grain fields waving in the wind marked time through seasons of planting, growth, harvest and rest. In life on the land, invention is the mother of necessity. Leftover utensils and farm tools made toys. Hand-made clothing became a treasure, passed-down, taken-in, let out and refashioned for the next child in line. Food from large gardens, preserved for the coming season, created an exhibit of form, color and texture. Nothing ever wasted; potential found and cultivated beyond the present purpose.
Reclaimed and repuposed materials such as linens, clothing, sweaters and quilts are transfomed into compositions that hone principles of color, scale and texture, rich as the land of my birth. Seasonal palettes of prairie landscape dance through my work, varying from the intense green of spring to the golden-yellow hues of fall. Dakota’s characteristic expansive swaths of land find reflection in techniques of collage, piecing and stitching. Buttons, beads, thread and yarns are found objects that become embellishments building layers of texture. Raw materials, old and worn with accumulated history, evolve expressively into art that honors the continuity of life made fresh for a new day and time.
Donna Kjonaas, a retired United Methodist minister, was born and raised in North Dakota. She currently divides her time between residences in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Sanibel, Florida. Interested in fiber and beauty from childhood, she has a background in clothing construction and quilting. Her creative impulse along with her affinity for innovation soon led to exploration of non-conventional methods and materials in her artistic compositions. She has taken several classes in paper-making, painting and book arts.