TEXTILE STUDY GROUP OF NEW YORK
VIRGINIA DAVIS

Here I am in my Berkeley studio, where I have lived and worked since 1996. My husband and I lived in many places, including London, Paris, Mexico City, India, Japan, Guatemala, and Uzbekistan, before we settled permanently in Berkeley. In my work, I have benefited greatly from my travels, and especially from my exposure to many folk craft traditions.

In the beginning, I experimented with various media: macramé, enamel, wood working, and sculpture. In 1968, I studied sculpture at the Sir John Cass School of Art in London. This was subtractive sculpture, carving stone or wood and modelling in clay. Returning to New York, I continued sculpture at the Art Students League. Then, one day, I saw an enchanting and massive rope construction by Neda Al-Hilali outside the American Craft Museum. I found this example of additive sculpture, made with pliable fiber, immensely inspiring.

I imagined a rope construction for which I made the rope. It was with this in mind that I enrolled in a spinning and dyeing course taught by the artist Mary Dusenberry. This was in 1971, at an arts and crafts school that had been established during the Great Depression at Riverside Church in New York. I emerged from the course with a considerable amount of yarn; this led me to pursue weaving in a course at the same school, taught by Sandra Harner.

In addition to the basics of loom weaving, Sandra encouraged us to explore various advanced topics. This was my introduction to ikat, and I was delighted to learn about the many possibilities offered to a weaver by using a resist technique to dye the threads, thereby placing designs on the threads before weaving them. I soon began teaching weaving at the same school, and enjoyed being part of the convivial group of enthusiastic teachers. It was very sad that the administration of Riverside Church closed the school.Sky Curtain

Meanwhile, Berkeley was developing into a center for fiber art. In 1973, Fiberworks, a school devoted to fiber art, opened. Pacific Basin was another such school there. I began spending time in Berkeley away from my New York studio. I took a course on Japanese Country Weft Ikat at Fiberworks, and a more advanced course from Jun Tomita. I learned many fiber techniques at those schools.

It was a great honor for a fiber artist to be chosen as an exhibitor at one of the international exhibitions held in Lausanne, so I was thrilled to be selected for the 13th Biennale Internationale de la Tapisserie in 1987. I was proud to see my contribution, Refraction/Reflection, on the wall at the Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts. It was a double ikat on linen which, art expert Laurel Reuter wrote, "suggests a continuous horizon behind a window frame."

Refraction/Reflection

My husband's name, "Davis," which I took when we married, had been changed by his father, a Polish Jew, from "Davidowitz" when he immigrated. When we were in England, I was amused to see how my name and its variant, "Davidson," were common in Scotland and Wales. I bought my husband a tie whose design was the tartan of the Davidson clan. Many years later, I wove a series of double ikat plaids based on this design.

[Photo 4] Tartan Series

In another direction, intrigued by the use of weave structures in the commercial textile industry, I was led to weave a series based on denim. The prevalence of denim is hard to miss with its use in the ubiquitous blue jeans that it seems everyone wears. My denim series comments playfully on this.

 Denim Cut

I was very fortunate to receive a number of grants for my work including two from the New York State Foundation for the Arts and two from the National Endowment for the Arts. I used the first New York grant to buy the computerized AVL loom that I'm still using. As an add-on to an NEA grant, I received a three-month residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris. During that time, I was given a wonderful large sculpture studio, and my work took a different direction.

I had previously had two important conversations that ended up having a major influence on me: one was with a clerk at a New York art supply shop who commented that a piece of linen I had woven was identical to painters’ canvas. The other was with the designer Jack Lenor Larsen, who suggested that I stretch my works on a wooden frame as painters do. I had brought to Paris with me an ikat weaving I had done in New York. Keeping in mind those two conversations, I stretched the weaving like a canvas, using French stretchers. I set it on an easel and used oil paint to paint part of it. I finished it with a bit of collage. It may be my favorite piece. The subject of the piece is the 35mm slides that were used, not so long ago, by artists for photographs of their work. They would be placed in a carousel for projection onto a screen. To make my work a souvenir of Paris, the slide depicted is labeled in French, and, in an homage to Magritte, I titled it Ceci nést pas une diapositive (in English, This is Not a Slide). I used gesso before applying oil paint, thus commenting on the history of European painting.

Ceci n’est pas une diapositive (This is Not a Slide)

Back in New York, I was fortunate to be able to join regular meetings begun by some artists who had studied with fiber artist Gayle Wimmer at the New School. These meetings were the nucleus of what became the Textile Study Group of New York. After moving to Berkeley, I continued attending its meetings when I was in New York, and participated in its activities. I was happy to attend the opening of a curated exhibition of TSGNY members' work at the Westbeth Gallery in 2020, and to see my piece, Flames, there.

Flames

I little realized that such gatherings would soon be impossible. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I was very lucky to have my studio at home. My now-ancient loom keeps going and I have a new series of three pieces based on color effects of the three primary colors. Approaching my 92nd birthday, I hope to continue to produce interesting work as long as I can.

Blue

www.virginiadavis.us

 

 

 

 

Textile Study Group of New York / info@tsgny.org * For Newsletter / newsletter@tsgny.org