Barbara Wellborn is the artist in resident at the Summerland Art Gallery until August 2012.

Dyes from the earth make fine art

Summerland Art Gallery artist in residence Barbara Wellborn fibre art show Okanagan theme

Summerland Art Gallery’s new artist in residence produces fibre art as fine art.

Barbara Wellborn is the current occupant of the gallery’s guest artist studio, where she is developing pieces for a fibre art show with an Okanagan theme.

Instead of the expected collection of local landscapes, her show will feature fabrics coloured with natural dyes from the soil of the Okanagan and adorned with found objects.

Wellborn is a native of Long Island, New York, who received her bachelor of fine arts degree in fashion design and worked in both the fashion industry and as an exhibiting artist in the Dallas, Texas, area.

She moved to Summerland seven years ago with her husband Dale and has been raising their young son and working as an aromatherapist and a massage therapist.

Her recent appointment as artist in residence at the gallery allows her to focus again on her work as a fibre artist. It is a field of art not widely understood, she says, conjuring images of 1960s tie-dye and 1970s macramé crafts.

Weaving and spinning are two of the best known kinds of fibre art, but she creates her artwork through the use of dyes. In Texas she had a large studio where she could use a wide variety of dyes. Here, she has been using the soil itself to dye fabric by burying it. For example, fabric buried in an old plum orchard is stained in a pattern of purple.

“I have done work with dyes. I can create any colour that I want. I don’t have a facility here to dye but that is really a deep part of my art. This idea of being able to use the earth in my favour is very exciting.”

She is working on a traveller’s cloak made of fabrics from around the world such as silk from China, camel’s hair from the Middle East, wool from Australia and alpaca from the Americas. Eventually this cloak, made from many cultural strands, will show colours from the earth acquired on its journey.

“I have a real strong affinity for how the world decays. I love looking at old buildings and seeing how they are breaking down.” In Texas she used to pick up metal scrap from an old warehouse district for use in her art because of the “quality of the rust.”

Wellborn says she is never sure how her work is going to turn out. The process of wrapping, unwrapping, rewrapping, dyeing and discharging the dye all create unexpected effects.

“My work is very unpredictable. It’s like opening a gift. Yes, I have a picture in my mind of what I am doing, but ultimately the project takes its own course,” she said. “People don’t think of textiles as fine art. This is my chance to educate people in the use of something that is so familiar in our everyday lives. Textile is something that we are wrapped in at birth and shrouded in at death.”

Her artwork allows something that is “so close, so intimate” to be seen in a different context. “For me, it’s being in a relationship with textiles.”

Two framed pieces on display in her studio at the gallery tell a story about her journey as a fibre artist.

“When I was starting off doing fine art, people didn’t know what to do with textiles.” However, when she framed the works and presented them as “abstract watercolour that happened to be done on silk, people would get it.”

The process, including the start with white fabric, the addition of various methods of resistance such as clamping, the dyeing black and discharging, variations in temperature and timing, created the pieces with their geometric patterns and

subtle colors. Wellborn appreciates the opportunity to work at the Summerland Art Gallery. “It gets isolated working at home. Here I am in contact with the pottery people every day, and interested people have come to see my work.”

The public is invited to visit Wellborn at the studio located on the ground floor at the back of the Summerland Art Gallery. Call 250-486-5820 for an appointment. Her year term runs to the end of August 2012.

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