It gets second billing in promotional materials, but "Tapestries of Abraham Rattner" is the current jewel among several shows at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art.
Nine wall hangings from the permanent collection have never been shown together at the museum. Rattner (1893-1978) worked on their designs for years, then oversaw their creation during 1971 at the Mambush Tapestry Workshop in Ein Hod, a vibrant artists colony in Israel. There, master weavers trained in traditional European techniques dating back to the Middle Ages interpreted Rattner's bold images into exquisitely executed tapestries.
We know that in the right hands, threads strung on a loom can be woven into an image as tonally nuanced as a painting or photograph. The Rattner tapestries mostly are more straightforward, the equivalent of abstract art with pattern and surface color made cohesive with strong black lines.
Five are devoted to dramatic moments in the life of Moses. Moses and the Burning Bush is the only nominally figurative subject, showing a crouching prophet as the angel appears amid flames and lightning bolts. Other stories, again about the burning bush and the tablets bearing the 10 Commandments, are conveyed in dramatic maelstroms of line and color.
The group has two secular tapestries, one an homage to the French writer and film director Jean Cocteau, who was an old friend of Rattner's, and the other titled Birds, to me the most beautiful of the group. Simplified white birds swirl on a blue background, forming a vortex above a "sun" made like prismed stained glass.
Wall texts discuss the workshop and weaving techniques, and a glass case holds a Rattner tapestry rolled so we can see its back, or work, side. My only wish is that more information on the process was provided.
Next door in a larger gallery is "California Dreaming," a group show from members of California Fibers with some fine examples of the medium.
Most are conceptual in that they take a craftsman approach in making vessels, quilts and clothing but cross the art barrier in making them nonfunctional objects of beauty. A silk vase? Yes, from Jacy Diggins, made tensile by the tight pleats of the black-and-white fabric that are then softly billowed around the base to remind us of the anomaly.
Polly Jacobs Giacchina makes contextual statements with her baskets. Storm Sighting is shaped like a tornado, interweaving the expected fiber with steel cables that link the tornado to the havoc it wreaks both on nature and civilization. Shoreline and Tidepool are quirky re-creations of those watery areas, worked improbably in caning, bamboo and date palm fibers.
Quilts are often a collection of pieced fabrics tied to family memories or history. Susan Hart Henegar acknowledges that tradition in her quilts made of maps and photographs collaged with other ephemera, sometimes overlaid with fabric that creates a filmy barrier between viewer and image. All have stamps and postmarks to identify them as part of a journey, real or imagined.
Doshi is a costume designer who also makes wearable art, but the examples in this show put greater emphasis on the art. Three are silk organza garments that float so ephemerally they seem like whispers of kimonos. She uses a shibori method of dyeing the fabric, a little like tie-dyeing, along with discharge, another process in which the dye is removed or bleached to create subtle patterns on the silk. A corset is pure artifice, molded onto shaped plastic resembling chicken wire, so beautifully made from organza, charmeuse and tulle that it begs to be touched and tried on.
Carrie Ann Burckle's Corpus collection of five garments hanging from a line resembles sad-sack versions of big vacuum bags, which was perhaps the intention given the title, which could imply body bags.
And there are more examples of tapestries from Michael F. Rohde, whose austere weavings call to mind the color explorations of Josef Albers.
The four sprightly green sculptures by Cameron Taylor-Brown, standing like dolled-up asparagus stalks, call nothing to mind, not even the Angels and Men of their title. But among the many worthy examples of fiber art in this show, they're the first things I would want to take home.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at (727) 893-8293 or email@example.com.