Paper artist Allison Roscoe employed gut, palm and paper for "International Dialogue."


The “Fiber Hawaii ’03” exhibit
entices viewers with morsels
of artists’ works

By Joleen Oshiro

Everyone knows the feeling. You're looking into the window of a candy store, where the wares rest temptingly on doilies or crystal perches, and you see beyond the display a candy clerk waving you inside. She holds up a piece of chocolate for you to try. The irresistible sampling draws you in, and when you bite into it, it tastes as good as every expectation you had. The trouble is, that one piece leaves you wanting for more.

'Fiber Hawaii '03'

Presented by Hawaii Craftsmen

Where: Gallery Iolani, Windward Community College

When: 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays through Feb. 28

Call: 236-9157

"Fiber Hawaii '03" leaves its audience in much the same state. A juried exhibition that attempts to break the boundaries of fiber art, the show comprises diverse pieces enticing the viewer with mere morsels of individual artists' bodies of work. It leaves the audience wanting to see more. The exhibit, presented every other year by Hawaii Craftsmen, runs through Feb. 28 at Gallery Iolani on the Windward Community College campus. This year's juror was Emily DuBois, a fiber artist and teacher on the Big Island.

IT IS UPON APPROACHING Gallery Iolani, located in the lobby of the new and impressive Paliku Theatre, that the exhibit first comes into view through a side glass wall. That's where Bernice Akamine's works are displayed, offering the first promising glimpse of the exhibit. "A pele" is a glass orb covered in yellow monofilament "hair," sitting next to Akamine's "Two of a Kind," similar glass pieces encased in beaded netting. The results are visually stunning and intellectually engaging; not surprisingly, Akamine won the show's Award of Excellence for her pieces. The offerings lead one to wonder what other creations the artist has conjured up in glass.

As it turns out, Akamine is doing plenty.

"'A pele' is part of a series of glass 'pod' pieces that pay homage to Hawaiian goddesses," she says. The work references stories about Pele's yellow pau skirt with a red hem.

Other goddesses in the series include Laka, the goddess of hula, and Poliahu, the snow goddess of Mauna Kea. Both works are part of a collection at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass.

"I want to do a show of all the goddess pieces, but every time I make one, it wants to leave," Akamine says. "The Pele piece was initially done for the 'Women Crossing Borders' show in New York. Then I thought it should be shown at home, so I entered it into 'Fiber Hawaii.'"

Akamine says she "fell into art" in 1989 when she took her first glass classes and had her first showing that year. Asked if she's found her true calling, she answers yes but corrects: "It's not about what I should be doing. It's about true love."

Koi Ozu used copper to explore the theme of fiber in "Regurgitate." Ozu's work in "Fiber Hawaii '03" earned an Award of Excellence from the show.

FIBER HAWAII was initiated by Elizabeth Train, then-president of Hawaii Craftsmen, in 1982, when fiber was gaining legitimacy in the art world.

"At that time, fiber was expanding," Train says. "Before then, people had thought it was just hand-weaving and quilting, that it belonged in home economics instead of fine arts. But then this revolution took place, and fiber began gaining the respect of fine arts.

"So I thought this show could break the boundaries of fiber art. I invited sculptors and painters, people who traditionally wouldn't be considered fiber artists, and they made pieces in or about fiber. Maybe a painter would weave canvas. They used the idea of fiber."

Because artists were encouraged to break their own boundaries, the show got a great response. Subsequent "Fiber Hawaii" exhibits continue to promote that tradition, Train says.

"This year, we had artists submit pieces made with ceramics, metal and glass, and those people won the awards!"

Soonjurng Kwon devised a traditional Korean dress out of denim for "Progress/Tradition."

YET FOR all the talk of untraditional fiber art, actual fiber works featured in the show carry their weight in innovation, as well. Allison Roscoe, for instance, employs twigs and strips of paper with words from newspapers across the globe for "International Dialogue."

"I was listening to the news, and I felt ill from all the shouting," Roscoe says, explaining the origin of her piece. "I thought, Why can't they learn to talk to each other? They were trying to but they couldn't."

In response, Roscoe made thin strips of paper with Chinese, Japanese, Arabic and English words from newspapers. She attached the strips of the different languages to the twigs. Anchoring the twigs upright are spirals, which also provide a symbolic continuum. "They're trying for an international dialogue," she says. "They have hopes of reaching each other."

While Roscoe's twig sculpture earned her a place in the exhibit, her passion in art is paper making.

"It's very, very satisfying to make something out of nothing," Roscoe says of her craft. "I enjoy handling paper, transforming it. You can almost transmute paper into another substance. It can look like stone or like something delicate and light."

"Weather" is a wearble art piece by Anna Peach made of dried leaves and other flora.

DUBOIS WRITES in her juror's statement: "There is a 'rightness' that can appear in works of art, regardless of the artist's level of expertise. Works of art can transcend their material conditions to speak to us in a direct and immediate way. This quality is what I was looking for, and happily found."

The transcendence DuBois speaks of is displayed boldly in the work of Anna Peach, a Big Island artist who says she has no background in fiber. Peach devised two bustier gowns out of natural fibers (read: seeds, husks, dried florals) that bespeak elegance.

"I call it coconut couture," she says lightheartedly. "I like the idea of taking things common -- things that have literally fallen to the ground -- and elevating them to super-elegance."

While Peach's artistic background is in large-scale murals and photography, she has extensive experience in what she calls "floral design."

"While I was putting myself through school, I worked in a florist shop. They called me un-trainable," she laughs, recalling the memory. "But I looked at it as sculpture and took 'floral' to the extreme. They let me do what I wanted -- avant-garde arrangements using vines and branches."

Reminiscent of those floral works, Peach's materials for the gowns are "all things from the region that I live in."

"I see it as contemporary art using traditional materials," which, she says, references traditional Hawaiian arts such as hula and lei making, and women's work, such as sewing.

"I like to say I'm creating couture gowns with a machete," she says with delight.

"Basket in Purple," at right, is a turned wood piece by Gregg Smith.

A quilt by Charlene Hughes, titled "Yearning."

Madeleine Soder's delicate "Embraced" is a leaf bowl made of Bodhi leaves.

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