The importance of scale

I’d been doing some research on an artist – Sheila Hicks. At the Sturt Summer school tutor Liz Williamson had a beautiful pile of inspirational books (or an inspirational pile of beautiful books) including Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor which was an exhibition of Hick’s small works and also the most beautiful book in the world.

Amazon has some links for the book – $1,200 new, maybe $400 used (I found other sites listing cheaper, but they seem to be outdated or non-functional). I couldn’t bear to buy at such a price, but I did find Sheila Hicks: 50 Years, a book published in connection with the exhibition at Addison Gallery of American Art.

It may not be the most beautiful book in the world, but it is a very nice book indeed and includes lots of great photos as well as three essays. So I flipped ahead looking at the photos, started reading the essays and was thoroughly enjoying myself when I came across this post on textileartscenterblog.com. It has photos of Hicks with some of her work at the Textile Arts Center – and it’s huge! Go back and look at the photo of the book’s cover. That work is lying on a road, with people standing around it. I guess because of seeing the other book first I totally misinterpreted what I was seeing – definitely not hold-in-your-hand scale. Perhaps not an exciting anecdote for you, but a jolt and a powerful reminder to me about the dangers of preconceptions and assumptions.

Hicks was mentioned a number of times in Auther’s String Felt Thread (blog post here). Hicks was one of those working in fibre in America in the 1960s, somewhere on that border between art and craft. In her essay “Unbiased Weaves”, Joan Simon writes that throughout her career of fifty plus years Hicks has through her work questioned categorization of art, design and craft. Hicks has produced an incredible range of work – different purposes (architectural, conceptual, ephemeral, exploratory…), different scales, materials, ways of working (studio work, collaborative, for industry…). A significant facet that interests me is Hicks’s knowledge and honouring of traditional textile making while pushing to new and innovative methods and materials.

I know I should aim to interpret what I read and use my own words, but this sentence from Simon on Hicks’s work in the 1977 Artiste/Artisane? exhibition resonates with me (it’s also on the edge of my understanding and I couldn’t possibly write it myself!): “For though these were artisanal works, her conceptual reclamation of these objects into the realm of artwork signaled that the exhibition’s fundamental question was not the neat binary choice between artist or artisan – rather, that the history of twentieth-century art had widened the territory to incorporate one kind of thing into the field of another.” (page 110).

Combined with my interest in art <–> craft is a focus on weaving in particular, and though Hicks has used many techniques in her work weave has recurred throughout her career. In her essay “Ancient Lines and Modernist Cubes” Whitney Chadwick writes of the pliability and temporality that comes from the repetition in weaving. There’s a conceptual basis to Hick’s work that I frankly don’t understand, for example “new relationships between wall and plane” (p 169), the idea of a formal vocabulary, even “form”. Whatever the conceptual basis, Hicks has taken weaving in directions I have never seen before, and it’s both beautiful and fascinating.

Getting a bit more solid, why do I like Hicks’s work and what have I learnt that could be useful for my own? (this based on Emma Drye’s advice, originally posted here and mentioned in my post here.) Using a thread (or bundle of threads) as a means of mark-making. The benefit of extended study of traditional textiles and weaving techniques – but not just the theory and drafts in a book, but looking at actual (in person or in photos), historic textiles and how they have been created. Looseness and freedom in the use of the basic grid of weaving. Bare warp and wrapped warp. Slits and volume and light. The impact and importance of scale! Practice – do the work. Try to avoid preconceptions and assumptions. Don’t define yourself or your work into a box. Be open.

Auther, E. (2009) String Felt Thread: The hierarchy of art and craft in American art, Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press

Chadwick, W. (2010) Ancient Lines and Modernist Cubes In: Simon, J and Faxon, S (2010) Sheila Hicks: 50 years, Andover, Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy in association with Yale University Press

Simon, J. (2010) Unbiased Weaves In: Simon, J and Faxon, S (2010) Sheila Hicks: 50 years, Andover, Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy in association with Yale University Press

Simon, J and Faxon, S (2010) Sheila Hicks: 50 years, Andover, Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy in association with Yale University Press

Stritzler-Levine, N. (ed) (2006) Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor, Yale University Press

5 Responses to “The importance of scale”


  1. 1 Claire B June 29, 2012 at 8:01 am

    I love this work, especially the gigantic cord structures. Now that would be a brilliant exhibition to have seen.
    Claire.

  2. 2 las artes July 9, 2012 at 4:37 am

    Now a retrospective at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in Philadelphia—Sheila Hicks: 50 Years, presenting some of the artist’s largest and most ambitious commissions—amends the impression left by Boom’s beautifully designed monograph. Visitors to the ICA show are confronted with serpentine and voluptuous creations that challenge the idea that fiber is a tame and domesticated medium, or that weaving is a metaphor for controlling nature. For Hicks, this grande dame of textile art, weaving is not a symbolic activity but an opportunity to experience a concrete, tangible, palpable reality—an opportunity to affirm the recalcitrant beauty of the physical world in which we live.


  1. 1 Biennale of Sydney wrapup « Fibres of Being Trackback on September 8, 2012 at 7:31 pm
  2. 2 Reading: Sheila Hicks: Weaving as metaphor | Fibres of Being Trackback on January 8, 2015 at 1:15 pm
  3. 3 T1-MMT-P2 Joining and Wrapping – Recording outcomes | Fibres of Being Trackback on August 2, 2015 at 2:15 pm

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