The Fine Art of Crochet: Book review
Gwen Blakley Kinsler’s latest book, The Fine Art of Crochet, focuses on celebrating crochet as a highly versatile and exciting contemporary art form. It features the work and stories of 20 diverse modern artists, who have found success exhibiting in galleries internationally and jurying fine art and craft events. However, the author is keen to make clear that the purpose of the book is not to ‘promote’ or ‘showcase’ the individual, rather use the inventiveness and artistry of their work to demonstrate just how far crochet has come from the ‘old fashioned, trite hobby it was once considered’.
Crochet is a craft whose time has come – Gwen Blakley Kinsler
The book gets underway with a well-researched and informative introduction, which gives contemporary crochet a firm historical and cultural context. Crochet was born out of necessity and was mainly practised in a domestic setting until the 1960s; although there is evidence of creative crochet before this time, it has since moved well away from its previous purpose and has become more a means of expression and creation. To demonstrate the evolution of the craft into an art form, there is a brief but highly readable exploration of some important figures from the world of crochet and fiber art; Walter Nottingham, Julie Schafler Dale and Jean Williams Caciedo amongst others. A connection is not explicitly investigated, but as you flick through the images in the latter part of the book, it is clear how influential these artists have been.
Perhaps most interestingly, we learn how the formation of organisations such as the Crochet Guild of America has led to a bigger and bolder approach to crochet. Collaborations between artists from across the world have had stunning results. Images of pieces such as the Crochet Coral Reef by the Institute for Figuring and The Gas Station Project, where panels by various artists were sewn together to cover an abandoned gas station in NYC, demonstrate just how powerful this evolution in the craft has been.
The main bulk of The Fine Art of Crochet is rightly given over to the work of the artists. There is a detailed profile of their crochet history, covering training, notable achievements, publications they have been featured in, and galleries in which their work has been exhibited. What is particularly engaging is the exploration of how each of them has contributed to the crochet movement and its development. The artists have clearly been selected for innovation. The variety of techniques and materials used forces the reader to question any pre-conceived ideas about this particular craft; the results are a real eye-opener. From elegant jewellery and wearable art to bold and striking sculptures and installations; the range covered is breathtaking.
The quality of the work featured is also impressive. I was particularly taken aback by the untitled vessels of Pate Conaway as well as the unique way he works, seeking to break down ‘myths’ about creating art by doing it publicly. This incredible fusion of sculpture, installation and interactive performance demonstrates perfectly how contemporary crocheters are constantly pushing the boundaries of their craft.
I was also impressed with the mission of the young artist Nathan Vincent, who challenges the notion of gender codes and questions what it is to be ‘male’ through his work. This is demonstrated brilliantly in his piece Locker Room, a crocheted and knitted installation. The juxtaposition of the alpha-male environment created using what is traditionally a female technique creates compelling results.
The absurd and poetic work of Soonran Youn cements the idea that crochet is no longer merely the pursuit of traditionalists; she uses a variety of materials, including copper wire, to create sculptures of all shapes and sizes. As Gwen Blakley Kinsler states in her introduction: ‘Anything flexible enough to be pulled by the hook…births the most inventive of results’.
Whilst most of the book is dedicated to innovative and subversive work by artists such as Jo Hamilton, Yvette Kaiser Smith, and Karen Searle, there are nods to the comfortable and accepted notion of what crochet is; Renie Breskin Adams, for example, creates what might be considered more conventional work. For me though, this only goes to substantiate the claims of the author; crochet really is the most flexible of crafts.
I would say that The Fine Art of Crochet certainly achieves what is sets out to do. Readers will be taken on a fascinating journey of what makes various artists tick and how they realise their concepts in limitless and exciting ways. As well as being an education in the versatility of crochet, textile artists will find the book highly inspirational. It will encourage any practitioner to push the boundaries of theme and method and explore new avenues in the creation of their own work.
My one criticism of The Fine Art of Crochet: Innovative Works from 20 Contemporary Artists has nothing to do with the well-observed and engagingly-written content. I think it is slightly disappointing that the work of the 20 artists featured, the majority of which I’m confident would be awe-inspiring if viewed ‘in the flesh’, isn’t brilliantly translated onto the page. I suspect this has nothing to do with the images themselves, but more to do with the quality of the printing. I would have liked more vibrancy and perhaps larger, more sumptuous representations of the artwork.
This is a minor gripe though as the textual analysis is excellent; I would recommend Gwen Blakley Kinsler’s The Fine Art of Crochet to anyone interested in this fascinating art form.
Win The Fine Art of Crochet by Gwen Blakley Kinsler
The publishers of The Fine Art of Crochet, have kindly given us a copy of the book to give away to one lucky TextileArtist.org reader. To be in with a chance of winning all you need to do is leave a message in the comments section below letting us know who your favourite crochet artist is and why. The winner will be picked at random on March 1st 2014, announced in our newsletter (sign up free here) and contacted about their prize. Good luck!
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|The Crochet Bible: The Complete Handbook for Creative Crochet: The Complete Handbook for Creative Crocheting by Sue Whiting
Don’t forget to let us know who your favourite crochet artist is in the comments section below.