52 + Much More from Fiber Artist, Ellen Schiffman
Written by: Nancy Moore
Ellen Schiffman has shown her award-winning work widely in local and national galleries. She creates wearables as well as art pieces for the wall. The “52 Box Project,” a year-long project in which she filled a 9”x 9” box each week with a work in fiber, was recently featured in the nationally distributed Fiber Art Now magazine. She also serves as the Connecticut representative of the Surface Design Association, the premier international organization serving textile and fiber artists. Ellen Schiffman’s work can be seen on her website www.ellenschiffmanfelt.com.
“Thinking Inside the Box: 52 Weekly Works in Fiber… and Beyond.”
Nylen Gallery/Picture This in Westport, Connecticut, will be presenting the work of fiber artist Ellen Schiffman in a one-woman exhibition “Thinking Inside the Box: 52 Weekly Works in Fiber… and Beyond.” The show runs from October 1 to November 15, with an opening reception on Saturday October 11. If you are located anywhere near this gallery, don’t miss this exhibit! I recently had the opportunity to preview the work for the show and was blown away by the range and creativity demonstrated in the pieces I saw. Although I am familiar with Schiffman’s work and have admired her creative voice for years, the latest collection breaks new ground for her as an artist and broadened my own concept of what fiber art is and what the category of “fine art” can and should include.
This past year Schiffman decided to celebrate a milestone birthday by filling a 9” x 9” x 3” shadow box each week with a work utilizing fiber and employing both traditional and experimental fiber art techniques. Having worked as a fiber artist for over thirty years, she now set out to explore methods and materials in ways that stretched and redefined not only herself as an artist but also the fiber art medium itself. The result is a kind of visual diary, with each box presenting a fully realized, engaging, and innovative work of art, often prompting the questions “What is she using here?” and “How did she do that?” Again and again I found myself surprised and delighted as I realized what I was looking at: Q-tips, egg shells, lichens, drinking straws, rusted items, metal washers, and screws alongside the more expected silks, wools, and beads. Schiffman felts, embroiders, weaves, knots, wraps, dyes, beads, sculpts, manipulates fabric, burns – all with a masterful hand and a unique vision.
Playing with a concept
When the artist started her yearlong project, she did not know if she would end up with fifty-two independent works of art or whether the project would progress in an orderly fashion, with each piece relating to and building on the others. The artist says, “I embarked on the project as I do with all of my work – intuitively. I kept an Idea Book over the course of the year and chose the idea that spoke loudest to me each week. Often the concept was just a word like ‘Q-tips’ or ‘ruffles’ or ‘transparency.’ Sometimes a simple sketch would be the jumping-off place. I started to play with a concept, allowing the materials and techniques to speak to me until a vision and direction emerged.” As a viewer, then, it was fascinating for me to discover that the pieces were not consciously linked to each other, since these fifty-two boxes have a cohesion and powerful impact when seen together.
Schiffman says that she never knows what a piece will look like until it is done. This joyful spontaneity informs all of her work and gives vibrancy and life to this particular project as a whole. Her fine sense of design, her mastery of color, her sense of humor, her pleasure at finding beauty in imperfection, and her delight in the unexpected permeate the collection and create a common language from piece to piece. Although, in fact, each piece works on its own, certain themes emerge repeatedly over the course of the year. White-on-white pieces are subtle and elegant, relying on texture and form to make their statement. Personal pieces celebrate her daughter’s graduation from college, her son’s twenty-first birthday, and the artist’s own birthday trip to Paris with her husband. Numerous pieces are inspired by Schiffman’s reverence for nature – as twigs, stones, shells, and bark make frequent appearances over the course of the year.
Numerous large-scale works
More treats for the eye and mind at this exhibit include several thematic box series, as well as numerous large-scale works. All are inspired by a single box in the original series. Schiffman found that there were certain materials and themes she wanted to return to, to explore more fully utilizing the knowledge and skills she developed over the course of the year. Schiffman laughs, “I was having far too much fun with the boxes to stop after a year!” These variations on a theme create a symphony of insights into how an artist progresses and continues to grow. Viewers like myself will find themselves quite eager to see what comes next for artist Ellen Schiffman.
If you enjoyed this article or have seen the exhibition “Thinking Inside the Box” let us know by leaving a comment below.