AT THE RENWICK GALLERY


“Maybe a lonely life keeps resonating, keeps ringing out, until another lonely person turns an ear in that direction, at the exact right moment. Maybe that’s what we do to learn the ways of an exquisite loneliness: we listen.”
–Richard Deming, from This Exquisite Loneliness; What Loners, Outcasts and the Misunderstood Can Teach Us About Creativity

“What prepares men for totalitarian domination in the non-totalitarian world is the fact that loneliness, once a borderline experience usually suffered in certain marginal social conditions like old age, has become an everyday experience.”
–Hannah Ardendt, from The Origins of Totalitarianism

Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.”
Walker Evans


Loneliness, staring, prying, not being here long, travel, fatigue…yes! These are subjects much on my mind.

So here I am in downtown Washington, DC, much of which seems to be under construction. I made my way to the Enid Haupt Garden yesterday (which I remember with great fondness from my last (only other) time here), but it’s now overshadowed by cranes, surrounded by flotillas of bulldozers, and punctuated by the continuous beeping made by ginormous tanks that apparently we’re not capable of noticing visually and thus must warn of their presence aurally…It was still beautiful, and I’m grateful to the people who care for it, which included a lady about my age in a wide-brimmed hat who was dragging a heavy hose around in the 90-degree heat.

Before that, I walked from my hotel near Union Station to the Renwick Gallery, passing the White House en route (very unprepossessing landscaping–couldn’t we afford better than red petunias?), and saw a wonderful exhibit called “Subversive, Skilled, Sublime: Fiber Art by Women.”

I’m not sure why everything now needs to be “subversive,” though it’s (perhaps unintentionally) true that true subversion, or one form of it, means silencing the exterior “voices” (insofar as possible) and going about one’s quiet, painstaking business of making things that are beautiful and that derive from deep, individual heart and thought.

Fiber art, and all things that have to do with sewing, needlework, weaving, thread, and textiles, seem to be having their day and I myself am fascinated by the subject. I’ve probably mentioned the fantastic podcast Haptic & Hue, and there seems to be a plethora of books about the integral part that the mostly behind-the-scenes work of mostly women has played in the history and advancement of civilization.

(In fact, today I plan to visit the National Gallery in part to see another exhibit called “Woven Histories: Textiles and Modern Abstractions).”

But back to the Renwick Gallery: “Cotton, wool, polyester, silk — fiber is felt in nearly every aspect of our lives. The artists in Subversive, Skilled, Sublime: Fiber Art by Women mastered and subverted the everyday material throughout the twentieth century.

The thirty-three selected artworks piece together an alternative history of American art. Accessible and familiar, fiber handicrafts have long provided a source of inspiration for women. Their ingenuity with cloth, threads, and yarn was dismissed by many art critics as menial labor. The artists in this exhibition took up fiber to complicate this historic marginalization and also revolutionize its import to contemporary art. They drew on personal experiences, particularly their vantage points as women, and intergenerational skills to transform humble threads into resonant and intricate artworks.”

You can see more of the works (and way better photos) HERE.

THIS WAS UPSTAIRS, IN ANOTHER EXHIBIT, BUT I LOVED IT

So now I have all kinds of new artists to research, explore and enjoy.

After the Renwick, I made my way to prayer and noon Mass at the Catholic Information Center. That was an oasis. Deeply grateful.

Interesting fact: Washington DC has nowhere to buy groceries! Or snacks, or beverages…There’s a “food court” (corporate, shudder) in Union Station but you can walk for blocks and blocks…miles it seems north and east of Capitol Hill and search in vain for…oh you know, a little market where you can get a yogurt, and a box of blueberries, and maybe a hunk of bread and a bit of cheese. I finally found Capitol Hill Supermarket yesterday which was both insanely overpriced and deeply uninspired.

Not that I’m exactly a foodie, but I tend to eat picnic-style, a handful of this and a handful of that. Luckily I have my bag of dried apricots and a bag of pistachios. But normal people–if you had a family, even in a fast-food food court you’d have to spend at least 100 bucks just for lunch. Plus no wonder we have an obesity problem, as so little tastes like actual food and thus we are always “hungry”…

Then again, we could all look upon the lack of actual, plain, honest food as an opportunity to fast for the suffering of the world, which is on ample, ample display as I walk the streets of our nation’s capital.

Blessed June 19th, feast of the 10th-c. hermit St. Romuald as well as a federal holiday to commemorate the ending of slavery.

Or has it ended?…for any of us?…

6 Replies to “AT THE RENWICK GALLERY”

  1. Heather, I will pray for a most engaging and wonder-filled weekend! I love these short travelogues and commentaries. 🙂

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Oh I need those prayers very much, Angela–please! Glad you enjoy my little travelogues…the Retreat for Artists I’m here for will take place Fri and Sat, then down to Chesapeake, VA, so perhaps more to come…

  2. Heather, I am travelling to Washington DC in a few weeks. So I think you are working as my scout for new museum to try. Thank you for the tips. Blessings on your day!
    Katie

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Thank you, Katie, there is so much to see in the way of museums…a lovely Botanical Garden…I went to Mass yesterday at a beautiful old neighborhood church on Capitol Hill, St. Joseph’s. And the Franciscan Monastery where I’m helping put on a retreat has lovely flower-filled grounds, Confession I’m pretty sure on the hour, and a large chapel as well…wishing you a wonderful visit.

  3. I absolutely love Marguerite Zorach’s embroidery!!! My mother-Aida is a seamstress. She said once, “I could even sew up shoes …see.” Yes, she’s often on her sewing machine, creating something new; a dress, enlarging a skirt by adding a fabric to, “Look I found this fabric that is so similar to the skirt I bought”. She sewed dresses for us girls, and we always looked so beautiful in them. Sewing is such a lost art-which I did not pick up either! I think sewing helps her sanity, keeps her busy, and feeds her creativity. As for the bit on isolation and how it infects the phyche….
    Religion/faith/service-to myself & my fellow man/literature/program/ & art-these are my cures for isolation & depression.
    Thank you Heather.
    A.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Yes, she’s just wonderful, Marguerite Zorach, and her husband was also an artist it seems. Here’s a link to their art for those who are unfamiliarL https://www.zorachart.com/
      And you’re so right–thinking of others, art, literature, music…these are our “weapons” against the forces of darkness! Thanks so much–my mother, too, was a seamstress. I still have a yellow and white gingham dress she made for me when I was five or so with which I hope to be buried. Little doll clothes she made, too, as I’m sure your Aida did…these arts of sewing, embroidery, weaving I find captivating (while having zero ability in that direction myself…)

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