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Genue Inc.
May 15, 2018

Sheila Hicks: The Grandmother of Textiles

When I was in art school getting my undergraduate degree, I distinctly remember one of my professors incredulously asking a group of students if we knew who Shelia Hicks was. Much to his dismay, we did not. My professor, slightly horrified, could only manage to say “she’s…she’s the grandmother of textiles!” By this, she meant Shelia Hicks has had a groundbreaking and prolific career (still going strong well into her mid-eighties) and is considered by many to be a pioneering figure in the modern textile art movement.

 

Black and white photo of young textile artist working with hands

Sheila Hicks (1963); image featured in the exhibition “Woven Forms” at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts from March 22 to May 12, 1963. Photo: Ferdinand Boesch

Shelia Hicks was born in Hastings Nebraska, and received her BFA and MFA from Yale School of Art, with a concentration in painting. Hicks received a Fulbright to study in Chile, before moving to Taxco el Viejo, Mexico from 1959 to 1964.  Since 1965 Hicks has lived and worked in Paris, France. Although Hicks’ work has been far-ranging in scale and scope, color has always been a unifying element. One could wonder if perhaps her background as a painter lends her a unique perspective on color.

 

linen, rayon, acrylic yarns; 8.3 x 6.7 x .66 ft.

The Principal Wife, 1968 by Sheila Hicks. Photo: Erik Gould.

 

When I think of Shelia Hick’s work, I most often think of her large-scale wrapped sculptures, such as ‘Cord, 1971’ or her recent large-scale site-specific installation “Hop, Skip, Jump and Fly: Escape From Gravity” at the High Line in New York City on display to the public last summer.  Coiling or wrapping a brightly colored yarn around a bundle of – typically linen – threads has become her signature look.  However, since the very beginning of her career, Hicks has created a series she calls ‘minimes’ or miniature weavings. Incorporating found materials, such as shoelaces, rubber bands or natural items (stones, shells, grasses) these tiny woven compositions are textile sketches.

 

Medium: synthetic fiber, color transfer paper Technique: dyed, woven, sewn.

‘Papillon, 1997-2004’ by Sheila Hicks

In 2013, a retrospective show of Hicks’ 50-year long career toured around the country, and I was able to see it. The volume of work she had produced until that time was astounding, as was the impact she had on the current textile art and design landscape. Really, though, what I find most intriguing and inspiring about Shelia Hicks is that now, in 2018, in her mid-eighties, she is creating some of the biggest, most interesting work of her career. She is a tremendous force in fiber art – a “grandmother of textiles,” if you will.

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