The Marco Island Center for the Arts displays fibrous ingenuity and creative art

“Quilted Art” hardly describes the exhibition at the Marco Island Center for the Arts. The first clue might be that smartly camouflaged macrame sheep are welcoming you.

Robes, purses, kimonos, pillows, swirling or floating wall hangings and quilts line the walls of the arts center, all of which are the work of Art Quilters Unlimited in southwest Florida. For her, sewing is only part of a complex creation.

The focus is on the treatment of the fabric

Jan Piscitelli, President of the organization behind the exhibition, is exemplary for her exploratory minds: She not only dyes her own fabric, she generally creates the dye from found plants and flowers, around which the soaked materials are wrapped and steamed. It is known as botanical or ecological coloring. Piscitelli, an artist from Bonita Springs, says the range of techniques among its 44 members – like their organizational title – is unlimited.

“We have people who tattoo, lace and weave. We see ourselves more as fiber artists,” she said.

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Some sewing is always required. It can be meticulous, like the raw cloth locks attached to Fort Myers Beach quilter Caren Lyell’s “My Head is Spinning,” or simple, like Piscitelli’s lined leather handbag.

“I was just in awe of what this group was doing,” said Mary Pat Palombo, also from Bonita Springs, who banded together to learn more about the techniques and found herself in the ideal role: the chair. She has designed wall hangings with three-dimensional components, such as her puffy “quarantine flowers” on the show.

Visitors look at works of art included in an exhibition entitled

The pandemic plays a role in this exhibition as it has in all of life over the past year. But it was already planned for 2019, said both Palombo and Piscitelli. Some, but not all, of the artists submitted quilted works they had designed for “Out of the Ordinary,” as the show is entitled, during the pandemic.

The Marco artist Jan Mau saw it very personally with her masked “Covid Self Portrait” with glasses. “C-19 Blues” by Sally Dutko from Fort Myers is an impressive layer of hand-dyed squares with frayed edges in various sizes and in various shades of blue and purple, surrounded by a starry field of citrus-colored knots.

Palombo’s work uses the pandemic more as a chronological term for her flower piece. Palombo has two other narrative pieces on the show, “Take My Hand” and “I was in a dark corner and you gave me color”.

She is impressed by the diversity her fellow artistes have brought to the exhibition, and visitors who take a close look at the works will be impressed by the complexity that quilters have mastered, she said.

You may or may not sew a lot

“In the past, women were very much, ‘If it’s not done by hand, it’s not very good,’ but what you can do with machines is amazing,” said Palombo. A case in point is “Don’t Ruffle My Feathers” by Deb Crine of Marco Island. Thousands of individually embroidered lines underline the details in the feathers of his undoubtedly looking heron.

It’s a meticulous process, but all of the artists surveyed emphasize that the process brings them to this type of art.

“Aside from quilting, my focus is on dyeing the fabric,” said Piscitelli of her botanical method. “It’s a surprise every time.”

Even dead eucalyptus leaves can give the fabric a soft yellow, she said. There are so many factors: “Was it a dry season? A rainy season? When it’s spring, I think the leaves haven’t stored enough tannin for good color release.”

The type and composition of the substance also play a role. After Piscitelli has soaked and wrung the fabrics and wrapped around the plant materials, he steams them in a large fish poacher to set the color.

“My husband never knows what’s on the stove,” she said with a laugh. “I warn him, ‘This may not be soup.'”

Ultimate quilting, back to the pasture

Ann Reardon stepped onto what may have been her basic creation. Her ceremonial shepherd’s coat, which covers a macrame sheep’s head, was made from felt that the Sanibel artist made herself. It’s relatively old-fashioned – around 10 years old – but it represents their only leap into making their own materials. And his first appearance in Florida can be seen as an installation piece in this exhibition.

Reardon, who has lived in Africa and Asia, said she has always been interested in ethnic culture. One of her other two pieces, a gauzy kimono, features mosquito nets from early 20th century Japan and recycled, faded prayer flags.

But she was fascinated by the felt shepherd’s coat, a tradition in the Anatolia region of Turkey. One of the red Karaman sheep and its wool at an agricultural show that she and her husband attended during their lifetime in Virginia.

An exhibition entitled

“I’m an artist who does it when I want to do it. I do it. I don’t care about the market,” said Reardon, who decided to make her own feel for the cape. Felting does not involve weaving. To do this, the raw wool must be coated with soapy water and rolled until the fibers stick together.

In Anatolia, the process is carried out with rolling equipment behind horses. For Reardon, it was the widest bubble wrap she’d ever made, and her husband helped her roll it “a lot of times” until a strong felt showed up. Then came the dyeing of the native wool threads known as roving for the designs.

Finally came the bust of the woman wearing it, a sheep that she noticed at the show. His tufted forehead comes from this sheep’s wool.

“The process of making this type of art is long,” said Reardon, who said she might find it difficult to have enough art for a solo show because she puts so much time into creating such art.

“First you get the idea. Then you have to pull it out, or draw your patterns or shapes for art. Then you have to put all of that down and design.

“And then you sew it.”

Harriet Howard Heithaus reports on arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News / Reach them at 239-213-6091.

What: Exhibition of Art Quilters Unlimited

Where: Marco Island Center for the Arts, 1010 Winterberry Drive, Marco Island

When: Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. until July 6; A gallery reception with the artists will take place on June 8 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Entry: Free

Something else: The centre’s gift shop has a large number of locally and regionally produced items

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