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Weekly Update – Susie Brandt’s Rummage-o-rama at the Design Center


This week’s Weekly has my review of Susie Brandt‘s Rummage at the Design Center. More photos at flickr and see Andrea’s post for more on the show.

“Rummage” will have you in stitches.

Susie Brandt, Barb. Barbie clothes, fabric, stuffing, hand-stitched. 1993-2000. 65x84"
Susie Brandt, Barb. Barbie clothes, fabric, stuffing, hand-stitched. 1993-2000. 65×84″

Hello, my name is Roberta, and I am sewing-challenged. When I step into a show focused on textiles and stitching, like Susie Brandt’s “Rummage” at the Design Center, I feel like a tourist in a foreign country where I don’t know the language, customs or currency. Fortunately Brandt’s installation of whimsical, colorful quilts and the Center’s collections of party dresses, hats, sample books and tools don’t require deep back-story to be enjoyed.

Walking through “Rummage” is a delight for the eyes. With bright-colored works that are a celebration of fabric and stitchery, and with Brandt’s wry sense of humor and beautiful craftsmanship as guides, it’s easy to be wowed without knowing (or caring) what a bobbin is.

Susie Brandt at Paley Design Center
Rose Blanket, hand-rolled and strung fabric, string; 1986-87. 75x54x26″ (on bed)

Brandt’s manically sewn bedspreads and quilts (most shown on the walls, although one, Rose Blanket, is draped over a bed) follow traditional quilting motifs. Most have borders, and in most cases there’s a discernable repeat pattern. Where the artist departs from the norm is in the materials she chooses (lace and satin underwear, women’s power-suit shoulder pads, stuffed Barbie doll clothes) and in her heavy use of machine stitching as a design element.

Brandt’s stitchery—front and center in many of her works—circles ’round and ’round the patchwork scraps as if corralling unruly forces. In colors that stand out instead of blend in to the background, this is thread in praise of itself.

Susie Brandt at Paley Design Center
Blackened Blanket, machine-stitched thread, fabrid, 1984-89.

In Blackened Blanket, a piece that looks charred from afar, black stitching covers the entire surface like a riot of rick-rack tracks from a runaway sewing machine.

Susie Brandt at Paley Design Center
Blackened blanket, detail

Textile art like Brandt’s is labor-intensive, and many of her works date over a number of years (presumably, it took that long to make them). Rose Blanket—with its unique approach to blanket-making (small hand-rolled rosettes of fabric strung together into a holey whole) and its nubby texture and springtime colors of red, pink, yellow and green—is lyrical and jaunty, evoking a field of flowers. Like the other blankets and quilts in the show, this isn’t a functional covering whose warmth will get you through winter. But like all art, Rose Blanket’s power lies in its ability to take your mind elsewhere.

Susie Brandt at Paley Design Center
Crack Stripe, digital print, fabric. 2007

I guess after 20-some years of making stitched fabric works, the artist wanted a change. Her new works use digital technology and printmaking on cloth to create photo-realist wall works whose texture comes from the photographed image, not from the texture of the cloth or any stitching or stuffing.

The subject matter continues to be whimsical in works like Crack Stripe, an overhead view of an asphalt driveway or parking lot with weeds growing through long parallel cracks, or Beech Sampler—a collage of photos showing letters and numbers carved into tree bark.

Susie Brandt at Paley Design Center
Dam, cut and stacked found fabrics. 2008. Brandt uses every bit of the architecture of the Design Center, including, like this, the fireplace and mantel. This piece differs from the others by being a minimalist (maximalist) stack and not a blanket. Or maybe it’s many tiny blankets stacked on top of each other. Could be.

Both pieces seem like wallpaper, and I thought at first they were printed on paper (they’re not—it’s cloth). These works, which are neither blankets nor quilts, have more resonance with tapestries or bolts of fabric, and in that context they’re marvelous.

Susie Brandt at Paley Design Center
Beech Sampler, digital print, fabric. 2008.

“Rummage” Free Open House Sat. Mar. 8, 4-6 pm. Free. Through April 6. Design Center, 4200 Henry Ave. 215.951.2860.