Tapestry Topics Online
A Quarterly Review of Tapestry Art Today

page 7
Fall 2006, Vol 32 No 3

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Review: Cover-ups & Revelations

by Micala Sidore

– TT p.14-16

Barbara Heller's thoughtful, provocative and powerful tapestries displayed in the gallery at the Fiber Arts Center in Amherst, MA, during April and May 2006, made for a hugely successful exhibition. . . For the exhibition she included pieces from several of her well-known series.  From the Ghost Image group (also known as Spirits in the Stones) she displayed "Natan in Egypt" and "Conversation at Megido."

below: Barbara Heller, Natan in Egypt, 64" x 48", 1987.
below: Barbara Heller, Conversation at Medigo, 48" x 66", 1988

Heller's themes obviously often refer to political events, subjects that can easily overwhelm all efforts to be subtle or thoughtful.  Yet these pieces lack cant, bombast or cliché. . . . In the Ghost Series, for instance, where images of people emerge from within walls . . . she exploited a weaver’s trick . . . [using a] doubled warp that she split for the more exact images of the people and left doubled for the ground, the walls of the environment in which the people live—or might have lived.

below: Barbara Heller, detail, Natan in Egypt, 64" x 48", 1987 showing the two warp setts.
below: Barbara Heller, detail, Conversation at Medigo, 48" x 66", 1988

In the Cover-Ups she is playing with material itself—wool used to represent cloth and plastic and mud—as she seeks to "explor[e] the way we relate to people whose faces are covered-up by their clothing or costume."

below: Barbara Heller, detail, Cover Ups series /Afghani Woman, 35" x 25"

Half of the exhibition featured a repeated icon, birds . . . A bird that might be a vulture—or even an eagle—hovers over the remaining skeletal frame of major buildings in "Revelations: Still Life with Bird." . . . "Is this [bird] the avenging angel of death," asks Heller "come to wreak havoc on an uncaring world, or is this the phoenix, rising from the desolation to create a new and better world?" . . .  Shards of gray, either feathers or ash, drift through the orange golden brown sky.  Five blue rectangles line up across the bottom of the tapestry, each embellished with actual bits of bone.  Life and the renewal of life, death and the remains of death, all contribute to the satisfying complexity of the piece, brilliant and grim.  (See ATB5 catalog)

below: Barbara Heller, detail, Still Life . . . with Bird, 62" x 60"
below: Barbara Heller, Good Bird, 23" x 26" framed, 17" x 20", 2005
below: Barbara Heller, Bad Bird, 23" x 26" framed, 17" x 20", 2005

Exploiting technical skill to good effect in a woven medium increases both the possibilities and the challenges. These dozen tapestries that Heller provided for the exhibit demonstrate how consummately successful Barbara Heller is at achieving these ends.

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