Weaving as a Metaphor “Sheila Hicks: 50 Years”

The new exhibition “Sheila Hicks: 50 Years” will bring vibrant explosions of color and texture to the Addison Gallery of American Art. On display from November 5th to February 11th, this retrospective of the fiber artist Sheila Hicks’s career pushes the boundaries of weaving with bold sculptures and elaborate tapestries. The opening reception will take place this Friday from 5:00 pm to 7:30 pm. Sheila Hicks works with string and unconventional materials to create intricate weavings and sculptures. Hicks was never trained to weave, so she invents her own processes. Instead of using the traditional loom, she creates a mechanism for weaving by putting nails into a frame over which a canvas is spread. She makes all of her art in her studio in Paris, France with the help of a few assistants. Hicks can assemble her large sculptures differently for every exhibition, each of which she designs herself. The Addison’s exhibition is structured differently on the two floors of the galleries, upstairs chronologically and downstairs by color. Some sculptures hang from the ceiling in labyrinths that primarily use the wrapping technique. Hicks wraps a colorful fiber on the outside of a typically coarse, blandly colored material, interrupting the wrapping at intervals to show it. At the top of the staircase the first piece that jumps out is the “Linen Lean-To.” This tapestry hangs from the wall and resembles tassels placed next to and on top of each other on a flat surface. Made of white linen, the tassels resemble piled snow. Hicks created the piece between 1967 and 1968. Now, the piece belongs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Also displayed upstairs, are three cases containing “Trésors et Secrets.” Hicks wrapped thread and cloth around a core derived from clothing and other items to create spheres. She placed these objects, which she calls “soft stones,” together to form a sculpture. Several of the “Trésors et Secrets” belong to museums including the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Mint Museum in Charlotte, the Stedelijk Museum, the Museum of Art and Design in New York, the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Philadelphia Museum. A few pieces from the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archeology, such as weavings from ancient societies in South America, are on display alongside Hicks’s works to demonstrate her sources of inspiration. Some of Hicks’ works are “minimes,” French for miniatures, roughly the size and shape of small paintings. Hicks makes these flat pieces by weaving and wrapping diverse materials including steel in fiber form, wool, cotton and synthetic. The minimes combine lively and contrasting colors. Hicks says they are “explorations” that combine “tools of color, texture and structure.” As she puts it, “The sky’s the limit.” Various companies have commissioned Hicks to design textiles for them, some of which are on display in the Addison. These works include a piece of the template commissioned by the Ford Foundation, several versions of seat covers created for Knoll, and the inside of the first class cabin of some Delta planes. Hicks incorporates found objects into her work that she has modified for her own purposes and commissions. The objects in Hicks’s work at the Addison include a pair of worn out socks the artist has darned with colorful materials, old shoelaces and baby shirts tied together and strung from the ceiling. Hicks says clothing is an important part of material culture, through which people express countless things. Hicks thinks that clothes people wear nowadays give rise to discouraging conclusions about culture. Styles of dress today are much plainer than those of the ancient people of Peru, which featured complex patterns. The lack of originality in modern style inspired Hicks to create these colorful windows into life. Hicks says she uses weaving as “a metaphor for continuity.” In fact, she avoids using scissors because cutting is like fragmenting something, or “interrupting one’s train of thought.” She says that in life, people are always halting others’ thoughts to input their own. Hicks believes people who cut off ideas can become censors. “There is a fine line between guides and censors,” she said. She explained that guides are people who show you the way without forcing something upon you, whereas censors tell you that what you do is wrong, restricting you and keeping you from breaking off from the usual and preventing the natural progression of your thoughts or ideas. This exhibition illustrates life, not only through form and color, but through texture too. Hicks’s innovative work encourages people to take a step towards the unknown, to create something that is at the same time novel and ancient, and to express who they truly are, without listening to the censors in their lives.