PBS Craft Series Zooms In on Fiber

Terese Agnew collected thousands of garment labels to sew into “Portrait of a Textile Worker,” shown here. CREDIT: Mark Markley

What drives artists to create? That’s the question the Peabody Award-winning documentary series Craft in America continues to probe. Now in its fourth season, the series continues its exploration with Threads, on PBS stations this summer.

The current episode, the eighth, examines the work and lives of four artists who create “quilts”—the difference being in the materials they use, from the paintings and mosaic tiles of Faith Ringgold, to the ribbons, yarns and dyes of Randall Darwall, to the texture and stitching of Terese Agnew, to the plastic “barbed” wire and safety pins of Consuelo Jimenez Underwood.

Internationally celebrated artist, teacher and author Faith Ringgold creates painted “story quilts,” but works in many other mediums, including a notable mosaic for the New York subway system at 125th Street in Harlem. Descended from a family of quilters, her story is about “a veritable lifetime in a struggle to become an artist.”

For Randall Darwell, dyeing and weaving is a way to set up a conversation between colors; when cloth is worn, it becomes kinetic sculpture. He sees his goal as “not just making patterns, but giving people something to think about.”

Consuelo Jiminez Underwood is most well-known for her textiles and installation work, which represent her own history as a migrant worker. “I think of it all as woven ‘corridos’“, she says, “songs about political and physical strife.” Her work incorporates weaving, sewing, painting and appliqué into a proud political feminist Mexican-American statement.

Terese Agnew’s work has evolved from sculpture to densely embroidered quilts in a process she calls “drawing with thread.” Her themes are environmental and socio-political, resulting in telling story quilts that pierce the viewer’s sensibilities.

The episode shows how all four artists weave history and social consciousness as well as beauty into their work. “This is not busy work,” says Darwell. “This is essential stuff.”

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