Nifty threads 

Focus on Fiber
Indianapolis Art Center
Through Sept. 9

Recycling may not be a new concept, particularly for artists. But for those who make art from found objects, the sky’s the limit — and in the case of Judy Dominic and Bonnie Zimmer, so is the earth. Dominic and Zimmer’s Naturally Speaking: Vessels and Sculptures in Natural and Found Materials greets visitors in the main entrance foyer of the Indianapolis Art Center, and as such is a sort of portal to what lies inside: several more exhibitions centered on the theme Focus on Fiber.

Dominic’s “Pierced,” composed (decomposed?) of willow, bittersweet and stretched gut, resembles a shield, its opaque surface not so much pierced as embraced by small branches holding it taut. Similarly hard and soft, Zimmer’s “Hostile Sanctuary IV,” which took seven years to make, is a basket raised on a pedestal, its hollow of rounded branches punctuated with thorns. Symbolically, Zimmer offers a tortured refuge — a place we escape to that may not provide the relief we seek. Several similarly conceived works by both artists fill the small space between the information desk and the gift shop, forming an entirely pleasant experience in and of itself — a meditative space in an unlikely place.

The Art Center has a knack for putting together thematically linked offerings, allowing for a potentially greater immersion in a particular artform or connected artforms. In the case of this year’s Focus on Fiber, fiber is interpreted expansively, and offers a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

So much found-object art can come off contrived, a hasty conglomeration of stuff that looks clever rather than meaningful. But Leslie Rogers’ “Poppets,” part of Elemental Cloth: Indiana Members Exhibition, on view in the hallway galleries, are thoughtful re-imaginings of the dolls that her aunt made in the 1940s. Rogers has printed upon and stitched their surfaces elaborately — in one case a beautiful tattoo of Hebrew stretches down a doll’s limb — creating another unlikely sacred space.

In the main lobby, Surface Design Association: Indiana Members Exhibition includes equally lovely works by other Indiana artists. For instance, Stephanie Robertson’s ethereal textiles are infused with elaborate silk screened patterns in hushed jewel tones and nearly hover from the wall like angels’ wings. These offer yet another contemplative space.

The single import of the lot, the Handweavers Guild of America’s Small Expressions 2007 provides another variation on the fiber theme. John P. Hawthorne’s “This is My Brain,” no more than 14 inches at its widest point, offers a symbolic imagining of inner space, a raised orb of stitches snaking around in a thick maze of glittering thread.

Finally, but not least of course, the Art Center remembers longtime student Phyllis Cohen with a thoughtful and thorough retrospective of her work, primarily in fiber. Cohen’s legacy is remembered more permanently in another contemplative space: a memorial bench in the Art Center’s ARTSPARK.

As themed shows go, this is one of the finest I’ve seen all year. Focus on Fiber is on view through Sept. 9 at the Indianapolis Art Center, 820 E. 67th St., 317-255-2464,

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