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Art Notes: Not Your Grandma’s Embroidery



Thursday, December 03, 2015
In art, as in life, humor goes a long way.

“Queering the Lines,” an exhibition of embroidery by Rebecca Levi, on view at the Main Street Museum of Art in White River Junction until Sunday, Dec. 20, is a case in point.

Levi, who lives in Brooklyn and has exhibited her work at the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art and the Soho Gallery for Digital Art, both in New York, looks at the perennial questions of sexuality, desire and gender, and how they are represented in pop culture.

We’re used to seeing these issues treated frequently in paint, photography, sculpture and video, but Levi uses a more unconventional medium that, traditionally, has been considered the purview of women: embroidery.

And she does so with a cheeky wit. The kind of crewel embroidery she does has historically been put into the service of luxurious costume work, or to portray pastoral and domestic scenes.

Levi turns that upside down, using intricate thread work to stitch onto nearly transparent linen depictions of women wrestling, and gay men assuming poses that are deliberately heroic and campy. These are then set into or against arrangements of fabric that seem to act as frames.

There’s something cheerfully transgressive, even innocent, about the work. And her embroidery technique is a bit like painting, as she turns areas of the linen into little rivers and pools of red, pink, green and yellow thread.

Levi has been inspired by the febrile fantasies of such 1950s comic books as Young Romance and Romantic Story , where tear-stained women with Bambi eyelashes and parted lips begged square-jawed young men with luxuriant hair to love them.

Roy Lichtenstein also drew on the comics for his gigantic Pop Art canvases that celebrated and mocked the banalities, but also the thrumming energy, of pop culture imagery, as more explicit, provocative images of desire and sex, which had been tamped down in mainstream culture by production and editorial codes in film and magazines, stopped playing peek-a-boo and sidled into the marketplace.

Also coming into play are such 1950s and 1960s magazines as Physique Pictorial , which, disguised as exercise or self-improvement magazines, sold images of beautiful young men, naked except for a loin cloth, during an era when to be gay was to be hidden from, and largely invisible to, the dominant straight culture.

One of the stronger works is a piece that looks like an old-fashioned, 19th or early 20th century sampler, plain white cloth with a dainty edging onto which Levi has sewn the words “Trans-Am,” a phrase that can b e interpreted in a number of ways, from the name for the sports car racing series to a declarative statement about the shifting boundaries of gender.

Curated by Laura DiPiazza, who is also development director at Seven Stars Arts Center in Sharon, “Queering the Lines” is part of “TRANSpossiblities,” a series of programming at the museum over the coming year.

On Dec. 18, Jackson Shultz, author of the recently released Trans/Portraits (University Press of New England) will talk at the museum about the research he did in compiling portraits of 34 American transgender individuals of all ages, races and occupations.

Shultz, who received a master’s degree from Dartmouth College, writes about how society has viewed and treated those who are transgender, and how transgender individuals have found both self and social acceptance, as well as the obstacles they face in gaining empathy and understanding. The museum opens at 6 p.m. and the talk begins at 7 p.m. (Shultz also will speak on Jan. 20 at the Norwich Bookstore.)

The museum is also planning a “FairGenderFaire” for summer 2016, a symposium for activists, educators, artists, writers and filmmakers that will address issues of discrimination against LGBTQ individuals, sexuality, gender, and social diversity, according to a news r elease.

For information, contact Rikki Risatti at 603-678-9451or rikkirisatti@gmail.com or Mark E. Merrill at 603-678-9451 or markezramerrill@gmail.com. The museum’s website is mainstreetmuseum.org.

Openings and Receptions

S cavenger Gallery in White River Junction, owned by Stacy Hopkins, marks First Friday with the opening of an exhibition of pen-and-ink drawings by Toby Bartles. There will be a reception from 5 to 7 p.m., and a selection of Italian wines will be served. The Bartles exhibition runs through Feb. 4.

Also in White River Junction, Two Rivers Printmaking Studio kicks off its annual holiday sale on First Friday with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. How’s this for a bargain? The studio is selling matted, handmade prints by its members for a mere $40, about the price of two people going to see a movie and buying popcorn and Milkduds.

A rief Suriawinata is a pathologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center who is also a keen photographer. A show of his photographs of great cathedrals and churches, taken on trips overseas, opens Saturday at the Ledyard Gallery in the Howe Library in Hanover. In recognition of the Christmas season “Magnificent Churches and Advent” also includes photos of scenes from Advent. There will be no opening reception. The exhibition continues through Jan. 3 .

An exhibition of works of fiber arts opens Tuesday at the Royalton Memorial Library in South Royalton. The “SoRo Fiber Crafters” is a group of women who meet monthly at the library to talk about their projects, which include hooked rugs, quilts, knitted and woven items and crewel embroidery. Exibiting participants include Bonnie Dore, Carol Drew, Nancy Grace Hart, Gisele MacHarg, Theresa Manning and Jenny Thomas. There will be an opening reception on Sunday, Dec. 13, from 2 to 4 p.m.

Of Note

T here will be an Open House from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday at the AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon. What distinguishes this from your usual stroll through the galleries is that the entire building is thrown open to the public. Drop in to artists’ studios, talk to the art faculty, watch art demonstrations, hear live music and take part in making art. The AVA will also feature a “Snow Globe Extravaganza,” made by artists Liz Ross and David Westby, the duo behind the Windsor business, CoolSnowGlobes, which makes unusual and beautiful snow globes on such themes as the seasons, the arts and nature.

O ngoing

Arabella , Windsor. The gallery exhibits works by local artists and artisans in a variety of media including jewelry, oils, acrylics, photography, watercolors, pastels and textiles.

ArtisTree , Pomfret. The Small Works holiday show, which includes gifts for the holidays, runs through Dec. 20.

AVA Gallery and Art Center , Lebanon. The annual holiday sale and exhibition runs through Dec. 24.

Big Town Gallery , Rochester , Vt. “Hot Houses-Warm Curves,” an exhibition of painting, drawing and photography, runs through Dec. 12.

Converse Free Library , Lyme. The Betty Grant Gallery exhibits “People and Places,” a show of photographs by Anne Baird and Nora Palmer Gould, until Dec. 31.

H ood Museum of Art , Hanover. Three shows about collecting run through Sunday: they are “Canaletto’s Vedute Prints: An Exhibition in Honor of Adolph Weil, Jr.;” “The Stahl Collection,” and “Collecting and Sharing: Trevor Fairbrother, John T. Kirk, and the Hood Museum of Art.”

K ilton Public Library , West Lebanon. The watercolors of sisters Patti Rutledge Warren and Rosalie Rutledge desGroseilliers are on view in “We Paint Together,” which runs through Jan. 31, 2016.

Library Arts Cente r, Newport. The LAC’s holiday Gallery of Gifts is open through Dec. 23.

Norwich Public Library . “Fluid Landscapes,” a show of work by painter Georgina Forbes, runs through December.

Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site , Cornish. The exhibition buildings are now closed for the season. The visitors’ center is open, and outdoor sculptures are still on view.

Tunbridge Library . “The Bowl, A Celebration,” an exhibition of bowls made by students from the Tunbridge Central School runs until Dec. 31.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.