Artistic inspiration is often a mystery. For Susan Sharman it comes partly from the past, namely embroidery, crocheted doilies, old linens and family photos she inherited from her mother’s side of the family. As she sifts through the photos she wonders what about the people in their daily lives, and she feels an urge to get out her sewing needle and thread to embroider the images. The result is a series of textile collages that form the basis of “The Daily Fabric,” an upcoming show at the Benicia Public Library Marilyn Citron O’Rourke Art Gallery. The exhibit takes place Sept. 13 through Oct. 16. A reception takes place 3-5pm on Sunday, Sept. 18.
The historic family photos took Sharman’s embroidery (and fascination with old doilies and linens) in new directions, ones that form a bridge to her past and to the rich tradition of storytelling. Sharman has long been inspired by embroidered samplers, which women commonly made in the 17th and 18th centuries as a way to improve their embroidery skills. Historically, embroidered samplers were also used to tell stories or to record an important event, and families proudly displayed them as signs of the young women’s talent and status. Sharman uses the medium as a means of personal exploration and as a way to record the daily fabric of her own life. “It’s like telling a story about me and my life and my genealogy through the old photos,” she said.
The mixed media collages in “The Daily Fabric” feature pieces from her “Genealogy Series” that stems from the photos and linens she inherited, and from her “Word Play” series which consists of text and words as imagery. In the latter, she stitches words into doilies, linen, textiles and paper. A voracious reader, Sharman said words often “pop out” at her and she jots them down in a notebook. As she builds and embroiders the pieces within her Martinez studio, Sharman says she uses her needle and thread like a pencil or paintbrush.
The Daily Fabric” highlights art that is not always widely represented in galleries, said Art Gallery Committee member Mary Goshert Ekenstam. “I’m pleased with how she makes such a visceral connection between the past and the present. She uses her pieces to create a pathway to the present and then she looks forward by using digital media. The viewer can stand at a middle point and allow the imagination to take over. Goshert Ekenstam added that Sharman’s pieces pay homage to the objects women use and beautify in their daily lives. “It raises consciousness that women are always about the work of creating lasting beauty out of things that would otherwise just be useful,” she said.Sharman is an Arts Benicia member, and has participated in members’ exhibitions. This is her first show at the Marilyn Citron O’Rourke Art Gallery.
Sharman is a graduate of the California College of Arts in Oakland, and has been working in the medium of fabric and thread since 1999. She has also worked as a freelance graphic designer and gallery manager. The gallery is open whenever the Benicia Public Library is open. Hours are 10am to 9pm, Monday-Thursday, and noon to 6pm Friday-Sunday. For additional information, go to susansharmanfineart.com, or beniciapubliclibrary.org.