Artist brings fiber to life in paintings

November 04, 1994|By Karen Zeiler | Karen Zeiler,Contributing Writer

Karin Birch first embraced fiber art six years ago with a whimsical painting she titled "Ode to Housework."

She affixed tiny beads to the canvas in the shape of irons -- and rather fancied the results.

"What really interests me is color, form and texture," said Ms. Birch. "There is a three-dimensional quality that you can't get with painting alone. That's what I like about embroidery and bead work."

The 34-year-old artist's second solo exhibit, "XXO -- Fiber Arts," will open Sunday at the Carroll County Arts Council Gallery, 15 E. Main St., Westminster. The display continues through Nov. 30.

Rich, dark colors and detail characterize the paintings, which integrate colored pencil work, painted fabric, beads and embroidery. Images of flowers and hills are woven into the canvas, as much of the work is machine or hand stitched.

The process is called applique, and the results are striking.

"People are really intrigued by it," said Ms. Birch, who lives in Brunswick, Frederick County, with her husband, Chris Sugarman, and their 8-year-old daughter, Chloe.

Positioning the paper or canvas for machine stitching is a delicate and painstaking process.

While attending a workshop two years ago at Penland School of Arts and Crafts in Penland, N.C., Ms. Birch watched four graduate students awkwardly feed a 5-foot-long piece of paper into a standard-sized sewing machine.

Industrial sewing machines can also be used and are probably better suited to this kind of work, Ms. Birch said, but most artists rely on the standard Singer. She has several.

Hills, circles and flowers are recurring images in her paintings, and love is a major theme, symbolized by Xs and Os.

" 'XXO' is hugs and kisses, but it also stands for male and female," she said.

The exhibit includes a series of six paintings titled "Love Letters," inspired by letters Ms. Birch's husband penned -- and painted -- for her when they were dating. He adorned the paper with flowers and other symbols, she said.

The couple met when they were students at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C.

Before taking up fiber painting, Ms. Birch was a silversmith and jewelry maker.

She exhibits her work regularly at the Artists Gallery, a cooperative venture run by a group of 23 artists in Frederick.

Formerly of Montgomery County, she is a graduate of Bethesda/Chevy Chase High School.

When she's not painting, Ms. Birch is a part-time waitress at the Orchard in Frederick.

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