Images in fabric impressive if obvious Review: Deidre Scherer's unique skill with fabric evokes "essences" rather than individuals in "The Threaded Image."

March 12, 1998|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,SUN ART CRITIC

Deidre Scherer employs the traditions of drawing, painting and fiber art to create her own art form: pictures of people made entirely of pieces of patterned cloth sewn together.

Her method of working requires creativity and a high degree of technical skill. And in choosing the aged as her subject matter, she works with great sincerity to foster appreciation of old age and its accumulated knowledge of life. So one can certainly admire her current show at the Baltimore Museum of Art, but not without reservation, for these images suffer from a communication problem: They try too hard.

Scherer, who lives in Vermont, was trained at the Rhode Island School of Design -- but in ceramics, printmaking, illustration and painting, not fiber art. She discovered the medium through making a fabric picture book for her daughter and subsequently developed her own method of representation.

Typically, she begins with a drawing of her subject, then selects patterned fabrics for background and face, using darker ones for shadows and lighter ones for highlights. She then cuts out the fabrics, layers them collage-like on a muslin background, and sews them with varying stitches that also become a part of the picture: They may represent bits of hair or crinkles around the eyes.

The result is a picture in which everything -- face, hands, hair, clothes, walls, possibly even furniture -- consists of pieces of patterned fabric. Yet this doesn't produce the visual chaos one could easily imagine from so many patterns assembled in a limited space. On the contrary, each part of the picture stands out clearly.

Scherer especially achieves bold delineation of faces, which are her principal subject matter.

She concentrates on the old, whose faces reflect the results of living, but does not attempt specific portraits. Rather, she strives to create faces which will reflect universal qualities. "My pieces are essences, interpretations, so I will sabotage the likeness for the spirit," she says.

And that's precisely the problem with these images. Each one, along with its heavily symbolic title, so obviously communicates its message that it becomes both didactic and sentimental. There's regret (as shown in the expression of the face in "Unsaid"), wisdom ("Clearing"), apprehension ("For Grace"), love ("Treasure"), dignity ("Strands"), sadness (the central figure in "The Last Wild Strawberry").

As any good playwright knows, one reaches an audience through the particular, not the general. To convey love, it is necessary to create realistic individuals who express their love convincingly, not have someone stand on the stage and utter a definition of love. Scherer tries to tell people what to think and tug at their heartstrings at the same time, and it doesn't work.

But as a novel and virtuoso achievement in fabric art, Scherer's work is difficult to fault. And as such, it's an entirely appropriate exhibit for the BMA's textile gallery, for nothing like this has ever been seen there before.

Deidre Scherer

Where: Baltimore Museum of Art, Art Museum Drive near Charles and 31st streets

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; through July 12

Admission: $6; $4 seniors and students; free for ages 18 and under

Call: 410-396-7100

Pub Date: 3/12/98

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