Fabric artist tests limits of medium

  • By Mike Murray / Herald Writer
  • Thursday, March 24, 2005 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Terri Shinn has a love affair with fabric, but sometimes it’s tough love. She bakes it, bonds it and burn it her search for a new effect or a new way of transforming fiber into art.

“I push fabric as far as I can. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t,” said Shinn, who began as a quilter and has taken fabric art to a high level of technique and design. An experimental approach, playful attitude and unlimited imagination are among the hallmarks of her work.

The Snohomish resident is the 2005 Snohomish County Artist of the Year, an award given annually by the Arts Council of Snohomish County in recognition of both artistic achievement and contributions to the arts community.

Along with the award, which Shinn calls “a distinguished honor,” comes an exhibit of her art at the Arts Council Gallery in Everett.

The show of 50 works includes fabric art, mixed media and beaded jewelry. Even the idea of fabric art inspires Shinn, who created a show-stopping “quilt” made from metal and fused glass.

The exhibit is a kaleidoscope of primary colors, textures and design. For viewers it’s like a treasure hunt that begins when they see a work from across the room, then move in closer to discover the details.

“She started out as a quilter, but she took it a step further,” said Carie Collver, director of the gallery. “Her work is so eclectic, so many mediums. She shows you don’t have to stick to fabric and thread.”

The show is titled “With a Little Help from My Friends,” reflecting its collaborative nature.

The past year or so has been a tough one for many of Shinn’s friends, with several of them diagnosed with serious illness. To allow these friends, and fellow artists, to share in her honor, Shinn asked them give her things that she could incorporate into art: found objects, used teabags, paper, steel, glass, bits of fabric, poems, even a group of mannequins that were shipped from California to Everett on the bus.

There are works with rusty hinges and nails, metal leaves, hand-painted batik, beads and crystals and photographs. She’s incorporated these objects into her fabric art. As for the mannequins, they are dressed in the artist’s beaded jewelry.

Shinn wanted this to be a collaborative show, and her artist friends responded with help from glass making to metal fabrication. Contributions came from glass artist Janet Foley, sculptor Reg Akright, quilters Judy Hopkins and George Taylor and print artist Cindy Morris, among others.

“For this particular show I wanted to honor my friends,” Shinn said. “It’s really important to let them stand beside me. They have pushed me and challenged me.”

Chief among her boosters is her husband, Kevin, a behind-the-scenes helper for whatever she needs done.

The artist made her first quilt when she was a freshman in college, and the result was a self-described disaster in velvet and satin. She began to experiment and started taking classes in the 1970s, about the time the quilting renaissance began in America.

She became expert at making traditional quilts, then pushed the boundaries to find new ways of working fiber. A breakthrough was in 1990 when, for the first time, she painted on fabric.

And all the while she found pleasure in the tactile nature of her art, the touch and feel of fabric or the simple act of folding a quilt.

Years ago, after giving a lecture on quilting, a woman said to her: “You have such nonsense in your heart.”

“I took it as such a huge complement … when she said that it just freed me up.”

Today she finds joy in making art that gives pleasure.

“That’s been my motto. To have a little fun.”

Michael V. Martina / The Herald

“Sisters of the Soul” by Snohomish County Artist of the Year Terri Shinn is one of many of her works on display at the Arts Council Gallery in Everett.

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