Weaving art. Edwina Bringle: a retrospective 1964-2014. From August 7 through September 20, the Spruce Pine TRAC Gallery.
From August 7 through September 20, the Spruce Pine TRAC Gallery will present a retrospective of the work of well-known weaver and teacher, Edwina Bringle. Recognized for her work in color, Edwina’s pieces range from the early experimental “Revisited Circles,” an optical illusional wool wall piece to the more recent “Springtime Blanket” that explodes the woven wool with prismatic light. Over 50 pieces will lead the eye from the beginning through just yesterday.
Edwina began her journey along that colorful thread in the early 60’s when she accompanied her sister, Cynthia, from Memphis to Buffalo and to include a “stop-over” at Penland School of Crafts. While Cynthia talked clay, Edwina walked and watched as the beauty of the land and the magic in the school began to captivate. She was young and impressionable, away from home. Not for the first time, but for the first time at Penland, in the mountains. She found herself in the weaving building, in front of a loom, hands on the beater bar, entranced but at a loss for her next move. She was a young X-ray technician in Memphis. What did she know about creating fabric out of this sheet of threads spread tight before her? But the fiber had already begun to exert its magnetism. Words of encouragement from the director, Bill Brown, and teacher, Helen Henderson, stayed with her on their journey home. She returned and, through the years, took textile classes whenever vacations allowed. Edwina became a fixture in the weaving room as much as one of the looms. She cleaned, rearranged, took down and put back up, helped the teachers and learned the backstory of fibers, the ways of weaving and the intricacies of color and dyeing.
Midway, she met Sally Adams who owned the Signature Shop in Atlanta. Sally made her an offer and off Edwina went to work in the shop over the holidays. It was there that she learned the business of craft. An important aspect, she says that many artists neglect.
Edwina returned to Penland as a resident fiber artist in 1968 and began entering regional exhibitions. Her woven work was becoming known for its emphasis on color and vibrancy. One such show was at the Mint Museum in Charlotte. That particular show was hung by then exhibitions curator and master potter, Herb Cohen. Impressed with her work in the exhibit, both the ceramics and photography instructors at the University of North Carolina told her of an opening in the newly developed Creative Arts Department-Weaving/Textiles at the Charlotte institution, suggesting she apply. Edwina was awarded a one-year appointment as advisor and teacher. She completed three one-year appointments and ended up staying for 24 years.
She and Cynthia took a trip to Europe early in her career. It was there amid the cacophonies of color in centuries old architecture, landscapes, and peoples—each country unlike the one before—that she discovered a love of photography. She had not been a photographer, but here, “It was as if looking through the lens reinforced my interest in color.” Years later, as she dyed textiles, she would recall replicating remembered color combinations caught on film by laying out swatches on the floor. She never saw a need to reference her stacks of photographs. “Although my photographs have never been used as a direct palate, my work has always been about colors with influences from all the photography through the years.”
In 1997, Edwina retired as associate professor of Art Emerita from UNC Charlotte and returned to the mountains, to Penland where she now weaves and teaches and enjoys life. She has taught at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts and the John C. Campbell Folk School, and continues to offer advice and hands-on experiences at the Penland School. She has a reputation for being an innovator in weaving and dyeing, never letting a challenge stand in her way. A few years ago, as an artist-in-residence at one of Mitchell County’s elementary schools, she created a loom on which the kids could weave just by flipping over a table and using the legs as a frame. Another time, she sandwiched her dyed fabric between sheets of black plastic stretched across her driveway, allowing the sun to work as a reagent in setting the dyes.
During the last several years, Edwina has taken color into new mediums—felting and flame-worked beads. It’s all about melding the colors whether on the loom, in pressing fibers for felting or melting rods of glass. It’s about creating images both vibrant and indicative of change. “Living in the mountains, I am constantly reminded that there are changes all the time and these become a part of my images.”
Today, she continues to reinvestigate natural dyes primarily plants gathered from the surroundings. Many of her wool skeins have swirled around the dye vat at the dye shed at Penland. Natural dyes are not new to her but there is more to know about the mordants, or fixatives, and how to use them safely. It is more time consuming, but she thinks the rewards are worth her effort. It’s not just the finished piece for Edwina, but the process to get to that end. And she hasn’t reached it yet. She’s never let anything come between her and her imagination. With so many aspects in textiles—from fibers to patterns, from dyeing into to painting onto—and from all the myriad of mediums, she will be creating for 50 more years.
TRAC is celebrating Edwina Bringle’s 50-year retrospective with over 50 functional and decorative fiber arts pieces. The exhibit runs from Thursday, August 7 through Saturday, September 20. On Saturday, August 16th, the Arts Council will honor Edwina in a reception from 5 to 7pm at the Spruce Pine Gallery, located at 269 Oak Avenue.
As Jean McLaughlin, current director of the Penland School once said about Edwina, “She is an extraordinary teacher…Through Edwina, you’ll observe colors and textures in your surroundings with fresh eyes. Her work warms your body and delights your soul.”
Spruce Pine TRAC Gallery hours are Tuesday–Saturday, 10:30am to 5:00pm www.toeriverarts.org.