Katherine Westphal, American Fiber Artist (1919-2018)
Almost everything I do is related to where I’ve been or where I’m going to go. Basically, I’m a tourist, moving around the world to faraway places either by actually traveling to the spot or by using the armchair method. Then it all pops out in my work – someone else’s culture and mine, mixed in the eggbeater of my mind to create a reality for me and a better understanding of what I have seen or experienced. Much of my work is autobiographical, a record of images observed and treasured.” ~ Katherine Westphal
I depart momentarily from my focus on ancient Peruvian textiles to honor the life and work of pioneering multi-media fiber artist Katherine Westphal who died last week at the age of 99. She was a seminal maker in multiple mediums who practiced rigorous experimentation and pushing of boundaries in textile traditions and encouraged this through her teaching. Westphal employed time-honored textile techniques: sewing, resist dyeing and tapestry weaving, in combination with the emergent processes of her time that came with the Xerox photocopier and other unconventional materials like plastic tubing and tape, to deconstruct and recast new textile forms. She challenged stereotypic views of “women’s work” and brought recognition to quilt making as a fine art form.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston houses an impressive collection of work by Katherine Westphal. Though my weekly posts normally focus on singular objects, I’ve include several of my favorite images here of the artist’s work. Scroll to the end of this page for a link to the MFA’s complete collection of the Westphal’s work, and for related links about her life and career.
My baskets build one stitch at a time – color, shape, image, idea – in a spiral pattern, a growth form. Each basket has a name – and an identity, and each basket is part of a series. The ideas can stem from nature, art, or from the chance remark of a friend. My baskets are not narrative or representational; they are my emotional reaction to a place, event or object.
~ Katherine Westphal
Object a Week is a revolving showcase of MFA textile collections, archived below chronologically by date published.
A featured object may be indicative of the author’s study focus at a given moment in time and/or related to topics of research, activity, or recent acquisitions in the Museum’s Textile and Fashion Arts department.