This week I’m in Kansas City attending my first Surface Design Association (SDA) conference. This time I wanted to make a concerted effort to get a photo from an actual conference event, so here you see a shot of the Thursday night dinner. Not exactly a stunning example summing up the heart and soul of what this conference is about. Oh well, no Pulitzer for me this time!

The SDA’s mission is “to increase awareness, understanding, and appreciation of textiles in the art and design communities as well as in the general public” and to “inspire creativity and encourage innovation, and further the rich tradition of the textile arts through publications, exhibitions, conferences, and educational opportunities.” The schedule this year includes a wonderful variety of speakers and demonstrations of textile-art related topics. Yesterday’s highlights included a lecture called “Organic Cotton — Beyond Oatmeal and Granola Colors,” given by Harmony Susalla of Harmony Art Organic Design, an inspiring story of a young woman who left a successful textile-design career to start her own business of producing organic printed textiles because she truly wanted to make a difference in the world. She’s not just spouting the “sustainability” and “green” buzzwords like so many other companies these days, she’s actually doing something about it. Plus, while she’s a savvy businesswoman, she’s also delightful and unassuming in person.

I must say I’m quite enthralled by this city. There’s an ample supply of interesting old buildings mixed in amongst the new, the people are amazingly friendly, and the art-viewing opportunities seem to go on without end. I’m staying on the campus of the Kansas City Art Institute, and just across the street are both the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art. Today’s SDA events included “Exhibition Extravaganza,” a tour of local art gallery events around town. The tour included a stop at the Belger Arts Center, a former warehouse space now converted into exhibition space on two floors with corporate offices in between. There were five individual exhibitions to see in this cavernous space. First was “Surface Matters,” the SDA member show, a series of 18 x 18-inch squares which included a wide range of techniques and themes.


In the upper level were several more shows, including work by Ray Materson, who makes miniature narrative embroideries which become all the more amazing when you hear his personal story. I also got to see the embroideries of Alice Kettle, another artist with an obsessive process involving lots and lots of stitching, whom I’ve admired for a long time since seeing her work in several magazine articles. It was a treat to see in person. Another room featured the work of Jennifer Angus, an installation of elaborate wall designs consisting of very large and strangely beautiful insects arranged in circular patterns, along with freestanding dollhouses populated by insect citizens going about their daily tasks. Finally, the gallery had on display several large pieces by El Anatsui, an artist making amazing large-scale “cloths” from recycled materials, including caps from liquor bottles and other items gathered in and around Nsukka, Nigeria.


I’ve seen these in magazines, too, but it doesn’t compare to actually seeing the work in person, where you can get a full appreciation for the sheer size and detail, as well as the amount of time that must go into the making of these amazing tapestries. Anatsui does not currently have a functioning web site, but I did find this YouTube video that features him explaining his own work: