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Detail Shot of the S.O.S. mobile in Sue Cavanaug's

Artists of Expanded Dimensions Push Boundaries of Fiber Art

Expanded Dimensions comes upon us at the perfect time. In this year unlike any other, full of unrest and uncertainty, drastic life changes, and tremendous loss, we have all had to reimagine our lives. Yet, despite all of the ongoing challenges this year, the artists in this exhibition showed up, and the work they brought with them is more than the warm, nostalgic embrace we’ve come to expect from fiber art. This year, the energy of their work echoes like a shockwave through the gallery, and it’s clear that something powerful is happening here.

All of these women have participated and/or taught at the Quilt and Surface Design Symposium over the last few decades. Many of them are (or were) quilters, and that history and tradition is embedded in their work, but the connections are subtle. The traditional three-layer structure, the confines of a square block, and the use of “usual” materials may not be present, but they have not been absent-mindedly or foolishly abandoned. Rather, these women have worked beyond them. They have mastered the plot twist, effortlessly transforming their own processes and concepts—though a variety of materials—to create works that are entirely new and magnificent in scale and construction, but that retain the incredible detail that comes from the meticulous hands of fiber artists.

Sue Cavanaugh created “S.O.S to the Universe” primarily out of recycled parachutes, and she incorporated Morse Code and COVID-19 mobiles, recycled plastics, and a drawing of wildfires into her monumental installation that discusses recent devastating global events. The three floor-to-ceiling, nearly transparent, wall-like sheets of hanging fabric that make up the piece surround viewers as they make their way through a blue-hued maze of intricately stitched fabric reminiscent of an ocean wave. It is only from a distance that one realizes the fabric pieces are shaped into the coded letters “S.O.S”. The immersive scale heightens the sense of urgency Cavanaugh wants you to feel when you stand within the letters; the S.O.S. feels personal, and Cavanaugh has struck a nerve. The world needs help, the piece seems to say, and we are the helpers.

Parachute-based installation featuring morse code.

Image Credit: Sue Cavanaugh, "S.O.S. to the Universe"

Judy Rush flows as fluidly as the fibers on display in her wet-felted installation, “Falling Bowls,” which explores the themes of chaos, order, destruction, creation, and evolution. Her bowls are impossible to resist, and standing underneath them, you can feel the labor of Rush’s hands and a deeper connection to the cosmos.

Wet-felted and hand-dyed installation.

Image Credit: Judy Rush, "Falling Bowls"

Mary Ann Tipple, pioneer of early photo-to-fabric transfer techniques, has taken portraits of her loved ones and turned them into living meditations. Her compositions are clean, every textile carefully chosen, and each stitch is long-arm sewn in patterned lines that provide structure and utterly transfix the viewer on her subjects.

Photo art quilt featuring the artist's mother in black and white.

 Image Credit: Mary Ann Tipple, "Alone"

Andrea Meyers’ fabric collages are vibrant, wildly colored, patterned, and stitched. They’re a little messy up close, just like the human condition. Yet, these collages are sophisticated, and Meyers’ expert use of color and design move the eye around and leave the viewer satisfied from any vantage point.

Brightly colored fabric collage.

Image Credit: Andrea Myers, "Teetertotter"

Deborah Griffing’s collages are intuitively built through stream-of-consciousness drawing, stitching, painting, and weathering. She has focused on the mental and chronic illness in her family, and the resulting works are like intimate, intricate mind maps.

Mixed media collage, detail image.

Image Credit: Deborah Griffing, "Signs of Life"

The work in Expanded Dimensions is a call to broaden our horizons while deepening the ties that bind us together. It ladles out comfort and tradition while recognizing the need for expansion and release from constraints that no longer serve us. These artists have tapped into the truth about our connection as human beings, our part in a global tribe. While our time together may be short, our impact, like these works, cannot be limited. The transformational power of women artists moving beyond craft and small-scale works into full-scale installations and a variety of new media says something about their hope that this work will be deeply experienced. They have guided us through the first steps in our own journeys of exacting and expanding our dimensions.

Expanded Dimensions: The Quilt & Surface Design Symposium 2020 is on view at the Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery from Nov. 5, 2020 – Jan. 9, 2021. The Quilt & Surface Design Symposium strives to present one of the most comprehensive art quilt conferences in the world, offering a wide variety of fiber arts classes and highly qualified instructors. The exhibition was curated by Tracy Rieger, director of the Quilt & Surface Design Symposium.

Featured artists include Sue Benner, Susan Callahan, Sue Cavanaugh, Jiyoung Chung, Deborah Griffing, Amanda McCavour, Andrea Myers, Diane Nunez, Judy Rush, and Mary Ann Tipple.

Out of an abundance of caution, the Riffe Gallery is closed until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Explore Expanded Dimensions virtually at

The Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery showcases the work of Ohio's artists and the collections of the state's museums and galleries. The Riffe Gallery is located in the Vern Riffe Center for Government and the Arts, 77 S. High St., Columbus, OH 43215.  

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The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at


Article by Aimee Wissman, 2020-21 OAC Riffe Gallery Marketing and Exhibitions Fellow

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