Some arts are made to be viewed, valued only for the stimulation they provide the viewer.
Aspen Mahon and Jennifer Plas want to challenge that notion with their weaved and knitted creations, blurring the line between arts and crafts and creating works that can be appreciated for their design but also for their utility.
Mahon, a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit at St. Cloud Hospital, and Plas, who three years ago earned her bachelor’s degree in fine arts at St. Cloud State University, are combining efforts in a display of fiber art at the Benedict and Dorothy Gorecki Gallery in the Benedicta Arts Center.
Some of the pieces are clothing. Others are quilts, that could be equally at home keeping you warm or as decoration.
“In many cases, fiber art is meant to be used,” said Mahon, who met Plas about five years ago in a local knitting club. “If I make a quilt for someone, I don’t want it to be hung on a wall. To me, the work represents a wordless conversation about the love I have for the recipient.”
“New Traditions: Transitions in Fiber Art” will be on display from Sept. 5-Oct. 15, with an artists’ reception from 5-7 p.m. on Sept. 15. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Perhaps fittingly, the show debuted on Labor Day, because many of the items required extraordinary effort. Mahon pointed to a delicate shawl she made at a cost of every free moment she had for a month.
“Would I sell it for $1,000? I don’t know,” she said. “They’re priceless in some ways and I think I prefer to give them as gifts, anyway.”
Plas sometimes uses tree branches in her work, spreading the yarn between the twigs as you would with the fingers of your hand. She uses colors to convey mood, mixing different threads of yarn like a painter mixes paint. She celebrates how weaving and knitting have become almost a subconscious activity for her and Mahon. They often carry their projects with them from place to place, working on each a little when they have an unexpected wait in line or as they wait for appointments.
Plas, a homemaker who is working to start a small business in fiber art, has one work on display called “Stolen Time.” It incorporates a collection of hexagons that took at least one hour apiece to knit.
Mahon learned to knit when she was 6, taught by her grandmother. She got serious about it whenever she needed a break from studying in college, and now says the skill has become like muscle memory. She often knits in conversation or while doing other tasks at the same time.
One of Mahon’s pieces is a series of flags with QR codes on them. Exhibition viewers can scan them to view five different prayers as an homage to Tibetan prayer flags, which originated as early as 800 AD. Another work is about the size of a small rug. Titled “Grief,” Mahon says it shows a progression of how people deal with the emotion over time.
“At one end you have a lot of blacks and the colors are gradually spun in and you go from periods of light to dark again until the other end becomes more vibrant,” she said. “It’s a way for me to tell the story of how people process grief through materials.”