by Jackie Reid Dettloff
Anne Kingsbury is known to many Riverwesters as the founder and director of Woodland Pattern Book Center. But what people may not know is that Kingsbury is a visual artist extraordinaire, “one of Wisconsin’s more accomplished but under-hyped artists,” according to one critic. This fall, her hand-stitched creations have been on exhibit at the Peltz Gallery at 1119 East Knapp Street. At first glance, Kingsbury’s work delights through sheer whimsy. The centerpiece of the exhibit is a five by ten foot quilted cope, a stole-like garment worn by medieval priests. Anne has taken this traditional form from religious art and painstakingly combined porcelain faces, crocheted borders, leather diamonds, lace, embroidery, and applique to create a quilt that is a sumptuous celebration of the carousel. Another cope titled “Three Roles of the Fairy Beaver” brims with carefully stitched images of tools ranging from a computer to a pair of scissors to a toilet bowl brush. Three beaver-like figures suggest the housekeeper, the artist, and the administrator, three roles that Anne has juggled over the past decades. Again Kingsbury includes many media in her composition. Without being preachy or heavy-handed, she also incorporates words like “work-vision-need-art” or “peril-feel-vision-strength” and makes a border of small clay pieces stamped with factual and tongue-in-cheek beaver one-liners. “Beavers are monogamous,” we read. “Beavers store grudges in their tails.” “Beavers create their universe.” Kingsbury leaves it to the viewer to make connections. Other items in the show include “Esther,” a three-foot horned leather doll that seems like a totem of aggressive female sexuality, and a book in the shape of a human being. The beadwork on the front cover of the book spells out “WORK” while the back cover spells out “TIME.” Each page brims with scrambled lists of daily activities like “15 minutes bath, 30 minutes breakfast, 15 minutes dishes, 5 minutes comb hair.” To anyone who’s ever asked, “Where does the day go?” or, by extension, “Where does my life go?” Kingsbury offers a wry and literal response. Underneath the whimsy and delight of Kingsbury’s work there is deft moral commentary. In “Fairy Tale” we see a beaded female figure grounded with the words REPETITION and DISCIPLINE. The appliqueed text that frames the image conjures up a time when “time rewarded labor,” “virtue equaled beauty,” “wisdom valued kindness” and “day by day became ever after.” This piece seems to sound the central note of Anne Kingsbury’s art. In a richly sensual way, she succeeds in transforming the day-to-day into the ever after. She has created art that is able to bridge the ordinary and the mythical. How has she done that? Stitch by stitch and bead by bead. If you would like to feast your eyes on this current exhibition of Kingsbury’s work, call the Peltz Gallery at 414/223-4278. Admission is free.