Thursday, October 15, 2009

Inspiration from unlikely places: Linda Gass

 Maps tickle our curiosity and speak of the unknown, making it known. Maps in themselves are treasures and as you can see from Linda Gass's work, also art. The statement underlying the beauty is one we all need to hear.

You may be familiar with Linda's work or have seen her teaching or appearing a couple of times with Alex Anderson on HGTV's Simply Quilts. Please give her a warm Subversive Stitcher welcome. Here's Linda Gass in her own words:

After the Gold Rush, (first photo) I have tried to beautify an unnatural landscape through a play of color and texture on silk. The landscape is I-5, a major transportation artery, crossing the California Aqueduct, the man-made river that moves water from north to south and irrigates farm fields in what once was a desert. This is the second mining of California and hence the name of the quilt. (Inspired by a photograph by Ray Atkeson, courtesy of the Ray Atkeson Image Archive.)

Eight years ago I went to hear the poet Gary Snyder. Snyder mentioned a list of questions he likes ask people entitled “How Local Are You?”

He asks “do you know where your water comes from?” “do you know where your garbage goes?” “do you know where your water goes?” “name five native grasses,” “name five native birds,” and so on. I consider myself an environmentalist and one who lives close to the earth, however I was embarrassed to realize that I didn’t have answers to any of his questions.

The questions tumbled around in my brain over the years. Every once in a while I would ask someone if they knew where our water came from or if our curbside recycling actually got recycled. I would get varying responses and it only became more mysterious to me.

Then a serendipitous thing happened: a new environmental organization formed in my home town and I joined a Green Ribbon Citizens Committee to research and make recommendations to the city on water and waste. A small group of us met weekly and researched every source we could find. We organized field trips to local recycling facilities, landfills and sewage treatment plants. We met with our local service providers for waste hauling and water supply. I was in heaven; I was finally getting the real answers to the “How Local Are You?” questions.

But the answers were more like hell. I learned that the outtake for half of my drinking water is downstream from where the city of Stockton discharges their treated sewage into the San Joaquin River. I learned that some of our collected yardwaste isn’t composted but sold to a local power generation plant and burned for energy. And I learned that the bottom has fallen out of the recycling market and much of our plastic sits in huge bales waiting for a buyer and may simply become landfill.

From here came the inspiration for my latest series of artwork, all very personal in nature.

They are stitched paintings on silk of where my garbage goes, where my sewage goes and where my gasoline is refined. All are aerial landscape views exploring land use issues on the edge of San Francisco Bay, a body of water near and dear to me as I live only a few miles from it. The artworks visually highlight the juxtaposition of the development to the bay and I have titled all three of them to end in a question mark as a signal to the viewer.

The San Francisco Bay is an estuary, a semi-enclosed body of water where fresh river water mixes with salty sea water. It supports over 750 species of fish, animals and birds. The wetlands surrounding the bay filter toxic pollution and excess nutrient runoff, making them essential to the health of the region’s fish & wildlife populations as well as the human residents. Unfortunately we have developed these lands in ways that threaten our collective health.

Treatment? (photo above) shows my local Regional Water Quality Control Plant. Raw sewage is processed into nearly drinking quality water and then discharged into the bay. This freshwater discharge dilutes the salinity of the bay and is a source of contaminants not removed by the treatment process.

Sanitary? (photo above) shows the landfill where my garbage is hauled weekly. This 342 acre island is one of several artificial mountains built from trash that sit on the edge of the bay. Surrounded by essential wetlands, it borders a fresh water river that flows into the bay. Organic materials in the landfill generate climate changing methane gas while leachates from run off have to be carefully managed to avoid contaminating the nearby water.

Refined? (above) shows the Chevron refinery in Richmond where oil tankers dock offshore and their raw crude is transferred to the refinery through pipelines. The company is the largest industrial polluter in the region and has been fined in the past for discharging untreated toxic wastewater into the bay. The proximity of this noxious industrial facility to the bay highlights the vulnerability of the bay and the vigilance we must maintain in protecting it.

These three artworks are part of an exhibit entitled "Still Water" which runs through November 22, 2009 at the Dalton Gallery at Agnes Scott College in Atlanta.

My hope is to use the lure of beauty in my work to encourage people to look at the hard issues we face. The process of doing the research for my latest artwork caused me to seriously question the way I live and how we can do better. I like to think of my artwork as a snapshot in time that I hope we will never return to. If all goes well in the coming years, much of this landscape will be radically transformed and we’ll return to having a healthier bay.


Linda Gass has been in love with textiles since her grandmother taught her to sew and embroider as a child.

In her early adult years, she took a detour through technology after graduating from Stanford University with a BS in Mathematics and an MS in Computer Science and worked in the software industry for 10 years.

Linda returned to making textiles 14 years ago and now exhibits her work internationally in galleries and museums. Her work is published in numerous books and magazines including The Map As Art: Contemporary Artists Explore Cartography, Art Quilts: A Celebration, Fiberarts Design Book 7, American Style, American Craft, Surface Design, Fiberarts and Batik for Artists and Quilters. She was featured in two episodes of Simply Quilts on Home & Garden Television and has taught workshops at Arrowmont and the Mendocino Art Center.

She travels extensively in the wilderness areas of the West where she finds much of the inspiration for her work. Linda serves on the advisory board of the Black Rock Arts Foundation and the leadership team of GreenTown Los Altos. She is a master member of the Baulines Craft Guild. She also served on the boards of the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles and the Textile Arts Council of the de Young Museum in San Francisco.

For more information about Linda and her work, visit her website.


Katxena said...

These are beautiful and compelling.

Dawn said...

Some 'technical difficulties' today caused the loss of a few comments. If those who originally commented would like to repost, I'll happily make sure they get published.


Cate Rose said...

Wow, what awesome work!

Christine Thresh said...

I thought I posted, but perhaps not.
Linda's quilts are the best I've seen in years. I keep coming back to look at them, and I have returned to her website several times.

Dawn said...

Hi Christine,
I believe you did leave a comment before, but a technical glitch forced me to repost this blog and I couldn't figure out how to repost the comments. You aren't losing your mind. :)

Thanks for reposting.


Anonymous said...

Awesome work! Very innovative.

Deborah said...

I am doing a school project on her and I was wondering how old she is. If any one knows please let me know, Thanks!