ArtSEA: Swaddle yourself in soft Seattle art

Sink into pillowy shows of textile and fiber art in Pioneer Square, Capitol Hill, Vashon Island, Kirkland and Bellingham.

a 3d hanging textile with flowers made from fabric

A detail from Nina Vichayapai's “Home Here,” one of several textile works on view at AMcE Creative Arts. Soft art is having a moment at galleries and museums in the region. (Daniel Spils)

On a recent drippy day, I was walking by the AMcE Creative Arts space on Capitol Hill and spied preparations for the new group show Locally Sourced (now through April 9). The gallery was closed to the public, but through the storefront window I could see stacks of paintings waiting to be hung. And right up front was Northwest artist Nina Vichayapai’s large and lush wall sculpture “Home Here,” its 3D green tendrils reaching toward me through the glass.

This exuberant wall-garden is composed of sewn felt and fabric, creating a soft and sproingy jungle of chartreuse leaves, orange, purple and pink flowers and patches of deep green grass. In an artist statement, Vichayapai says each plant is based on a real species — specifically, non-native species that have naturalized in the Pacific Northwest. Meaning: a verdant celebration of scrappy adaptation. 

ArtSEA: Notes on Northwest Culture is Crosscut’s weekly arts & culture newsletter.

Invasive plant species get a bad rap from gardeners, but in her notes, Bangkok-born and Northwest-based Vichayapai points out “Non-native plants fill ecological holes wherever they adapt” and “Immigrants fill necessary roles in our nation.” She says such cross-pollination cannot be contained by arbitrary borders and adds to the “dynamism” of landscapes both ecological and social.

Vichayapai’s isn’t the only “soft art” on display in this vibrant show of Seattle artists. See also: Mary Anne Carter’s puffy gold charm bracelet, whose individual charms include a cowboy hat, a vase and a shrimp — all plumped out with polyfill.

And two options for creepy doll fans: Eve Cohen’s collection of strangely compelling “Debutantes,” sewn from vintage hats, gloves, curtains, pantyhose and bra pads; and Sonja Peterson’s “Mini dolls,” which look like the spongy spawn of Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head.

Debi Boyette’s “Clouded Thoughts” invites visitors to plop down and chill out. (Museum of Museums)

Long dismissed as a non-serious art form (hint: skills like sewing, crocheting and quilting are associated with women’s domestic work), textile and fiber art is having a moment in galleries all over the Puget Sound region. 

On First Hill, the Museum of Museums is showing Soft Touch (up through Aug. 31), a plush-a-palooza of woven and collaged wall hangings, felt and hooked-rug sculptures and quilted abstract designs, plus an entire breakfast (eggs, bacon and avocado toast, natch) made in puffed fabric by Shiloh Davies

Interactive exhibits at MoM encourage you to lounge among fluffy pillows, wrap yourself in a gigantic pair of disembodied hands by Michael McKinney or relax in a room full of Debi Boyette’s handmade floating clouds. And Nina Vichayapai makes another appearance here, with an immersive “tiger selfie” installation: a soft jungle setting intended as a cruelty-free antidote to big-game hunter photos. 

In Pioneer Square, Foster/White Gallery has a very cool collection of soft plinth sculptures by Northwest artist Cameron Anne Mason, part of the group show Elements: Water (up through Feb. 18). These sleek, subtly wavy columns — made of dyed and vintage fabrics — stand upright and resemble rivers.

And coming up at Shift Gallery, watch for Portland artist Amanda Triplett’s Nature Nurture (March 2 - April 1), featuring her wall sculptures made from thickly embroidered recycled fabrics that twist and bloom into organic, cellular shapes.

In Ballard, at Vestibule Gallery, the new environmentally themed group exhibit Breathing Room (Feb. 16 - March 11) includes local artists Barbara Robertson and Sue Danielson, who’ll project images onto found materials and patterned fabrics. Also in the show: installation artist Vaughn Bell, who has translated meteorological images of an atmospheric river into blankets, one of which you can curl up in.

Ginnie Hebert’s quilt “Cracks” is one of many radical takes on the quilting tradition now on view at VCA. (Vashon Center for the Arts)

In Kirkland, fiber artist Megan Prince — who spent a Sisyphean last month at Vestibule Gallery weaving a large wall piece that the public deliberately unraveled every weekend — has a new installation, Seeing Remnants in Life (through March 30 at the Kirkland Library).

The large web, woven from 12,000 feet of reclaimed red ratchet straps, hangs ominously over the circulation desk, a complicated crimson cloud. Prince will talk about her work on Feb. 19 and lead a friendship bracelet workshop March 19.

A bit farther flung geographically, catch Reimagining Quilt & Fiber Art at Vashon Center for the Arts (through Feb. 26), featuring beautiful, boundary-pushing work by 21 quilters from the Contemporary Quilt Art Association (founded by the Pacific Northwest African American Quilters). Prepare for wild colors and inventive patterns.

And in Bellingham, at the Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher Building, see Katazome Today (through June 11), an in-depth exploration of the Japanese textile dyeing process used in kimonos.

But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It’s Seattle Art Museum’s forthcoming exhibit, Ikat: A World of Compelling Cloth (March 9 - May 29). This expansive show will feature more than 100 handwoven textiles, from Uzbekistan to Japan, from antique to contemporary.

Gail Pettis joins Jazz in the City at the Frye Art Museum this weekend. (Gail Pettis)

Black History Month plays on with an excellent soundtrack — thanks to three upcoming concerts that offer a great way to celebrate. (For more events, see our recent list of Things to Do.)

Gail Pettis > After a three-year pandemic hiatus, the Frye Art Museum is bringing back its live music series, Jazz in the City (Feb. 19, 2 - 4 p.m.). And it’s coming out of the gate strong with a performance by Seattle-based Pettis, an orthodontist-turned-smooth interpreter of jazz standards — twice named Earshot Jazz’s “Northwest Vocalist of the Year.”

M.V.P. (Michael Jackson vs. Prince) > Longtime Seattle keyboardist Darrius Willrich and friends are playing all the big hits from MJ and Prince at the Seamonster Lounge in Wallingford (Feb. 19, 9 p.m.). Who will win the smackdown? Who cares? There are no losers in this scenario. 

The Roots > Rapper Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter and drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson formed The Roots in 1987, when they were in high school together in Philadelphia — a key moment in Black history! This week they leave the Jimmy Fallon house-band stage and bring their infectious neo-soul to Showbox Sodo (Feb. 20, 8 p.m.).

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