GLEN ARBOR — It’s busywork — mostly women’s. It’s a hobby. It’s not “art.”

Those are some of the fairly rigid conceptions people have about fiber arts, said Sarah Bearup-Neal, Glen Arbor Arts Center gallery manager.

“Contemporary fiber artists have, if nothing else, questioned these assumptions and gone about flipping the script with glee and humor and a massive dose of smarts,” Bearup-Neal said.

A new GAAC exhibition dedicated to fiber artwork features 2D and 3D work that explores fiber materials in “fresh, original ways and as an art-making medium.” Fiber Without Borders opens today and runs through Nov. 7. The juried show has 32 art pieces from 27 artists.

Fiber arts often are misunderstood because many contemporary fiber works are inspired or spring from traditional craft forums like mending, quilt-making and weaving, said Bearup-Neal, herself a fiber artist. Starting in the 1960s, studio artists began exploring different fiber materials — paper, fabric, rope — and fiber techniques like stitching, weaving, knitting, crocheting.

“There were no rules and regulations about what could and could not be tried,” she said. “As a result, we started seeing more and more artwork produced using these tried and true craft forms.”

It’s the structure and order of fiber art that appeals to Denise Samuels of Traverse City.

“I just like the regularity,” said Samuels, who has a piece in the exhibition. “Within it, you have a framework of regularity and then you can go from there in terms of the colors, composition, materials. It gives you some structure in which to play.”

A lifelong love of making things is what drew her to fiber art, she said. Samuels said she would only go to a friend’s house if they promised to make things with her.

Samuels’ “Finding a Path” uses mostly recycled materials such as cardboard, paper, rice paper and old paintings. It’s the fourth in a series of larger works, Samuels said.

“I really love the fact that it’s just hours and hours of fitting things together,” she said of her piece. “I can control that like I can’t control life. I make it all fit together and it feels great — as opposed to life, you’ve kind of got to take it how it comes.”

One of Colleen Kole’s pieces reflects what artists have to do when things get tough — keep working at it. “Do the Dance #4: Solitude,” is a quilt.

Kole said she has about 2,000 yards of different colored cottons she uses. She dyed them herself — something she normally does in the summer when it’s warm enough to be outside, she said. Kole then creates and designs in the fall and winter.

“Everything I do I freehand cut and sketch,” she said.

“I work with the design until I’m happy with it, excited by it,” Kole said. “I rearrange it on the wall — sometimes obsessively for a couple weeks or months on end. Then I add the design — the quilting stitch. I do that freehand as well.”

Most of the artwork in Fibers Without Borders is for sale, Bearup-Neal said. The price is set by the artists.

There are several companion programs to the exhibition, including a yarn-bomb installation; documentary and discussion about craftivist approaches to knitting; a gallery talk with two local artists whose practices focus on hand-built clothing; and a presentation about the history of contemporary fiber art.

“The arts give us powerful tools for talking about really difficult things,” Bearup-Neal said. “Who would have thought that people would pay $500 a ticket to see a musical in rap about Alexander Hamilton? The arts engage even the most unexpected things into an engaging proposition.”

“Contemporary fiber artists have, if nothing else, questioned these assumptions and gone about flipping the script with glee and humor and a massive dose of smarts.” Sarah Bearup-Neal, Glen Arbor Arts Center gallery manager

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