The “Time Piece” series by Joan Dreyer is an ongoing project by the mixed media artist where she hand stitches tree bark collected over time. Each piece uses rings of stitches to create a circular pattern not unlike the rings of a tree. The hand stitched process creates a range of thick and thin rings that blend with the bark and create a kind of skin. Each piece is unique, while sharing similar qualities such as the small scale ( 5” x 5” x 2.5”), a palette of ochres, browns and grey and the silk hand-stitched backing on each of the pieces.
To paint a broad stroke, Joan’s art addresses life’s stages and the challenges that individuals face during the journey of their lives. Her work is subtle yet leaves a profound impact on viewers. The “Time Piece” body of work falls under what Joan has described as her “Mourning Series”.
I’ve felt that mourning was mostly about the loss of a person. My view expanded when I came across an essay by Nicole Davi called “Tree Clocks and Climate Change’ in “The Language of Trees”, a collection of essays, poems and drawings by Irish artist, Katie Holten.
Nicole Davi is a scientist who studies tree rings and travels to the far regions of the planet to measure tree ring samples from very old trees. Tree ring widths vary from year to year. ( In good years, the rings are wider than in tough years.) She describes tree ring records as “natural recorders” of climate – going back thousands of years. The records are one of the keys to understanding climate change in the past and what is possible in the future.
Climate change in our era has been “front of mind” for me this summer. While we’ve had impacts of extreme weather for some time – this year – it has become more and more frequent. In a way, I’m mourning a lost world and trying to figure out how to move forward in a time of uncertainty.
I’ve started thinking about the role of the artist in the era of climate change. How does it look? How does it feel? What do we mean when we talk about sustainability?
Joan’s Time Piece series reminds me of the cycles of life but also of our connection to each other, our past, our losses, our gifts but also our future.
My mother, Helen Schrider Higgins earned an MFA from Catholic University in Washington DC in 1955 at the age of 25. She was the first woman to be admitted to the MFA sculpture program at CU. ( She become a student at CU in the late 40’s not long after they admitted women to the school. )
As a child you don’t contextualize your parent.My memories as a child of the late 60’s and 70’s was one of being around art, artists and books. In lieu of dolls, I received pastels and sketchbooks as gifts. This was my norm. My context.
In her later years, she and I would – at least once a year – find ourselves having lunch in thecourtyard cafeof the West Wing at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. While we always talked about art, at these courtyard lunches we starting to go deep into her story and her experiencearound the emergent Washington DC art community of the 1950’s.
Our National Gallery conversations gave me a strong foundation when I had the opportunity last year to delve into the time periodof the 1950’s while collaborating with Catholic University on an exhibit of her art work.
In my research, I did a deep dive into Black Mountain College, the Bauhaus artists, Bernand Leach, Shoji Hamada and other influences.
One of the most interesting insights for me came from a book that I found at the Phillips Collections museum shop in a moment of serendipity.
It was “The Free World,Art and Thought in the Cold War” by Louis Menand, an English Professor at Harvard.
He did extensive research and wrote about culture in the time period that she came of age as an artist.
The insight from Menand was regarding the art critic/art world power broker Clement Greenberg.Yeah – that guy.
I was not aware that Greenberg received plenty of what we call today “pushback” during his heyday.
Greenberg constructed a top/down art world structure. In his peak years, Greenberg championed the abstract expressionists as the pinnacle of art. Later in the 60’s, he was overwhelmed by the popularity of pop art and his power within the art world of his time declined – although his writing maintained a strong hold on academia for decades.
The key point that I learned from “The Free World” was that the term “The Long Front of Culture” that was coined by the British art critic, Lawrence Alloway.
Alloway argued for the arts to be viewed as part of a continuum. There are multiple genealogies of art – not one.
I am simplifying the argument about what constitutes high art but my point is that there are and have always been many different ways to create.
There are so many more artists now than there were in the 1950’s. The art world is much more diverse.
What moves you? What excites you? What do you want to see everyday?
The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War, Louis Menand, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 97803741584158453,
Announcements for art gatherings, openings and lectures are streaming into my email box and onto my social media feeds.
Before the art season starts again, I’d like to share an experience that jarred me.
It’s about social media.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Instagram. I post about art and artists.
Recently, I realized the need to slow down and return to the reason that I find art an essential part of my experience.I was looking at a large “coffee table” size art book of works on paper by the artist,Do Ho Suh. I stopped myself suddenly because I realized that I was flipping through the pages as if I was randomly scrolling through Instagram. I was scanning not seeing.
After multiple sessions of scanning the book, I had become aware. I slowed down. I began to experience his drawings and prints.The work began to reveal itself. It was an intense experience.
How do you look at art – both in person and online? How have social media platforms impacted the way you look and see?
During conversations about social media, I often advocate for social media as “Marketing” with a capital M. That’s it!
Until recently I had not considered its subtle but real impact on the way that I look and see.
For lessons in slowing down, I recommend a valuable book in my art book collection entitled “Seeing Slowly: Looking at Modern Art” by Michael Findlay. You may know his book “The Value of Art”. If you are new to the art, I recommend reading “Seeing Slowly: Looking at Modern Art” first before going on to “The Value of Art”. Both are well written but “Seeing Slowly” is more personal.
Check it out!
Seeing Slowly: Looking at Modern Art