International festival celebrates fibers

The kickoff for the biannual festival, FiberPhiladelphia, is during this month’s First Friday.

March’s First Friday marks the beginning of an exciting two-month, citywide event celebrating a medium that’s often overlooked in the world of fine arts: fiber.

FiberPhiladelphia will kick off its biannual arts festival with an opening reception and lecture March 2 at 2:30 p.m. at the Moore College of Art and Design. The reception will include a welcome address from Mayor Michael Nutter.

“He will be speaking to show his support for the program, with the initiative that Philadelphia is becoming this new ‘destination of the arts,’” said Sara Suleman, Temple alumnus and intern for the FiberPhiladelphia program.

The opening event will also include speaker Elissa Auther, who will lecture about the debate on high and low art, as well as the position of fibers within the arts hierarchy.

“I wanted to start with this statement: Nobody likes the word ‘fiber,’” FiberPhiladelphia director Amy Orr said. “This event is just about good art, no matter what it’s called.”

The arts festival boasts more than 50 exhibitions around the city showcasing local, national and international artists in the medium. Nine of these exhibitions will have opening receptions during this week’s First Friday, and four more opening receptions for April’s First Friday.

“The festival has taken place in Philadelphia in ebbs and flows since 1996,”  Orr said.

It started as a simple initiative to bring together the creative community that worked with fibers as a media base in their art. Orr was one of the artists who jumpstarted the idea for FiberPhiladelphia, along with curator, Bruce Hoffman.

“[With this festival] we are now hoping to establish Philadelphia as an international port for exhibiting textiles,” Hoffman said.

FiberPhiladelphia as a whole has a base that sits within Tyler School of Art. Many of the interns and volunteers for the event are Tyler fibers students, including Kelly Flegal, a senior fibers major. She said her job has entailed organizing the other Tyler volunteers and organizing labels, among other responsibilities.

“Really cool things are happening through this event,” Flegal said.

One of these “cool things” will include a show featuring work from the students who took the time to intern and volunteer for FiberPhiladelphia. The show will feature the young, up-and- coming artists who work with the medium.

Flegal, an artist herself, explained the different aspects of working with fiber.

“It allows for material exploration – I can do digital, sculptural or 2-D work,” Flegal said. “You are also in a constant state of educating yourself on the techniques.”

“There is always a new technique to learn, and learning that technique can add to one of my pieces,” she added.

Orr and Hoffman also have ties with Tyler, and the beginning of FiberPhiladelphia features the work of close friends and educators.

“It’s a great Tyler network we have here,” Orr said.

Orr also emphasized the uniqueness of fiber as an art form.

“It speaks to people, even those who are not formal artists or have a formal art background,” Orr said. “It is an evocative material that pulls you in with two underlying principles: process and materials. These are the principles that draw someone into the work.”

First Friday Events:

Snyderman-Works Gallery

303 Cherry St.

5-8:30 p.m.

The Snyderman-Works Gallery will have an opening reception of the 8th International Fiber Biannual. The exhibition will feature more than 50 artists from around the globe, featuring pieces that include Kozo bark fiber sculptures and wall hangings.

B Square Gallery

614 S. Ninth St.

6-8 p.m.

The opening show for “Not A Stitch” will feature artists from the U.S. and the U.K., including two dimensional works of needlework, fiber and textile arts. The exhibition will include a wide range of creative works featuring the wide world of fibers, including a tarot deck illustrated with images of knitters and knitting, and bondage drawings of “knitwear fetishists.”

For those unable to make the opening receptions during First Friday events, a bus loop will be offered to students to view all of the open galleries the following Saturday for a discounted price of $10. That Saturday, Tyler School of Art Fibers Department will also have an open studio from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Nicole Welk can be reached at

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