As you walk into the Gaches Mansion, location of the Pacific NW Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum, there is a feeling of stepping into someone’s home. It is extremely well preserved with antique furniture and light fixtures, window valances, lace curtains, fancy wallpaper trimmings and all the usual grandeur of a well-preserved Victorian mansion. It seems an odd place one might think to host such contemporary artists as Leonie Castelino and Irene Osborn. At first sight the space is busy with things to look at, but if you dwell a while in the high-ceilinged abode with the well-polished creaky Douglas fir floorboards, you can feel the existence of a time gone by and imagine what kind of life people lived back then; this juxtaposition makes the message of these two contemporary women artists even more real. The prejudices that have held women behind through the centuries are still with us today and the struggle is still real.
Although the setting is visually stimulating, the artifacts have been well curated by the artists to mirror the Victorian décor. As you turn right into the parlor, “Cocoon in White and Brown” is placed next to a traditional crystal chandelier, desk lamp, translucent lace curtains and brown window valance, which mimic the white and brown folds of fabric in Castelino’s hanging bojagi sculpture. Bojagi is scrap or patchwork Korean wrapping cloth. It is traditionally made from scraps of silk or ramie, but other fabrics can be used. The label quotes Francois Poulain de la Barre: “The mind has no sex.” Our self-determined identity defines our sex, but science has proven there is very little difference between the sexes in the day-to-day functioning of the brain. “Cocoon in Pink & Green” asks the question “What is the basis for (gender) prejudice?” and calls to mind issues like “the pink tax” and why colors are gendered.
Osborn’s “Addiction” stands tall and is perfectly framed in another part of the room with the same grand window décor. One wonders if the light behind her with her face in shadow is part of the message. The contrast between Victorian opulence and the hidden experience of drug addiction is not lost. In Victorian times, people became addicted to pharmaceuticals such as the opiate laudanum. These were innocent mistakes made in past times. In modern times, pharmaceutical companies prey on people seeking relief from pain of one kind or another. These are proven not to be such innocent mistakes, and the results are devastating. The bronze casting is a new direction for Osborn and is working well for her. Breaking from her usual white clay sculptures, the patina expressively describes the contours of her emotive sculpted figures.
In the hallway we find among others, “Cross Currents” by Castelino, a marvel of composition and color. The lattice structure of the bojagi imitates the wooden stair structure behind. The inscription on the label reads: “The foundations of prejudice against the abilities of women are based on self-interest and social customs. All these prejudices on the inferiority of women are harder to eradicate, as they are NOT based on reason.”
“On the Equality of the Two Sexes” – Francois Poulain de la Barre, 1673
The rectangular format of “Cross Currents” mirrors a favorite Osborn sculpture, “Mother’s Day” standing small nearby. The intimacy of prying into the restroom cubical and seeing the mother nursing her baby is shocking and saddening. Nursing in restrooms is experienced by almost every mother but almost always unwitnessed. We need to provide places for women to breastfeed or we need to simply look away. That women are made to feel ashamed into a bathroom cubicle to feed their baby is a fault that society needs to address. The “Please do not touch. Thank you!” label is amusing and seems to go well with the sentiment.
Across the hall there is a small sculpture by Osborn of a family unit named “Family.” The gender of the parents is intentionally ambivalent. A likable message.
Around the corner into the stairwell, we find playing a wonderful video made by John Serembe with music by Bibiana Huang Matheis, explaining the intention of the two artists. The video is the companion of two Castelino bojagi art pieces incorporating printed images of Osborn’s sculptures. These are two artists approaching a single issue from entirely different directions. One from a fiber-based, very colorful and visually abstract discipline, the other using three-dimensional monochromatic clay/bronze figurative sculpture. The two artists are from very different cultural origins, and they are bound with a common interest with a very strong message showing that there is power in collaboration. We are not equal until we are all equal.
That this show is timely is unmistakable, provoked by continued and recent political climates such as our failure to pass the ERA, the current attack on reproductive rights which highlights the lack of sufficient support in child care, and the crisis of women who disproportionately left the workforce to care for family members during the pandemic; through the traditional mediums of cloth and clay, by breaking down barriers of presentation, these two women artists bring to you a vision of what is and what should be, from the female perspective.
Castelino is an internationally renowned contemporary bojagi artist. Her art has been featured in several solo exhibitions from New York and across the United States, as well as internationally, from China, South Korea to South Africa. Recently she was an Honored International Artist at From Lausanne to Beijing, 10th International Fiber Art Biennale at Tsinghua University Art Museum in Beijing, China. She exhibits in prestigious juried group exhibitions in international museums and galleries.
Osborn is a celebrated and award-winning local sculptor showing Internationally, and in New York and Connecticut on the east coast. She has shown her work extensively at The Leonor R. Fuller Gallery at SPSCC and at The Gallery at TCC. She has won awards at the Franke Tobey Jones Gallery and Juror’s award at The Leonor R. Fuller Gallery.
Through the Wall – Breaking Free
11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday through November 20
Pacific NW Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum
703 South Second Street, La Conner, WA 98257
Photos by John Serembe