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KCAI Fiber Department Showcases Student Work

At the Kansas City Art Institute, a sale and exhibition of student artwork at the end of each semester is a nearly 45-year tradition for the ceramics department; some of the other departments, such as painting, printmaking, and sculpture, have also opened their doors for the past 20 years. This weekend, the fiber department showcases student work in a new location called the Warehouse. 

Art in a gallery context

As KCAI sophomore, juniors, and seniors make last-minute adjustments to displays, a diverse array of artwork hangs above them on clean, white walls in the home of the fiber department, a sprawling 10,000-square-foot warehouse at 4218 Walnut St. in Kansas City, Mo.The space opened in January and combines classes and studios in one building.

Maegan Stracy, fiber technician and studio coordinator, says students have been hustling the past few weeks to finish work and prepare for the sale.

"It’s very exciting, very busy, very hectic time of year," says Stracy. "But it’s the time the students finally get to see their work up in a gallery context and also get to see people’s reactions to their work outside of school."

Jumping between different worlds with fiber as inspiration

The work in the exhibition is wide ranging and interdisciplinary, including video, photography, installation pieces, fashion, and performance -  mediums not instantly identified with fiber. Some students say that freedom is what attracted them to the department.

"It’s very much an attraction to learn tradition and to learn how to weave and dye," says Paige Beltowski, a junior in the fiber department. "It's then being able to translate that into a photograph or how does that translate into a production.

"I am able to jump between these worlds of knitting and dying and then also production of photography and then come back to hand sewing and creating garments."

The fluttering of silk and lots of beads

One work by sophomore Lauren Chastain features a marbled-silk wing draped over a flat-screen monitor; on the screen, a winged dancer flutters.

"This is my first experiment with film," says Chastain. "I feel like it’s something that you had to see the movement of the piece because I made these large-scale wings. Whenever they are described they sound silly and ridiculous, but they are actually really beautiful when you see them in motion."

A mannequin in a ruffled dress leans against a wall in the center of the gallery. It was inspired by the cultural heritage of Luis Gonzalez, a sophomore from the Canary Islands. Gonzalez designed the delicately-detailed fabrics in muted colors.

"I created a garment using silk organza and constantine to make a heart-shaped gown with ruffles beaded with gold and pearls and faux-fur neckpiece with about 400 beads," says Gonzalez. "The dress is supposed to be about my heritage. My family is from the Canary Islands and I am using colors from the villas that are there."

'Everyone everyone is encouraged to explore in their own way'

The ability to incorporate photography was a draw for junior Max Belanger, who has two photographs featured in the show.

"For me, it’s just how interdisciplinary the department is," says Belanger. "That everyone starts out learning the same principles and techniques, but everyone is encouraged to explore them in their own away and develop their own interests.

"Everyone is doing something completely different. We’ve got students who are doing stop motion, we’ve got students who are interested in more traditional fiber practices, we’ve got people who are doing production kind of stuff, so it’s everywhere, but it’s great."

The Kansas City Art Institute hosts the end-of semester student exhibition and sale, on the KCAI campus, 4415 Warwick Blvd, Kansas City, Mo. takes place Friday, December 6, 5 - 7 pm; Saturday, December 7, 10 am - 5 pm; and Sunday, December 8, noon to 5 p.m. All departments will be featured, including the fiber department, now located in the Warehouse Gallery, 4218 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo.

Julie Denesha is the arts reporter for KCUR. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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