In Touch With Lace at Hunterdon Art Museum

"Lace, Not Lace: Contemporary Fiber Art From Lacemaking Techniques” will be exhibited at Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton September 23-January 6.

Works in the Hunterdon Art Museum’s contemporary lace exhibit include one of three 18-foot wide Urchins by Jin Choi and Thomas Shine.
Works in the Hunterdon Art Museum’s contemporary lace exhibit include one of three 18-foot wide Urchins by Jin Choi and Thomas Shine.
Photo courtesy of Leximagery

The seeds of the Hunterdon Art Museum’s latest contemporary art exhibit were planted at a math conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. That’s where Marjorie Nathanson, the museum’s executive director, met Veronika Irvine, a mathematician and fiber artist.

Now Irvine is one of 28 artists represented in the exhibit “Lace, Not Lace: Contemporary Fiber Art From Lacemaking Techniques,” September 23-January 6 at the museum in Clinton.

Sepia Bowl by Jill Nordfors Clark.

Sepia Bowl by Jill Nordfors Clark. Photo Courtesy of Hunterdon Art Museum

The word lace calls to mind delicate items, such as wedding gowns, pillows and undergarments. Lacemaking dates to the 16th century, explains Devon Thein, a Livingston resident and curator for “Lace, Not Lace,” which includes 41 works created using crochet, needle lace (buttonhole stitch) and bobbin lace (weaving or braiding) techniques.

“These techniques are very time-consuming and very skill intensive, so they’ve been adapted for hobbyists and artists,” says Thein, a volunteer consultant for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s historical lace collection. For “Lace, Not Lace,” artists added modern flair to the ancient techniques.

The Urchins, on display until October 7, designed by Boston-based architects Jin Choi and Thomas Shine, are three crocheted pieces resembling sea urchins that fit around metal frames. Each is 18 feet wide and weighs about 240 pounds. It took three months and 30 volunteer crocheters to complete the woven masterpieces; for the Hunterdon exhibit, two urchins will be hoisted off the ground so museumgoers can duck underneath and stand inside. “People can go in and touch it and understand and study the patterns and appreciate this old craft elevated into something bigger,” says Choi. The third urchin will hang over the South Branch of the Raritan River, adjacent to the museum. “You don’t expect to see lace in large scale in a public space,” says Choi. “When you see something unexpected, you just focus on that thing and get distracted from the reality; that pause is what we’re after.”

Inside the museum, there will be other surprising elements. The Carriage of Lost Love by Lieve Jerger is a 16-foot-long copper-wire sculpture that took more than 40 years to handweave.

Jersey Devil by Penny Nickels.

Jersey Devil by Penny Nickels. Photo Courtesy of Hunterdon Art Museum

Other works are smaller, but no less impressive. For Sepia Bowl, Jill Nordfors Clark used hog gut (sausage casing) as the thread. Dorie Millerson crafted a red, white and blue Catboat (the sailboats that race on Barnegat Bay) that can fit in the palm of your hand. Jersey Devil by Penny Nickels depicts the legend in needle lace.

“When you mention lace, people think of their grandma’s lace doilies, but certainly not exciting contemporary art,” says Nathanson. “That’s something we can add to the field because it hasn’t been shown before.”

Museums hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 11 am–5 pm. Admission: $5-$7.

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