Embroidered Emotions

By Sartorius, Tara Cady | Arts & Activities, December 2000 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Embroidered Emotions

Sartorius, Tara Cady, Arts & Activities

Anger. It can be instantly explosive or it can percolate below the surface for a long, long time. When expressed, it can hurt feelings and it can even kill. The ripple from an act of anger spreads to othersand affects them in curious ways. Anger can eat away at one's heart and soul. The effects of anger might be healed over time, but there might always be a scar.

The work to your left is titled Aftermath. What is an aftermath? It is an effect, an outcome, a result or a consequence. In the case of this work, artist Michael Olszewski (pronounced ol-SHEF-ski) has stated that this is the aftermath of intense anger. He uses deep, saturated reds that both complement and clash. His stitches appear to close a wound, but they also define it, calling attention to the deep gash in the center of the image.

A large red cross, the symbol of first aid, marks the center of the square. In a circular pattern around and over and through the cross are appliqued arcs and embroidered stitch marks that carry the eye round and round in an almost dizzying motion.

Olszewski says that his art begins with a feeling, an emotion, a realization, a personal problem or an event in progress. His objects begin with a piece of fabric, most commonly silk, but sometimes linen or wool. The silk might be new or antique, possibly from Japan or Italy. It might begin as a plain, uncolored piece of fabric, or it might be a fragment from an already-dyed antique Japanese kimono. Usually, however, Olszewski dyes the silk, cuts it, alters it with stitching and might even dye it again and again, repeating his processes and building his constructions in layers.

By choosing to work with fabric, Olszewski breaks with tradition in two ways: in gender role and in artistic medium. In some cultures, as in parts of Africa and Mexico, men are entrusted with weaving the finest fabrics, but in the United States, women are usually responsible for making cloth. Olszewski, a white American man, makes cloth. It is not unheard of--just unusual.

More unusual, however, is the practice of using fabric to create Expressionist works of art. Expressionism, considered innovative in the early 1900s, evolved to become known as art that relies upon emotion and inner necessity as its only true impetus. Expressionist works were at first distorted images, then later became purely nonobjective works, usually in the form of paintings on paper or canvas. Olszewski pushes the edges of Expressionism (which began as a deliberate rebellion against the traditional) by creating emotion-laden objects from one of the most traditional materials available, fabric.

Whereas Expressionist painters might build up color and gestural marks on a large surface to convey their emotions, Olszewski says that his pieces are embedded through and through with feeling. He is not creating a picture of an emotion, he is creating a fully embodied emotional object. His fabric pieces are jewel-like in scale and intensity, purposely sized to relate to the human chest or torso.

Olszewski's emotions do not simply sit on the surface, they permeate each entire piece. He stitches by hand through layer after layer, he dyes the fabric all the way through, cuts it and reconstructs it--all the while contemplating the often difficult issues (such as death, uncertainty, loneliness or aging) he has had to address in his own life.

The introspective nature of his work is compelling. By any objective measure, Olszewski could be considered a privileged and successful artist. He is well-schooled, with a B.F.A in graphic design from the Maryland Institute, and an M.F.A. in fiber from Cranbrook Academy of Art. He has also received numerous awards, including a National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship and three fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

Currently, Olszewski is a professor of textile design at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Embroidered Emotions


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?