“These two are my favorite,” artist Courtney Weber says, pointing to the back right corner of the small room at ACRE Projects. “I started drawing the pattern for this one at the Residency and to me the symmetry and colors are really beautiful.”
The piece in question is untitled, as are all of the pieces in her exhibit “Other Flowers.” It is simply distinguished by its dimensions, 22-by-30 inches. This particular “Untitled” is by far the most detailed piece in the gallery, with dark floss outlining the four corners of the paper, coming together to form a cross at the center of the diamond-shaped body. The patterns filling in the paper are formed by a series of stitches resembling the letter x, laid next to each other until the individual stitches disappear into the larger image.
The second of Weber’s favorites is aptly described by a fellow observer as a sunset when viewed from the right and a mushroom when viewed from the left. The 18-by-24-inch piece is the only asymmetrical embroidery floss-on-paper piece in the collection and stands out like the only light haired child in a family of brunettes. In a room full of cross-stitch patterns that could have been made centuries before this piece, its unrefined yet striking appearance is distinct to both the pastiche and the artist.
Weber originally intended “Other Flowers” to be comprised entirely of embroidered cross-stitch patterns on paper. The embroidery is made not with the thin string typically used for sewing but rather with “floss”—the material commonly used by children to make multicolored friendship bracelets. The display of seven untitled floss-and-paper pieces is seemingly interrupted by three jars filled with rusty nails resting on a shelf on the back left wall, and a row of nine groups of thread of varying colors on the right wall. On this Sunday afternoon, Weber’s cheetah print loafers clink on the un-buffed wooden floors as she walks toward the jars. After taking a sip of her Pabst, Weber points to the jars and explains their liquid contents: iron liquor (a substance formed from the reaction between the nails), vinegar, and water. She used the amber liquid along with plant dyes to color her embroidery floss at the ACRE Residency in rural Wisconsin, where she made most of the art.
Weber walks in front of a row of brass hooks, each holding a bundle of thread. From each bundle hangs a manila tab, the name of the plant responsible for its color written in felt marker. The labels range from “untreated,” dangling on white thread, to “Black Eyed Susan,” delineating a darker sand-colored bundle.
When observed and appreciated at length, the jars, embroidery samples, and hanging bundles of thread come together to form a coherent whole. The objects that upon first glance seem anomalous are in fact at the heart of the exhibit. The rest of the works fall somewhere between the mesmerizing symmetry of the 22-by-30-inch piece and the daring otherness of the 18-by-24-inch floss-on-paper sample.
The venue fits well with the artist’s self-proclaimed theme of “place”—ACRE Projects comes across more as a home with artwork on the walls than a gallery hosting an exhibit. A white, orange, and black cat strolls across the floor among the gallerygoers and takes its place in the windowsill. One of the attendees wearing an unofficial uniform of chunky knits and jeans carries the tabby out of sight to a back room. As a group of fellow artist huddle in a corner, wine and beer in hand, laughter fills the tiny room.
It is easy to imagine that, rather than an exhibit opening, people are gathered for a house warming party. The homey approach is only appropriate, since the goal of the exhibit is to show a “connection to place and history faded by time and memory.” Yet while the sound of the attendees’ laughter fades, Weber’s iron liquor and plant dyes leave permanent stains.
ACRE, 1913 W. 17th St. Through Friday, January 21. Hours by appointment. Acreresidency.org