Art beat // Russian Art needlework

The Museum of Russian Art celebrates a long tradition of fine needlework

WINDOM — After hosting a perfectly timed exhibition of matryoshka, or Russian nesting dolls, over the holidays, The Museum of Russian Art is making another foray into world of Russian folk art.

The 19th and 20th century objects in “A Homespun Life: Textiles of Old Russia” were crafted in peasant households before the rise of the Soviet state and the large-scale production of clothing in factories. They were created almost exclusively by women, who learned the skills of spinning, weaving and embroidery from a very young age.

In fact, women controlled the entire process of textile production, from planting and harvesting flax to spinning the flax thread into linen to sewing and embroidering garments. A miniature prialka, the wooden blade used to spin flax fibers, was traditionally placed in the crib with an infant girl.

Their remarkable embroidery skills are on full display in “A Homespun Life,” which also helpfully explains the ancient symbolic system encoded in the everyday objects. Those include abstract representations of a pagan goddess and the “Tree of Life,” visual artifacts of the pre-Christian Slavic culture.

Patterns were passed down from one generation to the next over centuries. Even as the original meanings of certain symbols were lost, they were still stitched into the ceremonial towels used in weddings and village celebrations.

The exhibition leaves the impression that textile production consumed much of the lives of peasant women. They tended flax fields in the summer, spun thread nearly all the time and stitched and sewed through the dark northern winters to outfit their families in the long shirts and dresses that make up the traditional peasant costume.

Their deft needlework is like fine handwriting, something that is envied even as it becomes increasingly obsolete in the modern era. A group of women  — who, judging from their conversation knew a bit about needles and thread — expressed their astonishment as they circled the exhibition room, repeatedly whispering among one another “How’d they do that?” and “Can you imagine?”

Even one who has never so much as sewed a button to a coat will leave impressed by the embroiderers’ artistry, the expression of skills acquired over a lifetime.

Go see it
“Homespun Life: Textiles of Old Russia” runs through the end of the year at The Museum of Russian Art, 5500 Stevens Ave. S. 821-9045.


The artists of SMARTS

THE WEDGE — SMARTS is the acronym used by the South Minneapolis Arts Business Association, an association of artists and arts-related businesses launched about a year ago with the help of a city grant.

This spring, SMARTS has assembled its first exhibition of area artists, “The Arts of Community,” co-presented and hosted by Intermedia Arts. It’s an ideal location, both because SMARTS’ definition of South Minneapolis includes much of Southwest and also because Intermedia Arts for years hosted the 55408 show focused on its artist-rich zip code (which falls squarely within SMARTS territory).

Upstream Arts Executive Director Julie Guidry, who also serves on the SMARTS Board of Directors, said the association aims to leverage the resources of the local arts community to “creatively revitalize” South and Southwest neighborhoods. The exhibition opening also served as the launch party for the SMARTS Guide, a map to the constellation of schools, theaters, galleries and museums in its territory.

“I don’t know the exact number, but it’s something like 70 percent of the artists that live in the state of Minnesota live in Minneapolis, and of that number it’s like 50 percent are in South Minneapolis,” she said.

Go see it

“The Arts of Community” runs through April 16 at Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Ave. S. 871-4444.