Photo: Textile artist Bonnie Meltzer
The Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education’s exhibition “Mending the Social Fabric” by textile artist Bonnie Meltzer has at its core a parachute with a 314-foot circumference that is encircled by 75 handkerchiefs embroidered with text that amplifies the embedded themes. Mounted behind the parachute are textiles from across the globe. The parachute, a symbol of safety, has rips and tears and over the course of the exhibition interactive community building happens as visitors sit and mend the damage.
“While we had planned to open “Mending the Social Fabric” a year ago, we have all learned to be adaptable,” observes Judy Margles, OJMCHE director. “Throughout the run of the exhibition, we will offer scheduled times for people to safely gather and work on mending the piece while also gaining an understanding of the roots of the work. For visitors in general, Bonnie’s deft understanding of the trauma that we have all experienced these past long months amplifies OJMCHE’s mission to urge each of us to take responsibility for repairing the world.”
“Mending the Social Fabric,” made specifically for OJMCHE, is guided by the Jewish principle “tikkun olam,” which means “repair the world”. Originally to open in October 2020, the emphasis was to have been on citizen action, voting rights and immigration. As the terrible events of 2020 unfolded and the exhibition date was moved to 2021, the exhibition’s vision was refocused and expanded. Additional themes of Covid 19, social justice, and safety nets were woven into the installation.
“This interactive fabric installation is not one giant kvetch about the unraveling of the social fabric, instead, it embraces action, hope, and healing,” said Bonnie Meltzer. “ I believe people are the warp of the social fabric and our actions are the weft threads that turn it into cloth. The very act of gathering together as a community to sew on a giant parachute will help mend the isolation and pain so many have felt in the last year.”
Throughout the course of the exhibition, the museum will be sharing dates and times when visitors can join the artist in mending bees. This project has been partially funded by an artist project grant from RACC.
Bonnie Meltzer moved to Seattle from New Jersey to get an MFA at the University of Washington. There, she found her medium, her social commentary voice, and installation as a format. Her art-making, activism, community building and gardening are linked together like crochet; one thread looping with itself creating an interlocking life-fabric. Throughout her career, she has used fiber art techniques (mostly crocheted wire) and found objects to make social commentary. Environmental topics, especially coal, air quality, and land use dominated her work in the last decade. Since the 2016 election, she has added social justice to the mix. Her work has been exhibited throughout the Northwest and beyond and is held in private and public collections, most notably The National Science Foundation, University of Washington, and the City of Portland. The book The Fine Art of Crochet has Meltzer’s piece Global Warming on the front cover, and the book Artistry in Fiber: Sculpture has Connected on the back cover. For their 2013 series Voices of Coal, OPB included a video about Meltzer’s “No Coal” artwork. She has also been featured in an early episode of Oregon Artbeat.