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Tools of the Trade: Fiber Art by Bette Levy

The Carnegie Center is pleased to present the exhibit Tools of the Trade: Fiber Art by Bette Levy, on display March 16 through April 28, 2012. About this new exhibit, Levy writes, “Tools of the Trade examines and honors contrasting modes of production – hard physical labor and more sedentary handwork. Artwork in this exhibition juxtaposes rusted farm and other tools with hand-crocheted doilies or netting. Although very different from my usual hand embroidery, working with the starkly beautiful aged tools is a logical extension of some of my earlier work using vintage keys and locks.”

She continues, “The unlikely pairing of old tools with crochet, suggests interesting contrasts – hard metal versus soft fibers, men’s versus women’s work, outdoor versus indoor, active versus passive. Despite these apparent oppositions, however, there are potent similarities. Both forms of production require a serious work ethic, planning and goal setting, repetitive hand movements to complete the task, dependence on past knowledge and traditions. Many of these skills and techniques were handed down by older family members to younger ones. Although the tools and art forms have been replaced by modern approaches, techniques and technology, it is important to remember the tools and techniques of past years. In this way, Tools of the Trade shows respect for family, tradition, and memory. In addition to the artwork which pairs tools and crochet, other pieces in the show examine and honor the role of family and memory with work on vintage tablecloths, handkerchiefs, and old letters.”

Bette Levy has an undergraduate degree in experimental psychology and pursued an early career in the field of market research. Deciding to merge her interest in psychology and art, she came to Louisville from San Francisco in 1974, receiving a master’s degree in art therapy at the University of Louisville’s Institute of Expressive Therapies. This degree led to a two-decade career in art therapy, fund development and program planning. In 1992, Levy married UL microsurgeon and anatomist, Robert Acland, and because of his interest, support and encouragement, in 1994, Levy entered the UofL graduate program in fiber arts, graduating with her second master’s degree in 1998.

Levy practices what she calls “fine art embroidery.” Primarily a hand stitcher, Levy’s signature is the use of vividly-colored silk thread on black silk noil grounds. This approach intensifies thread colors and sets up strongly contrasting figure-ground relationships. Levy has developed a personal language of stitches that enables her to “draw” or “paint” with thread on fabric. Her subject matter is often based on her own photographic studies and is small scale and abstract.

Through her fiber art, Levy has participated in numerous exhibitions and conducted personal research into textiles through world-wide travel. She is a founding member of LAFTA (Louisville Area Fiber and Textile Artists), a past member of Fiber Forum, an arm of the Embroiderers’ Guild of America, a past vice president, board member and Kentucky state representative for the Surface Design Association, and a member of numerous other textile, arts, and community organizations. She has written articles for Surface Design Journal, Arts Across Kentucky, and other professional journals. Levy is the director of the Patio Gallery at the Jewish Community Center in Louisville, KY. She is represented by PYRO Gallery, an artists’ cooperative.