Crochet Me: The Art of Jo Hamilton

Portland based artist Jo Hamilton creates portraits using crochet. Her portraits are innovative, accurate and photographic in their accuracy. Hamilton was recently profiled in Interweave Crochet’s Winter 2009 magazine.  Hamilton crochets her portraits from photographs. She first learned to crochet at the age of 6 from her grandmother. Originally trained as a painter, she  was inspired to begin potraiture and work in crochet after seeing an exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Craft  (the website is great by the way) in Portland in 2006. The exhibit, “New Embroidery: Not Your Grandma’s Doily,” was designed to explore “contemporary approaches to embroidery, revealing surprising, humorous, even subversive imagery executed in thread upon vintage fabrics. The curators have carefully selected artists who explore this innovative approach to a traditional handcraft and its intersection with a third wave of feminism that often rejects the movement’s moniker.”

The detail, vibrancy, texture and suggestion of light and shadow which Hamilton is able to achieve fascinates me. Both the Museum of Contemporary Craft and Hamilton’s art raise some interesting questions:

1. What separates craft from being recognized as “art”?

2. In that separation why are womyn and people of color so often placed on the “crafters” side of that divide, even as our work influences mainstream and accepted “art”?

3. If crafts, like needlepoint, stitch work, require time, skill, and technique, why are they called crafts? If this is because “crafts” are understood to be for personal and daily use, then I think there is an interesting parallel between how Western thought imagines and structures “art” and how the Western canon imagines and positions non-Western art, particularly African and Latin-American art.

4. When craft art is practiced by white artists, what is the process whereby the work created becomes “art” or a “statement on society”?

“The Beginning” by Jo Hamilton

I’m very interested in “craft” art that is in fact, “art,” in other words, works that require, skill, design, technique, and that represent the expression, vision, or tradition of an individual artist or community. Here , Ithink specifically of the Gee’s Bend quilts, which inspire my own crochet work. Gee’s Bend is located in an isolated region of Alabama, and many of those who lived in Gee’s Bend are direct descendents of the enslaved people from the Gee plantation. After emancipation, many of the former enslaved people became tenant farmers on Pettway land. As the area developed these womyn “developed a distinctive, bold, and sophisticated quilting style based on traditional American (and African American) quilts, but with a geometric simplicity reminiscent of Amish quilts and modern art.” While the website is quick to link the quilts of American styles, even going as far as to cite Amish quilting patterns, it is clear that the patterns in the Gee’s Bend quilts reflect a uniquely African-American aesthestic sense that is directly linked to African art, patterns, and symbology.

The distinctive colors, geometric patterns, shapes – particularly the triangle, are articulated in an African-American context even as the design echoes an African aesthetic.

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5 Responses to “Crochet Me: The Art of Jo Hamilton”

  1. Hi. Thanks for featuring my work in your blog. I too have asked myself those same questions. I really enjoy subverting traditional “fine art’ and craft techniques with the hope of creating new possibilities for both. When I was at art school, because of my use of intense colour, I was advised by my male tutors to enter the textile department. But I was not interested in designing fabrics, rather in depictions of things, so I studied painting. Years later, I came up with my way to inhabit both disciplines. I hope that my work helps to place craft where it should be, on equal ground with art. Long live the craft revolution!
    Jo Hamilton

  2. […] crochet no longer remains as table ware and upholsteries or mere piece of fabric, thanks to Jo Hamilton, who has proved that crochet can bring home fascinating modalities other than just pieces of […]

  3. Nan Lewis Says:

    I found this weblog very interesting. I was a sculptor for 40 years and then started to knit wall hangings in abstract forms. I use various yarns and they are so beautiful today that the material itself helps to inspire me.

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  5. I personally consider this blog post , “Crochet Me: The Art of Jo Hamilton thebibliophile Weblog”, exceptionally engaging and also it was indeed a superb read.
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