A new exhibition by Anna Keene opens at Five Square At Gallery in Windwardside, today, Thursday, 4:00-6:00pm. The exhibit, entitled “Indigo Inspiration,” features 41 wall hangings and what Keene calls “wearable works” — items of clothing such as sarongs, jackets and scarves.
The title of the exhibition stems from the fact that many of the exhibits were created using indigo plants that were grown, harvested and processed into pigment by Keene on Saba itself. Keene’s background is steeped in the arts and in fabric in particular. She learned to sew at the age of 12, studied loom weaving and spinning as part of her Bachelor’s in Fine Arts and has had numerous exhibitions, art shows and workshops.
For the creations in this exhibition she has worked using traditional Japanese Shibori techniques: bunching and tying with thread; folding and clamping; pole wrapping and stitching to create her patterns on natural fabrics of silk, rayon and cotton. Keene first moved to Saba in the 1980s, arriving on island with her treasured 100-year-old loom and opened the Weaver’s Cottage in Windwardside with Ruth Buchanan, where they made and sold their fabric creations.
In 1990, she moved back to the United States where she continued weaving, spinning her own yarn from her herd of Angora goats, dyeing with natural dyes and producing creations on her property in Arizona. In 2015, she returned to Saba with the knowledge and skills to process and dye with indigo, knowing it grew wild on the island Keene also uses natural dye plants, many collected on the island, including marigolds, spinach seeds and Moses-in-a-Boat to supplement her colour palette. The production of indigo pigment in Saba goes back to the 18th and 19th centuries and the ruins of an indigo boiling house can still be seen at Flat Point. The process of indigo pigment production is a combination of scientific process and creative inspiration. Harvesting is followed by three days of soaking in water, during which time the surface develops a coppery sheen and the water turns blue.
At this point Keene removes the soggy leaves, adds Calcium Hydroxide to increase the PH and whips the liquid to add air, which results in the indigo pigment precipitating out. After a further three days she pours off the liquid leaving an indigo pigment sludge. This she adds to a fresh pot of water, heats it to 90 degrees Celsius and adds hydrogen-sulphite to remove oxygen. About an hour later the liquid turns a vivid fluorescent green and it is ready for dyeing. Having bunched, tied, folded, clamped and stitched her fabrics, she gently dips them in the vat, carefully avoiding the introduction of oxygen, and then removes them about 10 seconds later. The magic happens when the fabric hits the air as it will then slowly turn from green to blue. Since indigo is a pigment as opposed to a stain, the more times that you dip it, the darker the blue become. Once Keene is satisfied that she has the perfect colour the bunches, ties, clamps etcetera are removed, the fabric is ironed and the piece is complete.
The “Indigo Inspiration” exhibition will run April 18-25. The Five Square All Gall, is open Monday to Saturday 9:00am-6:00pm and Saturday 12:00pm-3:00pm. All of the exhibits are for sale.
The Daily Herald