Fiber art exhibit elicits ‘wow’ reaction

The Finlandia Gallery is open again, and the first show of 2023 is “Word Count,” by Bonnie Peterson who has made her home in Houghton since 2009.

Back in the 1990s, people had about the same appetite for talking about Breast Cancer as we did for talking about Global Warming, later referred to more as Climate Change. Back then, with so many things yet to do in my life, a sense of immortality prevailed and though I knew women who had died of breast cancer, I didn’t want to think about it. Sitting down with a friend who might be dying would take a lot of courage. Phyllis Kuhl was in her late 30’s when diagnosed and eventually she wrote the poem “Talk to me!” because her journey was not only painful but also lonely. But Phyllis’s close friend, Bonnie Peterson, recognized the importance of bringing this issue into conversation between women. She took a step away from traditional quilting and created a piece of the same name as the poem “Talk to Me,” for a quilt contest to raise money for women who could not afford mammograms. It has poetry, articles, bras, and it’s all about breast cancer. Bonnie told me “I would put this piece in traditional quilt shows, and people would see the bras from far away and start twittering and laughing. And then they’d get up close and find out what it was about, and they’d start talking about breast cancer.”

That was the goal; to provide a launch point for these serious types of conversations. The piece did get rejected by several quilt shows, but gaining acceptance into art shows, inspired Bonnie to start focusing more on those. The piece has been featured in magazine articles about quilting, women’s issues and cancer, and it has also been in juried shows around the USA and abroad.

Receiving a fellowship and grant from the Illinois Arts Council launched Bonnie Peterson’s journey into activism through fiber art.

Shortly after the 2006 film “An Inconvenient Truth,” which was Vice President Al Gore’s statement on Climate Change, Bonnie, living in Illinois at the time, participated in a workshop focused on environment and art at the Limnology field station University of Wisconsin- Madison. There were 20 participating artists, including Joyce Koskenmaki and Bonnie, and seven participating scientists, along with two musicians and many others. This merging of science with art was a way of bringing important topics, like climate change, into the forefront of people’s minds. This was followed by a traveling exhibition called “Paradise Lost? Artists on Climate Change in the Northwoods,” funded by the Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment and the Wisconsin Arts Board. Visitors to the exhibit could look at a piece of art and engage with it, talk about it, and take a message home to their communities and to their activism. The show became a book by the same name, and a resource for teaching about climate change in the Northwoods to middle and high school students (https://paradiselost2.wordpress.com/). This show actually came to the Omphale Gallery in Calumet. Bonnie’s quilt for that exhibit was called “It’s Just Math.” It is an exploration of the equations that the scientists use to study climate change, a graph of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over the ages, satellite images of the ozone hole over Antarctica and photos from cross country skiing explorations. This quilt was purchased by the College of Lake County, in Illinois. Later, Bonnie participated in an art and science workshop studying glaciers at Yosemite in California.

Another form of art that Bonnie has pursued is the embellishment of topographic maps and other similar items with ironed on transfers, or silk transfers stitched onto the paper, with information and quotes related to the processes that occur with climate change. Lately the focus has been using markers on the topographic maps to diagram the consequences of even small increments in global temperature. The standard USGS Topo map is 27 inches high by 23 inches wide, but these have been enlarged and reproduced on 5 foot tall banners. They are interesting to read and explore all the different chains of events that scientists are not only predicting but also witnessing.

I had to check out this show last week, and my first response was “Wow!” The artworks are large and intricate, colorful and visually stunning. There are the pieces described here, but also many others from Bonnie’s adventures around the world, like her adventures in Africa, and her trip to Tibet.

“Word Count” is Bonnie Peterson’s solo show at the Finlandia Gallery located in the Finnish American Heritage Center in Hancock from January 9 to Feb. 15.

Hancock will celebrate Heikinpäivä this Saturday, Jan. 28, with the parade at 11 a.m., the wonderful Tori Market from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at the Finnish American Heritage Center, games and festivities on the Quincy Green. The opening reception for Animal Life, Art from the Kalevala will be at the Copper Country Community Art Center from 2-4 p.m.


I would like to take a moment to honor Kathy Lekvin. I met her about twenty years ago taking classes with Maryann Predebon in the clay studio at the Copper Country Community Art Center. She and Tammy Gajewski started the clay cooperative there in 2007. Tammy told me “She was always upbeat and kind. She loved doing clay and helped pay for the new floor in the studio. She has two sons and her son Nathan helped clean the studio every year during clean up. Her husband Brent is gentle and loving and works from home. Kathy made clay jewelry, pigs, large bowls and threw on the wheel. She helped run the firings and the studio until she became ill with pancreatic cancer. She fought almost two years and was always positive. She was my closest friend.”

Kathy asked that any remembrances be sent to CCCAC. She did not want a funeral. A celebration of life may happen in the spring.


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