Molecular biologist turned textile artist sold on cells
When you look at Sue Benner’s textile art, you often see a larger-than-life version of cells that exist inside the human body.
Her education as a molecular biologist manifests itself in painted and quilted works that magnify Benner’s vision of the microscopic universe.
“These shapes live in my mind and are building blocks of my world and my art,” says Benner of Dallas, who has been a studio artist since 1980.
She will lecture in Grand Junction at a 7 p.m. meeting Wednesday at First Christian Church, 1326 N. First St. Sponsored by Colorado West Quilters Guild, Benner’s topic will be “The Working Path.”
Two of her latest pieces, “Cell Type 1 and 2” made in 2010, “grew” from a late seamstress’ fabric collection that became part of Benner’s stash.
She describes her layered fabric collages as fictional cell types that are “joyous, plump and healthy,” each in its own petri dish. Arranged in 25 blocks of circular clumps, the units are enclosed in sashing.
Of the woman to whom the fabrics belonged, Benner says her cells “were not as happy as these,” but she “really knew how to sew.”
Both pieces, measuring 45 inches square, are a compilation of fabrics and trims, including silk, linen, Lycra, nylon, woven braid and grosgrain ribbon.
Benner also dyed and painted on silk and cotton fabrics in the quilts.
Though her art tends to be abstract, several of Benner’s quilts mimic nine-patch designs, with similar or identical elements within one block.
“The nine patch is my ground, my balance,” she says. “It is still one of my favorite traditional blocks. I use it as a reference to the history of quilting and as a personal symbol.”
Graphically, she appreciates its balance and sturdiness.
With a master’s degree in biomedical illustration, Benner telegraphs a heightened sense of structure and organizing principles into her cloth designs.
“I see a direct connection with the concept of a quilt and the assembly of units to make a larger whole,” she explains.
Dyed and painted pieces combine with recycled textiles to form fields of pattern in vivid variations.
Teaching and lecturing nationally and internationally, her areas of expertise are surface design, textile collage, fused quilt construction and artistic inspiration.
Last year, Benner traveled from her backyard studio to such venues as Australia, Oregon, Nevada, Ohio, Massachusetts and New York.
After her appearance in Grand Junction this week, including a four-day workshop for the Art Quilt Association, Benner’s schedule takes her to a European Patchwork conference in France this September, followed by a teaching session in Canada in October.
Besides traveling and instructing, she’s a master at multitasking, creating five to 10 quilts at a time, often in two different series. The ideas overlap and play off one another, Benner says.
Go to http://www.suebenner.com to view several of her series, such as Cellular Structure, Walking Through Time, Nest, Dots and Landscapes.
Benner conveys her messages through a visual vocabulary, saying she revels in the simple act of placing one fabric next to another.
If protoplasm is her scientific specialty, then Benner’s artistic muse surely is the nucleus.
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