Felt meets steel

When Ashland artist Ellen Wishnetsky-Mueller took one of her trips to White City Metals & Supply to look for metal, she couldn't find any of the rusted scraps she likes to use in her sculptures.

"I said, 'Where's all your rusted metal?' They said, 'We got rid of all that ugly stuff,'" she recalled.

To Wishnetsky-Mueller, the sienna, copper, sand, maroon and silver variations of weathered, aged metal are beautiful.

Fortunately, she had enough metal and finished sculptures on hand to complete a body of work for an exhibition of her pieces at Southern Oregon University's Schneider Museum of Art.

Titled "Felt to Steel," the exhibit opens today, Sept. 29, with an opening reception planned from 5 to 7 p.m. The show will run through Dec. 3.

As the title of the exhibit implies, Wishnetsky-Mueller often combines disparate materials.

The sculpture "Winnow" features bent, rusted metal — with all the color variations of a canyon wall — partially concealing folds of brown felt.

Wishnetsky-Mueller has traveled far afield to bring back materials, including to the nation's largest manufacturer of felt in Michigan. At the Detroit factory, she looked through rolls of felt six feet tall. Most of the felt was manufactured to be used in industrial processes, she said.

Sometimes she scavenges closer to home, at businesses such as the White City scrap metal yard, fabric stores or Websters, a speciality shop in Ashland catering to knitters, weavers and yarn hand-spinners.

Wishnetsky-Mueller created a column more than four feet tall out of heavy, handmade paper that she stitched together, then covered in layers of see-through fabric. The top of the column is filled with tufts of wool.

The sculpture — titled "Orthogonality," or intersecting lines — suggests an organic form that is man-made but also animal-like.

She created the same intriguing effect with "Ablution," a pod-like form made of paper and fabric that has wisps of synthetic fur peaking out from its underside.

Wishnetsky-Mueller said she thought of American Indians when making the sculpture, and about the time when people respected the animals they depended on for survival.

"It has a hint of a time when animals were eaten when they needed to be eaten. Men trapped and killed and hunted to feed their families," she mused.

Wishnetsky-Mueller created another set of sculptures in which she wrapped twisted pieces of metal with row after row of fine Japanese thread dyed with charcoal. Hints of the metal show through the black, gray and ivory thread.

People aren't supposed to touch the sculptures, but with all the smooth and roughened metal, gauzy fabrics, thin and thick felt, soft synthetic fur, course wool and delicate threads in the exhibit, Wishnetsky-Mueller said she knows some visitors will probably give in to temptation.

She said museum staff members have teased her by threatening to show her footage from video monitors at the museum of visitors who are bound to finger the art.

The Schneider Museum of Art also is featuring the paintings, prints and collages of Colorado artist Emilio Lobato through Dec. 3. Many of his works include pages from books in English, Spanish, French and other languages.

Lobato, whose great-grandfather spoke numerous languages, said in an artist's statement that his goal is to create pieces that appear old and contemporary at the same time.

The Schneider Museum of Art is located near the intersection of Siskiyou Boulevard and Indiana Street, just uphill from a large, curving retaining wall with inset sculptures. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Admission is free, with a suggested donation of $5.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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