"Rappaccini's Daughter" @ Lynden Sculpture Garden

Exhibition Series on Women, Science and Nature Opens

Apr. 11, 2013
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The Lynden Sculpture Garden recently opened what they define as “the first in a series of occasional exhibitions” under the overall theme of  “Women, Science and Nature.” At the April 7 opening this month, a fiber artist introduced the series in the exhibition “Shelia Held: Rappaccini’s Daughter.”

The Wauwatosa artist works on a loom at the age-old art of weaving. While Held traditionally creates what was originally perceived as “women’s work,” what was once merely created for functional cloth and linens, Held has transformed into contemporary innovation that imparts painterly qualities to her finished tapestries..

Rappaccini’s Daughter was the name Held choose for the Lynden’s exhibition of her seven tapestries completed since 2009. While the gorgeous tapestry with that title was originally woven for Held’s Eros + Thanatos series, the title also represents Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story of the same name. A story perfectly illustrating what the Lynden will be exploring, how women, science and nature interconnect.

In Hawthorne’s narrative, a scientist Dr. Rappaccini who works in medieval Italy, imprisons his motherless daughter Beatrice in a secret garden to tend his poisonous plants supposedly to "save" her from what he believes is a perverse culture. When a distrusting suitor, also a scientist, tries to win Beatrice's love, she imbues the garden and her life with love, tenderness and warmth in contrast to the evil botany and social cynicism under the men's influence. 

This dichotomy between women, science and/or nature, and the nature of women’s work, significantly influences Held's tapestries and questions humanity’s ability to control each of these elements. The complex duality to these themes is often juxtaposed to a woman’s relationship to nature and science, in Hawthorne's story, the women portrayed as the nurturing warmth in humanity, while the men define the more negative characteristics.   

In Held’s tapestry titled Rappaccini’s Daughter (2009), unusual yet blooming plant life floats on a midnight blue background, perhaps using color's power to note the doctor's garden in hiding. Faint figures inhabit the distant spaces, the culture she was cut off from, or the three men in her life that ultimately cause her death. Hands, hands that tend the artist's actual weaving and Beatrice’s evil plants, also give warmth to her lover, creating a delicate, surreal tension within Held’s overall image.

Another complex tapestry Walking to Work (2013), places a female figure dressed in vibrant pink stepping in the opposite direction from the mainstream traffic on a city street. While weaving with glittering metallic threads in her artwork, Held seduces the viewer into believing there is more mastery to her technique than philosophical context in her tapestries. However, she expertly incorporates Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and other scientific notations on the buildings in this traditional, perhaps exotic scene, to magical effect. Here Held crosses the borders of fairy tale and prophecy, similar to Hawthorne’s story or as she does in her other tapestries, including Rappaccini’s Daugher.

Humans posses great knowledge, men and women, and can simultaneously create exceptional art and evil, or more destructive science, or hideous art and healing science. A battle continually being waged in the body and mind, and perhaps on the economic balance sheet, which also reveals the psychological battles between good and evil, men and women, art and science, fairy tale and reality. These fascinating contrasts and the discussions they inspire begin at the Lynden Garden’s exhibition this April by contemplating Held’s meticulous and marvelous tapestries. And these contemporary concepts will  be even more convincing with each “occasional exhibition” at the Lynden that explores women, science and nature in the future.

The Lynden Sculpture Gardens presents “Shelia Held: Rappaccini’s Daughter” through May 26, 2013 and published a color catalogue of the exhibition with educational and interesting essays by Polly Morris, Executive Director of the Lynden, and Julia Watson, professor at Ohio State University, and are available for purchase at the Gardens.



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