Marnie Sheridan Gallery at Harpeth Hall School | January 7 through February 16
WORDS Leigh R. Hendry
The work of textile artist Lexie Abra Millikan, literally woven with the metaphorical hearts and souls of her family and friends by using their old jeans (particularly those of her father), shirts and pants, is a pure reflection of both her personal relationships as well as the cloth’s history.
The 33-year-old Midwestern native, a recent Southern convert by virtue of her marriage to a Kentucky gent last summer, confides that “everyone knows to give their worn-out jeans” to her. Reinvented domestic items such as curtains, and selvage ends from a North Carolina weaving mill, also occasionally surface in her work.
Equipped with a B.F.A. in fiber from the Kansas City Art Institute, this engaging fine artist says she devotes almost as much time to preparing the fabric used in her work (washing, tearing the material into strips, and sorting them by color) as she does to actually fabricating the pieces, some of which are woven on an oversized loom while others are cut and then painstakingly joined together.
Though she’s gratified that her work incorporates the practice of sustainability, what she embraces even more enthusiastically about her art is the idea that utilizing handed-down garments allows her to transform “parts of people,” so to speak, into fresh, unrecognizable forms.
In fact, during Millikan’s Harpeth Hall Winterim residency in Nashville last January, she astonished her students by disassembling old school uniforms (imagine the audacity) for use in the two large tapestries they were all producing together, a collaborative process she views as a way to teach the crucial life skill of “problem solving as a team.” She delighted in showing her technologically adept secondary-school students that weaving, with its intricacies and thousands-of-years- old history, remains a decidedly low-tech art form which can be accomplished without “fancy equipment or technology,” its major requirement being four strips of simple, old-school wool.
Millikan’s bright, large-scale, rug-like weavings, along with her constructed denim pieces, are being showcased in her solo exhibition at Harpeth Hall’s Marnie Sheridan Gallery continuing through February 16. Visitors to Color Field can experiment with the art form themselves on a ten-foot loom.
Currently a fiber artist-in-residence at the Paducah (Kentucky) School of Art & Design, Millikan formerly held a similar position at Yellow Bird Farm in Woodbury, Tennessee. Most recently, she added arts management expertise to her achievement list during a stint as Interim Director of Paducah’s Yeiser Art Center, yet she still squeezes time into her schedule to teach fabric dyeing classes. She’ll be doing that on three Saturdays this month at the 12th Avenue South artists’ co-op, Art & Soul.
This adventurous, multi-faceted woman acquired an abundance of talents on her circuitous journey toward becoming a full-time artist: from supporting herself by learning the complex art of making French pastries to cultivating the equally enviable skill of growing organic cherry tomatoes in compostable pots (which she created herself from old cotton denim and banana leaves, no less), the common thread between Millikan’s wide-ranging capabilities is her abiding reverence for the diverse tapestry of life.
Color Field by Lexie Abra Millikan is on view in the Marnie Sheridan Gallery at Harpeth Hall School January 7 through February 16. The opening reception will be held on Sunday, January 7, from 3 until 5 p.m. For more information, visit www.harpethhall.org. See more of Millikan’s work at www.lexieabra.com.