Featuring fabric: Arts Alliance’s annual All-Fiber Exhibit is under way

Bette Gubbe Slag pals around with Spandy, the flexible mannequin she built to model embroidered denims. (Photo by Bruce Strand)


by Bruce Strand, Arts editor

Bette Gubbe Slag says she has always been compelled to take the path that’s different. That might be creativity, or it might just be obstinance. At high school in Duluth in the ’60s she was resolute enough to force her way into an architectural drawing class that had never before let any girls in. She recalls they made her sit way in the back.  “I was always getting into trouble, doing things different, even in art class,” she smiles.

The Elk River resident still makes a point of doing things her own way but that’s a much more respectable demeanor now that  she mainly occupies herself doing art work.

“Mining for Natural Rescources,” oil pastels, etched, knitting, by Sandy Bot-Miller

The former real estate agent is a fixture in the Elk River Area Arts Alliance’s annual All Fiber Exhibit that started Thursday. Last year she entered two purses designed like fish. The year before, she submitted a quilted, two-sided wall hanging of a realistic house landscape with a dog in the yard, while on the back it looked like an architectural drawing because of the black bobbin threat.

This year, Slag embroidered a set of denim clothes – pants, jacket, hat, purse – and put her own stamp on it once again by also building  the mannequin on which to display them.

She calls her pouty, 5-foot-4 friend “Spandy” because the outer skin  is made of spandex. Spandy has articulating arms and fingers and legs, and her head rotates. Slag originally drew up nice smile but decided Spandy would have more modelish attitude if the mouth was flipped over for a little pout. She digitized original embroidery designs for the facial features and made four sets of  eyes before settling on the look she wants Spandy to have.

“Blackbird,” an embroidery by Donna Jean Carver.

Sewn from a purchased pattern, the mannequin’s materials include PVC (plastic plumbing) for the armature,  flexible gas tubing (used for gas ranges) for the arms, and fabric hinges for the knees. Many hours were spent stuffing the muslin form with 18 pounds of polyester fiber fill.

Of course Spandy is carrying one of Slag’s fish purses, with a wide mouth that snaps shut.

The Star News reporter thought that Spandy looks a little like Katy Perry, especially with the blue wig Slag picked up at Goodwill.

“Nope, she’s just Spandy,” said the creator.

Slag also has a pair of quilt-on-a stick pieces at the fiber exhibit, one depicting Paul Bunyan, the other the mosquito as the state bird. They were intended for the state fair but she decided to keep them local instead. “I’m an Elk River girl,” she explained.

Detail of a weaving by Kathryn Grafsgaard.

You can see Spandy and her embroidered wardrobe, along with the work of 12 other artists, such as embroidery, purses, clothing, woven rugs, blankets, and quilts, at the Arts Alliance gallery at 312 Jackson Ave., through Sept. 29. The gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The artists are Sandy Bot-Miller, Carolyn Brown, Donna Jean Carver, Connie Caselius, Sylvia Dudycha, Katheryn Grafsgaard, Slag, Nichole Hahn, Winnie Johnson, DoniJo McBeath, Marilyn Moore, Chiaka O’Brien, Chris Wilson.
A public reception to meet the artists will be held Saturday, Sept. 15, from 2 to 5 p.m.

Classes offered

The month devoted to fiber will include two classes.

“Fall In Love with Fiber,” a fee seminar taught by Winnie Johnson, Thursday, Sept. 13, from 7 to 8 p.m.
SAORI Weaving, taught by Chiaki and Dan O’Brien, Wednesday, Sept. 26, from 2 to 5 p.m., cost $45 (or $30 for members).

Call 441-4725 or register online at www.elkriverart.org.