With a cabinetmaker father and a mother who knitted, quilted, and did Scandinavian decorative painting known as rosemaling, Mary Giles (1944–2018) seemed destined to work creatively with her hands. Revered for her willingness to push the boundaries of form and concept, Giles made objects throughout her career that reflected her interest in materials and traditional basketmaking techniques. An affinity for the natural world cultivated during her youth fueled the artist’s investigations of various media including waxed linen, porcupine quills, and a number of metals like copper and iron.
Favoring the technique of coiling—a process associated with Native American basket traditions—Giles moved between three and two dimensions throughout her career as a fiber sculptor. She created wall pieces, in addition to sculpture, that suggests aspects of the environment, human figures, and vessels. One of the artist’s most distinctive additions to her works were thin metal strips—some shaped as human figures—that she layered over a surface or core. In addition to creating texture contrasts and adding color, shine, and form, the choice of metal further underscored her interest in the human condition. She stated, “Over time, some of these metals are going to change, and that’s fine…That’s part of all of our processes—nature’s process, the aging process.”
In its current makeup, RAM’s fiber collection is anchored by artists interested in baskets and basketmaking techniques. Mary Giles, with 22 pieces now at RAM and others promised, is one of the most well-represented fiber artists with works spanning over three decades. RAM has been acquiring Giles’ work since the early 2000s through gifts from donors, but these pieces have never been brought together in a single gallery space until now.
In continuation of RAM’s commitment to contemporary craft and to further scholarship in the field, the museum produced a 16-page exhibition catalogue, with essays on the significance of Mary Giles’ work along with representative images from the museum’s permanent collection. This full-color publication is available for purchase on-site in the RAM Museum Store and online at racineartmuseumstore.org.
This publication and presentation of artworks have been supported with major funding from Kathy Robins, a good friend of Mary Giles.
Support of this publication has been provided by the Cotsen Foundation for Academic Research.
Special support for this publication has been provided by a fund established by Friends of Fiber Art International in honor of Camille and Alex Cook.