Virtual tour of Collection Focus: Mary Giles with RAM Executive Director and Curator of Collections Bruce W. Pepich and RAM Curator of Exhibitions Lena Vigna
Produced by Matt Binetti

Collection Focus: Mary Giles

October 21, 2020 – July 3, 2021
at Racine Art Museum

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.

More About the Exhibition

Exhibition Study Guide, available to purchase in the RAM Museum Store or view online via Issuu

Exhibition Notes (PDF)

Collection Focus: Mary Giles

October 21, 2020 – July 3, 2021
at Racine Art Museum
Virtual tour of Collection Focus: Mary Giles with RAM Executive Director and Curator of Collections Bruce W. Pepich and RAM Curator of Exhibitions Lena Vigna
Produced by Matt Binetti

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.

More About the Exhibition

Exhibition Study Guide, available to purchase in the RAM Museum Store or view online via Issuu

Exhibition Notes (PDF)

Sample of Work in the Exhibition

Click/tap an image for more information

Installation View

Exhibitions at RAM are made possible by:

Platinum Sponsors

The Estate of Karen Johnson Boyd
David Charak
Judith and David Flegel Fund
Ron and Judith Isaacs
Nicholas and Nancy Kurten
Racine Community Foundation logo
Windgate Foundation

Diamond Sponsors

City of Racine’s Grow Racine Grant
Osborne and Scekic Family Foundation
Ruffo Family Foundation
Ruth Arts Foundation

Gold Sponsors

Anonymous
Tom and Irene Creecy
Richard and Patricia Ehlert
Trio Foundation of St. Louis
W.T. Walker Group, Inc.
Wisconsin Arts Board

Silver Sponsors

Anonymous
Baird
Beta Diagnostic Labs
A.C. Buhler Family
Lucy G. Feller
Ben and Dawn Flegel
Jim Harris
Sharon and Tom Harty
Horizon Retail Construction, Inc.
Lise Iwon
J. Jeffers & Co.
Johnson Financial Group
Dorothy MacVicar
Jan Serr and John Shannon

Bronze Sponsors

Ellen and Joseph Albrecht
Andis Foundation
Susan Boland
Virginia Buhler
Dave’s Wine Garage
Educators Credit Union
Express Employment Professionals
Bill and Debbie Keland
Susan Manalli
Jean and Alex Mandli, Jr.
The Prairie School
Cathy Stanghellin
Twin Disc, Inc.

Love Art?  You’ll Love RAM!

The mission of the Racine Art Museum is to exhibit, collect, preserve, and educate in the contemporary visual arts. Stay up-to-date about special events as well as support the mission of the largest contemporary craft collection in America: