Norma Minkowitz: A Life in the Fiber Arts
As a girl growing up in New York City, Norma Minkowitz loved to crochet. Today, Minkowitz is a leading fiber artist whose work has been influential in many ways, including establishing crochet as a legitimate tool for artistic expression. Her sculptures are in the collections of thirty-one major muse-ums, including the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut; New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Born in 1937 in New York City, Minkowitz trained as a fine artist at the renowned Cooper Union in the city’s East Village. Along with this training, she brings to her creative work the impressive skills of a lifelong needle artist and a fearless approach to using materials: she’s worked with cotton threads, wire, hog gut, resin, shellac, wood, beads, glass, metallic rivets, twigs, and found objects. The resulting work is strikingly original and expressive.
Her first pieces were crafty: wall hangings, stuffed ani-mals, and knitted and crocheted clothing for her children. Soon, Minkowitz began submitting designs to women’s magazines, and her work was featured in Women’s Day and McCall’s. As her children grew, she moved her creative life forward by entering—and winning—competitions at craft shows. Over the next decades her art gradually became more ambitious and sophisticated, and by the mid-1980s, she was showing her work in solo exhibitions at prestigious art galleries as well as in several exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City, now known as the Museum of Arts and Design.
Crochet has always been an important tool for Minkowitz; its ease and flexibility allow her to indulge a fascination with objects that both conceal and reveal. She often begins a piece by covering an object—a ball, a mannequin, a root—with crochet thread. Using very fine threads and hooks, she works stitches around the object, increasing or decreasing as neces-sary to mimic its shape. The crochet always begins in a circle, and from there she works in a freeform manner, striving for an organic quality in her stitches. She then applies layer after layer of resin or another agent to stiffen the fabric. Once these layers dry, she removes the original object and is left with a sculptural form that resembles the original, but with open spaces. From there the artist’s creative instincts run free, and Minkowitz inserts items such as beads, bits of glass, or twigs within the piece or on its surface, wraps it in many layers of thread, or paints the surface.
Creating her pieces in a spontaneous way unleashes the subconscious, Minkowitz believes. “My experience of making art is very compulsive, passionate, full of energy, angst, even anger sometimes, but also often very peaceful and meditative. Things come up in my drawing I didn’t know were in me; it’s emotional, at times autobiographical.” The result is the provocative tension one finds in her pieces, the pull of conflicting emotions embodied in a form that is both beautiful and unsettling.
Minkowitz says “the good, the bad, and the ugly” inspire her to create. “My work often addresses the passage of time and other transitions, and I dwell on the mysterious cycles of death and regeneration, themes of the complexity of life and choices we make. I tend to lean towards the dark side of life.” Though she describes herself as “basically a happy person,” Minkowitz once got lost as a small child, and from that time, “I always had this fear of being lost; when I’m going somewhere, I feel tense, but when I’m coming home, I feel safe.”
To learn more about Norma Minkowitz, visit her website, www.normaminkowitz.com, where you can see more artwork and view several fascinating video interviews with the artist. Our featured image for this profile on Norma shows Shoe Box in Flight from 1983, currently part of a private collection.
DORA OHRENSTEIN, a crochet designer and author, has written several articles on crochet around the world as part of her ongoing quest to uncover the history of crochet.