To some, fiber art is all about rugs, quilts, or slight bits of string hanging from a painting or off an installation. But artist Maggy Rozycki Hiltner ties history, environmentalism, and nostalgia into a stunning piece of conceptual artwork, challenging the perceived notion of what fibers and sewing can create and communicate with her piece titled The Vantage Point, now on display at the Mesa Arts Center,
The series of wall panels, filled with a bright separation line of green and blue, circle the 72 linear feet of walls in the square room. This orientation and the narrative nature of the work, particularly as the viewer walks around the narrative structure of the embroidered patches and areas, is reminiscent of the Bayeux Tapestry, a 230 foot long cloth embroidered book of sorts, telling the story of the Norman conquest of England leading up to the Battle of Hastings that was began over five hundred years ago. Bayeux was created to lead the viewer through the historical story in a pictorial sense, displaying its history in visual rather than written form to appeal to the masses.
Hiltners narrative is much less precise in its historical accuracy and more intended to display the dichotomy and dual uses of land and land management in the production of our food, energy, and personal histories. The landscapes that she sews into her bucolic scenes are ubiquitous of small town life, but tell her more personal story of growing up near Pottstown, Pennsylvania. That area, situated near a nuclear power plant and the Schuylkill River, one of the foulest rivers in America, has seen both manmade and natural disasters as a result of industrial waste and pollution. But small town symbols of farm freshness and purity are tied through nostalgia into the memory of this area as well.
Hiltner ties all of these truths together into one extended narrative. Images of flowers, farm machinery, and roosters are sewn next to scenes of clear cutting forests and power lines. Mountains of bones are situated near scenes of butterflies. A town on fire lies across smokestacks from a boy flying a kite. And all around are the tropes of americana, fresh grown produce, children playing in lakes, birds flying and flowers growing, owls watching and cows grazing.
Vantage Point is a feast for the eyes, with multiple characters, histories, narratives, and layers all sewn together into one visual conglomeration of the story of a place, an area so used and abused that it’s a amazing that anything can grow there. And it’s a wonder that the nostalgia of this place still has a foothold on the reality of its own history. Hiltner creates a story so alive, a series of panels and personal stories so vivid, they create their own reality for this place, a reality that is part history and part fiction, part what we understand and part what we don’t want to recognize and admit.