April 2, 2014

Sheila Hicks: Large and Small

Lares and Penates, 1990-2013; found materials, 98 elements, ca. 117 x 115 x 5 in. as shown

Sheila Hicks is an artist whose work doesn't sit comfortably and neatly in a single category; although she works with textiles, much of her work is quite sculptural, such as the stunning piece above, currently in a show of her work at Sikkema Jenkins & Co (until April 6th). She is someone for whom the fine art/craft distinction makes no sense whatever. I first learned of her work a few years ago, through a beautiful catalog of her very small works, which I wrote about here. I had recently begun my series of small paintings on parchment, so her work touched me, and its inventiveness thrilled me. I don't always like Hicks' large works, but Lares and Penates is marvelous....

Lares and Penates detail

....a meeting of almost a hundred small wrapped objects, bright and shining packages of crossing colored threads.

Lares and Penates detail

I have a bodily sensation of wrapping around and around, remembering helping my mother make balls of wool from skeins; the foundation looks soft as it pushes a little free from its binding here and there. Rather than a sense of constriction, the various sized pieces are like precious small gifts, hiding happy mysteries. Lares and Penates are Roman deities who protected the household. We might see these small pieces as votive objects, made with a kind of prayerful attention in the repetitive motions of wrapping. 

Araucario, 2011; linen, tree branches, 37 1/2 x 37 1/2 x 2 1/2 in. 

Braids of linen and and araucaria branches: overlapping long forms, delicate in color, nature and art enlivening each other. 

Araucario detail

How beautiful the forms when looked at closely! the Golden Ratio governing the growth of the plant brings a deeper meaning to the braiding of the linen.

There were several small pieces in the show, all about 8 or 9 inches in height. They weren't all listed on the gallery website and I failed to photograph the checklist, so I cannot give exact sizes and materials. I love seeing how Hicks weaves together different materials, allowing their characters to shine, and even in a more sedate piece like the one above, there are delightful surprises, like the bits of orange popping up through the darker reds.

Mauresque Etiquette, 2013; cotton, silk, paper, feathers; 9 1/4 x 5 1/2 in. 

A mass of small tags jangle above irregular lines.

An uneven rectangle is broken by an opening at its bottom edge, adding an impression of movement.

Porcupine quills are tiny barbed shapes on a waisted form; as with the araucaria branches, they are nature combined with art, and we see both with more depth in these pairings.


  1. I love these intimate works. The colors are arresting, the addition of natural elements in two of the pieces makes my soul sing. Thank you.

    1. You are welcome, Cecelia; I'm glad you like these works.