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November 28, 2014

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Sewing and friendships nurtured at art exhibit

Workshop gives artists a chance to connect, lifts community morale

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Leila Navidi

Laurenn McCubbin laughs while working on a textile project last week during a “Bouse House” textile workshop organized by artist Danielle Kelly to coincide with her exhibit at Henri and Odette gallery in Las Vegas. The workshops bring together artists and art supporters for camaraderie and exercises in creativity.

Bouse House textile workshop

Kiva Singh, left, and Becky Bosshart talk and work on their textile projects during a Bouse House textile workshop organized by artist Danielle Kelly to coincide with her exhibit at Henri & Odette Gallery in Las Vegas on Thursday, May 14, 2009. Launch slideshow »

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It’s the final night of Danielle Kelly’s exhibit at Henri and Odette on Sixth Street. The gallery has turned into a production line of sorts, an informal artists workshop — a sewing bee with beer and wine.

Fabric glue and scissors pass freely across the table. Conversations range from influential Nubians, juice boxes and metal bands to downtown life, artist careers, the economy and the high cost of living in Walnut Creek, Calif.

Piles of scrap material are plundered as the tapestry on the wall grows piecemeal.

Welcome to “Bouse House,” a textiles workshop hosted by Kelly in conjunction with her exhibit of the same name.

The workshop is an imagined scenario where capitalism and industry failed and technology is virtual. The title is an obvious nod to Bauhaus, the early 19th-century German art, craft and design school, and references Bouse, Ariz., a small desert town created as an impermanent training camp for the military.

The “Bouse House” manifesto, written in the spirit of Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius’ manifesto, talks of unity, global society, scarcity of materials and nomadic reality.

“Bauhaus was all about industry,” Kelly says. “ ‘Bouse House’ relies on unlearning that. Suddenly society is required to hand-make things again and they have to use whatever’s there.”

Kelly says she wanted to build a social dimension to her exhibit at the gallery. When the Las Vegas Art Museum closed, the necessity for a social element felt more urgent.

“People were depressed,” she says. “They felt powerless. I thought that what we need is agency, hope, community. We can make something together.”

The last of the Thursday workshops happened to coincide with the final art opening for Naomi Arin Contemporary Art, which closes next month, and news of the departure of the director of the Contemporary Arts Center.

“My goal tonight is to make something cheerful,” says artist Erin Stellmon while working with a striped material she jokingly referred to as her “Ode to Tim Bavington,” the Las Vegas artist whose striped, colored works match music and color scales. “It’s been a very tough month as far as art in Vegas goes.”

Artist Wendy Kveck, who was stitching a ruffled, sculptural creation, says the workshops are important, especially in these times: “With all the negativity you hear, there is still this community being cultivated.”

Holding the workshop at Henri and Odette is not unusual for owner Jennifer Harrington, who moved the gallery from the Arts Factory to the Fremont East downtown entertainment district with such events in mind. The gallery has magazines, tables and chairs and doubles as a coffee shop.

Catered dinners accompany artist talks. Harrington is contemplating a ladies tea and a foreign film night. Her assistant, Simone Turner, who lives downtown and first came to the gallery for the Wi-Fi, now gives Saturday morning jewelry design workshops. Kids’ art classes are about to begin.

“I want the gallery to be accessible and I want people to be comfortable and engaged,” Harrington says.

Stellmon says the events provide a greater interaction with the art: “You get to relax and live with the art. At art openings art is secondary. You kind of have to go back to see it, to really see it. Here, you get to sit with it.”

Kelly’s own work hangs opposite the wall where the community tapestry is being pieced together. A sculptor and installation artist, whose medium varies depending on her focus at the time, Kelly’s “Bouse House” art makes reference to preliminary workshops at Bauhaus where artist proclivities were determined by how they fared with the basics of color, texture and form.

Not everyone here is an artist. Kelly invited friends, who invited friends — students, moms, professors and the like.

“There are a lot of awesome, awesome women in town who don’t know each other,” Kelly says. “Last week there were four people here that I’d never seen.”

Artist Jennifer Kleven, a recent UNLV graduate, sees it as a great way to bring together a community of artists: “Last week I was practically bouncing off the walls I was so excited. You’re talking with people, but sewing this really amazing piece of art.”

Nico Holmes-Gull, one of three men attending the ladies night, appreciates the evolving nature of the communal events and the chitchat that weaves through the clusters.

“It’s really exciting to have a women’s circle, a friendly circle,” he says. “I like the public atmosphere of creating.

“What it could have been last week is so different from what it is this week — different materials, different people. Last week there was no ribbon and only one bottle of glue.”

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