Southern Indiana Living

JUL-AUG 2018

Southern Indiana Living magazine is the exclusive publication of the region, offering readers a wide range of coverage on the people, places and events that make our area unlike any other. In SIL readers will find beautiful photography, encouraging s

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Jul/Aug 2018 • 29 T he Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany recently presented "The Sixties – Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out," an exhibition of new work by internationally recog- nized fiber artist Penny Sisto. The 76-year-old was born in the Orkney Islands off the northern coast of Scotland, but for the past 30 years she has lived in a log cabin in Floyd Knobs with her husband, jazz musician Richard Sisto. The exhibit also featured wooden bench creations by Pierce Whites, who hails from Frankfort, Kentucky. The exhibit unfolded over three rooms, each showing Sisto's renderings of the iconic figures of the decade: John Len- non, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, the Rev. Mar- tin Luther King and so many more, along with more thematic works. There were over three dozen works, all completed by Sisto in the past seven months. Whites' colorful benches, also inspired by the '60s, were arranged throughout the gallery. Towering over other artworks was Sisto's 13-by-5-foot piece called "Vote," depicting a stately African-American "el- der" with a ballot in her hand. Her rough hands, weathered face and brown gar- ment pieced from scraps — many dyed with coffee — point to a life of poverty and toil; but her clear, penetrating eyes and dignified bearing suggest fortitude and incorruptibility. Her vote can't be bought. Viewed from a distance, it is her an- cient presence against a magnificent sun- set that is striking. Up close, the textures and patterns of the fabric come into focus. In her gallery talk, Sisto told the audience that this piece was the first one completed for the show. It was created to honor her granny, who raised her and taught her to quilt. The locked purse held by the "elder" in the artwork was inspired by her granny, who, Sisto said, often com- plained: "I can't get my purse unlocked." Sisto, an engaging storyteller, also told the crowd another story about this purse. When Sisto was 7, she fashioned her first art quilt — a gypsy man — and presented it to her granny, whose response was: "How could you waste good fabric?" When Sisto's granny died, her purse was mailed to Sisto in America. Inside the purse, Sisto said, "was that first totty wee square gypsy man quilt put away by my granny." Sisto used the leather from her granny's purse to make the shoes of the "elder." Many other scraps of fabric used in this quilt have a story to tell. Like her granny who, Sisto said, "hoarded scraps of fabric to make quilts and clothing," Sisto now has her own bag of treasured scraps. In the gallery room featuring musi- cians and entertainers, "Bob Dylan" (45- by-32 inches) stood out. The facial fea- tures of this American icon are sharply delineated. From across the gallery the viewer could make contact with those radiant eyes that express both innocence and experience. Although made of fabric, the primary colors on the face appear to flow almost as freely as paint, suggesting the psychedelic light and swirl of a rock concert. The flowers and earth tones in the background tie this singer/poet to the generation of flower-children. In the third room, "Dorothy Day" (49-by-37 inches) is depicted in her later years. From close up, the viewer can see how the artist has puckered the fabric and sewn thick seams to create the lines and wrinkles on the face that give it so much character. Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement — an American paci- fist movement to provide aid for the poor and homeless — was in her 60s and 70s during the 1960s. Sisto said of her: "One need only to think of her to gain power and courage." During the 1960s, Sisto worked as a midwife — first in Scotland, then East Africa, then California. She honors this ex- perience with a work titled "Birth-Song" (47-by-49 inches), which depicts an out- door birth scene with a variety of birds in attendance. On the gallery floor below the art quilt stood a Birthing Stool, one of the bench creations of Pierce Whites. In her artist's statement printed in the exhibit program, Sisto wrote that these artworks "ground me into honoring the over 2,500 home births I was blessed to attend … in all those births not one child or moth- er was lost. … Some greater Force was watching over us." On one of the Saturday afternoons of the exhibit, Sisto's husband, Richard, on vibraphone, and Jeremy Allen, on bass, performed a jazz "Tribute to the Artist." Both are noted musicians and educators. Richard Sisto is the jazz vibe instructor at the University of Louisville and Allen is the jazz bass instructor and assistant dean of the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University in Bloomington. Beatles songs were plentiful. The highlight was Richard Sisto's solo on the talking drum of a song he com- posed for his wife: "Love Grows Deep." The couple met in 1969 in a commune in California. • For more information on Sisto and her art, go to The exhibit unfolded over three rooms, each showing Sisto's renderings of the iconic figures of the decade: John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, the Rev. Martin Luther King and so many more, along with more thematic works. Penny Sisto

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