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Madison artists featured in Smithsonian show focused on sustainability
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Madison artists featured in Smithsonian show focused on sustainability

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Small textiles by Leah Evans

The small-scale artworks of textile artist Leah Evans often look at water, land or energy.

Imagine soaring over the rolling landscape of Wisconsin’s Driftless Region as a bird, a kite or satellite. Picture those ridges and farm fields, those cold-water streams and rivers as seen from the sky.

Leah Evans with work inspired by Mississippi River map

Textile artist Leah Evans talks about one of her quilted pieces, at right, inspired by a historic soil map of the Mississippi River. Evans is among 100 U.S. artists and craftspeople whose work will be featured in an upcoming online art show benefiting the Smithsonian.

That is what it’s like to look at Leah Evans’ textile works. The Madison artist has been selected as one of 100 craftspeople from around the U.S. to participate in “Craft Optimism,” the first craft show from the Smithsonian to focus on themes of sustainability and climate change.

Leah Evans with piece about Driftless Region

Textile artist Leah Evans shows how she layered hand and machine sewing for this quilted piece based on the landscapes of Wisconsin's Driftless Region. 

Evans is no stranger to Smithsonian shows. She has taken her work to six of the esteemed Smithsonian Craft Shows held in the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. In 2015, she was awarded the first “Honoring the Future Sustainability Award” at the highly prestigious show. Now, along with artist Aaron Laux, she is one of two talents from Madison being featured in “Craft Optimism” 2021.

Quilted works by Leah Evans

Textile artist Leah Evans displays some of her quilted work, including one on mining, agriculture and energy, top, and another inspired by a development off the coast of Dubai.

Presented by the Smithsonian’s Women’s Committee and the nonprofit group Honoring the Future, the pop-up art show will be held from April 24 to May 1 online at craftoptimism.si.edu.

Although artists won’t get that face-to-face, in-person interaction with buyers that Evans loves, the online show will extend the reach of her work to people around the world.

Workroom of Leah Evans

Leah Evans shows some of the materials she uses to create her quilted textile artworks in the workroom of her Madison home. 

“It’s interesting for me because I can put so much information with each piece and just have it there so people can engage with me beyond that if they want to,” she said.

Evans grew up in Kansas and studied textile design at the University of Kansas — along with other favorite subjects such as history and land use. A class in environmental history “just blew my mind. The whole concept is how people affect land and how land affects people,” she said. “There’s so many ways to look at that and explore that. So that put me on a path of trying to incorporate that” in textile art.

Close-up of textile by Leah Evans

This work by Madison textile artist Leah Evans was inspired by a historical soil map of the Mississippi River. The hand-stitched numbers show lot locations from the map. 

Evans uses historical maps, satellite imagery and other map sources “to look for obvious ways that people affect land. Sometimes there’s a really interesting story about how land affects people.” Recent inspirations from her work come from the Driftless Region of Wisconsin, the Mississippi River, luxury coastal developments, power plants and artificial bodies of water.

Map textile art by Leah Evans

Award-winning textile artist Leah Evans, who bases many of her quilted works on satellite maps, will be participating in Sunday's Marquette-Atwood Neighborhood Art Walk. 

Her hand- and machine-stitched dyed and quilted textiles “tie in traditional quilting practices of reuse,” she said. “Over the last seven years, I’ve really been trying to find garments and second-hand fabrics that I can take apart and repurpose.”

Spools of thread

A rack holding spools of thread hangs on the wall in textile artist Leah Evans' sewing room at her home in Madison.

The mother of two elementary school-age children, Evans moved to Madison more than 17 years ago and works out of her East Side home, where stacks of fabrics fill cabinets and racks with spools of thread line the walls. On May 2, she’ll exhibit her work in the self-guided annual Marquette-Atwood Neighborhood Art Walk on the city’s East Side, one of the first in-person art events to happen in Madison since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Textile artist Leah Evans showing a quilted piece

Textile artist Leah Evans holds up one of her quilted pieces, based on a volcano map, in her workroom inside her Madison home. 

Categories of handcrafted works in the Smithsonian show include jewelry, wearables, accessories and the art/home category, which features the works of both Evans and fellow Madison artist Aaron Laux.

Artist Aaron Laux

Madison artist Aaron Laux is among 100 U.S. artists and craftspeople selected for the online "Craft Optimism" show presented by the Smithsonian Women's Committee and the nonprofit group Honoring the Future.

Laux’s multimedia work centers on wood, but also explores materials such as glass, bark, stones, metal and paint. His themes include “human connection, connection to the natural world, seeking to understand what we are in the world,” he said. “I’m trying both express myself as an artist and also to reuse those materials that are left behind or thrown away.”

Laux, who lives near Monona Bay on the Near South Side, says his art includes “how I live my life,” which for him means working from home, using sustainable materials, gardening and even growing medicinal mushrooms in the sawdust that comes from his woodshop.

"Soul space" by artist Aaron Laux

"Soul Space" is by Madison artist Aaron Laux, whose multimedia wood artworks will be featured in an upcoming online art show benefiting the Smithsonian. 

“I’m just turning something that is waste into something for health,” he said.

Laux does a lot of commission work, and also has witnessed how websites, online services such as Madison-based Artful Home and virtual pop-up art shows during the pandemic have become “a significant new avenue of sales” for artists.

“I feel honored to be associated with this,” he said of the “Craft Optimism” show. “I’m trying to communicate ideas and feelings I have, and hopefully they resonate with other people.”

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