There are more dimensions to textiles and to flat, recycled materials than width and length… and more uses beyond clothing than have been imagined by most. Deborah Kruger, Textile/Surface Design, ’76, has helped lead the way. The internationally recognized artist credits FIT.
“FIT changed the course of my life. My artwork is influenced by textiles and design and that started with my studies at FIT,” says Kruger.
“The Textile/Surface Design faculty was unilaterally supportive of my design skills,” says Kruger. Their enthusiasm about my talent set me up for success. The program was intense and comprehensive. My lifelong love of textiles was cemented during my time there. My training and passion have been evident in my artwork ever since.”
Kruger’s solo show, “Avianto,” is touring the US through 2025. The Museum of Art and Design (MAD) at Columbus Circle in Manhattan recently acquired two of her large environmental pieces, “Accidentals” and “Ropa Pintada,” which will be on display beginning May, 2024.
The touring exhibition includes Kruger’s mural-scale piece “Red Wing,” along with seven mid-size pieces and several smaller works. The exhibition will be coming to NYC in November as part of the “Follow the Thread” fiber event produced by ArteMorbida, a textile arts magazine.
Kruger’s signature “tail feathers” that are not real feathers, appear in all her work — wall-hung pieces, sculptures, and installations:
“Some viewers think my tail feathers are fiber or paper,” Kruger says. “They are surprised to find they are recycled plastic.” She says having the feathers “read” as textiles delights her.
Kruger says she is inspired by those who expand the boundaries of their materials, such as Olga de Amaral of Colombia, Magdalena Abakanowicz from Poland, Nick Cave from the US and El Anatsui from Ghana. For her, that means using recycled materials, especially plastics, on which she and her workshop team screen-print designs using her drawings of endangered birds. Her production studio is close to Guadalajara Mexico, on Lake Chapala.
Kruger says reading limnologist Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” made a deep impression, especially learning how pesticides, especially DDT, affected songbird populations. Carson’s work, of course, sparked the 1960s worldwide environmental movement. It led Kruger to consider addressing habitat fragmentation, species extinction and even the ongoing loss of indigenous languages. Half of the world’s current 7,000 languages are expected to disappear by 2100.
Viewers can see how her FIT and two-dimensional wallpaper design work influenced her artwork and preference for fiber and textiles. The feathers started appearing in the 1990s, with the advent of her environmental work.
“Choosing to use recycled materials brings attention to the waste and consumption that contribute to pollution and habitat fragmentation. These factors, along with climate change, are responsible for the drop in worldwide bird populations,” says Kruger.
“FIT changed the course of my life,” says the internationally recognized artist. “My artwork is influenced by textiles and design and that started with my studies at FIT…My training and passion have been evident in my artwork ever since.”
When she began using recycled plastics, Kruger experimented with digital printing. She liked the quality of the images, but not what she calls the “crankiness of the digital printers.” She moved to hand processes like silk-screen printing for her thousands of feathers.
“It was like a homecoming,” Kruger says. “When I was a textile designer, we silk screened all our samples. It is a skill I shared with my team so that they have a bigger employment toolbox. That, in turn, helps preserve handmade culture.”
Kruger also has an ongoing series of textile artwork inspired by traditional women’s handmade garments such as kimonos from Japan and Korea, and the huipil, still worn in Chiapas, Mexico and Guatemala.
“My interest in traditional women’s clothing grew out of my FIT training and has persisted throughout my life.” she says. “My weaving professor, Miriam Kellogg Fredenthal, was my mentor for 40 years until she died at 98.”
Kruger also started an artist residency program in Mexico. “When I was a young artist and mother, I attended the Millay Arts residency in Austerlitz, NY as their first fiber artist. I had the opportunity to focus on my artwork for an entire month. It was a game changer!” Other residencies would follow in the US and France.
When she moved to Mexico in 2010, she realized that the near-perfect year-round weather and beautiful scenery would make an ideal place for a residency. She founded 360 Xochi Quetzal. Over 300 artists and writers have attended, staying for a month or longer. Some have permanently moved to Chapala, helping to create an artists’ colony there.
Kruger’s next steps? One is a neon wall installation that addresses bird extinction. The other is a public sculpture shaped like a birdcage. Instead of bars, the cage would be made from simplified drawings of endangered birds fabricated from aluminum, steel or 3-D printing that would be entered by humans instead of birds.
Kruger who also works with ceramics says “Each medium allows me to express my environmental concerns in an exciting new way.”
For more information about the Textile/Surface Design AAS and BFA programs, go to: Textile/Surface Design at FIT.
All photos of artwork by Carlos Díaz Corona. All images used with permission.