Flight patterns: Deborah Kruger’s feathered work migrates worldwide

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.

“Re-dress” by Deborah Kruger (Form based on traditional Aztec Ceramics)

“The Textile/Surface Design faculty was unilaterally supportive,” 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 at this time. 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 has 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 in NYC in November as part of the “Follow the Thread” fiber event produced by ArteMorbida, textile arts magazine.

“Ropa Pintada” by Deborah Kruger (Form based on tunic-like Huipil from Chiapas and Guatemala)

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 that 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. That means using recycled materials, especially plastics, on which she and her workshop team screen-print designs using her drawings. Her production studio is close to Guadalajara Mexico, on Lake Chapala.

“Corona de Plumas” by Deborah Kruger (screen-printing on recycled plastic bags, sewing, wrapping, waxed linen thread)

Kruger says reading limnologist Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” made a deep impression, especially learning how pesticides like 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 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.

“Breastplate” by Deborah Kruger (screen-printing on recycled plastic bags, sewing, wrapping, waxed linen thread)

“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.

The artist in front of “Redwing” the latest mural in her environmental portfolio

“It was like a homecoming,” Kruger says. “When I was a textile designer, we silk screened our samples. I shared this skill with my team to give them 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.

“Kimona 2” by Deborah Kruger (screen-printing on recycled plastic bags, sewing, wrapping, waxed linen thread)

“My interest in traditional women’s clothing comes from my FIT training,” she says. “My weaving professor, Miriam Kellogg Fredenthal, was my mentor for 40 years until she died at 98.”

Kruger started an artist residency program in Mexico. “When I was a young mother, I attended the Millay Arts residency in Austerlitz, NY as their first fiber artist. I focused 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 scenery made 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. Another is a public sculpture shaped like a birdcage. Instead of bars, the cage will be made from drawings of endangered birds fabricated from aluminum, steel or 3-D printing that would be entered by humans instead of birds.

“Broken Round Sculpture” by Deborah Kruger (Broken ceramic plates hand-painted with drawings of endangered birds grouted around ceramic form)

Kruger also works with ceramics. “Each medium allows me to express my environmental concerns in an exciting new way.”

To see more of Deborah Kruger’s work, visit her website: DeborahKruger.com. Follow her on IG at: DeborahKrugerStudios. For a schedule of her upcoming exhibits go to her exhibit schedule.

For more information about the Textile/Surface Design AAS and BFA programes go to: Textile/Surface Design at FIT.

Photo credit: Carlos Díaz Corona. All images used with permission.

2 responses to “Flight patterns: Deborah Kruger’s feathered work migrates worldwide”

  1. Your journey and artistic creations are very inspiring. Your dedication to using recycled materials and passion for environmental awareness shine through. It’s incredible how FIT played a pivotal role in shaping your artistic path.

  2. Reading these FIT posts is like visiting a treasure trove. I love Kruger’s creativity and sensitive use of color, as well as her commitment to the most pressing issue of our time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.