Marianne Rabb Britton’s energy still flows at Springfield Museum

Photo: Marianne Rabb Britton | MAGGO | Fabric & Embroidery | Collection of Paula Womacks

By Brittany Erwin

Textiles—flexible materials typically composed of yarn or thread—seem simple. Yet, these objects, brought to life via knitting, weaving, crocheting, or felting, are magically complex when skillfully rendered.

Stories by Hand: Marianne Rabb Britton, a retrospective of the late artist’s masterful textile art at Springfield Museum of Art through September, demonstrates this beautifully through all manner of textures, colors, and patterns.

This sumptuousness is indicative of Britton’s love of indulgence. Her two dear friends and fellow artists Gayle Gyure and Paula Womacks, who assisted in curating the show, explain. “Marianne put her heart and soul into everything she put her hands to,” Gyure says. “She could be determined and certainly hard-working and she loved anything out of the ordinary in a creative way. She used to say, ‘Anything worth doing is worth doing to excess.’”

Sadly, Britton lost her all-too-brief battle with cancer in January. Stirred by Britton’s life and art, Womacks proposed a retrospective to the Springfield Museum of Art, where Britton’s pieces had often been displayed during the Members’ Show.

After much diligent work, the exhibit was a go within four months. The friends both felt the exhibition was a way to honor their friend Marianne and share her talents with a broader audience.

It is touching to picture those involved piecing this exhibit together just as Britton painstakingly created each of the works on display. Placed together, this is a colorful, creative, masterful body of fabric art that may inspire with its level of detail and variety of compositions.

Erin Shapiro, assistant curator of the museum, expands upon these sentiments. “This exhibit features a comprehensive survey of fiber works created throughout the late artist’s lifetime,” Shapiro says. “All of the pieces were painstakingly done by hand, providing an exquisite level of detail and show of skill. Also notable is the range of subject matter and strong conveyance of personality, whimsy, and humor.” These pieces are bright, lively and joyful, never dull.

Britton began developing this style in 1941 at age 7, working on “Butterfly Quilt” with her grandmother and continuing work on it until 1971.

“When she created, she would follow her energy,” Gyure says. “When things were flowing, she would work for hours. If something didn’t work out as she envisioned it, she would take it apart and try again. But if this happened three or four times … she would set it aside and pick up a different piece to work on. She wanted it to flow.”

After studying art at San Jose University, Britton worked and “flowed” tirelessly as part of the Yellow Springs local arts community while also running the Morgan House Bed and Breakfast.

Visitors to her exhibition are rewarded by her efforts with rich 2D and 3D quilts, framed pieces, and stand-alone objects. Subjects range from portraiture, animals, witches, landscapes, abstractions, and even an apple core, cheekily titled “Apple Core.” An affecting 3D piece, “Jackson Pollock,” is a riotous eruption of embroidered color and quilted fabrics joyously framed in bright blue. Drawing inspiration from its namesake, this piece is a swirl of color with skilled stitch work and pieced fabrics replacing Pollock’s familiar splashes of paint. This tactile rendering emphasizes the thoughtful craft belying the work’s playfulness.

For Shapiro, “Waterfall” is another 3D standout. “Her contouring of the textile to mimic a waterfall’s silhouette as well as her additions of embroidered threads and mesh to suggest water create a visually engaging piece filled with energy and movement,” Shapiro says. This is achieved by Britton’s incorporation of gauze and embroidered thread, which mimic a waterfall’s movement.

“Day of the Dead” juxtaposes a series of bright masks with a dark background, “Rooster” boasts an explosive color-burst of a tail, and “Lace Skirt” integrates vintage lace, offering a playful yet authentic perspective of a woman’s skirt—all done in precise, textured work in riotous and alluring color. The pieces are simultaneously touching and silly, affecting yet fun.

For Gyure, the Halloween embroidery, “Trick or Treat,” embodies her friend’s spirit. “It is the piece that always brings a smile to my face and brings Marianne back to me. The level of detail in the tiny stitches and the applique pieces is amazing. Included on that piece are her beloved Jack Russell terrier in a devil’s costume, a witch adding warts to a boiling caldron, and a child in Dracula costume complete with drips of blood at the mouth. Marianne loved the fun of Halloween and that fun is clearly visible in this piece.” Womacks has her favorite, too. “The four-square Andy Warhol-inspired portrait of her dog, Maggo. Both Maggo and I shared many hours of long walks and conversations with Marianne.”

“This exhibition serves as a retrospective of her fiber works, and is most likely the last opportunity to see all of the works together,” Shapiro says.

Britton’s spirit and whimsical talent can be felt throughout.

Gyure and Womacks offer special thanks to JoAnn Wallace for her generosity in allowing the quilts to be exhibited, and to Ann Fortescue, Erin Shapiro, Eve Fleck, and Ryan Henry for the beautiful displaying of Marianne’s work.

Stories by Hand: Marianne Rabb Britton runs through September at Springfield Museum of Art, 107 Cliff Park Rd. in Springfield. For more information, please visit SpringfieldArt.net.

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Brittany Erwin
Reach DCP freelance writer Brittany Erwin at BrittanyErwin@DaytonCityPaper.om

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