A Handcrafted Transformation | Mingei International Museum

“For a long time, I have been called a ‘wool artist’—a nice name, sweet, non-threatening. But it is also bullshit. I am an activist. I want to encourage people to take action.”

Contemporary artist and activist Claudy Jongstra is inspired by her land in rural northern Netherlands where she both lives and creates her tactile, monumental wool murals. Collaborating with local farms, schools, and social programs and drawing on a deep respect for people’s interwoven narratives, land, and tacit knowledge, Jongstra’s creative process actively reimagines and revitalizes the local landscape from monocultural production toward a more diverse and ecologically-just model. Her large-scale works can be found in public spaces, libraries, and museums; and soon Mingei International Museum will be added to this list.

For the Museum’s transformation, Jongstra has been commissioned to create a custom, handmade wool tapestry titled, Truth & Beauty in Black to hang in the new Bistro, an impressive piece of color and texture that will be visible throughout the free Commons Level. At 35-feet long and 5-feet high, this textile will provide a warm, softening element to the space, as well as acoustic dampening to produce just the right level of sound for those dining in the new Bistro and visitors exploring the other works of art around the Commons Level.

From the start of the renovation, Mingei and architect Jennifer Luce of LUCE et studio have made intentional aesthetic choices for commissioned works focused on materials created by exceptional craftspeople. “Claudy understands the scale of architecture,” Luce explains and she has completed many large-scale works of art that are now featured in prominent museums such as Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum, London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, and New York’s Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. The felt textile by Jongstra reflects the very heart of Mingei — functionality and beauty. Moreover, the collaboration with Jongstra expresses the Museum’s mission to honor materials and craftsmanship and to show care in the way the Museum is animated and experienced daily.

Jongstra’s studio, practice, and work embody the interconnectedness of the natural world. A specialized dyers’ botanical research garden and a flock of rare indigenous Drenthe Heath sheep are cared for by Jongstra and her team and serve as the primary sources for her materials. The sheep provide the wool, which is then treated with natural dyes made from plants grown in her garden. The Museum’s tapestry has been fabricated and dyed with a historic color, Burgundian Black, based in indigo and often seen in the clothing of men and women in Dutch Renaissance paintings. Jongstra and a group of scholars have been researching how to recreate this color with natural dyes for several years, and this will be the first time Jongstra will use Burgundian Black for a significant work of art. Burgundian Black has varying tonalities and textures and — with careful lighting — the deep, dark indigo will be complemented by subtle shades of red, blue, and other pigments. This remarkable tapestry will read as a tactile, abstract landscape, and will undoubtedly be a prominent addition to the Museum’s permanent collection.

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