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Bonnie Peterson: Word Count

January 9 – February 15, 2023
Artist Reception: Thursday, January 26, 7:00-8:30 pm

Textile artist Bonnie Peterson in her studio

HANCOCK, MI “ Finlandia University Gallery will present Word Count, an exhibit by Houghton artist Bonnie Peterson at the Finlandia University Gallery, located in the Finnish American Heritage Center (FAHC), Hancock from January 9  to February 15, 2023.

A reception for the artist will take place at the gallery, Thursday, January 26, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. with an artist talk beginning at 7:20 p.m. The reception is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

Climate change, glacial monitoring, drones, the Flint lead-pipe water crisis, the World Trade Center, Afghanistan, breast cancer, the Chicago Loop, Marquette and Joliet’s 1673 canoe trip, the 1st century Japanese poet Izumi Shikibu, an eloquent 9th century peace treaty between the “Kings of China and Tibet”What do these seemingly disparate topics have in common? All these themes and others have been examined by the thoughtful work of textile artist Bonnie Peterson.  In intricately sewn embroidered textile pieces, Peterson stitches words and phrases on velvet and silk fabrics to make large narrative wall hangings and annotated topographic maps. Her works evoke memory, thoughtful understanding of data, and sensual response to color and visual delight.

Peterson with her piece titled Days of Lead (Pb) 50″ H x 50″ W (127 x 127 cm) 2017 Embroidery on silk and velvet chronicles significant events and consequences during the first 1,000 days after toxic Lead (Pb) entered the water supply of Flint, Michigan. For example, information for the first day is embroidered as: €œDay 0 April 25, 2104 Flint switches from Detroit (Lake Huron) to Flint River,€ And another example – the 271st day: €œ+271 days, Jan 21, 2015 residents bring discolored water to city hall.€ Text outside of the spiral reveals environmental information about lead (Pb). A citizen science collaboration between Flint residents and a team of scientists from Virginia Tech helped uncover the crisis.

Finlandia”s exhibit Word Count is a selection of larger pieces from over several decades of Peterson”s work. The varied pieces included in the exhibit illustrate the effect of time on her selection of topics but a constant component of her work is investigating cultural and environmental issues.  Peterson’s work is complex and evocative, combining a variety of source materials such as scientific data, historical records, poetry, early explorer€™s journals, memory, and wilderness exploration.  Her conceptual works address the issues of our time, sometimes drawing from personal experience while at other times delving deep into science to address larger cultural themes.

The urgency of climate change is one of Bonnie Peterson’s most consistent motivators.  Her artwork examines geophysical climate issues and designs explanations for some of the difficult modeling scenarios in environmental science.  She draws these concepts on paper or embroiders them onto silk fabrics.  Her recent environmental work originated during artist-scientist projects with limnologists at University of Wisconsin, glaciologists at Yosemite National Park, fire scientists at Northern Arizona University, dendochronologists at University of Arizona and permafrost scientists at University of Alaska.

Foreground: On the Nature of Fire, 65″ H x 85″ W (165 x 216 cm), 2015 Embroidery on silk and velvet explores how fire as an ecosystem process is impacted by climate change and societal development. The work is from an artist/scientist project during which artists, fire scientists and land managers participated in a week of education on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Funded by NEA and the Joint Fire Science Program.

A sense of place is always a part of Peterson’s work as she frequently responds to and refers to location as a part of the work, making place a strong source of creative investigation.  Peterson has been living in the Copper Country for 13 years and has featured the geography of the area in several of her pieces.  For example, in her 2004 piece titled Upper Peninsula, a 50″ H x 48″ W tapestry made of embroidery, transfers, paint and stitching on silk, brocade and velveta, Peterson recounts adventures in the Keweenaw with maps, stories and photographs. Text that narrates a back country ski trip to the top of Mt. Houghton is embroidered on the border. At the end of this trip Peterson photographed a snow bound truck at the base of the mountain, and stacks of logs waiting to be shoveled out in the spring and incorporated the images in the border of the work.

Peterson has exhibited widely in solo and group exhibitions in the US and abroad including the Museum of American Folk Art, Museum of Design Atlanta, Fresno Art Museum, Yosemite Museum, Notebaert Museum Chicago, Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art-Chicago, Berlin Science Week, and Art/NaturSci Pavilion Venice. She is a two-time recipient of Artist Fellowships & two Artist Finalist awards from the Illinois Arts Council, a grant from the Michigan Arts & Culture Council, the Puffin Foundation Ltd, the Illinois Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts and other honors. Peterson had four National Park artist residencies. Her work is in public and private collections including the Museum of Art & Design NYC. She has a BS from the University of Illinois-Urbana and an MBA from DePaul University. Originally from the Chicago area, Peterson relocated to Houghton, Michigan where she has a studio.

Bonnie Peterson: Word Count will be on display at the Finlandia University Gallery through February 15, 2023.

The Finlandia University Gallery is located in the Finnish American Heritage Center, 435 Quincy Street, Hancock.  Gallery hours are Monday-Friday, 9am-4pm. Please call 906-487-7500 or email for more information.