Float by Carlene Raper

Float (2019)

Carlene and Julian at their wedding

Carlene hand-dyed her wedding dress in 2008.

Vernal Pool by Carlene Raper

Vernal Pool, detail (2008)

Singing Colors: Carlene Raper at The River Garden

Singing Colors is an exhibition spanning 40 years of fabric art by Carlene Raper. The exhibition is on view in the gallery at Brattleboro's Robt. H. Gibson River Garden (157 Main Street), during the month of December.

Last Sunset by Carlene Raper

Mama's Last Sunset (2019)

Artist Carlene Raper was raised in Lexington, Massachusetts, educated in Boston, and has lived in Vermont since 1982. For 31 years Carlene lived in the center of rural Westminster West before moving four years ago, with her musician husband Julian Gerstin, into a unique purple Victorian in Brattleboro. Their home resonates with vibrant colors, musical instruments, shells, art, many books, gardens, and two contented cats.

Carlene's home contains two studios: a dye studio where she creates all the fabric she uses in her work, and a design studio. Both bubble with her recently artist-dyed fabric alongside one-of-a-kind jigsaw puzzles, scarves, quilts, pillows, wall hangings and other works-in-progress.

Brilliantly colored glass sways in windows, and a sliding door opens onto meticulous gardens and a peaceful wooded oasis.

Cornfield (1975), the earliest work in the exhibition, is a pastel landscape drawing created while Carlene was a student at Bennington College in Vermont.

Mama's Last Sunset (2019), the most recent work in this exhibition, is both a tribute and memorial to her mother. This pieced fabric work was close to completion when Carlene traveled to be with her 94-year-old mother in Vergennes, on the shores of Lake Champlain. She placed this joyfully reflective piece, along with a bouquet of flowers, in her mother's west-facing window. It was most probably the last thing her mother saw before dying in her sleep.

Celebration, a wedding welcome flag by Carlene

Celebration wedding welcome (2008)

Indeed, her mother and a sense of place weave throughout Carlene's work. Her first significant fabric piece, Mama Bear (1981), was created as a barter for living with her mother soon after college. In this hand-stitched quilt she reformats the traditional Bear Paw quilting pattern.

Celebration (2008) is a melodic maze of spirals that are joyfully symbolic of her marriage to Julian, which took place at her mother's lakeside home. Carlene hand-cut numerous spiral shapes from freezer paper, ironing them onto fabric to create a resist in the hand-dyeing process.

The cadence created by these spirals is reminiscent of music, leaves falling, or energies meeting and combining. It is interesting that in cutting spirals two mated shapes are always formed.

This fabric piece was a sentry greeting guests at her and Julian's wedding. Carlene's wedding dress was bought for $4.00 and repurposed by Carlene by hand-dyeing a spiral motif.

Vernal Pool (2008) incorporates spirals in a very different style than Celebration. Inspired by the vernal pools Julian would seek out each spring near their Westminster West home, this large work alludes to the sounds and movement of thousands of frogs seeking mates during rainy spring nights.

Throughout all a joie de vivre informs Carlene's creative process. Bits and pieces of hand-dyed fabric join together, often abstractly, referencing vernal pools in spring, a wedding ceremony, a mother's last days, and, always, an artist's abiding fascination with experimentation and with life.

"Singing Colors" opens Saturday, December 7, 1:00–3:00. Carlene and other artists will have pop-up shops at The River Garden on Dec. 13 & 14—browse through her quilts, wallhangings, pillows, jigsaw puzzles, silk sarongs, note cards, and hand-dyed fabrics. She'll be there also on Dec. 12 for a 12:00-1:00 Brown Bag Lunch presentation. Visit her online at Colorquilts.com.

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