SEVEN/Community Culture Arts
Tuesday Aug. 16th, 2016
On a placard next to one work of art at Winona’s Minnesota Marine Art Museum (MMAM), Moira Bateman describes her work as ritualistic. For her, making art is a quiet process between her, her material and the earth, as she packs up all the gear she needs and travels to remote locations along the Mississippi River. Her methods are simple. Once Bateman reaches her destination, she uses a solar reflector to heat up water and silk, collects fallen plant matter local to the site, and bundles it into the fabric, eventually submerging it underwater and allowing the current and chemistry of the river do the rest of the work.
Unfurling her eco-dyed work weeks later is another ritual in and of itself. Based on season and location, plants dye the fabric unpredictably within an earthy spectrum of hues, and opening up the newly-pigmented works is always a surprise to Bateman. “I’m not very scientific about it,” she says. “I’m more interested in what will happen kind of intuitively. I’m not going to think it too far in advance, and I just go with that and see what happens.” Finding unique colors, she says, is “lucking out.” To preserve the moment of discovery that accompanies opening a new piece, Bateman layers the cloth with beeswax medium and flattens it with an iron.
This summer, we are fortunate for the opportunity to view Bateman’s flowing textiles dyed by the river itself in “The Hand of the River,” a dual-artist exhibition at the MMAM paying homage to the region’s ancient symbiosis with water.
Breaking from her usual method, she made no marks at all on pieces hailing from Prairie Island, instead giving artistic license to the crushed leaves and mud inside the fabric, resulting in a new and lovely hue.
Another of her works on display at the MMAM, called “Women’s Work, Mile 854.4,” stands out to Bateman for its rich colors. She says, “Some of those pieces, like the Women’s Work from Nicollet Island, got a lot of interesting colors. Some of them turned a really bruised, purple looking color, and that was really interesting.” After creating the piece, Bateman discovered that Nicollet Island, according to oral legend, had once been a birthing place for native women and named her artwork accordingly.
Women and women’s work are central to Bateman’s art, but equally so is the notion of humans’ working relationship with the earth. A visually striking dress in the MMAM exhibition hangs as a testament to all of the above. In Bateman’s eyes, it represents our “humanity and our vulnerabilities and nature’s vulnerability with us.” Likewise, she sees the process of working with cloth as a vulnerable one, intimate to the human body.
Hailing from Minneapolis, Bateman never found that the big city dampened her ability to connect with nature. “The Mississippi in Minneapolis is a gorge, a really steep bluff,” she says. “It’s really wild. It’s sort of so steep that it can’t be built. I spent a lot of time on those slopes as a kid, just scrambling up little pathways or going down by the river. I love that wildness and was really drawn to it. And I love it still, how it goes through the city and remains untamed.”
Her early childhood introduction to the splendors of nature continues to shape her work. After earning a Master of Landscape Architecture degree with a concentration in landscape ecology from the University of Minnesota, she was then introduced to art, then ceramics, then textiles, and the rest is history. She now travels all along the Mississippi for new inspiration—Winona, Itasca, the Twin Cities, Nicollet Island, Grey Cloud Dunes, Prairie Island, and La Crosse.
Upon the conclusion of “The Hand of the River” at the MMAM, a few of Bateman’s pieces will be moved to the McKnight Foundation in the Twin Cities. However, one would be remiss to pass up the opportunity to view Bateman’s work before it moves. With a view of the Mississippi River right outside the museum windows, it’s breathtaking to see her work in conjunction with its inspiration.
Elena Schultz author
Elena Schultz is a summer intern at SEVEN. She is originally from La Crosse, Wis. and recently finished her first year at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, where she works as the newspaper’s Arts Editor, plays in the orchestra, and goes out of her way to pet every dog she sees.