Western Avenue Studios tried to find the common thread between two citywide events in Lowell this summer -- a celebration of the return of Jack Kerouac's scrolls and the annual Lowell Quilt Festival in August.
In a demonstration of hometown pride, the group's members reached a compromise and merged the events, weaving together the poetic script of scrolls with the intricate patterns of quilts, resulting in the exhibit, "Scrolls: A Fiber Interpretation."
"I like to think of it as the bridge between the two big events coming to Lowell because it literally encompasses both of them," said Margot Stage , the show's organizer and participating artist. "Kerouac is a favorite son of Lowell and to have his original manuscript back is a big deal. And being a member of the Lowell Fiber Studio, we're always looking to find new ways to publicize the Quilt Festival."
The exhibit will display paintings, sculptures, installations, and fiber art by 19 local artists, who address the notion of both scrolls and fiber. Stage insisted on keeping the theme unrestricted for the sake of creativity.
"We wanted to leave a lot of room for the artists to play and be imaginative. That always makes for a more interesting result," she said. "We provided them with two common points of reference. That's it. From there, people could go in any direction they wanted."
The images reveal a remarkable range -- from an interpretation as literal as a scroll depicting Kerouac's travels from the East Coast to the West to one as abstract as referring to the scroll of a violin.
"This is what I was hoping for," Stage said. "I'm very pleased with the enthusiastic response from the artists. There's a tremendous variety of work. They just ran with it.
"Some artists responded more to the idea of using text in their scrolls, while others found the vertical and horizontal elements more interesting. I enjoy using fabric instead of paint to create imagery. The tactile aspects of fiber make for a very versatile medium."
The collection includes a 20-foot spherical scroll that hangs from wall to wall, a human figure knitted together with wire in the shape of a Lowell mill girl , and a re-creation of a sacred scroll exploring the language of cheesy pick up lines.
"The work extends from the very classic idea of a scroll to something really loose," said Maxine Farkas, the show's curator. "Some directly refer to Kerouac's work, some don't. People really pushed themselves outside their comfort zone. It's so interesting to throw an idea out and watch it come back after percolating."
The collection of various visuals isn't the only feature that makes the show unique. While the Lowell Quilt Festival represents the work of fiber artists from across the country and many parts of the world, the exhibit is dedicated to the work of Lowell-based artists.
"The Lowell art scene is growing exponentially. It's an amazing thing," said Farkas, who has worked as an artist in Lowell for a decade.
They chose to hold the exhibition in the Western Avenue Studios because it seems to capture the essence of the city. Housed in an expansive historic mill building, the artistic conglomerate opened 31 studios in 2005 and now offers affordable space to 120 artists, with 10 more on the way. Recently, they instituted open studios the first Saturday of each month, which allows the public to browse the latest works.
Farkas said the studios' success is an indicator of optimism. Lowell is seeing solid growth in its arts community, and with it seems to have come an emergence in studio space.
"We're becoming a focal point in the area," Farkas said. "It's safe to say we're probably the largest concentration of artists under one roof in the Merrimack Valley area. The creative energy is just astounding.
"This show is in line with the studios' work, which is to produce artist-generated work that is spontaneous and free. That's what this space is about."
On three floors and three 800-foot common areas connected by a stairwell, the space resembles a scroll.
"Combining the two subjects was our creative response to what's happening in the city right now," Stage said. "Hopefully audiences get some visual pleasure out of the experience and a new appreciation for Lowell - based artwork."