ShareThis Page

Fiber arts admirer's passion lives on after her death in 'Alabaster Blast' at Fe Arts Gallery

| Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 8:01 p.m.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
“soon, soon, we will dance on the moon I” Lorraine Glessner Fe Gallery
“Prayer for Jacqueline #1? Jozef Bajus Fe Gallery
Knit hat Ildokó Dobesova Fe Gallery
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
“Wind Traveler II” Priscilla Otani Fe Gallery
“Teddy Bear with Hart” Blanka Sperkova Fe Gallery
“Seeds” Laura Tabakman Fe Gallery

It's an unusual art exhibit with an unusual name, but “Alabaster Blast” is worth checking out if you have an interest in fiber art. The show contains work by 13 international fiber artists, and two reside right here in our own backyard, Pittsburgh.

The thread that runs from Pittsburgh to the Czech Republic to Italy, then to San Francisco on to Slovakia and back to Pittsburgh, connecting these artists is Jacqueline Ruyak (1946-2011), an art critic and ardent baseball fan.

“She was a huge advocate of fiber art and a dedicated fan of baseball,” says Jill Larson, an independent curator and Fe Gallery's founder who returned to the gallery recently to organize this exhibit.

Ruyak, who died in 2011, was a freelancer writer, art critic and fiber arts aficionado who spent 15 years living in Japan. She wrote for Fiberarts Magazine, Surface Design Journal and Ornament Magazine, among several other international fiber- and art-related periodicals.

“Jacqueline published Fe's first national review (in Surface Design Journal) along with writing articles and reviews for decades of the artists whose work are in this exhibit, often launching their careers ‘out of the park,' ” Larson says.

Ruyak's love of baseball is reflected in the exhibit's name. The term “Alabaster Blast” was coined by Pittsburgh Pirates announcer Bob Prince to describe a base hit that would go higher than normal due to the extraordinarily hard infield at Forbes Field. Larson also included a dozen baseball scorebooks scribbled in by Ruyak, one of which is from a Pirates game Larson attended with Ruyak.

Like Larson, many of the artists have stories about Ruyak.

For example, Lorraine Glessner, of Brooklyn, N.Y. — who has two works on display, “soon, soon, we will dance on the moon I” and “gestures, inclinations, intimations” — says, “Jacqueline came to Philadelphia in 2006 to interview me for an article for the Surface Design Journal. She had explained that she was an admirer of my work, and I was honored that she wanted to write about my process. When we finally met, we found we shared many things in common and spoke for a few hours. I enjoyed speaking with her and was struck by her strong spirit, easy laugh and great sense of humor.”

On display opposite Glessner's pieces is “Wind Traveler II” by Priscilla Otani of San Francisco, who Ruyak met at Columbia University in 1975. After meeting Ruyak, Otani says, “We were constant friends through correspondence, visits to each other's homes, trips to major and minor league baseball games, meetups in Japan, and mail art.”

Otani's piece uses Edo-period Japanese Haiku poet Matsuo Basho's last poem, which she handwrote on cheap calligraphy paper in Japanese and English. “I also used joss paper, which the Chinese burn as offerings to the dead,” Otani says.

The many pod shapes in the installation represent breasts, which are a symbol of life and fecundity in Tono, Japan, one of Ruyak's favorite places to live. “This piece is intended to decay over the course of the exhibition,” Otani says, “and whatever is left at the end should be burned.”

Slovakian artist Jozef Bajus, who currently is an associate professor of design and coordinator of the fibers program at Buffalo State College, first met Ruyak in 1999.

“She came to Bratislava to do my interview for Fiberarts Magazine,” Bajus says. “She took many photographs and took notes. We spent together three to four hours, and it was already midnight when she was leaving my studio.

“Jacqueline was interested very much in my mixed-media artworks and, especially at that time, recent work (from my) Kosovo Series project,” he says. “The theme was war and innocent people — refugees, bloody conflict which was spreading very quickly and effected everybody in that part of Europe and beyond. She found my series of five artworks very moving. To my surprise, later came that wonderful review, which opened door for me as an artist to North America, as well as to the fiber-art world.”

The inspiration for Bajus' two pieces in this exhibit — “Prayer for Jacqueline #1” and “Prayer for Jacqueline #2” — came from a trip to Japan in October 2011. “I was praying for Jacqueline's health at the Heian Shrine in Kyoto, tying my prayer to the wall of prayers,” he says. “She passed away a few days before that, which I found out when I got back.”

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.