Louisiana’s Disappearing Chains, batik on silk, 35″ x 65″
Louisiana’s Disappearing Chains, batik on silk, 35″ x 65″

Duke University Museum of Art, January 22 – March 21, 1999

National Science Foundation, March 29- June 11, 1999

National Academy of Sciences, June 12 – September, 2001

To celebrate the barrier islands around the world, a comprehensive arts and science exhibit, A Celebration of Barrier Islands: Restless Ribbons of Sand, created by artist Mary Edna Fraser, poet Marjory Wentworth, and scientist Orrin Pilkey, will tour institutions in the United States. Using aerial perspectives, the exhibit dramatically portrays the geographic wonders of our planet’s barrier islands. It includes large-scale batiks on silk, scientific text, original maps, poetry, prints and photographs. The installation is to be supported by poetry readings and dance events, accompanied by publications and CD-ROM programs. Designed for exhibition by art museums, science centers and university galleries, the format is flexible and can be altered to fit the needs of each host institution. In addition, its interdisciplinary approach will have special appeal to educators.

The pioneering work of contemporary American artist Mary Edna Fraser has been collected and exhibited worldwide. She uses her aerial photography to compose large-scale silk batiks. Her textile art work in the ancient batik medium utilizes modern dye technology and satellite imagery. In 1994-95, she was the first woman to be honored with a one-person exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. She has completed numerous public commissions including batiks for the American Embassy in Thailand and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The goal of this project is to use art as a vehicle to make the fragility of barrier islands known as an important environmental concern. Restless Ribbons of Sand will use batiks to convey perspectives that the human eye, maps, and ordinary cameras cannot reveal. A team of skilled professionals is organized to offer the public a stimulating visual and verbal exchange of knowledge. The visitor will leave the exhibition appreciating the dynamic nature of these movable strips of sand and will be catalyzed to preserve barrier islands for future generations.

A Celebration of Barrier Islands: Restless Ribbons of Sand will provide the audience with a geographic aesthetic tour of a global phenomenon. By focusing on the barrier islands the viewer will travel from tropical to arctic coastal environments. Sea level changes are addressed, as well as the geological processes that shape the islands (vegetation, waves, sand and tides). The dynamic fragility of barrier islands and geologic time are visualized in this original portrayal.

Exhibition Narrative

Original maps illustrate barrier island locations.
Accompanied by the poetry of Marjory Wentworth, text by Orrin Pilkey
* “Fire Island”, NY, batik, 107″ x 55″
* “Outer Banks”, NC, batik, 152″ x 55″
* “Cape Fear”, NC, batik, 48″ x 35″
* “Core Banks”, NC, batik, 48″ x 35″
* “Cedar Island”, NC, batik, 69″ x 35″
* “Kitty Hawk”, NC, batik, 64″ x 44″
* “Kiawah at Twilight”, SC, batik, 72″ x 78″
* “North of John’s Island”, SC, batik, 55″ x 49″
* “Second Sister Creek”, SC, batik, 84″ x 54″
* “Sea Islands of Georgia”, GA, batik, 48″ x 144″
* “Louisiana’s Disappearing Chains”, LA, batik, 33″ x 65″
* “Padre Island”, TX, batik, 87″ x 35″
* “Shishmaref’s Shores”, AK, batik, 34″ x 98″
* “Cross Island of the Arctic”, batik, 30″ x 49″
* “Rio Gurupi, Brazil”, batik, 72″ x 36″”
* “Sinking Colombian Shores”, SA batik, 33″ x 63″
* “Iceland’s Volcanic Sand Islands”, batik, 37″ x 47″
* “Portugal ‘s Ancao Flood Tidal Delta”, batik, 34″ x 54″
* “Mouths of the Mekong”, batik, 52″ x 47″
* “Dutch Frisian Islands”, batik, 31″ x 44″
* “Nile Delta Desert Islands”, batik, 52″ x 36″
* “Niger River’s African Coast”, batik, 65″ x 37″
* “Taiwan’s Ancient Barrier Islands”, batik, 36″ x 48″
* “Australia’s Fraser Island”, batik, 27″ x 40″
7 framed monotypes “Thoughts”, “Falling”, “Afterglow”, “Aquatic View”, “Toward the Light”, “Reflected Grass”, “First Silk Window” & 3 framed NC photographs


Thirty three works of art are planned for the total exhibition. The large scale batik aerial perspectives have been completed and are owned by public institutions, private individuals, or the artist. They will be loaned for the exhibition. The artist owns full copyright for all of her work with the Library of Congress. Sponsorships are being solicited for art, poetry, music, dance, geology publications, and CD-ROM programs.

Project Personnel

Mary Edna Fraser, artist and project creator, produced all artwork and collaborated with project personnel. Her series of batiks, Islands From the Sky, began in 1979 when she originated the idea of designing works of art on silk from the vantage point revealed only by altitude. Often photographing from her grandfather’s 1946 Ercoupe airplane with her father or brother as pilots, she explores the natural wonders of the continent. Publications reviewing her work include Smithsonian Magazine, Air and Space, The Washington Post, Surface Design Journal, Fiberarts , Chicago Tribune, Textile Designs, and Women and Flight.

Dr. Orrin Pilkey, Professor of Geology at Duke University and author/co-author of 26 books, is an internationally renowned expert on coastline geology. Dr. Pilkey is director of Duke’s Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines and is a recipient of the Shepard Medal for Excellence in Marine Geology. Dr. Pilkey advised on wall text Aerial Inspirations : Silk Batiks by Mary Edna Fraser (1994 -1995) at the National Air and Space
Museum. A collaborative lecture and slide presentation at the Einstein Planetarium in 1994, A Shared Vision: Preserving the Barrier Islands through Science and Art, was the first of a series of lectures presented by Dr. Pilkey and Ms. Fraser. They are currently working together on a book which will use exhibition text and art, A Celebration of Barrier Islands.

Marjory Wentworth, poet and author of the chapbook Nightjars, worked with Ms. Fraser to present Haiku workshops, exhibitions, and illustrated readings for the National Air and Space Museum, The Gibbes Museum of Art, and the North Carolina Maritime Museum. Their words and images will be combined in the book
What The Water Gives Me. Exhibited alongside Fraser’s batiks and with Pilkey’s text, Wentworth’s poems humanize geologic time. Ms. Wentworth will participate in the Silk Tableaus: Earth and Planetscapes in 2003 national touring exhibition opening in Dayton Art Institute which will feature Ms. Fraser’s barrier island batiks and Dr. Pilkey’s text.

Anonymity, a five member Charleston-based modern dance company, whose repertory includes many pieces combining social issues and environment. The company choreographs and performs original compositions every SPOLETO Festival. They choreographed work inspired by Dr. Pilkey, Ms. Fraser and Ms. Wentworth.