Carolina Moon, SC, batik on silk, 54.5” x 13.5”
Carolina Moon, SC, batik on silk, 54.5” x 13.5”

Vistas inspire works
by Bill Thompson, The Post and Courier, December 6, 2009

Shimmering and versatile, silk has been used as an artistic “canvas” for centuries. Charleston artist Mary Edna Fraser, noted for her batiks, monotypes and oils inspired by aerial photography, is employing the fabric to bring her art closer to terra firma. With “Kimono Silks,” an exhibit opening Thursday at the gallery at 214 King St., Fraser explores the vistas from her own backyard — just above ground level. Referencing traditional Japanese wood block prints of the ukiyo-e (“images of the floating world”) period in Japan, Fraser achieves something of the same evanescent quality, if of a landscape of not-so-fleeting beauty.

“I think I’ve landed on something brand-new and exciting,” she says.

The new works will be on view 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays and noon-5 p.m. Sundays through Jan. 2.

An accomplished artist whose work has been exhibited globally, Fraser’s interest in fabrics is long-standing. The genesis of “Kimono Silks” derived from a recent visit to Australia. Fraser has a regular gig Down Under, teaching every other year at

TAFTA, the Australian Forum for Textile Arts, to which she will return in 2011.

“While in Australia in September and October of this year, I bought every piece of 14-inch-wide, undyed antique vintage kimono silk I could find from dealers,” says Fraser, who graduated from East Carolina University in 1974 with majors in clothing and textiles as well as in interior design. “I rummaged through stack after stack, buying everything I thought would go well with my work.”

As opposed to the lofty views of the coastline from North Carolina to Georgia that mark her aerial work, the silks, with their damask designs, provide a different perspective.

“At 14 inches wide, what it offered to me and my clients is a smaller scale. I can still have the long, linear designs I prefer, but instead of 9 to 10 feet in length, the silks are only 3 feet long, which make it more intimate and affordable.”

Though dominated by the silks, the artist notes that her show also will have a segment of oils on canvas and monotypes on canvas.

Fraser apprenticed with master batik artist Fred Andrade on Hilton Head Island in 1977 and since 1993 has been studying with Orrin Pilkey, professor emeritus of geology at Duke University. Their collaboration culminated in 2003 with publication of the book “A Celebration of the World’s Barrier Islands” (Columbia University Press).

Apart from Australia, she has lectured in Indonesia and Taiwan, among other countries, and more than 50 exhibitions have featured her batiks and monotypes, not least at the National Academy of Sciences. In 1994-95, the Fayetteville, N.C., native was the first woman to be honored with a one-person exhibition at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

“Age has its merits when you’re an artist,” says Fraser. “You know that when you lay a line down it is precisely where you want it to be and in precisely the right color. It is mind, heart and hands in concert.”

Batiks remain her passion.

“You have to be very precise with this medium because it has no erasures, and I enjoy that,” Fraser said. “The best thing about this show, for me, is that batik is such a slow and meditative medium that as the holidays come up it quiets me down.

“I hope these batiks, especially, will be peaceful windows through which people may peer on the landscapes, many of them images from the vantage point of my own dock. It’s the landscape I know the best.”

Reach Bill Thompson at [email protected] or 937-5707