Fradele is a fiber artist who currently lives and works in southern New Jersey, but spends a good deal of time in Philadelphia. She studied fashion design originally, and then taught art at various levels while she raised her family. Currently, Fradele designs wearables, quilts, and embroidery work. She is often commissioned by synagogues to create fabric Judaica such as Torah covers. She is retired, and volunteers at various organizations including the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art.
Interviewed by Amy Goldfischer
Edited by Amy Goldfischer
Can you give a brief introduction to who you are and what kind of art you do?
I am Fradele, now a senior citizen. I have never been a full time artist, as other things such as family, housekeeping, a lack of support and encouragement, and not being determined enough kept me from spending enough time on my art. I am a fiber artist. I also am active in many other activities, many art related. I volunteer at the Kimmel Center, Walnut Street Theater, Osher Life Long Learning Institute at Temple University where I teach beaded jewelry, and am a docent at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. I originally studied to be a fashion designer, but left that field and became an art teacher before I had my family. When the wearable art movement began, I renewed my interest in clothing as art and entered in craft shows and was featured in several shows of wearable art at quilting conventions. At this time, although I would like to do more wearables, if I stayed home all the time and sewed, I would have no place to wear my work. I also quilt and embroider, and design Judaica, for which I have had some commissions. I also teach on occasion to adult groups.
Is there an artwork that you are most proud of? Why?
I designed a chuppah (wedding canopy) and Torah cover for my synagogue’s 25th anniversary, and worked on the chuppah with members of the synagogue and also from the Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Needlework, where I am president of the local chapter. Also, of my wearables, I’m proud of some of the clothing that was in the wearable art fashion shows.
What are you working on at the moment?
I have been working on samples and directions for the beading class I teach, but I want to get back to making some wall hangings or other quilted projects as soon as these are done.
How do you know when a work is finished?
With beaded jewelry, it is easy; it is finished when it gets to the right size. For quilts & clothing, I have to let it sit out and “percolate” for a while, maybe trying out and accepting or rejecting additional ideas until it tells me, enough.
What inspires you?
Patterns and colors in fabrics inspire me. Also, seeing other art.
How did you start making art/ why do you make art?
I have always made art, since I was a child. I liked working with fabric, threads & beads more than paint. I became interested in fashion, and wanted to be a fashion designer. After I worked at it for a while, I decided I wasn’t competitive enough to stay in that field. I went back to school to get a masters degree and became an art teacher. When I left that to have a family, I went back to doing embroidery and started to take quilting classes to learn techniques to use in my garments when the wearable art movement began. I make art because when I see beautiful fabrics I feel I have to do something with them.
Who/ what are 3 of your favorite artists/ pieces?
If I have to choose I would say Miriam Schapiro, Kaffe Fassett (a quilter) & Koos van den Akken, wearable artist.
How do you think women can be more prevalent in the art world today?
They have to get their work out there somehow. Most galleries are owned by men and show more work made by men. However, I think that the art schools of today are more helpful to their students and graduates in practical matters than when I was in school. I see that at Pafa, where I am a docent, and at places like Moore and Drexel in their fashion departments.
Though women earn half of the MFAs granted in the US, only a quarter of solo exhibitions in New York galleries feature women. (Brainstormers Research, 2006 and Saltz, Village Voice, 9.21.06) Why do you think this is? How can we change this?
I don’t really know, but again, I think that men owning galleries and presenting what they think is the latest thing has something to do with it. Also most art critics seem to be men. Perhaps if art schools emphasized more subjects such as gallery creating and art criticism, and also reached out to women to collect more art by women, such as the collection by Linda Lee Alter recently donated to Pafa.
What is the best/ worst part about being a female artist?
I think the best part, besides being able to make art, is being able to do your art when you may also have a family. I think the worst part is not having the support to do both if that is what you want. Male artists who have families often have a wife to take care of all the other details.
What do you think is the most important issue facing artists—and/or artists who are women—today?
Making a living is the most important issue facing any artist, visual or performing artists often have to have other jobs (wait tables?) to support themselves. Sometimes visual artists can do some sort of commercial art or teach, while trying to find time and energy to do what they want. I think this is true for men and women. Women may face more challenges, but in an ideal world, the work should speak for itself and who does it should be irrelevant. In addition, as a fabric artist, I do feel that often the art quilt movement is disparaged by art critics, museums and galleries. Once in a while, there will be a show of art quilts, usually in a craft gallery or museum. Fiber arts in general face the same fate, unless they are something that are so far removed from being of any relationship to the possible connection with fabric or thread. Sometimes a there is big fuss over a collection of folk art quilts, but it seems that contemporary art quilts are not in general view. I really think a lot of this has to do with a perception that quilting, knitting, etc. are thought of as women’s work.
Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
Art quilt artists, many of whom are women, are usually found at quilters conventions and quilt shows, teaching their techniques to other quilters. Some write books about their techniques, but I don’t know how much of a livelihood they make from books. (I had some garments included in books, but only got paid a small sum for their use, which I think is usual in edited books about a genre). Some well-known quilt artists get commissions, sometimes for public buildings. Wearable art, whether made of fabric, knitted, beaded, etc., and accessories, as well as embroidered art, made by the artists themselves, time consuming and usually one of a kind, can mostly be seen at craft shows. Most of these artists are also women, and must travel to these shows and pay fees to enter as well as stay in the cities where they are held. Few venues sell their work.