Sculpting with Silk

How does a sculptor inspire the work of a silk artist? For Britt Trimming Rynearson ’00, the two art forms merge seamlessly.

While studying in Florence during her junior year abroad, she discovered Bernini. The Borghese House had just reopened after renovation, and she and her classmates entered the rooms where Daphne, Apollo, Pluto, and Persephone resided. Bernini’s solid stone sculptures came alive.

“A block of marble presents a stark contrast to shibori silk,” says Rynearson, “yet I feel a kinship to the way Bernini worked. I pour the same passion and energy into my sculpted silk that he poured into his marble.”

Rynearson texturizes silk through a modern adaptation of a Japanese technique called arashi shibori. Silk is wrapped around a long plastic pipe and then bound with thread. The thread wraps up and down creating specific texture patterns. Sections are then pushed and twisted up the pipe to lay gathered at the top. Once wrapped, the silk is dipped into boiling pots of dye.

The thread serves as a resist, and the heat sets the hand-shaped texture into the cloth. “The process reveals new ways to shape and color fabric and constantly challenges and energizes me,” she says.

Rynearson also studied batik at a small fiber studio in Florence. As she learned to paint on fabric, a surface that moves, she says, “I knew I had found my medium.” The next summer, she traveled to Bali, Indonesia, and learned singing and traditional back-strap silk weaving (the two activities often go together) and then double Ikat weaving from the Bali Aga people.

At Scripps, her extensive fiber training culminated with her senior project—a silk sculpture suspended in the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery by thin white threads. She says, “To see your raw creation so elegantly displayed in the clean gallery space provided a preview of the life of a professional artist.”

After graduation, she began an apprenticeship with a shibori designer who had trained in Japan. “Teaching painting to pay the rent, I set up my own shibori studio in an industrial park, with a mini fridge and a toaster oven serving as my kitchen, another taste of the artist’s life.”

Her shibori scarves were debuted and enthusiastically received at a Scripps Fine Arts Foundation luncheon. She now exhibits a line of shawls at some of the top trade shows in the country, and her work is carried in galleries and boutiques, including Julie’s Artisan Gallery in New York City.

“As my work matures and diversifies,” she says, “I often reflect on my experience at Scripps and studying abroad. I will always be grateful for the foundation and inspiration my college years provided.”