JANE SAUER GALLERY presents our annual exhibit by textile artist Charla Khanna of Taos, New Mexico. This year the theme is “Plainsong,” referencing an unadorned form of music consisting of a single unaccompanied melodic line. In the 1980’s this form of music became very popular for relaxation, even reaching the classical music hit lists. Charla’s dolls are anything but unadorned although the process of creating each is no doubt a form of meditation.
Our yearly presentation of Charla's dolls is eagerly anticipated by both her many fans and the gallery staff. Each year brings a new theme, a new series of ideas, and new fabrics to amplify the ideas. This year in Charla’s life has brought something very new. As Charla says, “I am just fine, with my shiny new stent,” referring to her heart attack and repair in early 2011. Charla most directly addresses this in “Night Skies: Compline.” Attending Catholic schools seems to be exercising more influence now than in the past. She states, “in traditional liturgy, the day has been divided into parts with an appropriate time for prayer at each junction.” Compline offers assurance that having finished a good day’s work, all is truly well and the time for gratitude and reflection has arrived. The deep cobalt blue garment with golden yellow highlights brings the viewer into a dreamlike cosmic world. In “Kid Dreams of Cosmic Matters” the cosmos is approached in a more playful manner. A childlike house is surrounded by swirling stars, moons, comets, and planets creating a lovely playground.
Charla Khanna dolls are always a feast for the eyes and the heart. They are not saccharine or child-like. “Doll making provides me with the best vehicle to express what I want to about life, people and ideas,” Khanna says. “They are like strings flowing out from my mind. Each doll represents a knot on the string. Each knot is related to the knot that preceded and the following knot. The strings are also related to one another.”
“Another string that occurred to me this year has been a repetition of hearts. It seems like a prescient joke that I was drawn to this form over and over again in the past year,” says Khanna. “Anniversaries II” holds memories of an old quilt pattern that builds small squares into a series of hearts. In Charla’s hands the pattern is made contemporary and the solid colors are bold and joyful. Charla says, “it is such a nice full shape and I smile each time one appears in my work.”
Silk, crystal, amber, emeralds, mixed media
28" x 12" x 4 1/2"
"KID DREAMS OF COSMIC MATTERS"
Silk, beads, coral, mixed media
20 3/4" x 10" x 3 1/2"
Another string has been about Charla’s prized garden. She has always managed to have an abundant garden in an oppositional climate. This year between health issues and a severe drought, gardening was difficult but Charla persevered and her patio and studio are filled with thriving plants. Gardening also continued as an important string of her creative life in textiles. Two pieces in particular share this string, “Kid Garden with Dirt” and “Power Garden, Subtle Bird.” Both pieces center on the joy of planting, the sweet cool enjoyment of feeling the soil run between your fingers, and the exhilaration that comes from the discovery of a small growth pushing out of the earth. “Kid Garden with Dirt “is described from a child’s point of view with handmade treasures such as flowers and leaves sewn on the surface of beautiful adobe brown colored earth. The other, “Power Garden, Subtle Bird” has the feeling of sheer joy from a mature well nurtured garden with flowers bursting forth from a luxurious red silk background. Every element is filled with exuberance and the power of growth and birth can be felt in an instant.
Each doll varies in style from one to another. Some have intricate patchwork designs utilizing radiant hues; others are covered with stone or glass beads; some carry small over-the-shoulder pouches or other hidden pockets that contain hidden treasures or amulets that help decipher their meaning. The selection of fabric is well considered as is every other detail. Khanna rarely uses materials offered by admirers or friends. The touch and color must be exactly to the specifications of Charla’s eye and intellect. Nothing is happenstance or done because of expediency. Charla works alone so every stitch is made by her. The faces, hands and feet are not at her direction but by her. Over the years each step has been refined but never to become time saving, only to make a better piece of art. Her dolls are collected all over the world and it could be honestly stated that some collectors are addicted to Charla’s dolls, owning as many as 40. Others with a milder case of Khannaitis might possess only a dozen.