Climate Change Told With Needle & Thread

2 min
Dogpatch, the sea is rising: 0, 3 and 6 feet, by Linda Gass, on stitched digitally printed silk (digitally printed silk crepe de chine, Lutradur, recycled polyester batting, rayon/viscose and polyester embroidery thread). Part of the exhibition "And Then This Happened..." at the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco. (Courtesy of Don Tuttle)

The Museum of Craft and Design sits in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood, within walking distance of the Bay. So when the museum asked Los Altos artist Linda Gass to come up with something new for a show about climate change, she opted for three textile maps of the waterfront.

From one to the next, these quilt-like panels show orange and yellow tiles of city gradually eaten by swirling blue green bay water. Gass calls this triptych “Dogpatch, the sea is rising.”

"So the first piece shows how things look today," Gass explains. "The second one shows the impact of three feet of sea level rise, and the third one shows the impact of six feet. By 2100, there's predictions anywhere from three to six feet, depending on how successful we are in reducing our carbon emissions."

It’s kind of a "choose your future" multiple choice test. "If you look at the six foot one, you'll see that the Oracle Stadium where the Giants play, or the new Chase Center where the Warriors play, are underwater," Gass says.

Severely Burned: Impact of the Rim Fire on the Tuolumne River Watershed, by Linda Gass, stitched silk (silk crepe de chine, silk broadcloth, cotton batting, cotton and polyester thread) Part of the exhibition "And Then This Happened..." at the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco.
Severely Burned: Impact of the Rim Fire on the Tuolumne River Watershed, by Linda Gass, stitched silk (silk crepe de chine, silk broadcloth, cotton batting, cotton and polyester thread) Part of the exhibition "And Then This Happened..." at the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco. (Courtesy of Don Tuttle)

It’s beautiful and horrifying at the same time. But Gass doesn’t mean it to be depressing. "I like to use a soft and comforting medium to engage people and to draw them in to this narrative that I'm telling them, that could be a little bit hard to take in. The point of my work is to give people hope. We do have a lot of power as humans over our choices."

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Climate change is hard to get your head around. So much data. So much hopelessness. The textile interpretation makes it a little bit easier to take in the enormity of what's at stake.

"I stitched the topographic lines of the areas from the Rim Fire that were severely burned, and the stitch lines are done in white. So you can really see how much of the watershed of the Tuolumne River burned. The medium that I'm using, and the techniques, draw people in to notice things that they may not have noticed otherwise."

Some day there may be no more snow: California snowpack 1959 – 2019, by Linda Gass; thread lace installation (Cotton, rayon and clear polyester monofilament thread, dissolvable stabilizer, fabric stiffener, magnets, nails). Part of the exhibition "And Then This Happened..." at the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco.
Some day there may be no more snow: California snowpack 1959 – 2019, by Linda Gass; thread lace installation (Cotton, rayon and clear polyester monofilament thread, dissolvable stabilizer, fabric stiffener, magnets, nails). Part of the exhibition "And Then This Happened..." at the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco. (Courtesy of Linda Gass)

Did the work teach Gass something she didn't know when she embarked on the project? "Doing this repetitive stitching really drew me into the landscape and the information," she says. "It really made me think about where topographically and geographically I was within that landscape."

She adds, "A lot of the time that goes into my work is actually the research that I do and whether it's digging up data or images or maps."

That turns out to be gratifying for the scientists whose data she employs. "They appreciate the fact that I'm conveying their concepts through artwork, which may be a very different way for people to receive that information than through technical data or charts or graphs."

Urban Power vs. San Lorenzo Creek – What’s next?, by Linda Gass; stitched painting on silk. Part of the exhibition "And Then This Happened..." at the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco.
Urban Power vs. San Lorenzo Creek – What’s next?, by Linda Gass; stitched painting on silk. Part of the exhibition "And Then This Happened..." at the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco. (Courtesy of Henrik Kam)

Gass has been exploring the liminal space between scientific data and its aesthetic beauty for more than 20 years now, and she can see herself continuing to do it for 20 more. "Oh, yeah. I will never run out of subject matter. Just with water issues alone, and climate change."

And Then This Happened... runs December 19, 2019–May 3, 2020 at the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco. For more information, click here.

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