The Silk Painters Guild of Montana has just eight members, or about half of the participants in the 2018 International Silk Show at the Downtown Dance Collective and Loft.
The other artists are from such far-flung places as Canada, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom.
“They all have stories,” said Christy Lynn Greene, Missoula-based master silk painter. “We started out thinking it was our little local thing.”
One artist, Naila Abar Ghalib, has several pieces in the show: a sari, pillow and framed painting that highlights “the plight of rural Pakistani women and girls.”
Another, Andreea Zahn, paints square headscarves with traditional Romanian architectural designs, adding floral flourishes on top.
She wears them over her head with a headband in a style worn by turn-of-the-century Romanian Queen Marie, Greene said. The two-piece exhibition is called “Royal Splendor.”
Greene met many of these artists through international meet-ups, like a recent convention in Qatar, where she was the sole American silk painter. There she met a mother-daughter Canadian silk painting duo who spent hundreds of dollars to ship their pieces to the Missoula show.
Silk painting started in Asia, Greene said, and spread to France, Russia and Eastern Europe, but it never made the jump to the Americas.
“We’re a smaller artist group really,” she said. “We’re trying to get the word out, 'cause it’s not as well-known here in the U.S.”
The Missoula show is in two parts — wearable items like scarves, tunics, shirts and the sari are displayed in the Downtown Dance Collective, while framed or fine art pieces are upstairs in the Loft.
There are no regular hours to see the show, but people are welcome to call the Loft to make an appointment to view the pieces, or keep their eyes out for public events in either venue where they can come in to see the show.
All of the pieces will be displayed in the Dance Collective space for a Jan. 4 First Friday exhibition as well.
Greene came to silk painting from watercolors, and there are some similarities in look and technique.
“Our canvas is a white piece of silk,” Greene said. “We have to stretch it on a frame so it’s taut and suspended.”
Most silk painters then use dyes to paint the fabric, she said, though some use silk paints depending on the goal. “Resists” are also used, which serve to put an edge around the dyes and prevent bleeding.
If one is making a kimono, tunic or pillow, the fabric is painted first, then cut and sewn.
Silk is less forgiving, Greene said, as the dye is more permanent, but the act of painting is a revelation.
“It’s magic,” she said. “When your paintbrush touches the silk, it’s this beautiful movement and effect and color.”
There are other techniques like Ghalib’s “shibori” kimono — which is essentially tie-dye — or Tamsen Flack and Jackie Weatherly-Cadzow’s “serti” tapestry, which uses a resist to create shapes in the fabric before filling them with a deep, dark dye.
Resist is used in some of the fine art pieces, such as Helen Donovan’s landscapes or Ruth Schwarz McDonald’s animals that have thick, dark lines of resist holding in bold dyes.
Bobbe Almer, another Missoula-based silk painter, was the main curator of the show, Greene said. Her raw silk tunic, dyed blue and painted with a butterfly motif, stood out for its rough texture.
“There’s just so many ways you can do it,” Greene said. “It’s really a beautiful medium.”