Tucked away near a railroad yard and grain silos on the Willamette River's eastern bank is an unassuming new art gallery.
But you will find no oil paintings, no watercolors and no photographs on the walls of the Chiles & Cross Unique Framed Fabrics Art Gallery. Marvin Chiles, the studio's artist and creative director, has a knack for fabric.
"I'm trying to do something that is different," Chiles says, standing among his creations.
From a giant mud cloth from Mali, to pieces of Japanese Obi cloth, to the vibrantly colored cloths creations of Laurel Burch, Chiles is a master of composition, placing pieces of fabric with a variety of mattes and frames.
The completed pieces resemble paintings themselves, but Chiles says he has a much greater creative license when it comes to fabric. Unlike a framed painting, no two pieces of framed fabric are the same. Stitching, design and color all vary, even on pieces that are culled from the same stretch of fabric. And fabrics that are dyed or stitched individually –such as a African batik cloth depicting women carrying loads on top of their heads — are all one of a kind.
Hanging from one wall is large cloth with images of people engaged in tribal life. The images on the heavy cotton cloth were painted by the Dogon people of Mali. The pigments used were from derived from mud and the cloth itself depicts a typical scene in the day of the life of the Dogons.
"They don't create these for galleries," says Larry Cross, Chiles' business partner. "(The mud cloths) are such a part of their life."
Much of the collection is crafted from African fabrics. In addition to the framed prints, Cross and Chiles have included a variety of African tribal masks, ceremonial garbs and headdresses from their private art collections. Unfortunately, they are not for sale.
Always looking for something that cannot be found elsewhere, Chiles says finding the right patterns and frames for fabric that is no longer being produced is the most satisfying kind of work. While he loves various fabrics from Africa, Chiles' selection of 19th century Japanese obi fabric is extensive. Images of fish, dragons, birds or other animals are embroidered onto the long piece of cloth with a short width. Recently, Chiles purchased a hard-to-find obi with dragonflies. While he can usually create two or more pieces out of an obi, the fabric's design prevented him from creating only one framed image from the cloth.
Not content with the limit the width of the traditional obi places on the creative process, Chiles said he used his self-taught skills as a seamstress to stitch together pieces of the same obi, creating a flawless new cloth from the old. Without being told of the alteration, the untrained eye would never know two pieces of fabric now make the one.
And on the back of each piece of artwork sits Chiles' signature – not his John Hancock, mind you, but a piece of the fabric that was used to create the original work. Sometimes it's a strip of fabric sewn to the back of the artwork (which is covered in fabric, as opposed to paper), as well as a card describing the history of the fabric used in the work. In the case of several Laurel Burch pieces, Chiles has painstakingly cut out some of the fish designs to affix to the back of the frame.
Both Cross and Chiles say they want the gallery to be much more than a retail sales outlet. Cross says he would like to play host for broader cultural events in the space and is also interested in donating works to auction for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure event to assist the fight against breast cancer. The gallery will also have a space at the upcoming Portland Home and Garden show from Feb. 20 to 24.
The gallery is available to view by appointment Monday through Saturday by calling 503-287-4165 or emailing [email protected]. The gallery is located at the River Street Studios building, 820 N. River Street #111.