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‘The Garden Spot’ inspires designer to create colorful fabric prints

When is an art exhibit not quite an art exhibit and an art gallery not quite an art gallery? 

In Rachelle Robertsexhibit at Seasons Olive Oil Vinegar Taproom, 36 W. King St., the art is an array of textile prints and the paintings that inspired them, and the art gallery is a place where people ordinarily sample and purchase products like herbs de Province olive oil and tangerine balsamic vinegar.

But, like a well-planned meal, it all goes together perfectly.

“We think that the artist and art we are featuring has a certain fresh appeal to our community,” says Micaela Ferrari of Seasons.

The growing trend of displaying art in restaurants, cafés, jewelry shops, coffee shops and tearooms makes artwork, such as that in Roberts’ exhibit, more accessible to the public.

The title of the exhibit is “The Garden Spot.” Roberts, a Lancaster native who graduated from Lancaster Mennonite High School, now lives in Bucks County. She is a graduate of Philadelphia University, where she earned a master’s degree in textile design.

“It’s really the oldest school for textile design in the country,” says Roberts, adding that it was founded as the Philadelphia Textile School in 1884, and was affiliated with the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art. Later it was known as the Philadelphia College of Textiles Science, and now Philadelphia University.

In “The Garden Spot,” Roberts draws on the rural culture of Lancaster County, with its farms, flowers, fields, fauna and fowl. Yes, there are chicks and ducks and geese wandering around in one farm-fresh textile design. In her design “Gathering of the Webbed Feet,” the primitive-style feathered farm creatures are accented with fruit trees and flying birds.

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A window display at Seasons Olive Oil and Vinegar Taproom features works by Rachelle Roberts.
Jeff Ruppenthal/Staff

Another piece that draws on her Lancaster experience is “Splendid Thistle Finch,” which was inspired by fraktur paintings and Pennsylvania Dutch motifs such as hex signs. The distlefinks — stylized goldfinches — are decorated with whimsical color combinations such as golden yellow, brilliant red and bright turquoise.

“Although the textile designs have primitive elements that are very fun and playful, they also have sophisticated color palettes that lend themselves to functional uses,” says Roberts.

Roberts also takes her inspiration from the flowers and trees of Lancaster gardens. One of her most striking designs, “Midnight Picnic,” features a dark background scattered with gorgeous ivy leaves, berries and blossoms. “Smoky Cornfield” is a repeat pattern of corn and tobacco fields right before the harvest, when everything is a sunlit maize and golden green.

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“Roses,” artwork on paper bag by Rachelle Roberts.
Jeff Ruppenthal/Staff

“Forget Me Not My Roots” is the transformation of original chalk and charcoal drawings on brown paper bags, while “Endless Vines” pays tribute to the bugs and moths that buzz about on a summer evening. Roberts even creates a Lancaster County version of the French toile designs in “Farmland Toile,” showing line drawings of farmers toiling away in the fields.

As creative and artful as her designs are, Roberts makes it clear that textile design is as much science as art. They can’t just look pretty, they have to work. The designer has to take into account the type of fabric that will be used, from the lightest of silks to the sturdiest, rustic cottons.

“There is a process that goes into designing textiles that lend themselves to the weight and particular fabric on which it is printed,” says Roberts, noting that today’s digital designs allow for greater flexibility in color and size of the patterns, and techniques range from pigment-based inks to resist dyeing.

Roberts’ talents for textile art has been employed by companies such as Martha Stewart’s Home line and and Butterfly Home Fashions in Brooklyn, N.Y., as well as various swimwear designs. She currently works as a designer with Congoleum flooring company.

“With this exhibit, I am hoping that people will see the possibilities of the textile designs for use in their own homes, kitchens and dining rooms. The exciting part is that these designs can be adapted in many ways, in different colors,” says Roberts.

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