541.488.7716 185 N. Mountain Ave Ashland, OR 97520

TOWB, Opening Reception

On Wednesday, September 25 from 7-9 PM, we are hosting the opening reception of one-of-a-kind fabric fabric art exhibit of the Seven Days of Creation painted in tapestry by Artist Shirl Cunningham. Features Cunninghman speaking about her work, live music, refreshments. Free.

A One-of-a-Kind Fabric Exhibit of the Seven Days of Creation

Painted in Tapestry by Artist Shirley Cunningham

The Havurah Synagogue will host an opening reception for the exhibit of artist Shirley Cunningham., titled TOWB. Cunningham writes, “Towb is the Hebrew word for good. This name was chosen for the installation for I believe it encapsulates the ancient creation story. Pronounced “tove,” towb can be an adjective, as well as both a feminine and masculine noun.  As an adjective, it speaks of that which is pleasant to the senses; pleasant to higher nature; and that which is excellent and right, ethically. In the masculine form, towb is a good thing, a benefit, as well as a moral good. In the feminine sense, towb means good in the way of a bounty. The inclusiveness of this Hebrew word speaks to me of the beauty and eminence of the world we are given. My hope is that as you view these tapestries, you will remember the ancient creation story and be reminded of the beauty that surrounds and abounds in our world.”

The reception on Wednesday, September 25 from 7-9PM will feature the artist speaking about her work, live music and refreshments. Ayala Zonnenschein, Havurah Executive Director says, “This is an extraordinary opportunity, especially with the season of the Jewish High Holy Days beginning on September 29, to see these unique tapestries depicting the creation story in Genesis and to meet the amazing artist.” The art will be on display through December. The Havurah Synagogue is located at 185 N. Mountain Ave. in Ashland. Call 541-488-7716 for more information.


Shirley Cunningham, or SHIRL C., as she signs her work, is a woman of many faces. The evolution of her signature work developed through her experiences as a child of God, wife of over 60 plus years, a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother, a designer and artist, entrepreneur, teacher, lecturer and author of many manuals on sewing and fitting. This evolution merged Shirl’s instinctive talents with color, form and texture. The inspiration of her work is found in her love of literature, music, poetry and in her intense passion after renewal. Grasping the beauty in things others had long since cast off or passed without seeing. Each piece, whether simple or complex, embraces Shirl’s experience, instincts, inspiration and passion.


The hanging tapestry mobiles of this exhibit are my way of storytelling, engaging the viewer actively in the story. Traditional tapestry requires a process of weaving. These free hanging multi-media works are created using a layering process. I apply color using fabric, objects and various threads and yarn as paint. Needles, both large-eyed and small, become the brushes. The how-to of creating this imagery begins with the cutting of a supportive layer of thick wool, cotton, or synthetic fibers in the finished size and shape of the tapestry. This supportive layer receives an under painting of different layers of fabrics in various shapes, colors and patterns. Rather than new purchased fabric, I prefer the patina of vintage fabric for the under painting when it is available. These shapes are applied by machine stitching or hand applique. Hand applique, which is much more labor intensive, must be used when the sewing machine will not accommodate the vast amount and bulk of fabric needed to create the piece.

The next layer consists of the application of brush strokes of thread and yarn, adding texture and additional color to the tapestry. These thread brush strokes are also used to cover all the edges of the applied pieces of fabric shapes. When the thread and yarn painting is complete, the last layer is applied as a fabric frame. This layer is applied to the back of the tapestry to gain maximum support. This backing must be pad stitched by hand, catching just the back side of the front of the tapestry. Each of these important but unseen hand-finishing steps requires additional time added to the creation process. The last step is the addition of ribbon slots hand sewn to the back of the work, providing a cover for wooden slats. These supportive slats allow the tapestry to hang as a mobile.


It is a Sunday morning in the early 1950’s. I am, as usual, seated in the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church in Waco, Texas. According to the Order of Service listed in the bulletin it was time for the choir to sing. The director stood and gave the signal for the choir to rise. As the choir stood the Negro man, who had been seated in one of the high backed chairs on the platform, arose and moved to the microphone on the podium. The voices of the choir began to fill the sanctuary with a melodic hum and the man began to speak. His powerful, deep, beautiful bass voice rose above the hum. The gripping words he spoke were from the poem entitled “The Creation” written by James Weldon Johnson around 1919, now found in his collection of poems entitled GODS TROMBONES. A phrase from the poem preformed that day, “I’m lonely! I’m going to make me a world!”, still rings in my ear today.

It is now February 2013. My one-woman show entitled CLOTH JOURNEY was hanging in the art gallery of John Brown University. The director of the gallery asked what my next project would be now that this show was completed. I answered Charles by sharing my idea of creating the story of Genesis I in tapestry form. His response, “I would like to have that show in the gallery when it is finished”. This statement encouraged me to take up the challenge I had contemplated giving myself as a celebration of my 80th birthday. This birthday was to occur in two years. Two years, seemed at the time, an adequate amount of time for completion. I was to find, however, that the Genesis story in tapestry form would take on a life of its own. I celebrated my 80th birthday still working on the project. Four years would pass before the story of Genesis 1, told in tapestry, would hang completed.