Jean Hawton of Redwood Falls is an artist.

However, she is not the type most think about when it comes to art.

Her medium is fiber, and over the years she has developed into a respected, and award-winning, individual in her craft.

Recently she exhibited at a show at the Hopkins Center for the Arts, and because of that exposure she now has two of her pieces on exhibit at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis.

Hawton said it was a man named Jim Clark, the visual arts manager of the Hopkins Center for the Arts, who saw her work at the state fair and as a result her pieces ended up in a juried art show there.

The juror at that show was the curator for the American Swedish Institute in Minnesota, which is a museum and cultural center that focuses on themes of culture, migration, the environment and the arts.

Hawton then entered some of her art for a show at the institute, and two of her pieces are currently on display and will be through May 20. More than 700 pieces were submitted for consideration.

Hawton said artwork for shows like the one at the Swedish Institute comes from all over, adding it is fascinating to see where the work on exhibit originates and what those artists are doing.

Hawton said she has visited the Swedish Institute to see the display entitled “Arts North Spring Edition,” adding she appreciates the venue.

“It is such a beautiful place,” she said.

Hawton explained that when one submits a piece for a show, they send photos of their work along with a description of the piece.

“What that means is you need to have a good image,” said Hawton, adding in some cases the image helps to narrow down the pieces which are then brought in for another round of judging before final selection.

That, however, was not the case for the Swedish Institute show, as the top 30 pieces were selected. The two pieces Hawton has on display at the Swedish Institute are entitled “Into the Evening With Her Little Black Dress” and “When Driving Her Red Convertible.” 

Hawton said she works with textiles as her art medium, adding the piece often begins with something she finds, such as a vintage dress or hat. Hawton has vintage shops that she frequents to find the kinds of pieces she is looking for, and when she finds a piece it is not just about the piece itself but what kind of story she can tell with it.

Hawton explained for women the idea of the little black dress has been en vogue since Coco Chanel first came up with the idea in the 1920s. That little black dress became the go-to article of clothing in nearly every woman’s closet.

Hawton found a 1940s black dress made of wool and came up with a vision.

Hawton’s work not only includes fibers in the form of vintage articles of clothing and accessories, it also focuses on organic forms and things in nature. Whether that be animals, insects, leaves or flowers, what she incorporates is intended to tell a story.

“The front of the piece is actually the basic of the dress,” said Hawton, adding that was intentional because that is where the buttons are.

Every bit of the artwork that is included is hand stitched by Hawton, adding the other elements she adds are also her own creations using things she finds.

“I do not use machines,” Hawton said.

The second piece starts with a red driving cap she purchased, adding historically women would have worn hats like it when driving or riding on the open road.

Hawton said she starts with the form of the hat itself, and in this case she removed the brim of the hat and then incorporated it into the piece in a different way. The hat includes several bugs that Hawton created, adding the idea is that when the woman wearing the hat was driving down the road she picked up a few “hitchhikers.”

One of the insects on the hat is a cicada, said Hawton, who added not only does she find an image or example of the insect as a source for her creations she also researches them to find out more and to make how she incorporates them appear realistic.

“The cicada is a very interesting bug,” she said.

Whether it is using earring parts or the back of a belt buckle, the piece demonstrates Hawton’s style. The piece featuring the hat also includes a couple of beetles, said Hawton.

According to Hawton, there are times when she picks up a piece and can tell right away what she wants to do with it, while others intrigue her but take a little longer before an idea takes shape.

While one might think the Swedish Institute has a Scandinavian focus, Hawton said that is not the case, as its exhibits are varied and focus on different cultures and art styles.

While Hawton was honored to have her piece selected, what is most important for her is just knowing there are people who are looking at it and appreciating it.

“I love to show people my work,” said Hawton, who has entered items in shows for years.

Although Hawton may have ideas brewing in her head, she typically takes on one project at a time and works on it until it is finished.

There are times when she also finds a tag inside of a piece she has purchased and will research that tag to find out more of the history of the piece. For example, one of the pieces she had includes the name of a maker she later found out had a connection to Jimmy Hoffa.

Hawton began learning to work with fabrics and to sew as a young girl and was able to develop her skills through 4-H.

“I love working with wools, because they are so pliable,” she said. “There is so much you can do with wool.”

She also utilizes silks and linens into her pieces, adding she only uses natural fibers. Hawton spent her career teaching art, including serving as an educator in the Cedar Mountain School District.

Now retired, Hawton focuses much of her time on her own art projects and not only enjoys the hunt for that perfect piece but also the process in discovering the piece has taken on a life of its own.

“It takes a long time to do each piece,” Hawton said, adding some may take up to half a year to accomplish.

Hawton said she has sold some of her pieces in the past, but she added there are others she has invested so much of her life into that she is not sure she could ever part with them.

One can find out more about Hawton’s recent accomplishments on the Hopkins Center for the Arts Web site at www.hopkinsartscenter.com.

Learn more about the current exhibit at the Swedish Institute on its Web site at www.asimn.org.