Picture a snow globe with snippets of news, song lyrics, and memories swirling around instead of sparkles and you might understand how fiber artist Maggy Rozycki Hiltner creates.
Her show at the Toucan Gallery “Cruel Truths and Kind Lies” is ridiculous-meets-homespun. Her embroidery pieces are bright and whimsical from a distance, but as you approach they take on a more subversive air. The cute “Dick and Jane” kids may be hugging a giant honey bear. Or the sweet bunny might be nailing his sister with a BB gun.
The exhibit, the first Billings solo show by Hiltner in more than 10 years, features a dozen works dealing with relationships and love. It is up through March 19 at the Toucan. Her fiber works often combine vintage embroidery work that Hiltner picks up at estate sales and antique shops with her own.
Toucan co-owner Allison O’Donnell invited Hiltner to show there after framing her pieces for years and then watching her send them off to galleries in Los Angeles.
“She had this idea for a snarky Valentine’s Day exhibit, which we figured would be fun. I like the way she blends objects, including vintage objects, with her own,” O’Donnell said.
Hiltner studied art at Syracuse University, earning a degree in sculpture. What she didn’t pick up in college, she learned from her mother and grandmother, both of whom sew.
“I studied sculpture, but my favorite professors and the people I hung out with were the fiber artists,” Hiltner said.
Hiltner believes that her stylistic choices have been influenced by the landscape and the culture of where she’s living. A decade ago, when she and her husband, Dave, director of the Red Lodge Clay Center, were living in Wyoming, her palette was white and cream. Then they moved to Kansas where the culture is more kitschy, and Hiltner said she started to use the wildest colors she could find.
“The colors were in response to the environment. Now I’m hooked on bright colors.”
At 34, Hiltner said she was too young for the nostalgic “Dick and Jane” children’s books of her parent’s generation. But she was drawn to the simplicity and innocence of illustrations from the 1940s and ’50s. They also allow her to set up the irony she loves to push in her work. At her opening reception last Friday during ArtWalk, Hiltner watched newcomers to her art transition from “gee, that’s cute” to “oh my” when they got close enough to catch the action in the panels. Her fiber work has such a strong narrative to it, Hiltner has turned a few pieces into comic books, which were selling briskly last week at the Toucan.
“I like when people are looking at a panel and they get that surprised laughter. Then they talk about it. Seeing someone get it on the joke with me is my favorite part of exhibiting.”