Student artist named finalist in international fine craft competition

February 16, 2010

Senior Rachel Held’s dandelion chess set has been selected as a finalist in the NICHE 2010 awards, which recognize excellence and innovation in American and Canadian fine craft.  Held’s fiber chess set is one of five finalists in the Fibers: Decorative category selected out of field of 800 entries, says Art professor Steve Pearson.

“It’s exciting to see someone make it to this level,” Pearson says of his student’s accomplishment. “Rachel’s work is well crafted and well thought out. She has good technique – it’s very well done or I wouldn’t have suggested she enter.”

Held’s chess set was displayed and the winner, Eugenia Ortiz from the University of Kansas, was announced at the Feb. 12-14 Buyers Market of American Craft in Philadelphia. Judges, Pearson says, selected finalists based on technical excellence in surface design and form coupled with a distinct quality of unique, original and creative thought. To see the work selected as finalists, go to

Like much of her work, Held’s chess set features the dandelion and is stitched on a sewing machine.

“Dandelions, to me, are a source of comfort and reassurance in times of stress and anxiety because they are beautiful fragments of nature that tell a familiar, cyclical story, and remind me of my childhood. They begin as seeds, grow into flowers, transform into puffs, and dissolve into new seeds, like the life cycle of mankind,” she says in her artist statement.

Held keeps her imagery lighthearted purposely to balance the anxieties that are always in people’s lives. She portrays the dandelion – whether a seed or puff or flower in full bloom – in a childlike way. And the fabric that is her material of choice also reminds her of her childhood.

“I chose fabrics with especially soft textures to enhance the tactile experience.  Fabrics – in blankets and toys for children – have a comforting and nostalgic feeling; thus, my pieces create an artificial domestic atmosphere,” she says, explaining that she chose colors that were readily available. “I selected these simple colors the way a child selects crayons from a box, focusing on a warm, bright, happy palette.”

A couple of years of sewing lessons helped set the direction Held’s art would take. But she has perfected her craft by herself, since Pearson readily admits he can’t help her with the stitching.

“I can offer help with ideas,” Pearson says, explaining that her work is all the more remarkable considering she is virtually on her own in technique.

Held is forging ahead with her art. She’s applying to M.F.A. programs to continue her studies in fiber or sculpture.