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BonnieJoFiberArts: An Artist at Home in the San Jose Community

By Rebecca Gaunt

San Jose, with its Mediterranean climate and mountainous terrain bordering three sides, is the city where Bonnie Jo Smith creates her fiber art. Art has always been an important part of her life, but while raising her children she found it difficult to make the time. Instead, she introduced them to art by taking them to museums and found fulfillment as they thrived.

Smith found her own creative calling when she suffered a work-related injury and was confined to a wheelchair for a time. She signed up for a quiltmaking class and made heirlooms for family members. "I did not understand the concept of creating what someone else had already created; I then started creating one-of-a-kind quilts. I soon learned about a local group that was creating fiber art. I was intrigued and it seemed like the natural next step," she says.

Around that time, the family purchased a new home with large walls which Smith decorated with her work. "I consider myself an artist that takes inspiration from what I see and know," Smith says. "So my work is either about the wonderful terrain in the Bay area or my family."

Smith has found success with her unique work. She received a NICHE award in 2009 and 2015, and was juried into Quilt National and 9th Quilt Nihon. Her series, "Swimming Upstream," which was inspired by her experience after her injury, was honored by the Voters Injured at Work organization.

Swimming helped Smith on the road to recovery and out of the chair. One day, as she climbed out of the pool, she came to the realization that most people spend their whole lives trying to swim upstream in their careers and personal lives. Both her "Swimming Upstream" series and her memoirs are based on that event.

Smith frequently uses her art to delve into social and political issues. She created "Rosie Who" after seeing photos of women of color working in factories during WWII. "The 405" is a reference to illegal immigrants who were killed by passing cars on Interstate 405. She also has pieces that address racism, AIDS, sexism and the suffragette movement.

Her most recent series was inspired by local geography. "We are overwhelmed with so much visual inspiration; from the salt flats in Alvisio to the Pacific Ocean," says Smith.

The community has been welcoming to her as an artist and has provided a haven where she can interact with others in the art community. "We have many local arts organizations that have national ties if you would like, or small galleries or studios where you are able to be around the artist influence that so many crave," Smith explains. "Open studios abound twice a year in San Jose allowing everyone to visit and take a look at the process or make a purchase of art created by a local artisan."

In addition, the area has easy access to freeways that allow her to travel easily anywhere, some of the best weather in the Bay Area, and plenty of shopping, medical and entertainment options. Her love for the state is reflected in the vibrant colors of her "California" series, which includes "Pescadero," her favorite beach town, and "Pacific Waves."

"We are so lucky to live in San Jose," she says.

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About The Author

Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a...

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