Rio Wrenn : Silk + Repurposing = Wearable Art

By Michelle Frost

Portland fashion and textile designer, Rio Wrenn, is the founder  & designer of R.A.W. Textiles, a production dye studio created in 2009 specializing in natural dyes, rusted textiles and shibori (a technique dating from 8th century Japan). She is also part of this year’s GLEAN environmental art exhibit at Disjecta Contemporary Art Center on Friday, August 14.

Rio Wrenn
Rio Wrenn

Wrenn is a homegrown artist, born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, graduated from University of Washington in 2002 with a BFA degree in Sculpture.

She studied Interior Design at The Art Institute of Seattle and Furniture Design at Cornish College of Arts.  “I worked in upholstery shops,” she says, “I wanted to make metal furniture, so I studied sculpture and metal casting in school. Fabrics happened my last year of school.” She had experience sewing, “so it grew from there (into textile design).”

Sacred garments of Japan, India and Native America influence her textile designs, along with her love of nature, metals, silk and other fine fabrics.

“My rusting process is an expression of the ephemeral and the natural aging and decay of all things,” she says. “Using natural processes, I hasten the rusting and oxidation of the mundane tools, objects and industrial metal pieces common to people’s daily lives. Like all of the objects of our existence we too are eventually interred.”

Zipper dress will be worn by the Rabbit spirit guide at her performance/fashion show at Disjecta
Zipper dress will be worn by the Rabbit spirit guide at her performance/fashion show at Disjecta

Wrenn’s materials include tea-stained vintage linens, lace table runners, crocheted items and sheer silks dyed with plants, insects, and rusting metals.

Wrenn describes herself, “I am a visual artist, textile designer, bellydancer and nature lover.”  After making garments for five years, she didn’t find the financial support to continue. Since 2013, she has been focusing on scarves, “I made two collections of scarves last year.”

Wrenn is busy finishing pieces for the upcoming exhibition including a throne she is welding for the performance.

She explains her part in the show at Disjecta, “It’s a performance disguised as a fashion show…materials turned into wearable pieces…a storyline with the title Spiritual Warrior.”

A tour of her studio reveals a storehouse of materials and several work stations. Her assistant keeps busy in a corner with two sewing machines.

On the tall cutting table is a pair of shorts to be worn by the Tiger spirit in the Disjecta show.  Shelving is stocked full with rolls of fabric, buckets of jewels, and bundles of rope.

In the basement are more materials for repurposing, such as military duffle bags; costumes hanging in various stages of completion. In the backyard and a display of collected metal objects that she is still considering.

For the amount of materials, and the number of projects underway, Wrenn’s studio is surprisingly organized and efficient, exhibiting an abundance of creative energy as well as a cozy, sunlit space for tea and contemplation.

“There is no separation between my work, my life and my spirit,” she exclaims.

Her enthusiasm is infectious and her passion for the process is evident in her portfolio online, inside the walls of her living space, and in the thoughts she expresses in conversation.

During her years in school, she delved into researching women’s studies and wrote her thesis on Maiden, Mother, Crone: The Triple Goddess Archetype, which represents the three phases of a woman’s life, or the three female figures common to Neopaganism.

“Everyone should read Women Who Run With Wolves,” she says, “and The Red Tent was good too,” naming two books that she’s discovered.

Living her vision, creating art from repurposed scraps, and weaving narratives from mythology and the spirits that guide her work, Wrenn has another show in January at Jupiter Hotel. To learn more see

GLEAN gives Portland area artists access to a steady stream of discarded materials at the Metro Central Transfer Station, a stipend, and an exhibit to showcase their works.

The goal of the program is to get people to think about their consumption habits, consider new and innovative ways to conserve resources, and to initiate a larger conversation about the waste we generate.

Launched in 2011 as the Pacific Northwest Art Program, GLEAN is a collaboration between Metro, Recology, the employee-owned company that manages resource recovery facilities; and Cracked Pots, an environmental arts group that manages the program.

To learn more, visit and .

The opening reception for GLEAN is Friday, August 14, 6 to 9 pm, at Disjecta Contemporary Art Center, 8371 N. Interstate Ave.  The doors open at 6 pm and the fashion show begins at 6:30. The exhibit  is free and displays until September 6. .

Rio Wrenn : Silk + Repurposing = Wearable Art

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