A Crafty Spin on Classic Rock


Eric Garner’s music-inspired textile to Strathmore’s Drawing for Art exhibition.

By Rudy Malcom

Artist Eric Garner felt terrific when he learned that three or four of his paintings had been selected for Strathmore’s annual juried show last spring. One of the pieces went on to win best in show. 

Garner’s work will return to Strathmore in April in Drawing for Art, an exhibition concluding with an evening event where every ticketholder goes home with a work of art donated by a professional artist. While proceeds from the event go toward Strathmore, the event also serves as an opportunity to support artists in the community. 

This will be Garner’s first time joining the event, which has been held at the Mansion at Strathmore since the 1980s. “It’s really great to participate in things where you got a great organization receiving the work,” says the Bethesda resident. “Then, assuming it’s taken, it’ll be in someone’s home and have a life.” 

The piece that Garner, 57, donated comes from his recent collection of fiber works. Inspired by US conceptual artist Mel Bochner’s interest in lists, Garner’s “Classic Rock” features a critic’s selection of rock bands from the late ‘60s to the early ‘80s: the Beatles, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones, and more.  

The piece utilizes a cross-stitch technique incorporating embroidery floss and fabrics, with multicolored vertical bands running down the side and shimmery sequins. The resulting aesthetic is sentimental and homemade, according to Garner. “It’s got kind of a crafty quality,” he says. 

Garner only began experimenting with embroidery about two years ago. However, he viewed it as a natural progression from his previous work with text grids, which involved filling in squares on paper with ink markers and colored pencils. “I’m not afraid to learn a whole new material or process if I think that’s what I’m excited about,” he says, “if that’s the project I want to do.”  

He picked “Classic Rock” for Drawing for Art for two reasons: He thinks rock bands will be widely appealing, and unlike some of his other pieces, it features rings across the top that work perfectly with Strathmore’s hanging system.  

Garner received undergraduate degrees in studio art and civil engineering and a master’s in civil engineering from Stanford University. He served in the US Air Force and worked in the construction industry before pivoting to art full-time in his early 30s, earning his MFA from the University of Maryland in 2004.  

“I wanted to be an artist since I was in the 4th grade,” he says, fondly recalling making things “all the time” while growing up. Visits to art museums with his mother also fueled his passion for the craft. “It’s not something you choose,” he adds, “it’s something that finds you.” 

Garner recently retired from teaching drawing and design at Northern Virginia Community College, a post he held for 14 years, and is now focusing completely on his artwork.  

He is excited to meet fellow artists participating in Drawing for Art, and for “Classic Rock” to hopefully find a new home. 

“Whenever a piece gets a chance to get out in the world and have a life,” he says, “that’s obviously a great feeling.”