Maine Fiber Connection
My life’s journey has been circuitous, but working with my hands has always been a part of what I do. I began with sewing at a very early age and over the years I have worked in many mediums including wood, metal, fiber, clay and glass. I even made my living for over two decades doing renovation work including designing, carpentry, electrical, plumbing, tiling, spackling, masonry …You get the idea.
My Russian grandmother taught me to sew at an early age. She instilled in me, a love of creating with my hands and an appreciation for good cloth. I began weaving in the early 1990’s. After several years of creating scarves, blankets and yardage with all over patterns I wanted to bring imagery into my work. I knew about tapestry, but I didn’t believe I had the patience for such a slow art. I found another technique that allowed me to produce images more quickly. While working on a piece that was particularly slow going I had an “Aha” moment. I realized I was enjoying the process. I thought “If I enjoy this, I could enjoy ‘real’ tapestry!” I found myself some teachers and dove in head first!
With tapestry weaving I am creating an image which is integral with the cloth. The final work has a depth of color and texture I feel I can achieve no other way. The tactile experience of working with fiber, along with the richness of the woven surface excites and drives me as I watch images emerge while I weave.
It didn’t take me long to find my niche as a figurative artist. I grew up surrounded by my mother’s collection of masks and sculpture, I loved that each one was expressive, mysterious and primal. This led me to an early fascination with drawing faces and figures. It was only natural for this to show up in my tapestry
As my work has progressed, more of the figure has come into view. This is most evident in my Burlesque series, a body of work of women baring their bodies in dance. Using stage names to dramatize their alter ego, these performers create new personas, as they expose themselves in a way not done in their everyday life. My intention is to use tapestry to capture the performers’ risk-taking, while also challenging the objectification of women.
The burlesque series is also an exploration from my perspective as a performing burlesque and belly dancer. Combining my passion for dance with my love of tapestry I am creating a series intended to challenge the observer with complex, and often contradictory, societal views of women. Some of these portraits are larger than life to heighten the emotion and drama, as in my tapestries Amandaconda and Pas de Deux. The burlesque series also exemplifies the parallels between exposing myself as a dancer performing in front of an audience vs as an artist where my work is on public display. Talk about putting yourself “out there,” I can’t think of a more revealing and empowering way to do so.
Another facet of the Burlesque Series is portrayed in my tapestry “Temptation”. My inspiration came from a drag show I went to. In “Temptation” I was exploring the controversies around the subject of sexual identity, individuality, loss of innocence, enlightenment and liberation. I really enjoyed weaving that piece. It is full of symbolism, a hallmark of early European tapestry, which the illiterate of that time were able to understand. My work tells stories as well. Every element I use, including images, fiber and color choices depict a message for the viewer. I find the dichotomy of using the ancient medium of tapestry to express contemporary subjects is a powerful and satisfying tool.
My work begins with one of my drawings or photographs taken during dance performances. Photos are reworked on the computer then through sampling and experience I decide on techniques, palette, materials and detail. Finally, I can go to the loom and wind my warp to weave. Weaving is a slow art and once completed there is off loom finishing to do.
One of my latest works, The Little Devil Corset, is a great example of using tapestry to address an issue. I created a woven corset inspired by the Apocalypse tapestry. The imagery which captured my imagination were the little devils. I used devils along with stylized vines, water and land. I lined the woven corset with a cotton corset that I also made. Inspired by the Me Too movement, I wrote the names of people who have been sexually harassed, abused and/or raped on the inside in the form of a vine. When you look at the corset there are little devils reaching for the laces which hold the corset in place. Are they going to tighten them, constructing the wearer even more? Or, are they about to untie the laces exposing the wearer? This piece evolved as I worked on it. As many of my pieces do. The final touch was creating an armature that displays the piece allowing the viewer to see the inside with the names. When designing and working I keep my mind open to any possibility.
Learning tapestry weaving is an ongoing pursuit which, for me, has included 10 years of mentoring with two internationally renowned tapestry experts, Archie Brennan and Susan Martin-Maffei in NY. I have studied with numerous other tapestry artists including a course at West Dean College in England. Though my study continues I am now teaching which I love. My work has traveled to eleven countries on three continents, winning awards in the US, UK and Serbia. Last winter I was invited to become a member of Markings Gallery in Bath, Maine where my work is selling well. I never imagined when I began my journey with tapestry that it would lead me where it has. And there is more to come!