by Jenny Wilder with Marie Westerman
I’ll say this at the outset; Marie lives in a sacred place. When I travel to Minnesota’s North Shore and the road comes down the sweeping curve leading into Grand Marais and the big ancient shoulders of the Sawtooth Mountains stretch up and away from Lake Superior, light and time change.
The weavings that are featured in this story talk about that Northern Light. It’s captivating and when I’ve stood under the iconic Gunflint Trailhead gateway, I’ve wondered if I could live in this space. It has its share of Cities’ ex-pats and generations of locals and the winters are legendary–but still—it’s very special and snatches a bit of your heart.
In previous stories about artists, I’ve written their story using my words which is an interpretation. The thing is, Marie did such a complete job of filling out the Artist Questionnaire I think it’s best to leave it in her words.
When did you first become interested in fiber art?
I have always been interested in self expression through fibers and textiles. I grew up around women who knit, embroidered, crocheted and sewed and as I grew up, I learned the basics from them. Later, it seemed perfectly natural to combine my interests in drawing and painting with my experience in working with different types of fiber and different techniques.
What about the medium of fiber appeals to you?
Weaving is an ancient, ancient craft, yet there are still ways to innovate and create new approaches to this age-old technology. Though I weave by hand, with no more sophisticated an approach to weaving than was available to weavers hundreds of years ago, I have been able to develop by own way of expressing my visual ideas through weaving.
What type(s) of fiber (medium) do you work with the most?
The technique I use is my own unique approach to doubleweave. Double cloth is a compound-weave structure in which two different colored layers of cloth are interwoven to create reversible patterns and imagery that appears light-on-dark on one side of the fabric and dark-on-light on the opposite side. Over the course of decades, I have worked out way of expressing intricate imagery through the interlacement of warp and weft.
What theme or ideas are recurring in your work?
Currently, I am exploring the interaction of human intentions and technology with the natural world. I am interested in the ways we use to attempt to understand, predict and control natural forces. My works combine images of the natural world with images representing thought and technology, such as text, machinery and charts.
What are your creative challenges?
I am constantly challenged to express my visual ideas within a framework consisting of warp threads attached to and operated by a loom, and weft threads interweaving at right angles with the warp. My color choices are not infinite; rather I must choose a limited palette and create color variations through the interweaving of those colors chosen for each piece.
How do you approach your work?
I start my creative process by imagining subject matter, a specific color palette and then the size and shape of the piece. Often I mentally combine several images, each woven as a separate panel to be joined together to form the completed piece.
What tool could you not live without?
I have had my large floor loom for more than 30 years now. It is like an old friend.
What is your creative process?
Once I have decided on the basic imagery, size , color, etc. for a piece I create a rendering in color and to scale usually using watercolors. This gives me a realistic idea of exactly how the finished piece will look. Then I make a full scale line drawing for each portion of the piece. These drawings are called cartoons. I use the cartoon as a guide to follow during the weaving process.
Does your location, physically or an idea manifest itself in your work?
My physical surroundings are a constant inspiration to me. When I worked in a studio in Minneapolis, my work had more of an urban theme. Now that I live in Northern Minnesota, images of the local lakes, trees, rocks, flora and fauna recur constantly throughout my work.
What are some of the pleasures you get in your work?
I enjoy working out ways to express my vision within the limitations of lengthwise warps and crosswise wefts. It continues to be a delight to me to watch as the picture comes into focus, row by woven row.
What are some of the big ideas that influence your work?
Though my work is unique to me, it is also part of a long tradition of creation of pictorial weavings using interwoven layers of cloth. This history goes back thousands of years, both in Eurasia and in South America.
How do you view the artists of today?
Artists of today have the freedom to fearlessly pursue various techniques and ways of expressing their unique ideas. For most of the history of making textiles, the techniques and patterns were taught in ways that demanded conformity to strict rules for preparing to work and for carrying out the work.
Which fiber artist do you admire the most?
Anni Albers was one of the first modern textile artists and I admire her devotion to weaving, even in the face of those who considered it “woman’s work.” I feel humbled sometimes looking at the work of anonymous weavers of historical textiles. Because I weave, I often have insight into the making of even ancient textiles. Sometimes it feels like I’m looking over someone’s shoulder, in a way, understanding their decision making process as they work.
What is your work motto?
“The better I draw the cartoon, the better the weaving will be.”
Where do you exhibit/sell your work?
I exhibit and sell work through gallery shows and from my studio.
What is your contact information?