Ellen R.

So here is my personal profile. It is too long, so I would love suggestions for edits! Please be brutally honest.

Des Moines Iowa is far from the artistic capital of the world, but growing up in that quiet midwestern city offered me a surprisingly rich foundation in the arts that strongly influenced my path in life. In the 1960s the Des Moines Art Center fashioned itself after Cranbrook, featuring a modern art museum and an active school of art and studio craft. My mother was a docent at the Des Moines Art Center, and she took me there frequently. The truly amazing Nathan Emory Coffin Collection there was my introduction to fine art, and taking classes at the art center was an annual rite of summer. Thus, I became an avid maker at a young age; I loved pottery and fiber especially.

In high school I was able to participate in a foreign study program in Europe and visit some of the world’s greatest museums. In France I saw grand, classical tapestries for the first time and I was just blown away by them. I attended the University of Iowa, studied photography, and eventually earned a Masters degree in art history. I discovered contemporary tapestry art in Fiber Arts Magazine while in college and became determined to learn the technique, but pre-internet it wasn’t that easy to find instruction. I moved to Philadelphia with my husband in the mid-80’s and embarked on a career in the museum field. We eventually landed in Seattle, made it our permanent home, and started our family. I suspected the area would be fertile ground for learning tapestry technique and I was right. I studied with Mary Lane, a founding member of the Scheuer Tapestry Studio, for three years in the late 90’s. I have exhibited my work in national and international juried shows since 2005.

The rigorous technique of hand woven tapestry offers a unique combination of image, materiality, and process that imbues visual ideas with a tactile object quality. I develop my designs in Photoshop by deconstructing, layering, and manipulating my drawings and photographs in an iterative process that results in an abstracted image. I enlarge the design and use it as the basis of a “cartoon” that guides the process of weaving the image. Color and line are then constructed within the substrate of warp and weft during the making process. A bundle of mixed materials are interwoven by hand, pixel-by-pixel, building the image from bottom to top. I work on an upright loom, weaving in the French Gobelin tradition with the back of the work facing me. This allows me to use techniques that were devised during the Renaissance to speed the production of extremely detailed designs. I use both traditional (wool, silk) and untraditional (retro reflective and synthetic) materials in my tapestries. I often “draw” on the surface of my work by wrapping and floating contrasting threads over the weaving in order to add additional detail and texture. The artistic decisions I make along the way must be wholly committed to because once that section has been woven and rolled under the beam of the loom I can’t go back and make revisions.  When the tapestry is cut off the loom it is seen in its entirety for the first time, so there is always an element of risk involved in the making; this medium is not for the faint of heart.

Currently, I am working on a series of symbolic narratives focusing on time, memory, and loss. I have reached an age where life’s inevitable paradigm shifts present themselves with startling clarity, forcing examination and bringing heightened meaning to the word “bittersweet.” This body of work seeks to capture this elusive balance of opposites and explore its visual expression through symbolism and abstractions derived from nature. The medium of woven tapestry is well suited to work about time as the process itself is a commonly used metaphor for the accumulation of experience. My goal is to encourage a process of layered discovery for the viewer.  I want my work to grab your attention through graphic contrast and bold visual vocabulary, but upon more meticulous inspection, the work rewards with subtle tone on tone details and other visual surprises, like text, that add layers of meaning. Lately I have incorporated retro reflective fiber that fluoresces only intermittently under certain light conditions as an analogy for memory.