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In Maffei’s Herding the Cows we see this same tactic used in the red foliage of the trees. The diamonds shift in value, suggesting the play of light on leaves. The interest in animating the entire surface of the weaving through a modulated pattern is not only reflective of pre-Columbian weaving but also of early European tapestry, another source of inspiration for Maffei. This detail from a tapestry showing Wild People on a Hunt shows the use of patterns throughout the image.

Susan Martin Maffei, Herding the Cows, 50" x 33", 1994.

The pre-Columbian aesthetic of abstraction, dynamic patterns and strong color contrast is also reflected in Her Favorite were Sunflowers and her Dog was Blue [image next page]. Where Maffei’s work differs from her pre-Columbian influences, however, is in her interest in the personality or character of the people inhabiting her tapestries. In the Andean pieces, such as this Late Intermediate Period fragment, there is little interest in psychological nuance or anecdotal detail. The figures, animals and composites are more symbolic than real. Many are representations of spiritual beings. In Maffei’s work, however we sense, despite the flattened and patterned surface, the individual personality and the minor events that make a person’s life unique. Maffei’s interest in narrative reflects the influence of European tapestry. In this 15th Century tapestry showing Wild People and the Job of Farming Wheat, the rendering of the wheat as a pattern can be compared to the patterns of the sunflowers in Blue. In both pieces we see a day in the life of the subjects of the tapestries. Maffei incorporates the principles that underlie the extraordinary, textile based strength of pre-Columbian and early European tapestry at a conceptual level and then uses them to develop images that reflect her own culture and interests.

Wild People on a Hunt Basel (detail), from Rapp Buri, Zahm und Wild: Basler und Strassburger Bildteppichge des 15. Jahrhunderts. Mainz: Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 1990.

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