For about 15 years, I have admired Suzanne Pretty’s tapestries, and been intrigued by her design process. She was the first tapestry artist I knew who used the computer to design her tapestries. With a BFA in painting and illustration, and a natural affinity for computer technology, she was able to combine digital design with painting in playful explorations that often became tapestry designs. Recently these media have taken on a life of their own, as paper weavings. This exhibit includes both tapestries and paper weavings.
Since the early 90’s Pretty has woven tapestries that express her concern with the destruction of the natural environment. Rampant development in her home state of New Hampshire was the impetus for ‘Daylilies,’ in which she contrasts the elegant tranquility of the flowers with the image of a bulldozer, tearing up their habitat. One of the exciting paradoxes of tapestry weaving, is that the bright yellow bulldozer against a blue sky can be beautiful even as we recognize its negative connotations.
As the series continues we see nature being cut into pieces by construction equipment and highways, in ‘Fragmentation,’ and transformed into a playground full of toy trucks and a child’s building blocks in ‘Forest of Blocks.’ Eventually all that is left of nature are the evening sky and the silhouettes of tree branches, in ‘All That Glitters.’ The metallic gleam of modern cities has taken center stage. The title reminds us that the value of development may be an illusion, while the image reminds us of what we have lost.
Pretty is a firm advocate of the value of exploring different media, and feels that because tapestry weaving is so labor-intensive, each tapestry should push the boundaries. Her adventures in design eventually led to experimentation with paper weaving, as a means of working through many ideas in a short time. She refers to the paper weavings as sketches, and says “These are like a journal, jotting down images, playing with the image to see if I want to develop it further.”
Using images she has developed through photography, digital design and painting, she cuts two images into strips and then weaves them together. The paper weavings continue the theme of the tapestries. The process is analogous to the subject matter: the fragmentation and reconstruction of nature. The results of reconstruction, in both cases, are somewhat unpredictable, as illustrated dramatically in ‘Coastal Fragmentation.’
It was this element of risk that sparked my interest in Suzanne Pretty’s paper weavings, as I was investigating serendipity in tapestry weaving. The unexpected is a welcome visitor in Pretty’s studio, and she feels that her discoveries, both positive and negative, propel her forward. The destination is unknown, the future mysterious. ‘The Trees Were Wrapped in Cellophane,’ with references to Chernobyl, shows a desolate yet strangely radiant world where you don’t know what to expect.
About the curator, Janet Austin
Janet Austin got hooked on weaving in 1972, as an undergraduate at the Massachusetts College of Art. She spent eight years weaving functional items to sell in craft cooperatives, which was an opportunity to explore color and texture. In an effort to reintroduce imagery to her work, she pursued an MFA in Painting. Almost accidentally the painting and weaving came together, and she has been weaving tapestries since 1983.
Austin is interested in the abstract qualities of traditional academic subjects: landscape, portrait, life drawing, and still life. Her recent investigations relate to the similarities between these subjects, and the commonality in natural forms.
In addition to her studio work, Janet Austin is member of the ATA Board of Directors, the Coordinator of Tapestry Weavers in New England (TWiNE), a part time Reference Librarian, a soccer coach, an avid gardener, and the mother of two recently grown up daughters.