Curated by Tommye McClure Scanlin
Pat Williams presents visual narratives with her tapestries. She creates worlds and populates them with beings that seem at times to be puzzled or perplexed at their situations. Some are recognizably human, while others are anthropomorphized shapes reminiscent of fantastical plant, insect, or animal creatures. The stories contained within her tapestries are likewise often puzzling; while they often make one laugh aloud, there is always one more aspect, as viewers first find the humor and then notice an unease or poignancy within the stories.
Many tapestry designs are developed from images within small drawings that Pat has created for years. She often begins using stream-of-consciousness, as she holds a pencil or pen loosely over paper and lets her hand begin to make marks. Those few marks may prompt a memory and so she elaborates, or they may lead to impromptu combinations of animated characters. Pat operates with an open mind and imagines images that may appear as communications from the universe.
Pat generally weaves tapestries from the front, building shapes in meet-and-separate technique, but often adds eccentric weft, and/or flying shuttle or soumak. These free linear methods allow her to meander across the surface. She frequently mixes yarns of different types and textures. Sometimes Pat elaborates upon the image further after the tapestry is woven, adding stitches and tiny seed beads. This combination of weaving techniques, embellished additions, and yarn variety gives the surfaces of Pat’s tapestries a vital, lively quality.
Patricia Quinn Williams lived in many places in the U.S., including Hawaii, until she was twelve years old as the family followed her father to different military bases. About that upbringing, Pat says: “The military culture is compellingly beautiful to me, especially in it’s most rigid presentation—like the attention guards at the gates. I was rendered deeply introverted by my military brat experience and rather sad about not having a ‘home town with old friends.’ It took years past my college days to come to terms with the experience and come into my own true self. On the other hand, there were benefits— like living in several sub-cultures which made me understand in a visceral way that it’s good to be able to adapt and how to adapt. I like different.”
After high school graduation, she attended the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and earned a Bachelor of Art degree. Pat worked as a graphic designer for 15 years before returning to academia to earn an art teaching certification and Masters of Art Education from the University of North Georgia, Dahlonega. She went on to teach high school art for nine years. It was during this period of encouraging young artists that she became a prolific artist in her own right, with tapestry as her primary medium. Pat’s commitment to her own studio practice was remarkable when one learns that drawings from which cartoons were designed, as well as numerous resulting tapestries, were created between 4:00 a.m. when she arose, and 7:00 a.m. when she left for school each morning.
Pat retired from teaching in 2006, allowing her even more studio time to concentrate upon weaving tapestry and teaching occasional workshops. Her tapestries have been shown in many exhibitions, including ATB 6 (2004), ATB 8 (2010/11), ATB 9 (2013/14), and ATB 11 (2016/17). Her work has also received the ATA Award of Excellence five times during various exhibits. She was one of a few artists to have a tapestry selected for the 2011 show Green: The Color and the Cause at the Textile Museum in Washington, DC.
For many years Pat and I lived within 40 miles of each other and frequently visited each other’s studio to discuss our current work during informal critique sessions. We have often traveled together to tapestry workshops and retreats, and we’ve also co-taught a few workshops.
In 2015, life circumstances changed for Pat and her husband, as his health concerns made management of their large farm in North Georgia’s mountains impossible. They made the decision to downsize and moved to a continuous-care community near Atlanta. In the transition, the spacious studio Pat maintained within their larger house was condensed into one room at their new location. However, creative impulses and output remain high for Pat WiIliams.
Seeking truth has been at the base of all my efforts all my life.Pat Williams
I have always been fascinated with Pat’s approach to idea and image for her tapestries, as it is so different than mine. In many ways, as seen in her morning drawings, an intuitive process drives her work, while my tapestries are usually based upon observation. In presenting this exhibit, I wanted to not only show Pat Williams’ tapestries, but also delve a bit into what motivates her creativity. To that end, I asked Pat several questions.
T: When did you begin making art and when did you know you wanted to be an artist?
P: When I was 11, my Aunt Genie gave me a Rembrandt set of pastels. There were no instructions on how to use them, so I made up how to manipulate them. What fun they were! I rubbed and shaded and mixed colors any way I wanted. Enjoying art has stayed with me ever since.
T: What led you to tapestry-making?
P: Love of fiber. It was a comfort to me that it seemed to be an art form dominated by women. I started out learning to crochet from one of those old 1950s pamphlets that were found in dime stores at that time. I’ve still got some of those books. I tried knitting, spinning, rug hooking, tatting, cross-stitch (ugh), needlepoint, embroidery (that I still do), and floor-loom weaving.
T: How did you learn tapestry?
P: In 1990 I took my first tapestry workshop with Nancy Harvey. After that I worked at making tapestries on my Macomber horizontal loom. Shortly I graduated to a Hagan frame loom for about five years, and then (orchestral music in background), my husband bought me a beautiful vertical Fireside Loom. Susan Martin Maffei and Archie Brennan are both major teachers for me. Workshops, either as teacher or student, have always been extra stimulating, informative, and exciting, due to all the others participating in them.
T: What do you recommend for others who are in the beginning stages of the technique?
P: Make your first tapestries small and simple. Stay with that until the weaving becomes almost second nature. If you are inclined, gradually increase the size of tapestries; experiment with many warps and wefts. Weave a lot.
T: What are some influences for your work? Other artists/art works? Books?
P: Far Side cartoons by Gary Larson. Calvin and Hobbes comics by Bill Watterson were and still are a delight and enduringly funny. His compositions are interesting and unexpected. Amedeo Modigliani: his elongated portraits are elegant and rather like sophisticated cartoons that are also apparently accurate portraits. Most of the Nabis for their composition, use of color, and enjoyment of domestic objects and situations. Rockwell Kent for his dramatic black and white drawings.
The first tapestry artist to capture my attention was Barbara Heller for her ghosts and stones series. Other tapestry works I admire are from the medieval period. That general style reminds me of a lot of traditional Japanese art: two-dimensional, flat coloring, and a lot of patterns. Then there are Japanese Ukiyo-e prints. Also, I enjoy the book The Art of the Japanese Postcard, in which the simplicity of composition, pattern, and coloration is charming to me.
Other things? There’s the book The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Songs and poems by Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, and more recently, Natalie Merchant, are among favorites. My tastes are eclectic in literature and music.
T: Do you write or journal? If so, do you feel that plays a part in your tapestry concepts/images?
P: Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way suggested journaling daily and early in the morning. It has been an integral part of getting to know myself. After a few years of writing a journal, I began adding morning drawings in the same spirit of not editing and not destroying any of the drawings. That resulted in plenty of crap stuff, but it was also a nice bank account of source material for tapestries. Another side effect of constant unedited drawing was the emergence of my own style.
T: Are your other art-making activities important to the creation of tapestries, or are they compelling on their own?
P: Designing and constructing books, embroidery, and lately experimenting with linoleum-block printmaking keep me out there on some edge. Eventually, experimenting with other art forms will frequently dovetail into a combination of some or all of them. I’ve constructed one “book” that is a series of tapestry weavings using spun paper and I intend to try to design some more.
T: Do you feel your life circumstances, particularly in the last decade of having been a caregiver for your husband and watching him go through changes in physical and mental abilities, affect your art-making?
P: Caregiving can’t help but affect one’s life in major ways. Plenty of my morning drawings deal with feelings and issues of caregiving. Now that my husband is in a nursing home, I have more time and freedom to pursue projects for which I didn’t have the energy and time to do, yet I remain his primary source of care.
T: Do you feel your spiritual or religious beliefs have an impact on your art making?
P: I suppose so. Seeking truth has been at the base of all my efforts all my life.
The tapestries shown in the galleries indeed reflect Pat Williams’ search for her truth as she navigates her life circumstances and shares her concerns through thought-provoking artworks filled with personal symbolism.
The galleries present works in three groups. First, are those that feature what might be called mindscapes; those works are somewhat landscape-based but more fanciful and imaginary than observed.
Next are several that might be termed portraits, in which the human figure is primary. Within these, Pat’s love of pure pattern is often found.
And finally, a gallery showing a commission for liturgical use in the tapestries, created as covers for kneelers at an Episcopal church’s altar. Although the theme of these tapestries adheres to traditional liturgical seasons of Christian worship, Pat has incorporated her unique worldview into the imagery.
Tommye McClure Scanlin has woven tapestries for more than thirty years. She is Professor Emerita at the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega. Tommye has been involved with ATA since beginning her tapestry weaving career and currently serves on the ATA Board. Her tapestries are based upon the natural world of the southern Appalachian Mountains where she has lived most of her life. She describes many of the inspirations for her work in The Nature of Things: Essays of a Tapestry Weaver, published by the University of North Georgia Press (2020).