Pat Williams, Portraits: Real and Imagined

Curator’s Essay: Pat Williams Has Stories to TellMindscapes GalleryChurch Kneelers Gallery

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Pat Williams, “Certain Situation“, 42.5 in x 18.5 in, 6 epi, 2015, photo by artist.

People are significant in Pat Williams’ visual creations. Often these people are women of certain ages and situations. In keeping, one tapestry is entitled Certain Situation. In this piece, a woman with a pale face and dark, asymmetrical hairstyle has an expression of one who is somewhat irked. Her mouth is a pouty heart shape. Her eyes are crossed, a common motif in Pat’s people that initially meant exasperation. She goes on to say, “As I saw the result of the crossed eyes, I was reminded of insight meditation, some Japanese Ukiyo-e prints, and they were also kinda funny.” 

Her dress has a polka-dot pattern reminiscent of comic book character Little Dot’s attire. In her hair is a pink dogwood flower, perhaps symbolizing love and affection. Above her head is a stylized urban landscape along with the ubiquitous moon in the sky. Pat wove this tapestry soon after the decision to move from the farm to the new living situation where care for her husband would be more readily available.

Left: Pat Williams, “A Good Marriage“, 24.25 in x 28 in, 8 epi, 2001, photo: Randy Crump. Right: Pat Williams, “The Beginning“, 28 in x 30 in, 8 epi, 2002, photo: Randy Crump

Pat’s figurative works are often self-portraits. A Good Marriage is of herself and husband. Notice the flowered green dress she wears in this portrait as it shows up again in another tapestry: The Beginning. In that tapestry the figure seems to have eaten some of the special cake from Alice and Wonderland, causing her to grow—the figure is barely contained within the walls, floor, and ceiling of the room. She kneels with head slightly bent to allow her to fit into the space. A window nearby shows a view of the outside world where the rural landscape holds a clothesline, cat, and flowers similar to those decorating her dress.

Woven five years later, Kairos shows a new version of the room, landscape, flowers, cat, and the figure. In this tapestry, one of the flowers is now inside and has lost some of its petals. The cat is also inside and sits on a table, observing the open door through which the figure wearing the green dress has just passed. On the table is a pair of glasses, and in the lenses one can see crossed eyes. A wind blows through the window, sweeping open a curtain and ruffling the cat’s fur. The figure seems to rush ahead of the breeze or perhaps be impelled by it. The earlier tapestry, The Beginning, hangs upon the wall as an intriguing reference to the earlier situation. Where everything was contained and stifled in The Beginning, with Karios, subjects are moving and changing. The concept of the right moment for decision or change as defined by Kairos seems to be realized with this tapestry.

Last Grasp again uses the daisy-like flower seen in earlier tapestries. The flower seems to nearly leap from a vase at one side of the wide composition toward a female figure that stretches toward it from the opposite side. The flower’s shadow is even more elongated and extends beyond the center toward the figure. As with flowers in other tapestries, it is losing some of its petals. The figure has gray hair and facial wrinkles, leading one to feel that perhaps the title is a play on the phrase last gasp

Left: Pat Williams, “Kairos“, 20 in x 48 in, 8 epi, 2007, photo: Randy Crump. Right: Pat Williams, “Last Grasp“, 18.5 in x 47.75 in, 8 epi, 2007, photo: Randy Crump.

Pat Williams, “Refugee“, 37 in x 38 in, 8 epi, 2018, photo: Tim Barnwell.

A patterned table covering is seen at the bottom edge of Last Grasp, and decorative patterning shows up frequently in Pat’s tapestries. In Refugee, shown is a figure with crossed eyes that wears a black and white striped garment and colorful patterned headscarf. Narrow bands of bright colors edge three sides to enclose a gray background. Pushing into the space from the left is a wider band of blue with a small mound of earth. A flower form grows from the mound, with an echo of it below. Pat says that she feels sympathy for all refugees who must start over within new surroundings, essentially from scratch, one plant at a time.

Pat Williams, “I Couldn’t Find the Garden“, 10 in x 7.5 in, 8 epi, 2008, photo: Randy Crump.

I Couldn’t Find the Garden has a simple color scheme of blue, red, white, and black. A figure leans into the space from the right and has a look of annoyance upon her face. Puckered lips, crossed eyes, frowning eyebrows, and mussed hair all seem to show her disgruntlement with the situation. Where was the garden she tried to find? What are those random shapes floating in the background? Why is she so annoyed? As usual, one may enjoy the elegant design of the tapestry but there are also many remaining questions for the viewer.

Two larger tapestries, Failure to Communicate and Speaking in Code, also use a simple color scheme in which white, black, gray, or brown are enlivened with small but important areas of red. In both tapestries, the hair is reduced to stylized, organic lines of varying widths of black on white. Faces are white with outlines of red. 

Pat Williams, “Failure to Communicate“, 44.5 in x 59 in, 6 epi, 2013, photo: Tim Barnwell.

The composition of Failure to Communicate is crowded with heads and shoulders of three women placed tightly side-by-side. Although shoulder-to-shoulder, each seems to be closed off from the other. Their eyes are simplified into thin horizontal lines ending with a dot near the noses, once again representing crossed eyes, in this case, perhaps expressing exasperation. The mouth of each figure is tightly closed; one puckers her mouth into an X, the second has pouty Betty Boop lips, and the third the flat line of a tightly closed mouth. Each figure has a differently patterned blouse of red and white. 

Pat Williams, “Speaking in Code“, 23.5 in x 38.5 in, 6 epi, 2017, photo: by artist.

In Speaking in Code, many tiny shapes of short lines, Xs, and Os spill out of the mouth of a large head that almost fills the composition. These smaller symbols were stitched onto the background of the tapestry after weaving. Do these multiple stitches represent binary coding, or are they instead Xs and Os of kisses and hugs? In either case, it seems to be as ineffectual a way to communicate, as with the three women who are obviously failing at that effort in the previous tapestry.

One of the larger tapestries is Phoenix or Bust. At 47.75 inches high by 23.75 inches wide, it is woven with a wide sett of six ends per inch. The figure’s simplicity and boldness work well with the scale of the warp. In the tapestry, a female figure rises from (or falls into) the mouth of a volcano. Her finger- and toenails are painted red, and her garment is boldly patterned in stripes of black and white, with black and orange feather-like shapes for the bodice. Her right arm is elongated and stretches protectively over her head while the left arm hangs to her side, ending with a tightly clasped fist. A white background is broken with thin, organic lines that terminate with finger-like projections, all reaching toward the central figure. 

Pat Williams, “Phoenix or Bust“, 47.75 in x 23.75 in, 6 epi, 2013, photo: Tim Barnwell.

Phoenix or Bust is a touching contrast to the tapestry Orion, woven several years before. In the earlier piece, a figure strides among the clouds surrounded by the Orion constellation. She carries a box and one wonders what it holds. In the midst of the night sky and clouds, there is a window through which a quarter moon is seen. The figure seems to be confident; slightly smiling and perhaps enjoying a stroll in the sky, dreaming among the stars. At the time Orion was woven, Pat didn’t know that within a few years Parkinson’s disease would create a dramatic turn of circumstance for the family. Phoenix or Bust shows a figure that one can presume to be Pat, as she navigates both her husband’s decline and reclaiming creative energy via passing through trials by fire.

Pat Williams, “Orion“, 30 in x 50 in, 8 epi, 2004 and 2008 (revised), photo: Randy Crump.