Andean Meets Medieval European on the Streets of Manhattan: Susan Martin Maffei’s Tapestries

by Mary Lane

The topic of my talk today is the tapestries of Susan Martin Maffei. Maffei began weaving tapestry in 1985. She attended Parsons School of Design in New York City, and then began an apprenticeship at the Scheuer Tapestry Studio. Maffei also studied with Jean Pierre Larochette and Yael Lurie and, in 1987-88 she completed a nine month stage at Les Gobelins in Paris. Her work has been exhibited and collected widely and she is known by many as a dedicated and inspired artist and teacher.

Maffei is a consummate weaver. Her diverse training has resulted in a broad range of skills that would allow her to work from designs in a wide variety of styles and media. However, it is her interest in tapestry itself and her familiarity with historic tapestries from many cultures, that has led her down a very specific and focused path of inquiry. Since the late 1980s Maffei’s work has represented a sustained attempt at integrating the weaving process, the structural qualities of tapestry, the materials and her image into a conceptual unity. It is this pursuit, and its intersection with specific historic tapestries that I will discuss today.

Maffei’s work focuses on the world around her, and especially on the people that inhabit that world. For most of the year she makes her home in New York City and the city and its people serve as inspiration for much of her imagery. In portraits such as Redhead in a Blue Sweater; and Laura the focus is on the individuality of the person. The quirky, or ordinary nature of the face, the clothes, the posture, the expression – all of these traits define the character of the subject. Each tapestry, however, represents not only a personality for us to meet, but also a chance to follow Maffei’s exploration into what, if any, characteristics are truly fundamental to tapestry weaving.

[Editor’s note: The author gave this talk at the symposium, “Looking at Tapestries: Views by Weavers and Scholars,” in Chicago, March 2003 .]

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