Priscilla May Alden and Barbara Burns are the Debbie Harry and Cyndi Lauper of Maine’s fiber arts scene. Their show as co-curators, “tapestry | the new wave” at Down East Gallery, 146 Boothbay Road in Edgecomb, puts a contemporary spin on a craft celebrated over the last couple millennia.
Alden and Burns met at a Tapestry Weavers in New England (TWINE) show in Kennebunkport in 2008. Since then, they have crossed paths many times and visited each other’s studios several times. And Burns interviewed Alden for her blog on being a cooperative gallery.
Alden said she has featured her tapestries at Down East Gallery since it opened in 2017 and that last fall, gallery co-owner Brad Betts confided he had dreamed of one day filling the entire barn with tapestries.
“I thought, ‛Oh, my gosh, how often do you hear something like that?’ … I said this would be such an awesome place for tapestries. It's so unexpected for one thing, and I said, 'I think I can make that happen.'”
It would take a leap of faith, Alden said, and without a good co-curator in Burns, it probably could not happen. So, the duo quickly narrowed the scope down to artists from New England and decided it would be invitational. Alden said there would be few parameters, since most galleries become ultra-specific on details like finish dates on pieces and mediums used.
“All the artists who are in the show we know, and more than that, we know their work,” said Alden.
Everyone invited accepted with great enthusiasm. Alden said each was invited to submit up to five images, and every artist will have two to five works in the show.
“We were trying to balance being inclusive and keeping the level of quality as high as we could,” said Burns. “In this general area, we're the only two tapestry artists who are actively exhibiting our work – us and Sarah Hotchkiss.”
“And no one here has seen any of these tapestries,” Alden said. She added, it will be a pretty cool show with original pieces. “All these artists are very accomplished.”
“tapestry | the new wave” will definitely be the largest tapestry show on the peninsula, Burns and Alden agreed. The duo jumped at the opportunity in large part because the art form needs promotion. Said Alden, “We don't want it to be a dying art and we'd love to have younger people involved.”
Weavers are still fighting the notion that tapestry is a dead or dying art, said Burns. In fact, it is very much contemporary, indulging a variety of techniques.
“Anything you can think of, any image you can think of you can create in tapestry,” said Burns. “It is an incredibly versatile medium and the fact that it's a textile can be problematic because people don't know what to think of it. They don't have the same respect for it as they do painting or sculpture because –”
“Is it an art or is it a craft,” Alden interjected.
As in all the arts, style and inspiration vary from artist to artist and Alden and Burns display that variety completely: Alden creates mostly in the abstract as Burns creates almost exclusively in figurative imagery. Alden’s inspiration comes from memories and connection to the “Spirit Place” while Burns pulls from her passion for burlesque and fashion.
Over 30 tapestries from 13 of New England’s top weavers, including Alden and Burns, will be on display from Tuesday, Aug. 6 until Saturday, Aug. 31. An opening reception is set for 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 9. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Alden and Burns said most pieces will be for sale.