Where It’s At ...

tapestry / the new wave

Wed, 08/28/2019 - 1:00pm

To die for.

That phrase pretty much sums up how much I love the show of tapestries exhibited at Brad Betts’ Down East Gallery in Edgecomb – and in that gorgeous old barn, the perfect venue.

Curated by Priscilla May Alden and Barbara Burns, this show, “tapestry / the new wave,” features the creations of 16 weavers – including Priscilla and Barbara.

When you first step into the space and glance around the barn, you’d swear you were looking at a show of paintings … take Eve Pearce’s “Four Girls and An Apple” as an example; Eve, who has traveled to Nepal a few times, has woven a story about these girls who are close friends, made clear by not only how close they are as they look at one of Nepal’s mountain ranges, but by the way they hold on to each other. One girl has one hand draped on her friend’s shoulder, another has a hand around two friends’ waists … and the colors! The pattern in one girl’s pants; the shadow detail indicating a wrinkle in the fabric of their clothes. The texture created by the weaving tempts you to touch, but don’t!

And another painterly tapestry is Suzanne Pretty’s “Orange Spotted Plane.” The detail in this large (51.5”H X 41.5”W) piece of wool, silk, cotton metallic, and cotton is just fabulous. The texture and windows on the buildings, the snow and water .. and that plane a splash of intrusion and sound in an otherwise quiet scene. And Suzanne’s choice of fibers makes it difficult to see the weave without that close proximity or magnification!

It’s like Priscilla said, “Weavers create fabric and imagery at the same time … there’s a lot happening.”

I’m not the only one who has marveled at and been awed by the tapestries in this show – and one of which there are very few in this part of the country … the new wave. When Priscilla and Barbara named this show, they unknowingly foretold the response the show would garner. There’ve been 100’s of tapestry lovers taking in this show. And that, says Priscilla, is a sign of the real interest in the art of weaving. From all over Maine to as far away as St. Louis – yes, St. Louis. The day I was there, Priscilla was engaged in conversation with a woman from there who had read about the show in, Priscilla believes, a tapestry publication.

“She and her husband planned to come to Maine this summer and while they were here, this show was one place they planned to come,” said Priscilla (who was on hand to answer questions and welcome the visitors the day I was there, too).

Gallery owner Brad Betts has been blown away by the waves of people coming to the show – beginning with the opening reception on Aug. 9, at which Priscilla estimates there were 150 people.

“The positive response was overwhelming, with guests from all over New England, and even Nova Scotia, who drove specifically for the opening reception to see the show and personally meet 10 of the 11 weavers featured in the exhibition,” said Brad. “It’s definitely the largest opening reception we’ve had in the 2-1/2 years we’ve had the gallery.”

And the attendance post-opening has been equally surprising. “There’s been a continuing flow of tapestry artists, quilters, hookers, and textile appreciators visiting the gallery and tapestry exhibition on a daily basis. We have at least twice as many visitors a day on average, with people driving from all over New England specifically to see this show,” Brad added.

One longstanding attraction for me, although I couldn’t make the reception, is Priscilla’s latest work, finished for the show, entitled “Pueblo,” hanging on one of the stage walls.

I love her southwestern-influenced work. The colors and weaving techniques Priscilla uses are an homage to the ancient civilizations she is drawn to. She also uses traditional weaving techniques learned in Taos, New Mexico. Many of her pieces are woven on her Rio Grande Spanish Walking Loom. These looms are all built to accommodate a weaver’s height.

In this new one, the architecture and spirit of the Pueblos is strong. She once told me, “The rhythm of weaving each row is like the beating of distant drums. The singing of the loom connects me to ancient weavers and inspires my designs.”

There are three triangles on the face of the structure, for example – symbolic of a strong earth foundation while also representing the rising of the spirit or soul to heaven; the wooden ladders are there that made moving from the different levels possible … and the color of the clay. Just gorgeous.

Writes Priscilla about the piece, “ … The spirits of ancestors and ritual of storytelling are also woven into this Pueblo.”

Barbara Burns’ pieces are so alive, bold, outstanding. I love ’em all. Her tapestry “Temptation” really screams for your attention. The piece depicts some of the performers at a transvestite talent show Barbara once saw in Portland. She takes photographs of people and then weaves them. The strong facial expressions and her use of color make this a dynamic piece.

As curators of the show, Priscilla and Barbara selected Don Burns’ tapestry “The Sitting” as Best In Show. The detail within the patterns behind the strong woman seated at the forefront, and the photographs of her in the background and the myriad of colors used are just amazing. They submitted their choice to the American Tapestry Alliance (ATA). The ATA awarded Don with its award for excellence.

Barbara, Priscilla, Priscilla’s sister-in-law and a friend hung the show. After laying sheets down on the stage area of the barn, they began unrolling the tapestries. Then the important decision had to be made: Would the pieces be hung thematically? By color? By artist? They started with the right wall of the stage area – one large painting-like piece of a path through trees by Don Burns (no relation to Barbara) is flanked by two of Sara Hotchkiss’s geometric pieces. And it just worked. It’s an intuitive process, I think.

Brad and his wife, Danielle, have received accolades for the show. He says the most common statement by far has been that “tapestry / the new wave” is one of the best tapestry exhibitions they’ve ever seen.


Prisclla says, “If you can imagine it, you can weave it.”

And, judging by this show, if you weave it, they will come.

This show runs through Saturday, Aug. 31 in that glorious barn with a peaceful, relaxed vibe. And while you’re there at 146 Boothbay Road, Edgecomb, do what many others have done – check out Brad’s paintings in the farmhouse gallery next door. The gallery and barn are open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.