Artist Spotlight: Maddie Ley

Today I have the great honor of giving the monthly Artist Spotlight to Maddie Ley! (Yes, it’s a new thing I’m doing. Monthly Artist Spotlights!) I met Maddie about a year ago, and I can tell you, she is one astounding talented human! I was there when she got that rigid heddle loom from a mutual friend. I can claim I saw parts of the beginning!

From the Amazing Maddie herself:

I’ve been absorbing and teaching myself fiber art for about a year and a half, and I didn’t start a consistent art practice until after I finished college in 2018 – so I am very new to the title of ‘artist’. I am more familiar with the role of voyeur, earning my B.A. in Art History. The largest influence in my direction toward fiber art has been my employment at Textile Center in Minneapolis, MN. My immersion as a fly on the wall in classrooms, a liaison for the many different guilds affiliated with the center, and an organizer of youth summer camps quickly assimilated me into the world of textiles and fiber. I took home a hand-me-down rigid heddle loom, after I had outgrown the 2” x 3” cardboard looms we were using with youth campers. 

I took to weaving quickly, the repetition and emphasis on technique found a home in my hands – normally when faced with a blank slate I am immobilized, without vision or a clear idea for execution. How do I convey shadow and depth? What do I want to create? With weaving, I could simply work the tools and materials into experiments in ways I was always unable to with pen or paintbrush. Tactilian has been the central word, concept, emotion driving my fiber processes since then. I don’t have the thoughts for abstraction or artistic vision – my hands do the work and I adjust as my product unravels. The visceral, tangible response to my own movements is the reason I have found fiber art to be so rewarding. 

My work is influenced by the loud colors and patterns of the 1980s and 90s, as well as music; Talking Heads, B-52s, and more a la new wave and synth pop. I enjoy responding to busy patterns and jarring color palates with my work, and draw on a variety of weaving techniques. I’m not intent on pursuing weaving in an academic sense – at least at this point, I don’t read weaving drafts, I don’t measure warp, and I don’t labor over perfection. 

A recent exploration within my work was a class I took at Minneapolis College of Art and Design which examined weaving as a sculptural form – we were taught to construct, deconstruct, and re-construct weavings as the primary material for sculpture or installation. I had never approached sculpture and, in the capacity that my Art History studies landed on sculpture I couldn’t be concerned – I never found it as profound or emotive as a Kollwitz block print, merely utilitarian, by way of Le Corbusier’s office buildings. Still I gleefully took a pair of scissors to a pair of weavings, trusting the act and the materials to find a composition I loved, as they often would on the loom. 

This time, the assembly didn’t come that easy. The project needed intention, because working off the four-sided structure, I had no framework to fall into. As I cut through the weft and warp, yarn was falling everywhere, like blood pouring out of this being I had just created. I needed these disparate pieces to stay whole, even if my intent was to rend the weaving from its finished state. My solution was shoving large sections of woven material through my sewing machine – and as the material buckled and stretched with the tension of the thread, I was a surgeon, prodding and pushing these parts to their desired shape. I ran elastic through long strips and they sprang upward like a cramping muscle. I knew now this was about flesh. I stretched out a piece of woven material on a frame much like hide tanners would a sheepskin, pulling the object taught against the frame – I was once again on the frame. 

It made perfect sense. I have always ruminated on bodies, and the pandemic found me struggling to maintain a relationship between my mind and body, and feeling connected to my body. Amidst the ruins of late stage capitalism the sole thing we retain autonomy over is our bodies, though wellness and fashion industries continue to battle for them, prodding and shaping and pushing and cutting just like the woven pieces I was manipulating.

I don’t have any plans to return to sculpture at this point, but the nudge out of my comfort zone was a refreshing, temporary departure. 

Moving forward I plan to continue a weaving practice, in addition to felting and dyeing. I take occasional commissions, though I intend to further educate myself on the legacy of fiber and textile art in the United States before fully engaging in the regular sale of my work. As a pre-requisite for personal profit from this method, I feel a responsibility to first acknowledge the tradition and trauma around textile work performed primarily by enslaved people and later by the poor working class with few labor rights during the Industrial Revolution. In this way, I want to retain the power and history of such a long-enduring way of art. 

That’s the story of my relatively new relationship to fiber art – thanks for taking the time to read!

You can check out Maddie’s Instagram for more of her amazing artwork!

Side note: I’m starting the Artist Spotlight as a recurring series of spotlights on unique fiber artists. If you, or anyone you know is interested, please drop me an email with some of your work at “ericthequilterblog@gmail.com”. I can’t wait to here from all of you amazing artists.

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