Meet Mary Jean Martin, the Art Weaver.
This summer I received a call from an artist in Helena. This woman, Mary Jean Martin, had just seen the "Behind The Scenes" process photography I had done for her nephew, and NEEDED to have a session for herself!
Often, I have clients bring their work to my studio, but this was a special case. Mary Jean is a weaver who makes beautiful fabric on a large wooden loom. I needed to travel to her. So we put a date on the calendar, I drove to Helena with my photography gear and I documented the magic of her process.
TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF AND WHAT YOU DO:
Hmm... I am Montana born and raised quirky Granny. I live in Helena with my great Hubby and spend my days weaving beautiful fabric and making mixed media collage in the basement! I have a passion for color, poetry, bird watching and my Granddaughter.
HOW/WHEN DID YOU DISCOVER YOU LOVED WEAVING?
I first learned to weave when I was in the Army stationed at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. There was a craft center on base with a weaving loom and a lovely woman there taught me to use it. I spent the next few years saving every penny to buy a loom of my own. My life got a little rocky and I was forced to put weaving on hold. I rather forgot about weaving and played with all the other fiber loves of my life. About six years ago, when I began to weave again, it was like finding an old and beloved friend. I was a little sad at losing all that time but rejoiced in the renewed passion for the loom. I think it is really cool that I am now doing what I dreamed of doing so long ago. You never know where life might lead!
WHAT HAS THE LEARNING PROCESS BEEN LIKE?
Weaving is a pretty technical and precise medium, so it has taken a lot of practice, for sure. I was told early on that I was not making fabric, I was making a weaver. That really helped me focus and be easy on myself when the "fabric" was questionable. I was going down the path of becoming a weaver.
WHAT IS THE MOST CHALLENGING PART OF WEAVING?
The most challenging is narrowing my focus! Weaving is such a vast and complex medium that I could have been weaving every day since I was tall enough to reach the treadles and NEVER get a chance to try everything and learn everything. My brain is constantly going "oh!! What about this! Maybe I should try that!" I have to corral myself, otherwise I would never develop my own distinct artistic voice and gain the technical skills to bring it forth.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART ABOUT WEAVING?
Hard question!! I really like the whole process but I suppose my favorite thing is having an idea pop into my head and seeing it materialize on the loom. I also like the surprises, especially color, that I didn't predict.
HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT DESIGNING A PATTERN?
My ideas for weaving usually start with color. I see something that catches my eye (like colors in the clouds or spools of thread on the shelf) I then begin to plot out the structure of the fabric. I use a computer program or plot the weave out on graph paper to get an initial sense of whether my idea will work or not. If I am trying out a new thread or new weave structure, I will take the time to actually weave a physical sample. Nothing is more discouraging than to put a long warp on the loom that turns out ugly!!
WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE GOALS?
My long term goal is to be self-supporting as an artist and things are moving nicely in that direction. Along with that I would, someday, like to create a large installation with an accompanying book – “365 Dishtowels, A Celebration of 10,000 years of daily kitchen work”.
HOW DID YOU FIND OUT ABOUT MANDY'S TAXONOMY WORK?
I first saw a greeting card that Mandy did with golf clubs that looked like musical notes. I thought it was so cool. I then found out she was doing a shoot for my nephew, Brittan Ellingson of Notice Snowboards. I just had to have her shoot my tools and process too!
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE PROCESS?
Surprisingly, my favorite part was the portrait shoot. I was dreading that because I don't think I am particularly photogenic. Mandy made it fun AND the portraits look good. She captured my personality in a way that I just love.
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