I’ll admit; it’s been hard to write lately. The nervousness of the election is over, but the long slog of ballot counting remains. Tensions are high and it feels as if the fabric of society might tear apart at any moment. I almost skipped posting this week, when my creative energy hit a new low. But then I thought of Paula Stebbins Becker and how her wisdom might be just what the world needs right now.
Paula is a textile artist and designer. She speaks about choosing to work by hand in a field that is dominated by technology, and how she unravels and reweaves antique textiles to tell a new story. I asked her about her work and how she stays grounded during these challenging times. I hope you enjoy.
I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, when daily life was simple, with plenty of unscheduled time to explore, play, and just be a kid. I was the “arty” one in the family and remember spending hours drawing and crafting things by hand. My grandmother taught me how to crochet and sew and my parents provided me with books and materials to nurture my creativity. Without knowing, my childhood experiences with fabric, thread, and making would lead me towards a lifelong passion for textiles.
In college, I studied textile design and have been designing fabrics for more than 30 years. In the early 90’s I went back to school for an MFA at Cranbrook Academy of Art to explore weaving as an art form and began a new way of working and expressing myself as a weaver and artist. Since graduate school, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to share my passion for textiles through workshops, lectures, and teaching. My journey with textiles has taken several paths, each an important part of my life.
As a freelance textile designer, I work from my home studio in Rhode Island. I am fortunate to collaborate with wonderful clients, many of them friends and colleagues that I have known for many years. For the most part textile designs are created digitally, but I missed drawing on paper and began to feel creatively limited by designing on a computer screen.
In 2019, I made the decision to create an ongoing portfolio of designs made by hand. Each hand created design/ artwork is an inspiration for a textile that will eventually be translated through digital software and reproduced as a woven, embroidered, or printed fabric. Making designs by hand allows me to work intuitively, experimenting with color, pattern, and texture through a variety of techniques and materials. In many ways I have reconnected with my childhood as I honor the process of making and give myself the freedom to experiment and play.
In addition to my design work, I continue to weave and create art for gallery exhibitions. This work is very personal and comes from techniques I developed while in graduate school in the early 90’s. Inspired by photography of people and places, I unravel fabrics and reweave the threads on my loom, creating layers of color and texture to tell a story. The visual and tangible story created by unraveling and reweaving is brought to live through the working of the mind, heart, and hands.
Before the pandemic, I was meeting with clients in New York City and successfully selling my artworks. I had just completed a new weaving to enter into an exhibition. 2020 was looking to be a creative and fruitful year. Like many during the shutdown, I turned my focus toward my family, sheltering in safely and grateful to be together. Thankfully it was early spring and as the days grew longer, with sunshine, bird song, and burst of green and yellow, I found comfort, hope, and stability in the beauty of nature. Inspired by nature and the need to stay creative, I began a series of daily “still life” works, assembled with three things of my surroundings: something from nature, an object from my home, and an artwork or textile. This became a daily practice that I shared on Instagram and I was humbled by the feedback from friends and followers. In a simple and meaningful way this series offered others a moment of quiet reflection, joy and beauty during a dark and unsettling time in our world.
This reminds me of a quote by Anne Frank: “I don’t think of all the misery, but the beauty that still remains”.
I try to approach challenges as an opportunity to step back, to be quiet, to be open, and to look at every situation with compassion and from more than one perspective. How do I navigate through this time as an artist? I pretty much just take it day by day, I focus on the beauty and good in our world, and honestly, I pray a lot!
Our world is in the middle of a pandemic, politically we are divided, and it is important to acknowledge the grief, anger, and sadness we face. As artists we choose to speak boldly or quietly, to express the tragic state of our world, or offer a respite from the dark clouds hovering above. I believe that art gives us access to a more diverse understanding of our world. Through the sharing of honest and genuine creative expression we communicate and connect and begin to bring about a greater understanding of humanity.”– Paula Stebbins Becker
Thank you Paula for sharing your work and your story.
You can find her work on her website, or follow her on Instagram at @paulastebbinsbecker.