Exhibit Review: Bellamy-Ferriday House & Garden, Bethlehem, CT
By Mark B. Oliver | July 08, 2011
“My mother was good at darning, but I taught myself how to stitch,” she explains. “Luckily a Home Economics teacher lived next door, who would help me out if I became stuck.”
Expertise in needlework didn’t run in her family; although her Great Great Grandmother was skilled in the art, she wasn’t around to guide the young prodigy. Being tall and slender, Missy made a lot of her own clothes, as too often the length of the legs and arms weren’t long enough to accommodate her.
Several years after High School, Missy enrolled at Boston University in the degree Program in Artisanry. Upon graduation she began making thread paintings, but what exactly are they?
Missy approaches her work as a painter would, considering color palettes, lighting, and the story behind the painting, but unlike a painter she uses thread rather than paint, or oils.
She uses the smallest size of punch needle - a hollow tube with a beveled point and an eye. The needle carries two strands of sewing thread. Missy stitches looking at what will be the back of the piece. Each push of the needle carries the thread through the fabric and as she pulls the needle back a tiny loop is left in place. The technique is called loop pile embroidery.
The work is extremely labor intensive, but by combining the eye of a painter with the skill of an stitcher she creates her thread paintings. These are not simply wonderful embroidered pieces but fully rounded works of art, whose complexity and beauty is truly astounding.
How long does it take to create one thread painting?
“Oh that is such a difficult question to answer,” she replies smiling. “If one painting is twice the size of another, it doesn’t take twice as long to make as you might expect, but much, much longer as there are so many more artistic decisions to make. I suppose on average I make between eight to twelve pieces a year, depending upon their size.”
Her paintings are very densely embroidered and she employs a wide range of material in addition to modern thread. Some older silk threads, that she found in her mother and grandmother’s sewing boxes, that have lost their tensile strength, can be used in her thread paintings as the punch needle never tugs on them.
Antique jewels, buttons in all shapes and sizes, and metallic thread (which was once used in military uniforms such as on epaulets) all form part of Missy’s materials of choice, which allow her to use a far great range of colors and textures, than if she simply used modern materials.
And where does the inspiration of each painting come?
“Some are personal, such as Domesticated Animal, which is a painting of my dog Lucy. She is a wonderful dog, but looks a little like she comprises parts from a grab bag, maybe part whippet, and lots more besides.”
That explains the glorious hotchpotch nature of Lucy’s face in the painting .
“The imagery inside Lucy’s head is meant to be a cozy, calm home, the one we’d live in as soon as she stopped shredding things whenever I left!”
“With Flora, I knew I wanted to create something to honor Flora, the Goddess of Flowers, in her garden.” Flora is a wonderful accomplishment and Missy’s personal favorite.
With flowers at Flora’s feet that are made of wire and buttons that ‘lift’ off the surface of the painting, the image draws you in and the calm and serenity of the painting is infectious.
“When I began A Touch Can Bring Blossom, I wanted to celebrate my late mother, and reflect how close we were and the joy and care she gave me.” To the right of the images of the two flower women, is a purple and lavender image. An animal perhaps?
“When I’m making my pieces, I always have a story in my head, that often slips away once it’s complete. In Blossom, I think that the purple shape was supposed to be a piece of landscape. What is fascinating for me, is that each person who sees my work interprets it their own way, each seeing something slightly different and bringing their own meanings to the paintings.”
The work of Missy Steven’s is both exceptional and unique, and no image can adequately convey the beauty and artisanship of each thread painting.
A selection of her work, entitled Nature Sings to Me, is currently being exhibited at the Bellamy-Ferriday House and Garden until July 31, 2011, and is rare treat not to be missed.
Bellamy-Ferriday House & Garden
9 Main Street North, Bethlehem, CT 06751
Art Exhibit: Nature Sings to Me
Now – July 31, 2011
A selection of thread paintings by Missy Stevens.
Open for Regular Tours from May 1st - October 10, 2011
May-August: Wednesday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday 11AM - 4PM
September-October: Friday, Saturday & Sunday 11AM - 4PM
Open on Monday Holidays: Memorial Day, Labor Day and Columbus Day.
All images are copyright Missy Stevens, and ONE thanks her for allowing their use.