Who & Ware

Weaver at Artspace says wilderness is her muse

Mary Kircher’s fiber art is inspired by scenes in nature

CorrespondentJanuary 4, 2013 

  • Details Who: Mary Kircher Ware: Woven wall hangings, scarves and other fiber art Location: Raleigh Contact: woventranslations.com Prices: Small (5 by 7 inches) wall hangings, $50; scarves, $150-$190; larger wall hangings, $200-$3,000. Where to buy: From the artist directly at Artspace, 201 E. Davie St., Raleigh, artspacenc.org.

Whether hiking, canoeing or camping, Mary Kircher has always found solace in the outdoors, especially in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in her native Minnesota.

“It’s so remote. When you’re out there, exposed to the elements, you become a part of that place. It gives you a sense of peace.”

Kircher would conjure those memories on her drive along Capital Boulevard from her home in Wake Forest to graduate classes at N.C. State University and ponder how to capture that peacefulness and reconcile it with urban living.

“I realized I could get there through my artwork,” said Kircher, 52, a weaver who considers the wilderness her muse.

After college in Minnesota, Kircher took a job with IBM in technical sales and viewed art as a hobby, taking a few design classes and learning to use a loom after she saw a weaving demonstration. She found comforting parallels between the rhythmic motion of the loom and the strokes of a paddle or the footsteps taken on a hike.

In a corporate setting, Kircher often noticed art in offices and lobbies.

“I especially admired the abstract designs and the focus on color. I thought that was something I could do,” said Kircher, whose bold and organic wall hangings now accentuate both design and color.

In 1995 Kircher transferred with IBM to the Triangle, and her weaving took a back seat to the mountains and the coast.

“I realized I could be outside nine months out of the year, whereas in Minnesota weaving had been so conducive to my lifestyle.”

When the “opportunity to be laid off” presented itself in 2009, Kircher decided to leave the corporate world and investigate the art world.

“I needed to figure out if weaving was still my thing,” she said. She contacted Susan Brandeis, director of graduate programs in art and design at N.C. State and was encouraged to compile a portfolio and apply for admission. She started graduate school that same year.

Even though Kircher had spent years at a loom, she had copied others’ designs.

“I’d look in a book or magazine, find something I liked and create it. I didn’t have a sense of how to come up with my own ideas. I wanted to learn to use the traditional tools to become more expressive.”

For Kircher, the challenge was finding ways to present the wilderness experience in a two-dimensional woven piece. The key, she said, came in the form of colors available to her through the dyeing process, particularly the resist techniques of shibori and ikat, techniques similar to batik and tie dye that she uses on fabrics before the weaving process.

She now teaches both through the Triangle Weavers Guild and at Pullen Art Center.

“Learning about dyeing opened up my world so much,” she said. “When I talk about process, weaving is like a canvas, and dyeing is manipulating the colors and thread so that a pattern emerges in your cloth. Dyeing moved my work from traditional functional items into something that was more visually stimulating and meaningful in what I was trying to express.”

Most of Kircher’s wall hangings reflect nature – storms, sunsets, the Northern Lights. “River Stones,” in which broad strokes of blue, green and gray splash across a neutral background, was, she said, her first successful attempt in contrasting wilderness with urban living.

Last summer, only a half-year after she graduated, Kircher was awarded a six-month residency at Artspace and has since been selected as a permanent artist in residence.

“I couldn’t believe I was accepted into Artspace after all the years I’d been there looking at other people’s art.”

She appreciates its open-studio layout and likes discussing her work with visitors.

“Because my techniques are unusual compared to, say, maybe painting or drawing, I like to explain to people how weavers get pattern and color. I’ll often post little snapshots that show what I’m trying to convey, like a sunset or a lake.”

Kircher’s ability to communicate her messages is laudable, said N.C. State’s Brandeis, who followed her progress in the graduate program.

“Her whole body of work when she left here was so impressive,” Brandeis said.

“She has a good color sense and is very personable. She’s headed exactly where she wants to be. I’m excited for her.”

Kircher, who recently gained entry into the prestigious, juried Carolina Designer Craftsmen Guild, hopes this year to explore three-dimensional weaving techniques that would raise sections of her surfaces off the wall, giving them a sense of movement and a more sculptural look.

“One small piece like that started out as a lovely accident, and now I can’t wait to do some bigger pieces. I definitely don’t need to look into magazines for ideas anymore. I’ve got plenty of my own.”

Send suggestions to diane@bydianedaniel.com.

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