Throughout her life as an artist, Trudy Thomson has succumbed to some serious craft crushes. The first was in the early ’70s, when she lived in Rochester, N.Y. and took a weaving class at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
“I fell in love with the process of weaving and the patterns, and I bought myself a large loom handmade by monks,” recalled Thomson, 66, who lives outside Chapel Hill. “I just went nuts: weaving, weaving, weaving, weaving. I still love it. I’ve never given it up.”
She credits her lifelong attraction to art and patterns to her father, a big-band leader, and her mother, a Broadway actress.
“My mother took to me to the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) every year from the time I was 5,” Thomson said. “She was very big on handmade everything. She painted, knit, pâpier-machéd, you name it. And my father had music all over the place. I was surrounded by rhythms and patterns of music.”
During her career in media design and video production, mostly with SAS Institute in Cary, Thomson continued to weave scarves, wall hangings and other objects, giving them away to friends.
A gift of an art book about world-famed glass blower Dale Chihuly piqued her interest in glass, and in 2001 she took a course in fused glass at the Durham Arts Guild.
“It’s not at all what Chihuly does, but it was glass,” she noted with a laugh.
In fused glass, layers of glass of various shapes are stacked into a kiln, where over many hours, they fuse into one piece of work. Each color is created from a different piece of glass, like a mosaic without the grout.
For Thomson, a new crush was born.
“The glass allowed me to use patterns that were bolder than the ones in my weavings,” she said. “One of my favorites in weaving is the undulating twill, and I’ve made that same pattern in glass.”
She bought a kiln and other equipment and set up a studio in her garage.
“It was a lot of trial and error. I’d run into problems and things would break and crack, but I was stubborn.”
She decided to retire early, in 2007, to devote her time to art. (She also creates websites for artists on the side.)
“I’m a small person with big ideas,” joked Thomson, who is 5 feet tall. “I loved my job, and I had all these interesting projects, but I felt a need to express myself in a way that was noncommercial and where the work was all mine.”
Much of what she makes are highly decorative functional bowls and platters as well as pieces meant to be displayed on bases. Her partner, Ed Ralston, a custom cabinetmaker, makes the bases and armatures.
She’s most drawn to a look she calls “controlled chaos,” an abstract mix of patterns and designs that pop with color and movement.
Sara Gress, owner of N.C. Crafts Gallery, which has in the past carried Thomson’s fiber art and now sells her fused glass, praised Thomson’s proficiency in both mediums.
“Her techniques are really advanced because of the intricacies of the patterns,” Gress said. “With the fused glass, I don’t see a lot of people doing what she does. They’re really bold and eye-catching.”
What Gress hadn’t yet seen (though invited Thomson to show her) is the artist’s new object of desire.
Earlier this year, Thomson spent a week at Penland School of Crafts in Western North Carolina taking a “hydro printing” workshop.
“I didn’t know what it was, but it sounded fun. What it turned out to be is marbled silk. It involves organic shapes, intensely patterned, but not done like traditional marbling. You make drops of paint that look like a pattern of stones and then you swish through the pattern to create different swirls and shapes.”
Like glass, it’s about patterns and layers, she said. And though Thomson continues to create and enjoy fused glass, she’s also under the spell of her new crush.
“I love doing it more than anything.”
Thomson will have all her mediums on display the first two weekends in November for the Orange County Studio Tour, in which she’s participated for more than a decade. Visitors might want to make her stop their last of the day, as they’ll be tempted to linger on Thomson’s property. Her house, set into a hill with rocks, ferns and waterfalls, could be straight out of the mountains.
“When people come here on the tour, they’re here for an hour and don’t want to leave. Some people even ask to come back and sketch.”
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