With a palette made up of violets, blues, grays and whites, there’s a quality of texture—a noted softness—to this week’s cover art. In fact, the colors are made from threads of silk that wool artist Pamela Topham weaves together on a loom in her Sag Harbor studio. The artist tells us about her influences, process and current projects.
What is the story behind this piece?
It’s part of a series. The first one, “East of Montauk,” was based on a sailing trip with a friend who had a boat, but not much experience. We sailed out to Block Island in a 24-foot wood boat and, on the way back, there was a squall in Block Island Sound as we were heading toward Montauk. This one is the second part of the series, and it is titled “North of Fishers Island.” We ended up in Connecticut and had to get the boat repaired.
How did you get started with your tapestries?
I went to the School of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University. It was a very classic education—a lot of figure drawing, design. I also did costume design. I’ve always been attracted to fiber in some way. After graduation, I worked in clothing, but it wasn’t something I wanted to pursue. When I first moved out here, I did a series of pen and ink drawings, for Dan’s Papers, of a whaler’s house in Sag Harbor, which had a fascinating story to go along with it. What I’m doing now began after a trip to Guatemala. I was blown away by the woven huipils, which vary from village to village. Near the sea, they look more like Mexican embroidered blouses, and near the mountains, they’re very heavy. When I came back, there was a tapestry class at Guild Hall, so I thought I’d try that. I got a loom. I found teachers here and there. Finally, about 15 years ago, I connected with master weavers. I learned a lot from them, but I started with art.
What’s your process before you begin weaving?
I do a lot of drawings. There are instances, especially when traveling, when I use photographs, but then I compile them into a drawing. Because you’ve been there and you have this memory of the colors, you get a different sense of it from what turns up in a photograph.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a tapestry in two layers, on a wooden frame. One of the two-layered pieces was in last year’s Guild Hall Artist Members Exhibition. The Members exhibition is a big community show—they’re not judging your work to be in it. Once you’re in it, they have a different juror each year to award prizes. Last year, the judge was from the department of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Met and she happened to pick mine for the Top Honors. Top Honors wins a solo show at Guild Hall in two years, so that’s next year for me, October 2017. So everything is for that now—that’s what I’m working towards. I built my studio, which was kind of a dream, and then the Guild Hall thing came up. It’s wonderful.
Pamela Topham’s woven tapestry is on view through June 4 in the 78th Annual Artists Members Exhibition at Guild Hall, 158 Main Street in East Hampton, and stay tuned for her solo show, also at Guild Hall, in October 2017. Visit pamelatopham.com for more about the artist.