A weaver’s world

Katie Kowalski, arts@ptleader.com
Posted 5/2/17

Weaving? Why? That was Joyce Wilkerson’s reaction when an adviser in art school suggested that she try the textile art.

Fast-forward to today, and the Port Townsend artist’s weaving career now …

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A weaver’s world

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Weaving? Why? That was Joyce Wilkerson’s reaction when an adviser in art school suggested that she try the textile art.

Fast-forward to today, and the Port Townsend artist’s weaving career now spans 30 years. She’s crafted thousands of woven wearable-art garments, which she sells in galleries, and has participated in the Port Townsend Wearable Art show every year since its inception seven years ago.

“It’s just what I do – it just became part of me,” she said of the craft that captivated her – once she’d finally tried it.

“I like plenty of other things, too, but it became my business. “I think it’s a wonderful medium.”

CHRISTMAS GIFT

Wilkerson, who received her bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University and a bachelor of fine arts degree from Massachusetts College of Art and Design, engaged with a number of art forms in college: printmaking, painting, music, drawing and photography.

“If you go to an art school, you try a lot of stuff,” she said. “And I did; I tried a lot of stuff.”

But she didn’t try weaving, and gave a determined “No!” when the craft was recommended to her.

“It just seemed like an odd suggestion to me,” she said.

Another reason she rejected the idea? “Well, you would have to have a loom.”

Sometime later, she got that loom.

Wilkerson was at a crafts fair in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she’d relocated after college, and met a loom maker, who is now her husband, John.

Six months into their relationship, he gave her a loom for Christmas. She was astonished.

“Suddenly, there’s this loom,” she said. “We had a really good friend who was a weaver, and I said, ‘I guess I’d better take some lessons.’” So she did.

TEXTILES

“Once I had a loom, I let weaving be my medium,” Wilkerson said.

“It really became part of me.”

She lost herself in the craft and fell in love with textiles (“What’s not to like?” she asked), going into business with a friend to make woven blankets and pillows.

One year, at the same crafts fair where she’d met her husband, a customer held up one of the blankets and, gesturing to the middle of it, said, “If you cut a hole right here, this could be a poncho; and I would like six of them.”

That request led Wilkerson into the wearable-art business she runs today.

She designs cloth on a loom that interfaces with a computer. (She long ago sold the Christmas gift in favor of a more modern loom.)

“I try not to predict what something will be,” she said. “It’s better to let it evolve.” Her patterns are usually graphic, an aesthetic from her printmaking days. They incorporate textures, colors and layers to create bold shapes or detailed designs. She’s also inspired by visiting other cultures, and has gone on textile tours in India and Japan.

She sends her samples to Terry Reitz, a production weaver in Quilcene, who creates bolts of fabric. Wilkerson then designs and sews “wearable art clothing for extraordinary women,” which she sells through three galleries: The Flying Shuttle in Seattle; The Websters in Ashland, Oregon; and Santa Fe Weaving Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

WEARABLE ART

While the term “wearable art” has grown to embrace a fantastical, obscure and sometimes extreme aesthetic, Wilkerson’s brand is of a more conventional type: comfortable, structured jackets made from intricately woven fabric.

Visually, the pieces themselves are works of art; “it’s just an added benefit that you can wear it,” she said. “Customers choose pieces that speak to them, and so wearable art garments reflect the personality of the person wearing it.”

Wilkerson has participated in the Port Townsend Wearable Art Show, a fundraiser for Jefferson Community Foundation’s Fund for Women and Girls, since it began. She’s delighted to be part of an event that both welcomes creativity and student participation, and is a tangible benefit for women and girls in the community.

“It just could not be quirkier,” she said of the show, which this year takes place May 13. “You never know what people here are going to dream up; it can be utterly astonishing.”

While other pieces in the show are more fantastical, Wilkerson’s wearable art has remained within her signature style: “I do what I do,” she said.

But throughout her decades of weaving and making garments, she’s come to realize it’s an art form she can’t exhaust. “There are so many things that you can create,” she said.

And what would she tell her college-age self?

“I think I would laugh and say, ‘Don’t be so sure what’s coming in the future.’”

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