Amy Meissner – Anchorage, Alaska, USA
Hand stitching isn’t fast work. It’s a quiet skill that feels tenuous, lost in a contemporary context, slipping away like childhood, like domesticity, like safety beneath the weight of something handmade. I sew because I don’t know what it is to not sew, despite the connotation of “minor art” or “women’s work,” and it’s this expectation of what the hand-sewn form is — protective, warm, decorative…the definition of the ideal domestic role — that compels me to push against it. I use abandoned cloth and old skills, relying on the traditional, beautiful handwork I was taught as a girl, then later as a professional seamstress, couching it within the painful, uncomfortable or frightening. My intent is to create thoughtful, arresting work, reliant on layers of narrative within the textile pieces themselves, yet resonating within the lens of history each viewer brings.
This is time-based work.
An act of slicing apart, then piecing oneself back together.
(Click images to enlarge)SAQA: When did you begin making art with fabric? Do you work in other media as well?
MEISSNER: I had an early start in the garment industry at 17, still in high school, with my first job working in a small studio specializing in custom made wedding gowns and costumes. I stayed in that field until I was 30, at which point I went back to school to get an MFA in creative writing and fell into children’s book illustration. I returned to textiles as a medium after 12 or 13 years, in 2013, when my children were young and I needed grounding through an art form I could achieve with them at my feet. I still paint and write.
SAQA: What inspires you?
MEISSNER: I’m inspired by discarded objects and items I initially dismiss: old linens, beach trash, small voices. I’m inspired by good writing.
SAQA: Have any artists or art movements influenced your work?
MEISSNER: I often look to the work and writing of Louise Bourgeois, and will always be drawn to the master couturiers of the 20th century.
SAQA: What techniques and materials do you use?MEISSNER: I work in the quilt form, but also 3 dimensionally. I’m a patternmaker and try to use these skills often – not so much through flat piecework, but through sculptural application. I use discarded cloth and domestic textiles, most of which has come to me through a 13-month long crowdsourcing effort called the Inheritance Project, during which I became the “final inheritor” of narratives and cloth from contributors all over the world.
I blogged throughout the cataloging/gathering phase and am now working with these objects and themes to create a body of work for a 2018-19 multi-venue solo show.
I machine piece, hand quilt, hand applique and hand embroider – using old techniques to poke at contemporary, yet timeless themes. I explore the work of women – literal, physical and emotional.
SAQA: Where do you create?
MEISSNER: I have a studio in my home that fills a spare bedroom and overflows into the family room. In summer, I work outside on the deck and on weekends I take portable work onto our boat in Prince William Sound.
SAQA: How do you reconcile the art-making and business sides of your creative life?
MEISSNER: I have limited time to devote to either – between 3-5 hours a day once the activities of home and motherhood are taken into account (the other, larger portion of my creative life). I’m aware of sweeping rhythms—daily, weekly, yearly: Mondays are best for admin and social media; summers are best for portable work; winters are best for machine piecing and darker contemplation; 5 am on the stationary bike or elliptical are best for writing or correspondence and right before bed or the 2 am wake up is best for sketching. I fit everything in where I can, when I can – with commissions taking precedence – and try not to be too hard on myself when my productivity lags. My largest hurdle is forgetting to have fun, but I’ve always struggled with that facet.
SAQA: Have you published in art-related media?MEISSNER: I have a short video about my studio practice.
SAQA: What are you working on now? What’s next?
MEISSNER: Along with commissions, I’m working with older textiles generously sent to me for the Inheritance Project. This work will show at the Anchorage Museum, May – September 2018, then travel to the new Alaska State Museum in Juneau, November 2018 – February 2019. I’m looking for other venues to show the work in the spring of 2019.
Editor’s Note: Amy Meissner’s work “Fatigue Threshold” is included in Quilt National ’17