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Indiana Artisan Mary Hambly
Paper Art Quilting
By Hand Gallery, Bloomington
Mary Hambly

“I hope to convey the ritual process of creating a whole from the sum of its parts. My intention is to draw people in with color, texture and design, and keep them engaged for a meditative moment with careful and precise craft.”

Mary Hambly’s tone when referring to “handcrafted” and “handmade” is almost religious. She works with delicate and exotic papers as the foundation of her Paper Art Quilts, and perhaps it is their Asian origins that cause her almost Zen-like view of the process involved in her art.

“The Japanese are known for their decorative papers,” she said of the “fabric” of her work. “I often use the Washi variety; exquisitely patterned, silk-screened papers, usually with gold detailing. I also use the Momi papers from Japan and Thailand, a crinkled, marbled paper with strong metallic presence.”

Mary grew up in Seattle, earning a degree in social work from the University of Washington. “I did not take my creative interests seriously until I was in my 30s,” she said. “I attended the University of Nebraska – Lincoln as an undergraduate art major and then earned an MFA from Indiana University in 1991.”

In 2008 Mary followed her artistic instincts. “I felt a yearning to explore a new textile format. I participated in a paper art quilt workshop at the Indianapolis Art Center and have pursued the inspiration I discovered there ever since.”

The Paper Art Quilt is a unique art form that joins contemporary art and traditional craft. Exotic handmade and hand decorated papers are used to create traditional as well as invented block patterns. The repeating block patterns form a connection between this contemporary art form and traditional fabric quilting.

The creative process involved in Mary’s art is labor intensive. Stenciled, marbled, printed and over dyed papers are cut, pieced and top stitched on a sewing machine. The “quilt blocks” are then laid out in a composition, sometimes born out of the repeating block pattern concept of traditional quilting and sometimes from patterns Mary creates. The paper art quilt is then completed with a border, also of paper.

As an artist Mary is attracted to formats and materials that are process oriented, manual and physically engaging. “The process becomes ritual, and I enjoy being patiently absorbed in the work of hand cutting, piecing and top stitching – transforming the materials into the finished piece. For example, the activity of top stitching the paper pieces using the sewing machine has become a form of meditation for me. A calm and deliberate focus is necessary because the quality of the final work is so dependent on the perfection of the stitching.”

“Traditional textile arts, such as quilting, have a long history dating back to a time when hours of attention and care went into creating functional pieces using the same processes I employ in my art work,” Mary said. “In the 20th & 21st centuries, textile processes have found their place in the world of contemporary fine art. The range of materials to which the quilting process has been applied has expanded. Paper Art Quilts are an example of taking a process with a long and meaningful history into new and creative directions, while still respecting the past.”

The history of the quilt as an American textile process has such a rich tradition in Indiana that almost everyone can relate to Mary’s decorative paper quilts. “My work is deliberate in combining traditional quilting with modern ideas of design and composition,” she said. “I hope to convey the ritual process of creating a whole from the sum of its parts. My intention is to draw people in with color, texture and design, and keep them engaged for a meditative moment with careful and precise craft.”

Of Indiana Artisan, Mary says, “I truly appreciate the affirmation of my Paper Art Quilts by the organization. Artists often labor in isolation and obscurity and it is meaningful to have Indiana Artisan, through a careful jury process, recognize the Paper Art Quilt and the work I do that holds such deep meaning for me.”

Continuing on that theme, Mary said, “Opportunities for community with other artists and craftspeople are always worth pursuing. Indiana Artisan is a platform for Indiana to recognize and celebrate its artists and their artistry. I applaud Indiana Artisan as a vehicle to share our state’s artistic resource beyond the local to national or international audiences.”