A spirit of experimentation, one foot in the past and one in the future, has set Christy Matson apart as a weaver.
"It's unusual these days not to be working on a commission," Matson says, standing next to a counter brimming with colorful balls of yarn, her white and aqua blue Jacquard loom gleaming in her tiny backyard studio in Highland Park. She shares her home with her husband, artist Ken Fandell, and 2-year-old daughter, Lake.
FOR THE RECORD:
Weaving: An article in the Aug. 16 Saturday section about weaving said Christy Matson had been a tenured professor at the Chicago Institute of Art. She was a tenured professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. —
"But I love to work on things that don't have a destination. It's when true experimentation happens," Matson says.
Amid a weaving renaissance, Matson's work stands out. Using yarn with varying textures in soft, muted colors and hand weaving on a highly technical loom, she creates textiles that are more like abstract or Modernist paintings. Whether prepping warps, tying knots, dyeing yarn, winding skeins, drawing and painting, researching or drafting weave structures, she pays meticulous attention to detail.
But it is the process of hand weaving, just a small portion of how her time is spent, that inspires her passion.
"You take a real leap of faith as you go along because you can only see about 8 inches of what you are working on at a time, which can be really exciting, but it can also be really maddening," Matson says.
After a rocky beginning with a floor loom and a weaving class in college (she hated it and gave the loom away), she was introduced to the Jacquard loom because she thought she might go into textile design. It allows creating cloth that has organic curving and lines, and she felt like it created a bridge between the historical aspect of hand weaving and a more contemporary way of working that uses digital technology. "It was like a light bulb went off," she says. "It blows the doors off what you can weave."
She was plucked from her master's program at the California College of the Arts to set up new Jacquard curricula at the Chicago Institute of Art, where she was a tenured professor until a few years ago. Her work has been included at exhibitions at numerous museums, including the Smithsonian Museum of American Art's Renwick Gallery.
Chicago art collector Heiji Choy Black says Matson's work fits in alongside art by abstract and figurative painters such as Alex Olsen, Jonas Wood and William J. O'Brien. "The painterly quality to the weaving is really amazing. I can almost see the brush strokes."
Even Matson's loom has a story. Called the TC-2, the hand-operated Jacquard loom made by Digital Weaving Norway enables her to weave wider lengths. To purchase her $32,000 loom, she launched a crowd-sourcing campaign.
Matson says she has seen a surge in the popularity of weaving, part of a larger movement of handwork that is a response to the highly technical world we live in. "There's a real desire to work with your hands."