Tapestry: What? Why? How?

We’re honored to have Tommye McClure Scanlin as a guest author today. Scanlin has been an artist and art educator for over 20 years. Her specialty is tapestry and weaving.

Tapestry weaving is what I do and also what I’ve been teaching others how to do for many years. I’m now hoping to share a bit of the passion I feel for this beautiful timeless method of weaving with a wider audience by writing about my process.

Those three simple questions are ones I almost always start with as I begin a new tapestry or prepare for the next class. I ask myself:

  • What am I going to weave (or use for the focus for this class)?
  • Why do I want to weave this particular image (or share this particular information)?
  • How do I do it? What weaving techniques would best carry out the ideas for the design? (What must I write, say, or show to students to help explain the concepts or the process?)

I began my teaching career just after graduating from the University of Georgia with a degree in K-12 art education. In a few years, I joined the faculty in the Fine Arts Department at North Georgia College (now the University of North Georgia). At NGC, I began to explore fiber art in many different ways until I finally landed upon tapestry. I fell in love with tapestry and finally, after several years of self-teaching by using books and videotaped instructions, I began to take workshops from masters in the tapestry weaving field and learned so much more than I ever could have on my own.

"Painting in the woods." A watercolor sketchbook, paints, and brushes sits on a wooden stump. The painting is of the surrounding forest and river.

When I retired from the university in 2000, I began to teach tapestry workshops with the hope that I might be able pass on to others some of the many lessons I’ve been taught by those masters from whom I’ve studied, and that I’ve learned on my own through trial and error. Many of the workshops have been for fiber art guilds throughout the Southeast. Other classes have been at Arrowmont School of Crafts, John C. Campbell Folk School, Penland School of Craft, and Peters Valley School of Crafts. At the end of 2019, I “re-retired” in that I’ll no longer be traveling to give workshops.

Even though I’m not going to be standing in front of students in the future, I’d like for The Nature of Things: Essays of a Tapestry Weaver to become my next teaching venture. May it be that anyone who reads the book will find inspiration and ideas to pursue in her own creative adventures in art making, whether it’s tapestry or any other medium that strikes a chord.

After all, creating art is more about making one’s spirit and soul sing than it is about making a thing, don’t you think? I certainly think so.

The Nature of Things releases September 15, 2020, and explores life, art, and finding meaning through nature in Appalachia.

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About Jillian Murphy

Jillian Murphy is the Assistant Managing Editor of the UNG Press. She is a UNG alumna, class of 2016.

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