Embedded in Cloth
RICHMOND, May 3 -- RICHMOND, Va. – Quiet but repetitive squeaks resonate throughout the studio. Andrea Donnelly weaves tirelessly, 690 threads before her and 17 feet of cloth behind her.
Her studio is tidy and colorful. Purple, green and blue patterned cloths shade her from the echoing sounds of the industrial space. Two 60-year-old floor looms are the cornerstones of the weaver’s studio.
“Underlying my work is that interest in how we share experiences even though we are leading completely different lives,” said Donnelly of her upcoming exhibition “Where We Meet.”
The exhibition will open in late August at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond. She has been in her studio six days a week since November, constructing her largest piece yet. “Peer” is 13 feet tall, 17 feet wide and is composed of 10 hand-painted, hand-woven panels.
Donnelly’s process is both meticulous and introspective. After weaving and hand painting panels of cloth, she deconstructs and reweaves each one. The process of reweaving distorts the images which are often self-portraits designed around gesture and emotion. Donnelly said cloth is important as her medium because it is something with which we all share experiences.
“The thing that made the most sense to me was exploring my own experience, my own inner world, my own psychological space,” said Donnelly. “The process of weaving needed to be conceptually important to what I was making.”
Her first experience with weaving came in a textiles class during her undergraduate work at North Carolina State University. It was there she earned bachelor’s degrees in both psychology and art and design.
After leaving N.C. State, Donnelly received the Windgate Fellowship which allowed her to focus on her art and ideas. She also studied tapestry weaving in Oaxaca, Mexico before beginning her graduate work at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.
Donnelly received a Master of Fine Arts in Fibers VCU’s Craft/Material Studies program in 2010. VCU’s program is ranked by U.S. News and World Report as the #1 public graduate program for fiber arts.
Susan Iverson was Donnelly’s professor and advisor in her graduate work at VCU. The two are now colleagues since Donnelly became an adjunct faculty member in the Craft/Material Studies program.
“She is enamored with the most basic element of weaving,“ said Iverson. “Andrea is making really thought provoking work.”
Her graduate thesis included references and work inspired by authors like Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges and Virginia Woolf. Donnelly said her father Mark was a great influence on her reading habits. He is a librarian for Durham County, North Carolina.
“If I was ever an inspiration to her, it was because I encouraged her to be herself,” said Mark Donnelly. “She was always super talented with her hands.”
She continues to use that talent for both creative and professional work. Donnelly has been busy building her business, Little Fool Handwoven Textiles and the accompanying blog, “little fool…(a small business romance).”
The show opens on August 31 at the Visual Arts Center. The opening reception will be the following Friday, September 7. Until then, Donnelly will be putting every effort into the exhibition to share her work with the public.
“All people share experiences,” said Donnelly. “The work itself is the place where both of our experiences meet.”