Fiber artist sews intricate wall hangings with no guide but intuition
“For as long as I can remember,” says artist Meghan Pauley Nespeca, “I’ve been in love with the process of making art and making something from nothing.” That creative urge led her to take art classes in college, and she was also granted a scholarship to spend a summer at Penland School of Craft. There she took a fiber-art class and was introduced to various surface-design techniques. But in terms of her decision to become a full-time artist, world travel may have played the most powerful role.
“I visited Laos and Thailand, and have been to India multiple times,” says Nespeca, who majored in Human Studies and Global Issues at Warren Wilson College. “The textile markets, colorful saris, and flower markets in India rekindled my love of fabric and color.”
During her last trip there, a few years ago, “I started sewing, sketching, doing watercolor painting” — a medium that’s now the basis for all her textile works — “and journaling. When I returned, I set up a studio in my home,” says the artist, who lives in Tryon with her husband and their five children.
The youngest is three, meaning the artist also has to be creative with her time. “I may have a couple hours here or 45 minutes there — during nap time, early in the morning, or after my children have gone to sleep. Mornings are my favorite time to make, and sometimes I’m lucky enough to have my kids creating or playing alongside me in the studio, working on their own projects. That time is definitely a gift … I love it when we are all together making.” (She admits that her large pieces can take weeks to complete.)
Nespeca has always been intrigued by textiles, and as a child in New England, she was drawn to the beauty of her grandmother’s patchwork quilts and the intricacy of her mom’s handwoven sweaters. She is well versed in many traditional fabric-related techniques, but utilizes those skills, which are largely self taught, in a way that is entirely her own.
“The way I do fiber arts,” says Nespeca, “has veered away from the traditional. It’s a very free process.” She often adds personal writing and poems or stamps onto the fabric. Some of her muslin, linen, or gauze “canvases” feature hand embroidery, and others have bits made of paper or fabric that she draws on with a pen and then paints or cuts out. Further establishing the vibe, she tries to use repurposed or vintage fabrics and botanical dyes made with tea and plants. “I don’t use any adhesives,” notes Nespeca.
Her compositional process is equally free of convention, not following predetermined patterns. Instead, she says she gets a “feeling of how I want [the piece] to make you feel when you look at it,” and that serves as her intuitive guide. “I use free-motion stitching, which gives me a lot of creative freedom.” It also imparts the “imperfect, raw feeling” she wants, although when it comes to theme, she says, “my pieces are deeply inspired by goodness, and the simple sweetness of life, love, hope, and connection. My work celebrates that in its wholeness. It’s about simple things we might forget, like the feeling I get when a child smiles or a soft wind blows through the window.”
The large wall hangings in her Whimsy series radiate this emotional approach: “Come Walk With Me in Autumn,” “You and Me and the Sea,” “Let the Stars Blanket Us.” Nostalgia-minded tableaus show an old-fashioned bicycle against a picket fence and a hot-air-balloon race. “Thorns and Thickets,” meticulously handcrafted of muslin layered with paint, pen, and ink, recalls bohemian earth-goddess illustrations from the ’70s. (Nespeca has been featured in international industry publications such as Art Quilting Studio Magazine and In Her Studio Magazine.)
When she switches to abstracts, though, she omits language and figurative imagery. In her framed series Small Works and Earthy, explorations of pattern and color take precedence over messages, although the titles of the works uphold the artist’s prevailing mood: “Joyful Days,” “Midsummer Night,” “Fortify,” “Bloom.”
That spirit informs every inch of her process. “I start painting and cutting and designing on the table, and it’s very organic,” says the artist. “I place pieces and then move them around and shift them and sew them together, sort of like a collage. Pieces with verses in them revolve around the verse. When I make more abstract pieces, I might deconstruct what I’ve made and use it to make a whole new piece.
“I don’t know where it’s going, it’s just a feeling in my body. I feel it out, and make it as I go.”
Meghan Pauley Nespeca, Tryon. To learn more, visit the artist’s website, www.meghanpauleynespeca.com. On Instagram: @meghanpauleynespeca.