Mary Beth Schwartzchenberger

What is it about fiber?  It has such a powerful attraction and once you begin to create with it, it becomes a joyful passion.  We each come to the textile world from different paths, yet all who work in this medium understand the thrill of texture, color and the boundless variety available for us to work with.  I believe that fiber art is the most vibrant and creatively diverse art that is being created today.

I grew up in Chicago, Illinois – America’s heartland.  My background was built on family, faith and a strong work ethic.  I was a city girl through and through but was introduced to gardening by an uncle and to this day my hobby is gardening.  It teaches many lessons; patience, renewal, and informs my artwork through its many varieties of color and texture.

I attended an art college in Chicago entering as a photography major.  One day, I walked into a room that was filled with floor looms and I never looked back!  I loved the community spirit that was so strong in the fiber world and the willingness to share lessons learned.

On the second day at college I met my husband.  We married the fall after graduation and moved to Los Angeles so that he could pursue a career in writing.  Los Angeles can be an intimidating city to make connections in, so I quickly made it to the nearest weaving shop to find my people!  I made lifelong friends – so many creative people creating wonderful work.  We exhibited wherever we could – as naïve as backyards and parks – it did not matter where, but that we did.  I learned to listen to buyers and how to deal with rejection.

I soon became a production weaver and produced a line of unisex sweaters which I marketed through the American Craft Council shows.  I will never forget my first show in Baltimore, Maryland with over a 1,000 of the best craft artists in the country – it was so inspiring to be included in their company.

Over time, I started to get creatively restless.  Weaving for me began to impose more limits than opportunity and this artistic transition luckily coincided with the birth of my daughter.   I became a stay at home Mom, and used this time to explore various media.  I started with collage, transitioned into papermaking and monoprinting.  The monoprinting opened the floodgates; I began painting and dabbled in a variety of painting techniques and materials.  I loved the spontaneity of all the new work – it was so much freer for me than being tied to the loom.  Yet, something seemed flat and that is when I picked up the needle.  I began by embroidering on the paper monoprints and they just popped!  The monoprinting lead me to painting directly on the paper.  I came across a wonderful paper, a Japanese paper called kyoseishi.  It has a crepe like texture and it is so hardy, it will not shred if wet – perfect for applying paint, and I can hand or machine stitch onto it.

It was during this period of experimentation that I discovered the work of Jan Beaney and Jean Littlejohn.  Their books provided hours of inspiration and I still enjoy looking back through them from time to time, always seeing something with new eyes. Taking an embroidery class through the City and Guilds program also exposed me to so many wonderful fiber artists I was previously not aware of.  As far as traditional painters, I find Monet’s late career paintings extremely inspiring.  In his late works he progressed from impressionism into abstract expressionism and the energy he created with color and movement is exciting to experience.

Another constant resource for me is Yosemite National Park in California.  Yosemite is such a spiritual place, awe inspiring vistas large and small.  It is interesting to me how many themes develop in my works that are inspired by my time spent there.

I feel that my work today is bringing all of my past experiences forward. As much as I admire those who sketch, I prefer to begin with the blank paper and see what challenges the paint will provide for me.  Once the paper is painted, I let it show me the way.  Sometimes it is just the way a color blended with another that will suggest something to me.  Most of my work is abstract because I don’t want a concrete image to interfere with the viewer’s visual and emotional connection to a piece.  It is important to me that the work is a springboard for the viewer’s own imagination.

One of the many ways I market my work is through working with interior designers. You as the artist have the task to be responsive to color trends and to create work that a wide range of viewers can respond to.  Interior designers understand color, texture and the value of placing just the right piece in a space to make the whole room sing.  Being part of that process is so rewarding for me.

Within my own work, I hope to continue exploring the art of the needle as it relates to the painted surface.  Each work comes in response to the one before and that keeps you fresh.  Also it has always been important for me to be involved in a supportive community of artists. Right now, I coordinate workshops for the Surface Art Association here in Los Angeles.  I love reaching out to artists who are dedicated to their work and are willing to spend a day with us to share their story and talents.  It is a personal goal to broaden the arena for contemporary fiber so it is viewed with curiosity and appreciation by an ever widening global audience.