Susan McCraw


The following article is reprinted from "View from the Fringe," the newsletter of the New England Rug Society, for April 2004. "HALI" is a magazine for collectors of antique Oriental rugs and other ethnic textiles.


Opening an issue of HALI changed my life.  I first saw it on a weekend visit to a friend in 1993, and came home resolved to re-invent myself.  I resigned my partnership in a large Boston law firm and became a fabric artist.  My primary inspiration comes from antique and modern rugs and other weavings made from Africa through the Middle East, Central Asia, the Far East and the Pacific.

For several years I studied the images in my carefully preserved issues of HALI and in rug books from the Harvard Art Library, building a mental vocabulary of design that I could draw upon for my art.  I wanted to create something fresh that would carry the flavor of tribal works without simply recapitulating them.  
Kongo quilt
rug image
my quilt "Kongo"
reed screen from West Africa

A “eureka” moment arrived when I realized that in order to bring those images to bear on my work in an effective way, I would have to cut them out of HALI’s pages and reorganize them not by place or time of origin, but by their fundamental visual characteristics.  Now I have loose-leaf binders full of vinyl pockets labeled “zigzags,” “parmakli,” “soffreh,” “checkerboards,” and the like. West African resist-dyes snuggle up against gabbehs, Middle Atlas rugs and Tibetan thanka.  How better to see the truth of the fundamental connectedness of indigenous arts?

Razzle Dazzel quilt
rug image
my quilt "Razzle Dazzle"
Turkish kilim

I am creating in modern fabrics – some hand-dyed, some commercially produced here or in Japan, Africa or Indonesia – tributes to the textile art heritage of many cultures.  My medium is fabric collage.  My works are “sandwiches” composed of layers of cut-out fabric applique, a thin cotton batting, and a backing of uncut fabric.  The top surface is embellished with embroidery and with lines stitched through all of the layers.  The stitching creates a relief design on the surface of the work, and traces one or more secondary motifs over the applique.

A sampling of my work over the last five years includes:

  • A treatment in bright hues of a typical sort of Tibetan rug, composed of horizontal stripes accented with motifs that resemble the “thunderbird” shapes one sees in Native American textiles;
  • A checkerboard design consisting in part of cross and diamond shapes from a Caucasian bagface, and in part of stepped triangles similar to those in pre-Columbian weavings;
  • A rendition of the design of a Karabagh  khorjin, featuring “tree of life” or “stupa” shapes on a dark background;
  • A stylized female “arms akimbo” figure against a checkerboard background of many colors from a southwest Persian gabbeh; and
  • Several pieces featuring patterns resembling Ersari motifs, rendered as the calligraphic decoration that appears on pieces from both Islamic and Far Eastern cultures.
Black and White and ... quilt
rug image
I love what I’m doing now.  I’ve learned the geography and history of what was, to me, a vast terra incognita.  I’ve studied art history, archaeology and ethnography.  I’ve become fascinated with the infinite variety that “simple” people have created over generations.  I know that in cutting out the pictures I’ve destroyed my HALI magazines’ (sometimes considerable) value.  But doing so has made my new pursuit possible and enriched my life enormously.
my quilt "Black and White and …”   
wedding blanket from Mali




This page was last updated 25 October 2006

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