Above: Lillian Trettin, “Mountain Shaman”, cut-paper collage on paper
· Linda Elksnin, “Jonah in the Whale’s Belly”, mixed media
HMA's exhibits are always a mix of art that the Museum owns and art that we borrow. “Woven Together: From Lesotho to Carolina” is a borrowed exhibition that will be at HMA from May 23 to September 6, 2015.
The exhibit features tapestries woven by the Maseru Tapestries Cooperative in Lesotho, Africa. Individual weavers designed and produced some of these tapestries, while two Carolina artists, Lillian Trettin and Linda Elksnin, designed others and commissioned their production by the Maseru weavers. In addition to the tapestries, the exhibition features photographs of the tapestry-making process by Carl Trettin, an environmental scientist working in Africa, along Trettin's and Elksnins’ mixed-media works related to tapestries in the show. The exhibition is sponsored by Valdese Weavers which will begin its Centennial Anniversary Celebration with the “Woven Together” exhibition.
About Maseru Tapestries Cooperative
Above: Dressed in traditional Basotho finery, Me. Mesetumo Lebitsa, manager [in 2011] of the Maseru Tapestries Cooperative, demonstrates spinning wool on a spinning wheel made of wood and a tube-less bicycle wheel, commonly seen around the town of Maseru. The tapestry on the right was a gift from the Maseru weavers to the Palmetto Fiber Arts Guild , presented to Carl Trettin when he was in Lesotho on business and visited the weavers. He wrote at the time, "I went to the Maseru Weavers today, and they did have a `gift' for the Charleston Fiber Arts Guild. ... It's entitled Women's Meeting. One of the trainees did the piece, which I thought was quite an accomplishment." (From the Palmetto Fiber Arts Guild website, accessed May 22,2015 Their post contians more information about and photographs of the Cooperative.)
Maseru Tapestries Cooperative was organized in 1999. It is a typical Lesotho cooperative that employs women so that they can provide better nutrition, healthcare, and education for their children. The co-op buys mohair (sheared from local angora goats) and merino wool (sheared from local sheep) to use for weaving. The women spin and dye the fiber, and then trained weavers produce the tapestries. Local hotel gift shops sell a few of the tapestries, and a limited inventory is kept on hand for sale at the co-op shop. However, most sales are by special order or commission.
Lesotho, an autonomous kingdom surrounded by South Africa, is a mountainous country whose rural residents depend on herding goats and sheep for subsistence income.
About the Carolinas Artists
Lillian Trettin and Linda Elksnin met in Charleston, SC in 2009 and soon recognized that they shared an appreciation for textiles. In addition, they both work out of their studios in the South Carolina Low Country and the North Carolina High Country, affording many opportunities to collaborate. Recently the two artists exhibited together at the Avery County (NC) Arts Council gallery.
The opportunity for this collaboration emerged when Carl Trettin, an environmental scientist, started a consulting job in Lesotho, bought tapestries from some of the weavers, and began to make regular trips back and forth. Based on his introduction, Lillian and Linda commissioned Maseru Tapestries to create weavings from their original designs and paintings. A collection of photographs taken by Trettin during his trips to Lesotho introduces viewers to the kingdom’s textile industry, from production of dyed fiber to the weaving of brilliantly colored tapestries.
Folk art and textile design influence both Trettin's and Elksnin's work.
Lillian Trettin creates visual narratives by piecing together paper shapes like a jigsaw puzzle. She often begins by writing stories to inform her complex figurative works. While the stories of her eccentric and sometimes supernatural characters in her collages are occasionally disturbing, they exude dark humor in bright colors derived from Appalachian folklore, Southern literature, and the art of Romare Bearden. Some of her works also are influenced by African landscape and characters.
Trettin grew up in East Tennessee with banjo music and gospel lyrics as well as the Beatles. She returned to making art full time in 2011 following a career as a teacher, researcher, and consultant, and after raising two sons. Despite having lived in other parts of the country, she claims (as do so many southerners who move elsewhere) to be permanently “South haunted.”
Linda Elksnin creates mixed-media paintings by layering watercolor and gouache on a painted background and then building up color and texture using paint and colored pencils. She incorporates symbols, shapes, and subject matter from a variety of cultures, including those of the American South, Appalachia, Haiti, as well as the aboriginal people of Panama and Australia. Her inspiration comes from eclectic sources, including textiles, self-taught and outsider artists, and mainstream artists such as Rothko, Bearden, and Chagall. Whether her subject matter is abstract or loosely based on reality, the common thread of all her work is color and graphically pleasing design.
Elksnin's passion for art began in elementary school when she took classes at the Philadelphia College of Art. Shortly after earning a BFA from Syracuse University, her career path took a different turn when she taught art to children with disabilities. After earning master's and doctoral degrees in special education from the University of Virginia, Elksnin came to The Citadel military academy to coordinate the Graduate Special Education Program. She retired in 2006 and returned to painting full time.