SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — In 1974, two organizations based around a love of art and the creative were founded by women in South County: The Hera Gallery in Wakefield and the Saunderstown Weaving School in Saunderstown.
Both are still going strong 46 years later and have collaborated on the latest Hera exhibit, “Visions From The Loom,” which runs through Oct. 10.
The 46 piece exhibit features works by 29 weavers of all levels, including several Hera member artists, all of whom are or have been students of the school and its founder and master weaver teacher Norma Smayda. The exhibit represents numerous approaches to weaving, from the conventional to the experimental.
“Most people think of when you weave, you weave cloth or dish towels, table runners, things like that and we have everything from the traditional to the more unusual,” artist Judy Schaefer, who designed the exhibit for Smayda with the help of fellow member artist Manon Pelletier, said. “There’s a rug done with surgical tubing, which is unusual. There’s a window shade that’s on a motorized shade roller that the weaver took a fairly traditional weave structure and turned it into something very useful. The point of the show was how people interpret what they want to weave.”
Among the more unusual pieces is Schaefer’s own metal wire-woven piece, titled “Cinched,” a wall-hanging eight shaft undulating twill consisting of a combination of linen, ribbon and wire in the wrap, as well as a waft solely consisting of wire, formed into a more dimensional structure using three hand-woven copper strips.
A metalsmithing specialist, Schaefer began weaving eight years ago in Smayda’s classes and wanted to combine the two fields, something she’s only recently begun but is enjoying.
“I started thinking about combining my metalsmithing techniques with weaving and I started messing around with wire and I’m really in the infant stage to tell you the truth, I’ve only been doing this for about a year now and (I’m) still experimenting with using traditional weaving techniques but with wire rather than fiber,” Schaefer said. “It’s very sculptural, it’s a lot of fun to work with.”
The show is far from the first time the two organizations have collaborated in their shared 46 years of existence. They previously joined forces on three exhibits, including one for their 40th anniversary in 2014, and have become truly woven into the fabric of the community.
“This school’s been in existence for almost 50 years and it’s quite a statement about her and what she’s given to the community and people who’ve learned to weave,” Schaefer said about Smayda.
In addition to founding, running and teaching at the Saunderstown Weaving School, Smayda, who holds a Masters of Fine Arts in Visual Design from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, has had her work featured in shows and instructed lessons across the country and in Scandinavia, and has received countless accolades along the way.
Along with her students, Smayda herself has a piece in the exhibit titled “Spring Birches,” a wall-hanging five shaft twill and crepe ondulé weave with fan reed.
“Here ondulé gives the effect of wind moving through the white birch trees with their new spirit growth,” Smayda wrote in her artist statement on the piece. “Ikat warp ends accentuate the common wires dividing the fans. The weave structure is slightly warp emphasis with crepe weave softening the straight twill lines. This represents a continuation of my search for new ways of finding magic in the warp threads.”
The pieces, some of which have been featured in past shows and exhibits at other galleries, were woven using the school’s extensive weaving library and over 40 looms used by students to learn and master their craft under Smayda in a supportive social environment.
A documentary on Smayda and her 46 years of leadership at the school produced by Schaefer is also being shown at the exhibit, which is running during Hera’s gallery hours of 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays through Oct. 10.
Like other recent Hera Gallery exhibits, there was no opening reception for the show, which premiered Sept. 12, to keep with social distancing guidelines, nor are there many of the usual events that come along with Hera shows. Instead, the gallery can be viewed online with artist statements attached to each piece’s picture, a virtual show featuring images and videos from the school, and a recorded artist talk with the weavers to come.
To view the gallery online or for more information on the Hera Gallery, which is located at 10 High Street in Wakefield, visit their website, heragallery.org.