Mary-Ann Sievert is a tapestry artist based in New York who navigates between a full-time corporate career, family, art and music. Her tapestries are in both public and private collections and have been exhibited in several places throughout the US, most recently The New Hope Arts Center in New Hope, Pennsylvania. Mary-Ann received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from The Parsons School of Design in New York.
She is a powerhouse artist who moves between weaving, drawing and painting. All her tapestries are conceived initially as drawings or paintings.
Weaving a tapestry is a very slow process and depending on complexity of the imagery, can take the better part of a day to several days per square foot.
Image credit: Orphic Brain by Mary-Ann Sievert
Her series of paintings began 25 years ago using the imagery of the human brain included a painting titled Orphic Brain. She decided to translate this painting into a woven tapestry. Mary-Ann's Orphic Brain tapestry has a beautiful complex imagery and measures 6’x4’. It took over two years to complete due to the limited time having a full-time job and a busy family life.
Focusing on Mary-Ann's art and personal life we've curiously asked the following questions to her:
LC: Tapestry is a slow type of art that involves craft, drawing and ability. As any type of art, tapestry needs to start from a blank canvas/piece of paper. Could you please tell us what’s your work method to get the final piece produced?
MS: While my work moves regularly between painting and weaving, there is something profoundly sensuous about weaving a tapestry that is entirely different from the application of paint onto a surface. The continuous manipulation of wool yarn onto vertical threads of cotton or linen with one’s hands and fingers engaging in building the fabric, is an interplay of mind and body realizing the abstraction of a concept into the tactile creation of something concrete. It is irresistible, and the further along a piece builds, the more one senses and anticipates its completion.
When I find myself drawn to an idea, motif or some particular iconography, I explore it from various angles and perspectives. Often this results in a series of work based on that initial idea. My work ranges from figurative to abstract, as well as grid-based and image or portrait based. For many years I have focused on representations of the human brain. I had come across a drawing in an anatomy book and found it to be particularly intriguing. In my work, it serves as a depiction of an idea, of a person, of a location or a specific set of behaviours. While I have mostly used the brain motif in paintings, it has also been used in my tapestries. A recent imagery I have been working on is that of a scarab. I have made several paintings and the first woven scarab tapestry is called Alone in Alexandria.
Image credit: Alone in Alexandria by Mary-Ann Sievert
LC: Tell us how do you manage to produce such gorgeous work alongside juggling family commitments, busy life and a full-time career?
MS: Juggling family commitments, a busy life and a full-time career is a challenge. After my first son was born, I was in the middle of working on a commissioned tapestry. I had a deadline to complete the tapestry and also a newborn baby. One of the things I was given was a beautiful basket that my mother had prepared for my nephew and nieces when they were born. Now it was James’s turn to have the basket. He slept in it next to me as I was finishing the commission only to have me pause when he woke up for feeding and changing, then back in the basket again. It was a lovely time to have him near while I was also weaving. Of course, that time passes as our children get older.
However, as they get more independent, time to work on your art does return. Having full-time employment is also challenging but this is where it is crucial to try to find a balance in your schedule.
LC: How do you wind down after a busy day/week?
MS: Winding down after a busy week when I am working on a tapestry means using weekend time to weave. Of course I also have to set aside time for the typical responsibilities and chores that come with home and life in general, but I try to use weeknight evening for these things as much as possible so that weekends are free for time in my studio. It also helps to have an interested and supportive partner. Other down time on weekends may be spent reading, seeing a gallery or museum show, or hearing live music; anything that leaves you open to things that might feed or inspire you.
LC: Do you have any advice for people who want to produce art but find hard to find time to dedicate to it?
MS: Finding time to produce art is not easy when you have other commitments. However, my senior advisor at Parsons gave me the best advice which is something I have tried to follow ever since. He asked what was I going to do after graduation. I told him I would be increasing my time working in a professional tapestry studio and continue teaching one night a week. That left me with 3 days in my studio. What he said next was critical in my being able to prioritize my time:
He said that if I set aside 3 days to work, I should go into the studio and stay there for the designated time on each of those 3 days, irrespective of whether I was inspired or in the mood to work. If I was battling creative decisions and felt stuck, then I should do something else, i.e. sort yarn, dye yarn, organize paints, work on documenting work, etc. The point was to make time in the studio a part of my weekly schedule just as I would for any job. It may seem obvious but when tested and I found myself wanting more than ever to do something else other than work in my studio or just goof off, I forced myself to stay. This developed a kind of discipline that has been instrumental in my organizing my time. It was an invaluable lesson and one of the most important messages I can think of in helping others establish boundaries between their creative work and their other responsibilities.
You can find Mary-Ann's work and coming shows here.