Fiber artist Phyllis Packard's tapestries, watercolors on display at Nobles County Art Center
Packard, a former teacher at Minnesota West, creates art from wool, silk and other fibers, many of which she spins herself.
WORTHINGTON — Phyllis Packard weaves light.
Proof of that can be found at the fiber artist’s “Chasing Illusive Light” exhibition at the Nobles County Art Center, which is open to the public from noon to 4 p.m. on weekdays through Aug. 26.
A reception, open to the public, will be from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Friday.
Packard’s work includes tapestries of glowing sunsets, light reflecting on water and filling fields of flowers, all created from fiber — wool, silk and other materials that she often spins herself, dyes with natural materials and then weaves together using a loom. She also creates watercolor weavings, applying watercolor paints to the delicate fabrics she’s made, and lately, she’s been experimenting with needle felting.
Initially, though, she wanted to be a silversmith.
“Way back when, when I was at Syracuse University studying art, my major was silversmithing and my minor, well originally it was painting,” Packard said. “I needed another elective and I started taking weaving.”
The fiber arts scene was just starting to take off at that point, as its artists were working hard at gaining acceptance in the art world as an art rather than a craft.
“It was a rather exciting time to start learning about looms and fibers and weaving,” Packard recalled. “And then I ended up basically getting a major in weaving.”
While her work is art, she believes in the critical importance of craft, as only knowing the craft enables the artist to take it to another level where it can be considered art. And she also enjoys crafting, weaving shawls and pillows using techniques and patterns handed down by previous crafters.
“Craft in one sense deals with the technicalities and being able to work the techniques,” Packard said. “Art is taking those techniques to a statement — a message, a thought, a feeling.”
To make those statements, Packard uses a wide variety of equipment, including her five spinning wheels and multiple looms — she’s not sure whether she has five or six of them.
“I’ve been doing this since 1964,” she said, pointing out that one tends to collect supplies and tools over time. Her largest loom allows her to create up to a 60-inch weaving surface.
She doesn’t spin all her threads and yarns herself, as that takes a significant amount of time, around four hours for producing a single ounce.
“The landscapes that are termed watercolor weaving, those are, most of them, commercial yarn,” Packard said. “I’m using very fine linens and silks and cottons, and then some man-made fibers, and creating the landscape in the weave. And then I go back and stain it with watercolor, so it is a painting.”
The crafting element can be seen there as well, however, as Packard uses historical patterns dating from the Revolutionary War era in American history.
“In the landscapes there, if you look carefully, (you’ll see) a real use of pattern. But then I’m trying to use the pattern to create the illusion of space, distance, color and texture with the landscape.,” she said. “I play with the pattern until (I) have it do what I want it to do, rather than following the strict pattern.”
Many of her landscapes are also strongly rooted in the prairie and in the Midwest. She lives in a house on a bluff overlooking a river, which has served as inspiration, but she also created a piece that looks like it came from the Nobles County landscape.
“I’m very aware of whatever I’ve done and seen,” Packard said.
More recently, she’s been creating new art with needle felting, which can take just hours or days as compared to the months it takes to produce one woven piece. It also allows Packard the rare opportunity to escape the horizontal-and-vertical weaving setup.
“I have been controlled since 1964 by horizontal and vertical, and trying to create horizontal and vertical threads that don’t look horizontal and vertical,” she said. “With the needle felting it’s like painting. You just put the fibers where you want them and set them there. So it’s much more expressive, lyrical, subtle.
“It’s a whole new way of playing with fiber, and I’m loving it.”
Packard is excited for the opportunity to show her work in Worthington, as she once served as an art teacher at Minnesota West Community & Technical College in the 1980s.