A stray thread dangles from a pink cloth, disrupting the horizontal lines of the delicate fabric tediously handloomed by Frances Trombly. But to her, the interruption, although accidental, tells the piece’s story. “Because it’s handmade, it’s never perfect,” the Miami artist acknowledges. Knots, for instance, expose “the history of the textile,” she adds.
Like an archive, Trombly’s textiles reveal the minutia of her handiwork and are a greater observation on the passage of time. Just as “errors and wounds” unfold during her creative process, she explains, so do imperfections outside the studio. “In life, we go through that. We have these markers in time, and you can’t escape them. They’re just a part of us, and that’s what makes us beautiful.”
The artist’s appreciation for textile work began as a child in Miami. Her grandmother taught her to knit, and by age 10 she was perfecting complicated stitches. “When I was young, I would do drawings and sew into the paper,” Trombly recalls.
It wasn’t until she was a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art when she saw her first loom—a sea of them, 20 or so, in the fibers department. “I was just in awe,” the artist remembers. “I was so amazed, because you have this singular thread that out of one becomes many—and then turns into a completely different form. To this day, it’s still really magical.”
Her past work was primarily object based, such as a box made of woven cloth. Then Trombly began creating canvases. “As I would work, I would see scars throughout the process—beautiful mistakes,” she says, pointing to knots and loose string. The artist could fix them, which would cost time, or move forward, leaving the gaffes in place. “I have to decide: How important is this mistake to me, and can I use it in the work?” she says. Trombly chose to accept them and—like pulling a thread—unraveled the concept of familiar-shaped work and embraced the abstract: woven cloth draped on wood structures.
Rayon, cotton and silk make up most of her pieces, constructed via an intensive method that requires skeining, washing and dyeing the material before even sitting at the loom. The artist’s palette consists of a trinity of ancient dyes: indigo; madder root, a spectrum of red; and weld, “a reed that makes this unbelievably gorgeous yellow,” she says.
Just as a painting has a frame, each finished canvas hangs from a structure handmade from maple, referencing the material of Trombly’s loom. And like its blemishes, the cloth hangs in an inexact way, like off-center, presenting its natural form. “I tend to gravitate toward works that can be a little uncomfortable,” she says. “I like things that are a little imperfect.”
To the maker, each piece honors undervalued female labor. “So many of us exist in a place where a lot of the work we do, especially me as a mother, is unseen,” she says, referencing tasks such as doing laundry, washing dishes and taking her teenage daughter to the dentist. It also reflects those by fellow alternative artists at Dimensions Variable, the nonprofit she founded 13 years ago with her husband, artist Leydon Rodriguez-Casanova, which supports works made for their ideas, rather than the market. With every assemblage she fabricates, Trombly, who will exhibit in September at the Mindy Solomon Gallery, aims to change the public perception of the tapestry. “Using this medium is so empowering,” she says. “It’s creating a stance of: This is just as valuable.”