Wyoming Valley Art League exhibits work by Clarks Summit clay, fiber artist
WILKES-BARRE — Working in fiber is as familiar to Eva Polizzi as not being wasteful — two attributes she picked up while spending time on her grandmothers’ farms in her native Hungary.
“I think it’s because I come from a family of women makers that I was always making something out of nothing,” Polizzi said.
A selection of Polizzi’s works is displayed through Sept. 30 in the Maffei Gallery of the Wyoming Valley Art League’s Circle Center for the Arts in an exhibit titled “Eva Polizzi: Alchemy.”
A Clarks Summit resident and adjunct instructor of fiber and ceramics at Marywood University, Polizzi’s pieces combine fired clay plates and woven and stitched fiber to create fixtures that pay homage to the simplicity of their materials and the methodical nature of their process.
She uses all natural dyes to color her fibers, and she is so resourceful that she uses the loom waste from some of her pieces to create others.
“I love for humble, overlooked household textiles, like a tea towel, to be taken to … not so much fine-art worthy levels, but to be given the credit they deserve,” Polizzi said.
The weaving and stitching techniques Polizzi utilizes are drawn from and inspired by multiple cultures — Japanese shashiko embroidery and tenugui cloth and French knots are among the styles she employs and alludes to.
Some of the fiber work, she said, is so meticulous that a single piece can take up to six hours to develop — that length of time is compounded when Polizzi uses multiple plates and sets of stitches to create tapestry-like works on woven fabric.
One of her commissions, a piece that contained six plates, featured 1,350 French knots.
“It was tedious,” Polizzi said. “It is a lot of work.”
And Polizzi added that it is appreciation of this time-honored fiber craft that motivates her.
“Cross-stitching is easy to overlook, and it takes hours,” Polizzi said. “I didn’t want to make a declaration, but I did want to put the stitches and plates at eye level, so it’s literally in your face.”
A particular piece hanging in the Maffei Gallery shows 49 individual plates arranged against and stitched into a cloth backdrop.
“I wanted to make a quilt out of clay,” Polizzi said. “I wanted to play with a pattern and play with a lot of construct and deconstruct, unity and fragments. There are a lot of layers.”
Polizzi said combining clay with her work in fiber was not planned but serendipitous.
“Growing up in Hungary, in communism and socialism, it was impossible to go to art school,” Polizzi said.
Her first academic pursuit, in linguistics, led to a career in teaching English and writing that followed her to the U.S., but when she matriculated at Marywood University and began studying sculpture, Polizzi found new inspiration and revisited her artistic aspiration.
“One of my professors saw my passion, and she gave me one of her looms,” Polizzi said. “I really owe this to her. Hopefully I am giving back to my students the way she gave back to me.”
Polizzi’s marriage of media is a balancing process.
“To take a clump of mud and make something from it is raw and violent,” she said. “You burn it and glaze it, and clay is very masculine. Fiber is very feminine and elegant.”
A reverence for the ability of her ancestors to make use of everything on their farms drives Polizzi to carry on that tradition.
“I just can’t throw it away,” she said of the fiber scraps she recycles and uses to fashion and adorn additional pieces.
A desire to see both fiber art and female artists reach wider audiences informs every labor-intensive stitch.
“Times are changing, but female artists don’t get as much exposure as male artists,” Polizzi said. “And fiber art is not as recognized as it should be.”
Polizzi has made it her goal to involve as many female craftspeople and artisans in her process as possible. She sources and buys her cotton, linens, silks and dyes — which include avocado, black walnut, indigo and persimmon — from women throughout the country.
“My commitment to almost everything is to seek out woman-owned businesses,” she said.
As exacting as Polizzi can be during her process, it’s her slightly damaged pieces she likes the most, an incompleteness she likens to her not feeling at home in either Hungary or the U.S.
“I always prefer my imperfect pieces,” Polizzi said. “There’s a Leonard Cohen quote: ‘There’s a crack in everything. That’s where the light comes in.’ I struggle to feel like a whole person in a broken world.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or on Twitter @TimesLeaderMatt.
IF YOU GO
What: Eva Polizzi: Alchemy
Where: Circle Center for the Arts, 130 Rear South Franklin St., Wilkes-Barre
When: Through Sept. 30. The gallery is open from noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday.
For additional information: Call 570-288-1020.