Create! Magazine is pleased to present a new Studio Sunday feature with Portland-based artist Lizz Berry. Learn more about what inspired her interest in fiber and textile art, the multiple reasons that she keeps a small forest of plants in her home studio, and what will be keeping her busy for the rest of the summer!
Lizz Berry is the founder, maker, and innovator behind The Wild Textile. All of the products she creates are hand crafted in her home studio in Portland, Maine. She is a hand-weaver, natural dyer, quilter, and all around fiber enthusiast.
Her love for cloth began at an early age, when she was exposed to family heirlooms from India - some over a century old. Colorful antique silk saris and other complex weavings were a part of her childhood - whether it be forts, canopies, or costumes. These fueled her love not only for textiles, but also for the color and textures that enliven them. Today you can still find her home adorned with some of the very same pieces that inspired her as a child.
Lizz received her B.F.A. from Kutztown University in Pennsylvania, where she concentrated in Textiles. She spent her undergraduate years studying hand weaving, color application, and surface design via dyeing techniques.
More recently, she has integrated her fibers studio with her other life-long passion, the outdoors. She loves the simplicity of color in nature, and it never ceases to inspire her. Environmental conservation is also important to her, and she represents this value in her practices as often as possible. Color, the natural world, and fibers are the core elements of her creativity, and the unified embodiment of The Wild Textile.
When did you first become interested in art?
My interest in textile design has evolved from a variety of influences with one commonality: three dimensional, visual design. In grade school I wanted to be an architect, which later shifted to interior design and decorating. I experimented with every artistic medium that was available, both inside and outside the classroom. Throughout high school I took every single art class that was offered, except for Weaving. Ironically, I thought it sounded boring! However, as a crafts major in college, my attitude quickly changed. I developed a passion for textiles after taking my first class. My focus began to gravitate towards functional pieces - scarves, blankets, linens, tableware and various items of home decor. Throughout and following my college years, I worked in a sewing studio and fabrics store. This experience supplemented my passion for textiles with exciting new disciplines - sewing and quilting! On weekends and after work I also taught myself to forage for natural dyes and use my kitchen scraps for free sustainable colors that told a story. All of these practices have become key elements of The Wild Textile, and I suspect that my artistic interests will only grow more diverse in the years to come.
Tell us about what inspires you creatively.
Plant life, abundant light, and nature in every form. Whether it’s the ever-expanding urban jungle in my home studio, the rocky coasts and sandy beaches of Maine, or the alpine zones of my favorite mountains - I constantly integrate the textures and colors of my natural surroundings with my work. Exploring the outdoors inspires me to build lively color palettes that facilitate unique combinations of surface designs. It is always an extra special day when I come across natural dyes to be foraged in my travels! Another key source of my textiles inspiration emanates from my family heirlooms. My grandmother was a missionary surgeon in Assam, India, and she bestowed to my family a variety of handwoven Indian saris, tapestries and fabrics. The standards of craftsmanship upheld by prior generations never ceases to astound me. I find myself connecting with these textiles more than ever, as I approach reading the end of her diary entries on life in India during the 1950’s.
What is your process like?
I often find my process fluctuates between meticulously planning and complete improvisation. In some instances, I plan each weaving in precise detail to make sure they will work logistically. In these cases, I create multiple scales of drawings with different colorways, pattern options, and sizes. On other projects, I allow my process to depend solely on my instincts. This approach involves designing my pieces while simultaneously crafting them, and has created some of my most interesting weavings to date. I love making up patterns on the loom that have never existed, and perhaps never will again. I often find myself in a meditative state where my feet move across the foot pedals while barely looking down at what I am creating. Some weavers may find this odd, but I think this technique can create truly authentic combinations of texture and color. I am always anticipating the next weave structure to be accidentally discovered!
Describe your current studio space. What is most important about it or one thing that you can’t live without in your work area?
I work out of my home studio in Portland, Maine. I have A LOT of house plants (over 70) scattered throughout my small apartment, which has abundant natural light. The plants are therapeutic to me, and also very functional in the photography process. I use them as backdrops in an effort to help the viewer visualize my products in a livable space. As an added bonus, it allows me to hide the nicks and bumps in my not-so-perfect wall from the early 1900’s.
What is one piece of advice that has stuck with you or a quote that you think is especially meaningful?
If you want to keep it, so will someone else! That’s how the majority of my products have developed. Create something for yourself - something that embodies the colors, textures, and emotions that inspire you - and before long you will have orders for more.
Are there any exciting exhibitions, projects, or collaborations going on this year that you’re currently working on or will be soon?
I have recently signed on as Show Coordinator for the Maine Crafts Guild, which puts me in charge of organizing four large fine craft shows throughout the summer. This will keep me pretty busy over the next few months, but in my spare time I have been experimenting with a slew of great new materials for product prototypes. I am currently working on a brand new Fall line for the The Wild Textile, including more home decor items than ever, zipper pouches, sling bags, backpacks and more. Keep an eye out for this exciting release!