Artist Highlight: Etta Sandry

Textile Arts Center is swarming with artists creating and designing everyday. A familiar face amongst these artists is our Studio Manager, Etta Sandry. Etta is an integral part of TAC running smoothly.

Etta’s not only an excellent studio manager, she is also a very hard working fiber artist. She received her Bachelors of Fine Arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2013 with a focus in Fiber and Material Studies, and has continued her artistic explorations since. Her work has been included in duo exhibitions at ACRA Projects and Roots & Culture in Chicago and Open Gallery in Nashville. She currently creates out of her home studio.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Etta to talk specifically about her work. There are constantly things going on around the studio, so it was a true delight to set aside time to talk specifically about her artistic practice.

Etta’s woven work is inspired by symbolic imagery, such as party banners and text, which she refers to as “social code” for our culture. When asked to expand upon this, she described her work as an attempt to play with visual communication using different images. She is inspired by the everyday symbols we use in different contexts of communication. She described written language as a code that takes “an arbitrary system and puts meaning to it.” An example is the commonly-used word, “yes,” the word is formed by two intersecting lines followed by a space and two curved lines. The viewer then interprets the symbols and they are no longer just lines, but instead a meaningful statement. 

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I really enjoyed talking to Etta about the simple visual communication cues that can affect how we react to written word. We create connotations with simple differences in words or sentence structure. I started thinking about how this is done on a daily basis, especially with communication through text messages. How many times have my friends asked, “What do you think he/she meant by this text?” 

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 Etta gets her inspiration from daily communication and everyday language that she can unpack to discover different meanings. “Things have a meaning in one format, but what if I weave it? Does it change the meaning?” She asks this question and explores new formats in her work. She also thinks about the effect of gender in communication, especially the variance in different types of relationships. She wonders, “Does yes mean yes?”

Etta uses a lot of drafting in her creative process. As a weaver myself, I was instantly impressed with her patience. She uses block drafting so she can work with woven text, and her favorite part is figuring out how to make the structure possible to write the words she wants. Block drafting is a process of constructing blocks of a specific structure, and using these blocks to build up words like pixels. She likes to focus on the whole form of the image as shapes, not just the letters themselves.

As far as woven structures, Etta uses a variety of lace and double weave. Depending on the piece, she utilizes color, texture, and material to reflect the shape of the word. She works with the tension between the loom and weaving; she found there are certain inherent limitations that can be pushed to create more interesting results.

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Over the last couple years, Etta has moved away from symbolic imagery and text and is now trying to highlight the steps of the weaving process. She struggles with the fact that viewers don’t see the entire process of weaving when looking at a finished piece. She wants to make that aspect  of weaving more accessible to the viewer.

She is developing pattern making games so people can interact with drafts. She developed a large scale wood drafting grid with black and white block inserts. Her vision is for people to play with it and make structures (a weaver’s dream game). There are no rules or way to win the game, but she hopes that people will leave with a better understanding of the drafting process. In theory, she would like to use this in her studio as a drafting tool. Even though this piece is not entirely complete, Etta describes it as one of her favorites. She attended a residency last year where she learned all the wood working skills to create it. This type of dedication often adds another level of attachment to a piece.

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Etta is also the co-director of Make Space, an online platform that makes conceptual space for the exploration of contemporary art making. They hold studio visits with artists and write about their experience as the visitor. In addition, the post playlists from the artist, videos from studio visit, and have curated a few exhibitions. They feature a diverse span of artists and create a contemporary conceptual space.

Etta left me inspired by how well rounded she is as an educator, artist, and manager. She wants to continue making and showing work, but always plans to supplement studio time with other activities. She feels that this balance is important to the creative process. I can tell that she is dedicated to always furthering her artistic skills and education; she wants to continue traveling, participating in residency programs, and learning new skills. It is important to her to always maintain a studio and continue creating, regardless of how. My favorite part of the interview was talking to Etta about being passionate towards many topics and activities. She said, “I will always be an artist.” I think this holds true to many practicing artists; even with a life full of passions, our dedication to creating and growing artistically will always remain. I can’t wait to see what Etta does next!

To see more of Etta Sandry’s work, visit www.ettasandry.com.

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