Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Handwoven Masks Key to Identity

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Handwoven Masks Key to Identity

Article excerpt

The current course of Susan Barrett Merrill's artistic career came to her in a dream.

And not just a dream that said, "You will be a weaver," because she already was. No, this was a very specific dream, in which the exact method by which Merrill would create handwoven masks and headdresses was spelled out.

The masks are just part of "Weaving a Life," seven weaving projects that Merrill uses in her work as a fiber sculptor, teacher and certified life coach.

Merrill is artist in residence this season at the textile arts gallery recently opened by Danish weaver Kathleen Keenan, who recently relocated to Sarasota from Massachusetts. Keenan owns two gallery spaces at Towles Court, one of which she uses as a private weaving studio specializing in the Saori method of handweaving, and the other as a gallery showcase.

Merrill's masks, which feature lifesize but semi-abstract faces woven two-dimensionally, are surrounded by huge, fantastic hand- felted headdresses that beg to be touched. The pieces sell for several thousand dollars apiece.

"I realized these are about identity," said Merrill, who makes her primary home near Bar Harbor, Maine, where her spinning, hand- dyeing and weaving is all drawn from natural sources nearby. She developed a series of what she calls "keyforms," which begin with amulets, representing conception, and moving through bowls (birth), dolls (childhood and your future self), the "belt of power" (adolescence and life choices), masks (identity), bundles (mature life) and shawls, which by being worn are given form by their wearers.

Merrill will teach a five-week class, "The Heart of Weaving a Life," from Jan. 9 to Feb. 6.

The workshops move beyond teaching basic weaving skills -- the faces are woven on the simplest of wooden handlooms -- into truly therapeutic ground, said Merrill.

"We realized this work really changes people's lives in a very real way," she said.

Merrill herself creates one mask series each year. The work appeals to collectors of tribal art. …

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