Margo Macdonald’s art is rooted in her experience of place, a quality that will be on display at this year’s 16th annual Fiber Arts Show. Macdonald, a Vaughn painter and weaver with deep ties to the Key Peninsula, is the featured artist.
Her pieces start on a field trip where she captures images with a digital camera and sketches. Her decision about whether the final work will be painted or woven depends on which medium will best capture the color, movement and detail.
The process of creating a painting is very different from that of creating a tapestry. “With tapestry,” she said, “most of the design decisions are done in advance and the piece grows from bottom to top. The painted image changes in unpredictable ways, and is not finished until the painter declares it over.”
Several years ago Macdonald started a series of tapestries featuring rivers and she has completed at least 16, each accompanied by a brief narrative. “What I want you to feel when you see the tapestries is that this is a real place on a river with history and consequences,” she said. They are about three feet high and three feet wide and take months to complete.
This year she embarked on another project: iconic Key Peninsula images including the Lakebay Marina, the Purdy Bridge, and Drive Through Feed. The pieces are much smaller, can be completed in a few weeks, and gave her a bit of a break, she said.
Recent events may lead to a new direction in her work. A year and a half ago when driving to Taos for a memorial service, she and her husband were near Ghost Ranch — where Georgia O’Keefe lived and worked — and they saw a fire in the distance. Macdonald took a picture and the image stuck with her. “It was a beautiful landscape and even the fire was beautiful. Scary. Devastating. Climate change. Burning forever,” she said.
That image is the basis for the tapestry she will be working on at the Fiber Arts Show and she anticipates it may be the beginning of a new series.
Two other fires have had an impact on her. The Sourdough Fire near Diablo Lake in the North Cascades hit close to home. Diablo was a regular stop when the family took trips to Winthrop. The fire that destroyed the city of Lahaina was particularly heartbreaking. She feels close to Maui, where the family has had property since 1977.
Along with a possible shift in subject matter Macdonald is experimenting with form. One of her newest pieces is not a straightforward image but rather a series of connected images woven in vertical segments. “It is about memory,” Macdonald said. She is contemplating using that form to express the impact of the Maui fire.
“My daughter Maggie pushed me about this,” Macdonald said. “She said you always create these beautiful images. But there is so much more you could say.”
Macdonald’s work is in both private and public collections, including the Seattle Arts Commission and the Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital. Over the past decade, she has been part of group exhibitions all over the country. She is currently in the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art Spotlight juried show, which runs until Sept. 24, and she will have work in a tapestry show at the Jansen Center in Lynden from late October through December.
Raised in flat dry spaces — she was born in west Texas and then moved to Calgary in Alberta when she was 9 — Macdonald came to crave water and mountains. That craving brought her to the Pacific Northwest for college at the University of Puget Sound. Her growing interest in art took her to the Rhode Island School of Design for a year. She knew, though, that she did not want to stay on the East Coast, and “there was a boyfriend I was missing,” she said.
She returned to UPS, completed a degree in art education, and married that boyfriend, Bruce Macdonald. They built a home in Vaughn more than 30 years ago, where they raised their daughters, Katie and Maggie. When the girls were young Macdonald discovered weaving. Painting could be messy, she said. Weaving could be set aside at a moment’s notice if necessary. She taught art at Charles Wright Academy in Tacoma from 2003 until 2010.
In 2001 she founded Two Waters Arts Alliance with fellow artist Kathy Bauer. Although she is no longer on the board she continues to help coordinate events. This year she helped organize the Two Waters annual juried show, coordinated the artists at the Art Walk, and had her own booth.
“I had too many irons in the fire this year,” Macdonald said. “Next year I plan to wander around, drink some beer, and enjoy the show.”
Macdonald, along with many other artists and craftsmen, will be at the Longbranch Improvement Club from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 7.
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