Liz Hamilton Quay: A Passion for Sharing Art
Liz Hamilton Quay is a sculptural fibre and materials artist and an assistant professor at Kutztown University. She recently shared her thoughts with Fibre Arts Take Two.
Liz’s Friday Feature Artist Interview can be found at the bottom of this page.
Based in Pennsylvania, Liz Hamilton Quay is a sculptural fibre and materials artist who just happens to be the assistant professor of textile and material studies at Kutztown University.
Liz’s creative approach is based on her natural curiosity for materials, a joy for making and as a sculptural fibre and materials artist, she is drawn to the manipulation of flexible materials. Her work tends to be varied in appearance, but thematically focuses on the clashing of soft and hard; the transformation of plain or seemingly ugly materials to reveal their beautiful and delicate qualities. Liz is driven by a relentless urge to describe feelings through materiality, using a variety of techniques ranging from traditional fibres to digital formats such as video. Liz has proudly earned herself a Master of Fine Arts at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia in fibres and materials studies. Fibre Arts take Two had the honour to chat live with Liz.
Here’s some of what we discussed:
A family history
Liz was lucky enough to know what she wanted to be from the start. “I have always known that I wanted to be an artist. I feel like as soon as I was born, I had a paintbrush always in my hands. And in my head.”
More than just personal, Liz’s passion for art was familial. “Both my parents are actually artists and craftspeople. My mom is a painter. They’re both photographers, my dad’s a known encaustics artist. My family foundation is very arts influenced and very supportive.”
Liz’s true passion is for sharing art with other people. “I decided when I got to college that I wanted to be an art educator. I started off in the art education programme at Kutztown University. And I kind of dabbled in just about everything. I didn’t have anything that I was really passionate about, I loved everything. And I thought that was okay as an art educator, to not have one singular thing that I favoured.” Working with fibre was in the cards for Liz though. “One semester, I happened upon what was called at the time, the Non-Loom Structures and Fibres Class. I walked into this classroom and I said, ‘Wow, this is mysterious and amazing’. And I quickly found out through my mentor, Barbara Shulman, that textiles and fibre was my calling.”
That calling actually went back further. Liz remembers watching her mother make clothes for porcelain dolls. “I just remember that passion for the needle and thread so vividly when I was growing up. I thought wow, this is such an amazing way to honour the strong women in my life to follow through with this.
Teaching textile art
Liz teaches advanced classes so she expects her students to have some skills to start with. “In our introductory classes, it’s very important that students have a really strong base in really specific areas.”
As her students progress, it is about far more than just base skills. “I want them to come to the table thinking about their concept and how they want to see that through. I really encourage students to use interdisciplinary techniques in their work, because that’s where the art world is geared. Yes, people are very specialised in what they do, but there are so many other artists out there that have a variety of techniques under their belt that they can go on to say, `this is how I want to express my concept to the world.’”
Being a teacher also means that Liz needs to push her students. “Critique is so important. We can ask questions back to the artist and help that thought process of, ‘are we reaching that audience?’ in a way that you’re never going to have when you just leave a piece in the gallery. Is that reaching that person in the same way? It’s okay if it’s not… but why isn’t it?
Students really struggle when their concept isn’t coming across exactly the way that they meant it to. Okay, well, let’s dissect why it’s not. And then remember that it is art! It is still open for interpretation.”
With apps like Instagram and Pinterest available to help showcase young artists’ work, Liz says they still have to maintain perspective. “Honestly, they’ve been so fantastic for young emerging artists to be able to get their work out there and to be able to be seen. And I think that’s wonderful. But I think so many students get trapped in the fact that they want to brand themselves in a certain way. And then wanting those likes, and I have to explain to them and say, ‘You know, having a failure in your work can be one of the most positive things that you experience’. Having that criticism back and not just the likes, is going to propel you forward and help you grow through work.”
“People intrinsically link their art-making to their own self-worth,” says Liz, “I try to help students break that. I had a terrible time with that in graduate school, figuring out how to extrapolate my own self and my own self worth from my artwork. And I see my students struggle with that so much and they think when it’s criticism that it’s a criticism on them, and it’s not just about the artwork. “
As much as she loves teaching, Liz is also an incredible artist in her own right. She talked to us a little about her recent work, Ovum. “I have a really strong interest in not replicating things,” she says, “I have a stronger interest in dissecting them in a way and manipulating and putting them back together in an abstracted form.” Beyond this, Ovum is a very personal piece. “ I had just had my daughter and I was missing myself. For any of you that are mothers, I’m sure you can relate. I was missing being in touch with myself.
I had time to be able to go to my studio and I just sat down on my sewing machine and I took this transparent piece of organza and I just started stitching with this random pattern. I just started methodically and meditatively going over and over and layering. I think there are about seven or eight different colour threads in that piece all together, to kind of create that warmth. And all of a sudden that really thin transparent organza was beginning to gain structure.
I’m really drawn to biological illustrations and I was thinking about the mitosis process, the cell division of the egg and how it grows. And thinking about that egg growing within me and how it was just such a labour of love. And I saw this piece in a similar light. It is three dimensional, and it’s holding these little plastic pellets on the inside that, to me, were reminiscent of all of the eggs that are held in the ovaries.”
A thriving future
Liz’s passion for sharing art means that her deepest wish is to see the love of art thrive. “I would like to leave the next generation with more knowledge about textile arts for the future because I don’t think it’s something that should ever get lost. I tell my students that if you don’t continue to partake, please share this as you move forward.”
About the artist
Liz Hamilton Quay is the Assistant Professor of Textile and Materials Studies at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania. She followed her passion for the manipulation of fabric to earn her MFA at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia in Fibers and Materials Studies. Her journey began at Kutztown University, where she proudly received her bachelor’s degree in Art Education and a BFA in Craft, concentrating in Fibers.
Her creative approach is based on her natural curiosity for materials and a joy for making. Through a variety of techniques ranging from traditional fibers to digital formats such as video, she creates work that explores innate visceral feelings. Her work has been featured in venues such as, the WestBeth Gallery in New York, the Ceres Gallery | New York, Fibre Arts Take Two, Fibre Arts Australia, Surface Design Association, Fiber Art Now publications, and the Art Association of Harrisburg.