Painter, weaver, fibre artist, sculptor. Anna Wagner-Ott is all of these and more. Fibre Arts Take Two enjoyed chatting with Anna about her life and work.
Anna Wagner-Ott’s Friday Feature Artist Interview can be found at the bottom of this page.
Anna Wagner-Ott is a painter, weaver, fibre artist and sculptor, but titles, materials, or processes won’t box her in.
Being taught by her mother and other family quiltmakers, Anna has developed her craft over the years to a refined and contemporary version of what came before her. Originally from England, Anna now works in her studio west of Ottawa in Canada. She studied at the University of Alberta and Toronto before achieving a PhD in Art Education from Penn State University. She dedicated a lifetime to teaching others before she retired in 2013. Anna has numerous solo exhibitions and participated in juried Invitational shows in Canada and the USA.
Fibre Arts Take Two was excited to sit down with Anna to discuss her work and her journey to get to where she is today.
The drive to create
Fibre Arts Take Two hit Anna with a big question right out of the gate; what drives you to create?
“Sometimes there aren’t any specific things. I can’t identify one thing,” Anna answered, “I think my personality is number one. I call myself obsessive and passionate about art. I look at art; I live it; I breathe it every day. From first thing in the morning to when I go to bed at night, I’m always thinking about it.”
Anna’s drive to create is also cyclical, driven as it is by her creative process, “I do a lot of experimenting.” She says, “I play around with different types of materials. I love the materiality of objects, surfaces, and textures. And I work very fast. When I start a piece, I work at it consistently for an hour, two hours, three hours, and I’m just right into it.”
In the end, though, like so many artists, art is simply a part of Anna, “It’s hard to describe,” she says, “It’s who I am. It’s my personality, and it’s my thought process. I tend to be extremely diverse, and I think my work is also diverse because of that. I get bored very easily. That’s why I cannot stick to one thing over and over and over again. And I love a challenge.”
Anna’s work ethic and passion for art sometimes drive her too hard, “There are times when I need to stop because it’s exhausting’,” says Anna, “I get exhausted. But there is something about the creative process, the doing and the escaping into it. And then sometimes it is very meditative. I sit for hours on my sewing machine making fragments, woven fragments. I can spend hours doing that. It’s like my mind goes into a trance state. It’s like people who love yoga or exercise get an adrenaline high. And you just go after that. I don’t do it for the shows. I do it because it gives me this sense of a centre. And the process is a spiritual act in a way.”
Despite her enviable output, Anna does not retain many of her pieces, “I have very few pieces because I show them. So when they sell, that’s wonderful, but some come home, and I will reuse them and take them apart.”
Anna doesn’t view her art as sacred but as beneficial for the future, “I think of the time when I no longer will be here and what are we going to do with them?” she says, “And they aren’t precious. They are objects, basically objects for decoration. They’re up on my walls. And I still have many sculptures in my studio that I still have, but they have to go through the test of time because I am incredibly critical.”
Once again, the cyclical nature of Anna’s work appears in her attitude to completed projects, “I’ve had discussions,” she says, “‘Why don’t I leave it alone? It’s wonderful, Anna, don’t touch it, put it in a closet, come back to it later.’ And I never do. I can’t do that. It bugs me. I’ve got to fix it, and then what ends up happening is I destroy them. And then I come back to it. So that the end product is just as exciting as the piece, it’s like coming full circle.”
Working with wax
One of Anna’s favoured techniques is to seal her work in wax. “It is preserving a memory,” she says, “like mummifying. All my work can be out in the rain. Nothing destroys them because they have this wonderful coating of wax. Also, what is beautiful about it, when you use wax, it’s like taking a specimen. And you are putting it in wax, and it keeps us there. In a way, it’s like resin, but I wouldn’t say I like resin because I don’t like the plasticness – it’s too glossy for me. But the wax is beeswax; it’s honey and can melt, disintegrate and go back into the ground. And the fabric I use can do the same. So it is a sort of mummification. Wax, to me, is this preserving of our woman’s histories because it does come down from the woman even though men also use textiles when you think of the ships, their sails and their nets. But the sewing skills came down through history and generations.”
When teaching her students, Anna has one point that she feels would drive their work, “The most important thing that I ask students,” she says, “is, ‘how does it relate to you personally? How do the materials relate to you personally? Where is it coming from? Is it coming deep? Within the end? Is it something that you know? What is the theme? What is the topic? What are you trying to say through your art because, really, the outcome is important?”
In some ways, the process and the finished product are less critical to Anna, “There are so many different ways that the outcome can materialise,” she says, “And if the student gets this inner feeling of what they are about, and that comes out through the work, that’s the most important thing for me. It comes down to the intent. What is the core of who you are? And how do you get that out using materials?”
About the artist
Anna Wagner-Ott was born in England and immigrated to Canada at a young age.
Studied art at the University of Alberta and the University of Toronto and has a PhD in Art Education from Penn State University.
Before retiring in 2013, Anna held a tenured teaching position at California State University in Sacramento.
She has shown extensively in solo and group exhibitions in Canada and the USA since the early 80s, and her work can be found in many collections in Canada and abroad.
She was awarded the Best in Show for her painting at the Trinity Art Gallery at the Shenkman Centre in Ottawa.
Anna Wagner-Ott administers the International Fibre Artists and the Ontario Society of Artists members’ Instagram and Facebook posts. Anna’s assemblages are, at times, politically charged in themes relating to ecology and feminist concerns.