Of Mortal Beauty


Laura Militzer Bryant comes across as smart, calm, competent, grounded. At first meeting, you might take her for a science teacher or an engineer. But in fact she is a masterful weaver, an artist who sees color as energy, and a celebrant of “the mortal beauty of the world,” to borrow from one of her favorite poems.  

 

Art weaving "Spirit House" Laura Militzer Bryant
Spirit House by Laura Militzer Bryant  
Detail of "Spririt House"  
Spirit House detail
 

Laura has been a textile artist since her first knitting project begun in her mother's Brownie troop at age eight. After graduating from the University of Michigan’s School of Art and Design, she says, “all I wanted to do was make artwork.” Laura’s inner “math and science geek” contributes to her work. She weaves art pieces in complex doubleweave, up to five hand-dyed and hand painted layers of warp and myriad colors dancing across the surface. Her career took off, with lots of shows, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and major works sold to corporate collections. But the recession of the early 1980’s hit, funds for the arts dropped off, she took a job as a yarn company rep, and then at a TNNA show, she had “a V8 moment.” She began dyeing her own yarns, and eventually her company, Prism Yarn, was born. Twenty-six years later, Prism is going strong and Laura still hand-dyes all the yarns herself.

 

Laura’s weaving and her yarns are vibrant. She combines an artist’s sensibility with a scientist’s understanding of color. She’s up on the research: “They used to say the human eye could see three million colors, but more recent research puts it closer to ten million.” But she’ll also show a small swatch of color on a field of another and speak of it as “a child in its parent’s lap” and of how the colors react as parent and child. She sees colors as energy, relating to one another, moving this way and that, each with its own character and meaning.

 

Laura has taught color classes for years, sharing her vision of living color. And while she’s authored several knitting books, she felt that her dynamic experience of color couldn’t be expressed in print. But when Marilyn Murphy approached her to do a video on color and fiber (which morphed into two videos, one for fiber artists and one for knitters), she knew she’d found her medium. She says her biggest surprise was how well the finished products live up to her hopes. And what lesson would she most like fiber artists to take away? “That color is more a matter of looking than a formulaic approach. It’s helpful to know some of the things I explain, but you don’t have to know anything. You just have to use your eyes to observe.”

 

  Complex doubleweave "Beyond the Blue" Laura Militzer Bryant
  Beyond the Blue: Laura says her works
portray an inner landscape and a sanctuary.
 

In the end, I couldn’t resist asking her, what color was that first knitting project she did while in her mother’s Brownie troop. She laughs: “It was a white turtleneck, and being a normal eight-year-old, by the time I finished knitting it, it was gray.”  So there you go: a lifetime of color born out of childhood gray. Mortal beauty, indeed.

 

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