Textiles Are My Livelihood

Mary Zicafoose’s StoryOrange Dots Detail
I grew up in the 1950s in Niles, Michigan. I went to the neighborhood catholic grade school and it was there that I was first initiated into the rituals of color, symbols and cloth. My mentor, a catholic nun named Mother Padua, suggested I give up my recess time and spend it, instead, in church, dusting statues, cleaning holy water fountains, and laying out the liturgical vestments for daily mass. I routinely tore through my daily church chores so I could linger in front of the massive wooden armoire full of liturgical garments, arranged by color and ancient code, long, flowing, magnificent robes, covered with symbols and embroidery, gilded as if angels had made them. What was cloth this magical doing in my little church in my little town?

In retrospect, I am convinced that it was the hand of destiny that led me to take the purple 20120120_je_9877stole of penance out to the playground. I don’t think I REALLY intended to hear my classmates confessions, but when they saw me, with that familiar stole around my neck, setting on a little chair behind the lilac bush…they became overcome with remorse over their misdeeds and frankly told all. Suddenly I was something more, someone immensely not 11 years old. I was instantly linked to a lineage of power and holiness, an initiate into an ancient and exclusive club that boasted a membership list that included guys like the Pope…all this achieved just through the simple act of putting on the purple stole.

Mountain For the Buddha - Envy

Mountain for the Buddha: Envy – Weft faced ikat tapestry, diptych, 58″ W x 63″ L, wrapped, dyed & woven wool on linen warp, 2013

One week to the day, my best friend, Cindy Thornton, and I smuggled our roller skates into the church sacristy. Cindy reached into the enchanted wardrobe of clerical vestments and pulled out the garments for Advent and I grabbed the Latari Sunday pinks. Within moments we were bedecked and bedazzled, robed, cinched and tassled. The skates went on, and swinging heavy brass incense sensors like we were giddy aromatherapists, we headed down the center aisle.

Father Rose was standing at the end of the aisle waiting for us that day, over by the baptismal fountain we failed to clean. We literally skated into him. I received an immediate and irrevocable career demotion and was relieved permanently of my altar care duties. Cindy Thornton was grounded from playing with me for the rest of the school year and all hopes of sainthood or an early canonization were temporarily put on hold.

I am retelling this story because what I learned from my day job as altar care girl was very clear and quite prophetic:


From this platform of innocent experience I have built a career as a weaver, dyeing color into fiber and weaving symbols into cloth. __________________________________________________________________

About MaryMary-in-front-of-loom-at-home
For over twenty-five years I have been creating tapestries, rugs and prints that are based on my interpretation of archetypal symbols. I am one of a very tiny handful of artists in the world today whose work is built upon an ethnic surface design process called weft faced Ikat, a complex textile technique for contemporary image making.

Largely a self-taught weaver, I formally studied art at St Marys College, South Bend, IN, the University of Notre Dame and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, after my education turning to a fascination with ethnic textiles and symbology.

My work is included in 18 United States Embassy collections on four continents, and in museums, corporations, and personal and public collections globally. Internationally I have served on the board of GoodWeave USA. Nationally I work as Co-Director of the Americanred wall tapestry Tapestry Alliance and locally I am Board Chair of the Omaha Union for Contemporary Art and a 2008 former resident of the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts. My studio is located in the Co-Lab at Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture, 16th and Cuming, Omaha.

My most recent public art project is a massively scaled 8’(w) x 55’(l) tapestry installation, Red Tapestry Wall, in the Community Education Center, University of Nebraska-Omaha, dedicated in April 2014.

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3 thoughts on “Textiles Are My Livelihood

  1. Pingback: 100th Blog Posting for the Nebraska Cultural Endowment | What's Your Livelihood?

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