Perfectly bound: Amanda Wagstaff sews up the past at The Haven

Amanda Wagstaff’s “Complete Thought” is a partially autobiographical resolution of her own loose ends and exploration through craft. Photo courtesy of the artist Amanda Wagstaff’s “Complete Thought” is a partially autobiographical resolution of her own loose ends and exploration through craft. Photo courtesy of the artist

used to go to my mom’s office, which smelled like wool and fabric, and the copy machine, like hot ink and hot toner,” said Amanda Wagstaff.  “She would give me grid paper, the kind designers would use to mark out different patterns, to draw on and play on to keep me occupied. I can’t get away from the grid now.”

A Virginia native and New City Arts Initiative’s current artist-in-residence, Wagstaff found that her memories of life as the daughter of a textile designer and a carpenter came back as she worked on her latest project “Complete Thought,” which will be on display this week at The Haven.

The work is a 14′ “quilt” made of 90 pieces of loose-leaf paper sewn together by hand with dozens of white, pink and blue threads that echo the colors of the paper itself. In it, Wagstaff sees her childhood—and the declaration of her own unique voice.

“I took a poetry class over the summer at WriterHouse, so I was making drawings and visual poems out of loose-leaf paper,” she said. “At some point, I had one of those revelations where you’ve been looking at something for so long you see it in an entirely new way. I realized the paper was a loom.”

Wagstaff gave herself a few loose rules, including following all the pink lines, top and bottom blue lines, and filling each hole with a crystal bead. But her lines also curve and wander, since the pieces of paper don’t always line up properly and the five-month “meditative process” naturally included human error.

In its exhibition, the quilt will be draped along a 10′-long table (a collaborative design between the artist and a family friend), with each end touching a chair. “It’s not just the quilt and connecting all these pieces of paper, it’s also the chairs and the table. It’s the idea of a conversation, completing a thought.”

The work is semi-autobiographical, the latest of many subtle connective breakthroughs for Wagstaff. During her years as an undergrad at The College of William & Mary, she became an art major only when she realized she’d maxed out her course credits. She believed she couldn’t make a career of art for several years after graduation, a perception that changed after she spent a summer working in a private studio in Ireland. When she decided to get her MFA in fine art at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, she was still a painter.

“I was really struggling with painting, but I felt like that was all I knew how to do,” Wagstaff said. “A lot of professors tried to help me overcome those self-imposed limits. Eventually I abandoned painting and focused on the core of my work being drawing, the extended possibilities of what drawing could be. I have a natural urge to hold things in my hands, so I started working with the materials and the process.”

Grad school, she said, was the final step in breaking apart the internal dialogue that dictated what she could and could not do, but it didn’t hand her a road map of next steps.

“Any doubts that I had about what I wanted to do I have no more,” she said. “In grad school, you don’t really come to any conclusions. You get torn apart, you get advice, you hear conflicting things, and you become more sure of yourself. The work that I’m making now I think is the work that I’m meant to make.”

Amanda Wagstaff’s “Complete Thought” will be on view in a pop-up exhibit on March 11 from 5-7 p.m. at The Haven Sanctuary.

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