Shane Maxwell is a Jamaica Plain craftsman who oversees textile painting and dyeing for Boston Ballet and The Santa Fe Opera. He was recently named a Polly Thayer Starr Artist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and is hosting a textile-inspired workshop every Saturday through Jan. 12. The Gazette recently conducted a question-and-session through email with Maxwell about being a craftsman and his involvement with the museum. For more information, visit gardnermuseum.org. (The session has been edited.)
Q.: What inspired you to become a craftsman?
A.: My parents and grandparents all do some form of craft work, so I grew up absorbing a lot of sewing and woodworking. I took an interest in drawing and painting at a young age, and it’s never faded. Whether it’s practical or decorative, I’ve always gotten a sense of satisfaction from designing something and being able to make it. I can’t really imagine a week in which I don’t make or draw something, and I am thrilled to pursue my art and craft work professionally.
Q.: How would you describe your work?
A.: Textiles play diverse roles within the galleries of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. In some cases, Gardner herself deconstructed and framed individual garments, their importance heightened and their original function lost. The two robes I made are intended to capture the essence of a particular space in the Museum (Courtyard and Gothic Room), making the wearer one with his or her surroundings. The concept of removing fabric from the wall and putting it back in the context of the human form gives new life to the spaces the wearer inhabits.
Although the cut of each robe is nearly identical, varied uses of color and material convey different feelings in each piece: heavy versus light, dim versus bright—transitions you notice walking from one gallery to the next.
Q.: Who are some people who have influenced your work and why?
A.: I have always been drawn to art and costume in the realms of surrealism, fantasy, and science fiction, so that is generally the camp in which my work resides. There are artists, visual and musical, who have influenced my aesthetic over the years such as Wayne Barlowe, H.R.Giger, Guillermo Del Toro, and Ital Tek to name a few.
But ultimately, the friends, colleagues, and family I have direct contact with on a daily basis have true influence on my work. I’ve learned many practical skills from my parents and countless teachers, which allow me to make the work I do.
When I spend time with passionate people, whether they are artists or not, they can show me the world from a fresh perspective, or show me something new in myself. These exchanges are the most powerful and meaningful form of influence, and are reasons in themselves to continue making art.
Q.: Talk a little about how you became involved with the Gardner Museum and the workshop you are currently hosting.
A.: A few years ago, I was put in touch with the program coordinator at the Gardner by a fellow artist from MassArt. I was asked to design a workshop as a visiting artist for a “fashion forward” themed Third Thursday event. It was a really positive experience for me, and my fabric printing workshop went over really well. I’ve kept in touch with the museum since then, and was asked to participate in their three month Polly Thayer Starr Artist series in conjunction with their Common Threads exhibition. Over the past few months I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know the museum’s collection more intimately.
The works on view in the Common Threads exhibition focus on the theme of storytelling through textiles. I started by exploring the concept of emergence of pattern through repetition; the fact that if you repeat an action, a pattern will begin to form. This can be seen in the production of textile and fiber arts in the act of weaving, knitting, macramé, and more. The emergence of culture can be observed through the repetition of tradition and ritual. Therefore, the emergence of pattern through repetition is the common thread between textile arts, and the tradition and cultural significance of storytelling.
To convey this in a workshop designed to be fun and approachable, I decided to focus on a handful of simple techniques using yarn in which an action, such as knotting, weaving, or wrapping, is repeated. Participants can make tassels, pom poms, netted plant hangers, weavings, and combine them in any way if desired. My hope is to highlight the versatility and potential within one material, to facilitate creative thinking within the workshop, and hopefully beyond it. On the other hand, it’s just really fun to make pom poms!
Q.: Anything else you would like to add?
A.: The Gardner Museum does an amazing job upholding Mrs. Gardner’s wishes of maintaining her arrangement and vision for the museum, while keeping their collection and programs relevant and engaging. It’s been an honor and a pleasure working with their program coordinator, Brian Hone, and getting to know their wonderful staff as well. I extend my thanks to them for this wonderful experience.