BREAKING THROUGH THE LAYERS
Art cloth made during a class with Jane Dunnewold, a well-known and highly revered fiber artist.
“The experience of the class and what resulted was cathartic and life-changing for me. I had been considering giving up being an artist altogether, and this experience gave me new direction and a renewed resolve to follow my passion.” — Leslie Tassi
“Don’t be afraid that your life will end – Be afraid that it will never begin.”
If you have a conversation with Leslie Tassi about being an artist, you have the opportunity to experience the transformation that is shaping her life. She starts off nervously, jumping rapidly from topic to topic and expressing great doubt and uncertainty. It is like watching an anxious little bird nervously flitting about, fear keeping her from really landing anywhere. But if you keep talking with her, that cloak of hesitation quickly falls away and you witness her certainty and passion rising up as an inner pillar of strength. Her nervous laughter changes into pure excitement as her creative ideas start to pour out. Her hands caress a piece of cherished fabric and she begins to bubble with enthusiasm as she shares with you her newest vision. No longer do you hear hints of insecurity in her voice and can only smile as her creative energy fills the room with inspiration. A new confidence soars through her and you realize an incredible metamorphosis is well under way, despite her earlier claims of being blocked and uncertain. This is a woman who is finding herself through her artwork.
Leslie is a fiber artist. Painting with fabric, her palette is a rainbow of patterns and textures, her brush strokes are beautiful designs of string and thread. Leslie’s art quilts are full of emotion and color, telling expressive stories within the pieces of fabric that are carefully dyed, painted, cut and sewn together. Coming from a family of writers, she had always thought she too would write for a living and never expected that her life would morph into art and fiber. Still her passion for the written word often shows up in her art quilts, allowing her to express herself in multiple dimensions. She loves to incorporate words and phrases within the stitching as a part of her artistic communication.
Leslie’s happiest memories of childhood are of her mother teaching her to work with fabric. The smell of new fabric still brings her back to the world of colors, patterns and textures that her mother shared with her. Sewing became an important part of her life growing up and continued into her adulthood. This world went underground for Leslie during the time of great joy and profound tragedy while raising her own family. But it has now resurfaced to guide her through the next phase of her life.
Leslie’s journey through fabric tells the story of her journey through life. For years she was creating traditional quilts but had started to feel stagnant and was on the verge of giving up quilting entirely. But then in 2001, she visited the Cahoon Museum of American Art in Cotuit, MA and experienced an exhibit entitled Tell Me a Story. This changed her entire view of quilting and fiber arts. “They were all art quilts and there were no rules!” She realized that while she spent most of her time trying to make her corners and seams perfect, she secretly desired another direction. “The journal quilts by Susan Shie struck such a chord with me that I said I don’t think I’m going to quit after all.” Creating art quilts was an enormously freeing experience for Leslie. She finally gave herself the permission to color outside the lines in both the literal and figurative sense. Now she finds that there are so many directions in fiber arts that sometimes her head is spinning with inspiration. “There’s so much! I want find out what I really love…I mean I love it all and I just want to play!”
At one time a great source of angst for Leslie, her studio has now become her sanctuary. With her canine friend and art buddy, Charley, Leslie enters her world of creative energy every morning to write in her journal, draw in her sketch book or just fiddle around with ideas. A shrine to creativity overlooks the room and inspirational quotes and affirmations are sprinkled over the bright yellow walls. “This is my playroom. I have little treasures everywhere. I come in here and feel so happy. And I think, hey, if that’s what life is about, so be it. I just love being surrounded by fabric. It’s my nirvana.” As the day progresses, she begins to play, not with the goal of creating a finished product but instead with the eagerness of a child on an adventure.
Leslie is always scanning her environment for what she calls “prompts.” These seeds of inspiration could be planted by a snippet of conversation at a dinner party or by the sight of sand ripples at low tide. Her journal holds within it reams of post-it notes and scraps of paper scribbled or sketched on during one of these light bulb moments. These prompts may develop into a finished piece, or may never come to pass. Either way, they are something that jumped out at her, begging exploration. “Part of what I love is that I don’t know how an idea is going to turn out. It starts talking to me and tells me where it wants to go,” she explains. She loves to add an element of humor to her art as she works on taking herself and her craft with a bit more lightheartedness. “I like to feel happy, and if a prompt makes me chuckle, then that’s what I want to go with. I hope when other people see it that they’ll giggle too.”
Leslie’s motive for sharing her story is the hope that someone else can identify with her journey. “I hope someone will hear about me and be able to say, ‘Oh, I don’t have to have it all together. I don’t have to feel like I’ve arrived.’ She smiles lovingly at her bright wall of fabric pieces and says, “At age 60, I’m just beginning to enjoy the journey. I’m just starting to mellow into it. It’s kind of like clearing out the clutter so that good things can come in.”
No longer hindered by fear, doubt or rules, Leslie allows herself to follow all kinds of inspiration, expanding her spirit at a fantastic rate. “I’m discovering who I am by using what I love to do, my art.” Her sparkling laughter is the outward expression of soul-deep delight in the transformation of a woman with a dream and a passion.
Leslie’s work can be viewed in the Community Gallery online at www.healingthroughart.com. To contact Leslie write to: leslie @healingthroughart.com
Writing and Photography by Amy Kinney, Spring 2008
Author and Photographer, Amy Kinney is an artist, writer and mental health advocate. Creative expression allows her to engage the community in conversations that are not whispered in secrecy, using expressive arts to encourage and promote emotional healing in broken spirits. Learn more about how Amy shares the “art” in “healing arts” at her website www.healingthroughart.com or email her at email@example.com
In Leslie’s words…
EBB TIDE. Having fun with the computer. Put together summertime on the flats of Cape Cod Bay, a camera, Photoshop and some hand-dyed fabric and you get a very, very close-up interpretation of the swirls of sand at low tide.
MOLLY QUILT. The tragic death of our golden retriever Molly in 2002 was the catalyst that catapulted me into the world of art quilts. Done completely by hand, this
quilt incorporated hand-dyed fabric, embroidery, mega-embellishments with beads and buttons, photo transfers, and a child-like technique of lashing the blocks together with embroidery thread that was both freeing to me and comforting during a time of huge grief in our family.
YOU MUSTA BEEN A BEAUTIFUL BABY. Done during my “quilt-a-week” phase, which lasted all of two weeks. This was to be a series of memoir pieces depicting the most memorable stages of my youth. Fabric cut free-form; hand-written text; embellished; use of recycled objects (note Tinker Toys used for hanging rod); photo
OLD TAPES. I found that using the literal interpretation of a phrase sparked an image in my head; thus, the merging of art and therapy in this piece. At the time, messages from my childhood were getting in my creative way. Incorporated in the piece are all the processes I am leaning toward on my ever-changing path: hand-dyed fabric, free-form shape, lots of handwritten text, literal interpretation of an oft-used phrase, use of recycled object (an old cassette tape).
AMISH QUILT. I became passionate about Amish quilts only after I had moved to Cape Cod in my thirties. Ironically, I spent my entire youth in Lancaster , PA—the heart of Amish quilt country—and don’t remember being aware of their existence! This quilt is entirely hand-quilted. Done in my “traditional quilts” phase.
TOEING THE LINE. A fascination with the possibilities of playing with images on the computer led me to this piece. I was discovering that use of a verbal “prompt” can lead me to quirky places. I took the literal image of toeing the line, placed my toes on the scanner, copied the image several times, twisted and turned it, and voilà!