Grace Wever's fiber collages display the confidence and depth of a longtime artist, not someone who took up the form only eight years ago after a successful career in science.
Wever, 72, earned a doctorate in biology at Temple University, and worked at institutions including the Baylor University Medical Center and Eastman Kodak. All those years peering through microscopes gave her an appreciation for the images she finds in fabrics, which she elevates — with the help of poetry and Bible verses — into shimmering works of art.
Locals may remember Wever's exhibit at Gallery Two-Ten just before it closed in April 2010. But now, her work is on display through May at Michael's on Main, a Cañon City restaurant complemented by an upstairs gallery.
To create her collages, Wever starts by establishing what she calls a "core temperature" for the piece, that is, deciding on the season and time of day to establish a mood. She then looks through her stash of fabric, mainly hand-dyed cotton found on the Internet.
"I'm too busy to go out to fabric stores," she says. "That would just slow me down."
Wever also uses silk, rayon and velvet, and is drawn to iridescents. She arranges cut fabric until the composition matches her vision, then backs each piece with fusible webbing, and heats it so it adheres to a hand-dyed fabric background.
When the work is nearly finished, Wever free-motion stitches on a sewing machine, guiding the fabric as the needle draws thread through the layers — "much like a watercolor artist will go back over the paint with a pen." She usually mounts the collage on a panel and frames it, then covers it with glass or acrylic. Often, she displays it with the written words, perhaps those of Dante or W.H. Auden, that she was thinking about while she worked.
"The inspiration of the verses comes out in images for me," she says.
Though many of her works are landscapes, the abstract ones are often the most emotional. "All That Glitters," for instance, is a riot of red, orange and yellow fabric flaring out from a subdued background. It becomes a sort of Rorschach test — it may depict figures dancing around a campfire, or something more sinister.
Images like these represent the realization of Wever's lifelong dream to be an artist. She and her husband, Albrecht, a retired physicist and engineer, often talk about how science can translate into art, where you draw upon similar discipline, curiosity, attention to detail and a willingness to experiment.
She tried sculpture with her son decades ago, but didn't like the toll it could take on the body. She's thought about drawing for a long time, but says with a laugh, "I still can't draw unless there's a gun to my head."
It was in making a small quilt from a kit that Wever found her artistic match. Now, she finishes 14 to 16 pieces per year in her Westcliffe home studio, largely secluded from outside influences. "I stay away from galleries and other people's work" she says. "I just want to listen to my own voice."
Although she took a roundabout route, it's been worth the wait.
"I've had nine lives," she says, "and I've enjoyed everything I've ever done."