WELLFLEET — I am an artist who “paints” with fiber. Inspired by my grandmother’s skilled needlework and embroidery and a lifelong desire to paint, I developed my own technique by combining the two crafts.
I’m from New Jersey, but my fiber paintings are rooted here on the Outer Cape. I started making them in my early 20s, during visits to our family home on Indian Neck in Wellfleet. In 2013, my husband, Kevin, and I moved into that same house. Retired since then, I now dedicate much more time to my craft.
In my pieces, I’m trying to capture the various textures and colors of the unique landscape of Cape Cod and the wildlife and plant life that it nurtures. But people looking at my work often don’t immediately recognize the materials I’m working with — the fibers are an unexpected medium. The art yarns used in my work are most often hand-dyed and hand-spun by local artisans or sometimes by artisans from around the world.
My process begins by first sketching an image on canvas board and then roughly painting it using the predominant colors of the fibers that I plan to use. Then I cut the various fibers and affix them to the canvas with glue, using a toothpick to push each length as close together as possible.
The use of glue presents one of the challenges of my technique. If I use too much, or a fiber is particularly porous, the glue can bleed through, creating dark blotches, which, unfortunately, manifest only after the glue has dried. When that happens, or if I decide to change a certain section, I dampen it with water to soften the glue, then remove the fibers with a knife or tweezers.
I spend a lot of time on the selection of fibers and deciding the pattern in which they should be laid out in order to achieve the variations of texture, color, and luster found in the real-life subject. Larger pictures (2 by 3 feet) take 100 to 150 hours to complete, and smaller pictures (16 by 20 inches) take 75 to 100 hours to complete. Smaller detailed works that require a significant amount of embroidery thread take much longer.
In recent years, inspired by the landscape paintings of David Hockney, I have expanded my subjects to include landscapes of New York’s Finger Lakes Region, where I went to school. I studied history and philosophy at Wells College.
I recently completed a commission depicting the iconic “Boat House” that once stood on Chequessett Neck near the Herring River dike in Wellfleet. The piece was commissioned by Cathy Currier, the daughter of Catherine and Burt Currier, who were the original owners of the place. Cathy provided me with an old photograph of the mid-century structure. The art yarns captured the multiple colors and textures of the brush and sandy slopes, as well as the movement of the beach grasses. While the house no longer exists, the piece is a sentimental reminder for her of the Cape as it was in the 1960s.
Carol Fitzsimons’s fiber paintings can be seen in galleries on the Cape and beyond and on her website, carolfitzimonsfiberart.com.