Something Tangible

Something more
Before you toss out those old postcards, magazines, or fabric remnants, take a peek at what artist Crystal Cawley does with ordinary objects and become inspired to take something that’s commonplace and transform it into extraordinary art. 
In her work, Cawley blends components and ideas found in everyday objects. She works with paper, textiles, collected objects, and repurposed materials to create artworks exploring themes of identity, time, and loss. From using old greeting cards and puzzle pieces to discarded library books and worn household textiles, the Florida-based artist has used it all to create artworks that draw attention to otherwise overlooked concepts.
On her website she notes, “I start with something tangible, whether it’s a discarded library book, a decrepit piece of furniture, a worn tablecloth, a box of old greeting cards or puzzle pieces, or leftovers from other projects. I enjoy responding to what’s already there, something with its own visual history that becomes part of what I make — I love the challenge of merging disparate materials and ideas into something more. My work combines my interests in the form and history of clothing and the possibilities of paper and fabric sculpture, with traditional handiwork like embroidery, spinning, and letterpress printing.”
An example of repurposing paper is seen in her series “Love Letter Sweater” — “…is one part of a series of pieces constructed from collected materials. I had a group of letters that my partner, David, and I had written to each other when I lived in North Carolina and he lived in Maine. I had this idea to make some kind of woven garment out of them, so I shredded them and figured out how to assemble them into separate pieces for a sweater. Once I’d constructed the woven pieces, I glued them at the edges and assembled them in the round — just like you do with a stitched garment. It’s deliberately oversized because I didn’t want it to be wearable. I didn’t want people to be tempted to try it on. I wanted it to function as sculpture.”
Cawley adds, “I get inspiration from old ways of doing things like letterpress printing and hand embroidery — practices that take time and require a certain kind of use of your hands. There’s something to the idea of taking whatever the time it takes to do something, and I enjoy the process.”
Cawley’s art is on display at the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, VT. Visitors can view more than two dozen works by the artist, including her well-known works “House of Cards Party Dress” (2012), “Vague Idea Vestment for Elizabeth Hawes” (2013), “Yoke” (2015), “Love Letter Sweater” (2010), and “Thinking Cap” (2012) series. These displayed works embody the artist’s interests in the concepts, form, and history of clothing, as well, while showcasing the ways paper and fabric sculpture can be fashioned using traditional handiworks and techniques.
The exhibition will be on view until October 31, 2018, at Shelburne Museum. For more information, visit


Please signup or login to comment