On a recent trip to Memphis, I had time to catch up with tapestry artist Jennifer Sargent. I had the pleasure of taking a workshop with Jennifer in 2022. I find her work very inspiring, especially her control over small and complex areas of open warps.
Currently, Jennifer is nearing the end of a three-month long residency at Crosstown Arts in Memphis. The space she has been given is large, bright and inviting. She has two very large tables to spread out on (something I consider quite luxurious as I toil in my cramped quarters), and she has taken advantage of every inch. Even though this residency takes place just a few miles from her home studio, it provides the separation that fuels exploration.
At the Crosstown Arts studio, she is drawing, painting, and working with a large format laser cutter that is available in their Makerspace. Her focus is on experimentation and free play and not on weaving or even tapestry design. She is simply interested in seeing what happens without any preconceived notion of how her experiments will translate into future tapestries.
The laser cutter enables Jennifer to transform her gouache paintings with filigree-like paper “lace” which she layers to form interesting edges and windows. Using the laser with stiff velum allows for stencil making as well.
The technical considerations of the various papers and how they work, or don’t work, in the cutter has been a steep learning curve. Fine papers risk burning up under the heat of the laser. Thick drawing paper only works if the sheets are perfectly flat. This makes it hard to use large format paper because so often it is sold in rolls. Handmade papers with variable fibers on the surface are also a problem. I sensed some disappointment with these limitations, but she is clearly having a great time using this new tool.
It is not hard to see how Jennifer’s experiments with the laser cutter will translate into woven work someday. Her laser altered drawings are a clear fit with her style and the way she already thinks about imagery as layers. Her interest in intertwining serpentine lines and irregular edges is already a hallmark her weavings. One can easily imagine how these laser cut drawings could inspire even more complex and innovative weavings in the future.