When Candace Hill Montgomery touches her fingers to the threads — carefully, energetically, sporadically or messily woven through her handmade loom — her mind slows down.
But it does not quiet.
She has countless hours of weaving ahead — her most recent collection, “Hills & Valleys,” on view starting Friday, May 24, at the Sag Harbor Whaling & Historical Museum — each influenced by her wandering thoughts.
As she works, she considers racism, feminism and poverty, scenes of migrant children and refugees detained and stranded. She murmurs Shakespeare and scripture, ruminates on politics, hums opera and recalls fables.
They weave themselves into each of her pieces, joined by complex layers of life experience and fabricated stories, inviting her audience to dive into every fiber of every hanging, woven canvas — just as she does herself.
“I never know what the outcome of the piece is going to be until it’s done,” Montgomery said during a telephone interview from her home in Bridgehampton. “I start blind. I start weaving from the bottom up and then, all of a sudden, I’m like, ‘Oh, now I see where this is going.’ Because, really, my first concern is the set of colors. I’m still dealing like a painter.”
Montgomery’s love of art, and color, blossomed in Sag Harbor, where she summered from the age of 10. Her days were filled with beaches and oceans, and riding her bicycle through the village.
“There was a little shop in Sag Harbor in the back of somebody’s house and they sold paints. I would spend so much time in there,” she recalled. “I knew I wanted to be a painter when I saw that shack filled with the colors. I was fascinated. I don’t even know the name of the place or where it was now, because we just rode our bikes and I just found it one day.”
On rainy afternoons, she would set up her easel and paint on the front porch of her house, looking out to the 1950s East End landscape. Her art lessons continued at home in New York, coupled with endless encouragement from her parents. “I could not be the artist I am without my mother,” Montgomery said. “She directed my life from young to be a visual artist.”
Trained as a classical painter, the artist took what she knew about abstraction and realism on canvas and applied it to weaving in space — a shift she does not consider a “big change,” she said.
“There has always been the two things blending together in my canvases, and with the weaves, it’s the same thing,” she said. “Sometimes they’re completely abstract, but there’s always a three-dimensional element going on. There’s lots of ways of looking at a weave, but you have to give them more of an eye than a painting. People look at paintings and it’s a fast read. Weaving, it slows down the viewer to actually see, ‘Oh, there’s something else going on there. This is not a one-read thing.’ And then I add the sculptural elements to make it even more of a priority.”
From wire and ropes to chains and feathers, the weavings are borderline sculpture, each creating a tension between soft and hard — in art, as in life, she said — deviating from and simultaneously challenging traditional loomwork.
“The thread takes me somewhere that is an unknown and then, by the end, I don’t even know how I got to the whole idea of what’s presented,” she said. “I couldn’t have thought of it, and that’s what I’ve learned through weaving. You can make a known pattern, once you learn enough styles of weaving techniques, but I don’t really focus on that.
“I learned a few of those intricate weaving techniques, but now I have some of my own that I made up,” she continued. “But really, if you think too much about that part of it, you’re never gonna get to that piece about the migrant kids. You can’t get to it from thinking about, ‘What kind of stitch am I doing here?’”
“Art, to get to a truth, sometimes it gets a little messy, where you’re not sure exactly what’s gonna happen next, and I love that feeling,” she said. “It means I’m onto something.”
“Candace Hill Montgomery: Hills & Valleys” will open with a reception on Saturday, May 18, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Sag Harbor Whaling & Historical Museum, located at 200 Main Street in Sag Harbor, as part of the 2019 Parrish Road Show off-site exhibition series. The show will remain on view through November 3. For more information, visit parrishart.org.