Judith Roderick takes silk and transforms it into the high desert

The expansive sky, the sudden storms and the looming New Mexico mountains tumble into landscapes across Judith Roderick’s silk canvas.

“That was a piece of white silk when I started,” the artist said, of a composition hanging in her Placitas home studio. “That’s often how I do things. I love that blank canvas.”

“Cloudburst” by Judith Roderick, 35 x 27 inches.

Roderick has been depicting her high desert surroundings in fiber since 1982, when she was one of the original owners of the Albuquerque yarn store Village Wools.

She followed a trajectory from oils, watercolors, acrylics and lithography before she discovered the vibrant palette of silk dyes.

“I always came back to fiber,” Roderick said. “I started sewing as a child. I learned so I could make my own clothes so I didn’t have to wear what (my mother) made.”

Art quilter Judith Roderick in her Placitas home with a self-portrait. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Roderick grew up in Pittsburgh near Carnegie Mellon University, where she won a scholarship “so I didn’t have to be a secretary like my mother told me I would be.”

She married a plasma physicist and followed him to the University of Michigan, where she earned her degree in lithography.

“Water Cycle” by Judith Roderick, 68 x 22 inches.

Two children followed and Roderick moved to Alamogordo, which offered something like culture shock. Printmaking was unavailable, so she turned to batik, finding someone who raised bees for the beeswax used in the wax-resist technique. Next she bought a loom and began to weave.

“It’s the tactile quality of it,” she said of the magnetic pull to fiber. “In every culture, I’m fascinated by the fiber work.”

Judith Roderick hand paints ravens and the New Mexico sky onto a silk quilt.

She stitched her first quilt for her then-6-year-old daughter, teaching herself from a book. She was soon transitioning to wall hangings.

She began working with silk dye the moment it became available at Village Wools, eventually teaching it in the shop.

She began making silk painted clothing, which soon expanded into a second business, thanks to the wearable art trend.

“I was in galleries all over the country,” Roderick said. “I had four seamstresses working for me. I could paint a coat in a day. I could sew a coat in a day. I had a studio the size of a warehouse.”

Another turning point occurred when she spotted a Northwest Coast Native American coat with buttons at an art exhibition.

“It’s like, yes this is what I want to do,” she said, both arms upraised.

Judith Roderick stitches over hand-painted silk in her Placitas studio. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Roderick continued producing clothing for eight years, until the galleries began closing and she was frazzled.

“I thought, ‘I am making clothes that I and my friends cannot afford and it’s no fun anymore.’ ”

She sold Village Wools in 1992 and dropped out of the art world for a while. She began making her silk quilts in 2008.

“Driving Through Zuniland” by Judith Roderick, 14 x 29 inches

“This is my joy – silk,” Roderick said, petting a snow white rectangle. “It all starts as white silk that can be anything at all. I love being the creator.”

Painter/quilter Judith Roderick hangs colored glass from her trellis like a quilt in her Placitas home. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Her transparent hues flow like watercolor, shading and melting into natural forms – rocks, cliffs, trees and clouds. She sometimes adds buttons for texture and whimsy, quickly becoming the person receiving grandmother’s button tins from admiring women during the Placitas Art Tours.

Roderick was the featured artist at the 2015 Albuquerque Fiber Arts Fiesta.

A section of hand painted silk by Judith Roderick of her backyard birds.

Her output slowed during the pandemic because she was caring for her dying sister. The darkness of the time surfaced in the resulting pieces. She made a series of “One Race: Human” quilts inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and a tribute quilt to the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The Supreme Court justice wears an old doily around her neck, pearls orbit her face.

“It’s sort of the way I can deal with what’s going on in the world and feel a little better,” she explained.

“This is so deeply satisfying,” she continued. “The only thing you can really control in the world is what you create. It’s such a joy.”

Roderick’s work will hang in Placitas’ Wild Hearts Gallery from until Aug. 1.

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