A swath of silk suspended beneath Barbara Woods’ skylight captivated her into a career of illumination.
The former wearable art designer began transforming clay bases and fiber into sculptural lamps and sconces.
Woods is the featured artist for the 54th New Mexico Arts & Crafts Fair, opening with more than 200 artists in the Manuel Lujan Building at EXPO New Mexico next weekend.
The annual show lures more than 15,000 buyers, generating more than $500,000 in sales. Visitors can see clay, fiber, glass, jewelry, mixed media, painting, metal, photography, prints, sculpture, wood and more.
Born and raised in Roswell, Woods began by sewing her own clothing. Stitching – be it clothing or quilts – was the family substitute for TV and video games.
“That’s how we entertained ourselves,” she said in a telephone interview from her Santa Fe home. “I’ve always worked with my hands.”
As a young mother, she made “painted twirly skirts” and other children’s clothing.
Later she attended workshops and shadowed fiber artists to learn her craft, making everything from ski parkas to large tents across a 30-year career.
Soon she was a fiber artist designing and creating women’s fashions, owning her own Santa Fe gallery from 1991-96. She sewed four-piece ensembles, often for mothers-of-the-bride or groom.
But color-loving Woods grew frustrated with the dictates of fashion when the New York houses declared black, grey and taupe to be the hot palette of the mid-’90s.
“I think that was a perfect excuse to say, ‘I’m not creatively challenged anymore,'” she said.
After that skylight epiphany, she examined the lampshades in her own home and began drawing, creating her first painted silk lampshades in 1998.
When someone at an art fair referred to her as “the shade lady” she expanded her skills to include hand-thrown pottery bases because she didn’t want people to think she only made shades.
Some of Woods’ lamps resemble a winged chrysalis or a butterfly emerging into flight, others twine with leaves, morning glories and peacock feathers.
More abstract designs sweep and curve into organic forms.
She sometimes collaborates with her husband, H. Tom Thomas, who creates turned wooden bases. Her more pictorial pieces feature turtles, fish and the moon over water. Her style is at once contemporary and otherworldly.
Woods uses permanent dye as paint on silk with backing to keep it stable.
“It’s very shiny,” she said. “I think it’s got depth.”
She tosses the results into the washing machine to set the design. The process removes some colors, while others grows stronger.
Browsers and buyers will see about 30 of her lamps at the fair.
Woods says she’d like to move into two-dimensional work and frame her silk canvases as paintings.
Today her lamps can be found at Santa Fe’s Longworth Gallery and in the Romero Street Gallery in Albuquerque’s Old Town.