Exterior of Nancy Nicholas Hall in the evening, with lamps and windows glowing.
News & Events

Textile Tuesday: Chinese Lady

Embroidery and Weaving, 1986, United States of America, 11x10in.

By Mary Pasko, a third year student in Design Studies, studying Textiles and Fashion Design

If one takes a gander at the incredible, intricate, and colorful pieces in the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection, one might not notice a tiny yet marvelous piece: Chinese Lady created by Mary Bero in 1986. Although this piece, including its background, is only 11×10″, it abounds with countless embroidery and woven stitches of red, green, pink, yellow, brown, white, and blue threads of the highest quality.

As a textile and apparel designer, I found the use of Bero’s incorporation of weaving and embroidery into one piece quite inspiring in that I too would love to master the art of both. Embroidery has become an interest of mine since learning the skill in “Introduction to Textile Design”, a class here at UW-Madison taught by Marianne Fairbanks. Seeing the precise and varied embroidery stitches, such as the seed stitch, made me realize how significant its special touch on a piece can be, even the white stich in the corner of the eyes added subtle shine and texture to the piece.

If one looks closely at the Chinese Lady, one will see the layers upon layers of weave and the embroidery to top it off. This layering of the embroidery and weave adds immense depth to the piece and an almost 3-dimensional effect. Besides its awe-inspiring depth, Chinese Lady also encompasses abstractness in that the face is colorful, disproportionate, and geometric yet unrealistic. As an avid fan of Picasso’s works, I believe Mary Bero’s abstract style in Chinese Lady was inspired by Picasso in that the facial structure and color choice are quite similar to that of his works.
Although small, the Chinese Lady is full of immense artistic depth and expression. It is quite the learning experience too: it does not matter the size of the piece, even a small piece can hold a great amount of work. Its intricate detailing and miniscule size remind one to look closer and evaluate the beauty of fine detail, something that comes with true artistic patience and appreciation.

Discover more information about this piece in the SoHE Digital Collection.

This article is one in a yearlong series celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection.

HLATC 50th anniversary logoIn 2019, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Human Ecology launches a yearlong anniversary celebration of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection. Over the past half century, the collection has grown from an original 4,000-piece gift to more than 13,000 objects that have inspired and informed thousands of students, researchers, historians, and textile aficionados. The 50-year celebration begins on January 27, 2019, with the opening of new Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery, a space dedicated to year-round displays of the collections. Activities continue into 2019 with a calendar of public exhibitions, symposia, lectures, and public workshops.