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Mixed-media designs and tapestries at Playhouse Art Space

by Brooks Robards, The MV Times

Seven years ago, Nancy Shaw Cramer closed the popular Vineyard Haven gallery she had owned and directed for 20 years. Then she headed into a new art form. It’s not so new for this talented design artist, whose work is on display in the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse’s Marilyn Meyerhoff Gallery through Saturday, Sept. 25. She has created mixed-media surface designs and tapestries.

After studying interior and space design at Michigan State, she spent some time working for them in interior design, then began doing tapestries. On the wall at the playhouse is a long tapestry that dates from an earlier period. Before she opened her gallery, she made and sold 100 tapestries. She grew up sewing, so that field came naturally to her. Moving around a lot, she says, she could do tapestry anywhere. “It was my first career,” she said. Her tapestries have been exhibited at the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., New York’s American Craft Museum, New Jersey’s Newark Museum, and the Philadelphia and Baltimore craft shows, as well as at galleries and other venues.

Once she moved to the Island and opened her gallery, she didn’t have time to create tapestries, but she did display designer pillows and one-of-a-kind wrap coats. Then, after 20 years of running a business, she decided to do less structured work. She also began a number of new pursuits, including Peter Luce’s play-reading group. “I was exploring new experiences. I met new people and had a lot of fun,” she said. She also learned to play the recorder, getting together with other recorder players. They’d have a lot of laughs. “It’s always a challenge to be a beginner,” Cramer said. All of her activities stayed in the arts, however. She was looking for something different there. That led her to experimenting with collage, punched holes, asymmetrical lines and embellishments. She suddenly knew what she wanted to do. She cut her paper and splashed it with color.

On exhibit at the Playhouse are beaded surface designs, a new style of tapestry, and a new pieced silk series. For them, her printmaking paper is embossed, splashed, sprayed, or rolled with dyes or luminous paints. Glass beads are then hand-sewn onto the paper individually or threaded on cable wires and glued on in grids. The finished images are layered on a screen, floated or mounted on painted box panels.

These abstract works quietly glitter. “Part of the fun is having nothing wasted,” she said. “I like puzzles a lot.” She added that marketing the work is the hardest part.

In “Sprawl 3” the artist combined glass, paint, and sparkling beads, putting the beads down in a different style. For “Silk 1-6” she took scraps from her pillows to make wall hangings. In “Snap 5,” Cramer took a series of small pieces of embossed paper, adding beaded wires attached and hand-sewn.

“I don’t lean toward paint and paper, but I can mix colors,” she says. What she really likes is to prepare by cutting up the papers. It has inspired new works hand-painted on paper. These subtle and unique pieces are on view at the Playhouse.

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