Arts Craft Arts

Feature Artist: Rachel Meginnes

Frolic. Rachel Meginnes, artist

By Gina Malone

When she discovered handweaving in high school, Rachel Meginnes found it “the perfect mix of logic and creativity.” Captivated by the art and with her parents’ unwavering support, she studied weaving at Earlham College in IN, then earned her MFA at the University of Washington in Seattle. In between degrees, she studied rug weaving as an apprentice in Maine and traditional ikat weaving and indigo dyeing in Japan. “Upon graduation, with my MFA, I cofounded a rug company producing Tibetan rugs out of Nepal and India,” she says. By 2010, she began shifting away from the rug business to focus, once again, on her own artwork.

Like Dew in the Sun. Rachel Meginnes, artist

“In 2012, I received a three-year artist residency at Penland School of Craft, where I explored textiles and painting and the deconstruction of old quilts,” she says. Afterwards, she began working on the loom, incorporating traditional techniques as she continued to explore old quilts and textiles. “In 2020, I was fortunate to be able to purchase a hand-me-down digital loom from one of my weaving mentors, and I have been weaving on it ever since,” she says, adding that pandemic travel restrictions put her at the top of the list for the purchase and helped her to experience a creative rebirth. “I had time to slow down, create space. I found great solace in the studio.”

She begins a piece by gathering images of the idea she has and the materials to bring it to fruition. “This stage takes time,” she says, “collecting and deconstructing them from their original source. I’m interested in seeing how ideas and materials can be transformed and I’m always playing with possibility. I weave many pieces around the same theme or idea. Some are complete when they come off the loom and some are stops and starts and fragments that I later collage together once I’ve had more time to spend with them. With time comes an appreciation for these pieces and a welcome shift in my perception.”

Her work, Mother’s Keeper, is an early deconstructed quilt piece. “I made it from a quilt my mom sent to me that she’d held onto for years,” Meginnes says. “Before she sent it to me, she asked if she could cut out some pieces to make pillows. This is a common practice that’s done with old quilts, where the crafter cuts out the ‘good parts’ to make teddy bears and stockings. When I received the quilt, its shape was notched out from where my mom had cut it, and I chose to keep this shape in the finished work.” When she took the quilt top off of the piece, she found the thinnest batting she had ever seen. Like a web, “it required a very careful touch and then hand-stitching to hold it together,” she says. “I ended up gold-leafing the entire surface of the work as a means for honoring this fragile material, my mom’s keeping of the quilt over the years and the delicate nature of our relationship.”

Rachel-Meginnes. Photo by Mercedes Jelinek

Meginnes is one of 10 artists, all Penland School-affiliated, whose work makes up the exhibition THE WEIGHT OF WONDER: Materiality and the Poetics of Craft running through August 31 at Penland Gallery. Kathryn Gremley, the gallery’s curator, says that Meginnes’ skill and experimentation with her materials speak to the theme of the exhibition. “Fragments of printed and time-worn cloth, internal batting from deconstructed quilts and the structural threads from the loom are an unpretentious initial introduction to a much deeper complexity in her work,” Gremley says. “On a technical level, Rachel is creating woven systems that allow for disparate structures to coexist, generating a new visual language.”

Amulet. Rachel Meginnes, artist

Meginnes knows that she is done working on a piece when she feels intrigue alongside a sense of wholeness. “It’s important for me that there be a sense of rawness left in the work,” she says. “I want the work to feel alive, like a movie that’s kept you wondering how it ended.”

Rachel Meginnes’ studio, at Treats Studios, in Spruce Pine, is open by appointment. Find her work at Tracey Morgan Gallery, in Asheville, and at Penland Gallery at Penland School of Craft, where THE WEIGHT OF WONDER: Materiality and the Poetics of Craft is on display now through August 31. Beginning September 30 and running through October 23, Tennessee Tech University, Cookeville, TN, will host a solo show of Meginnes’ work. Learn more at and on Instagram @rachelmeginnes.

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