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A Tucson Artist Turns Found Objects in Her Neighborhood into Woven Sculptures

A Tucson artist plumbs her own neighborhood for the elements that go into her vivid, tactile woven sculptures.

They say one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Tamara Scott-Anderson would likely agree. In fact, almost anyone’s refuse can turn out to be treasure for the textile artist.  

On any given day, as she strolls along the river not far from her downtown Tucson home, she’ll come across old garments that have somehow found their way onto the path. On a walk along the railroad tracks she might spy a child’s lost toy, a handful of metal bolts or a length of rubber-coated wire. “There is so much discarded material,” she says. “I started collecting it—of course I clean it—and using it in my art.”

These bits of detritus become things of beauty when Scott-Anderson gets them home, polishes them up and incorporates them in her unique 3D sculptures. “Beach Bum,” for instance, looks at first like playful technicolor sculpture of a torso crafted of fabric on a mesh form. Look closer, though, and you’ll spot all sorts of unexpected elements: a series of pull tabs from soda cans; a jaunty, sunglasses-wearing rubber cat; and a plastic rocket bathtub toy.

Beads and embroidery stitches give “Prickly Pear Patch” its spiny texture. Tamara Scott-Anderson says her use of small repeated shapes is influenced by the art of Gustav Klimt. 24"H by 24"W by 3"D.

James Schaub, curator of exhibitions at Tucson’s Tohono Chul Galleries, says that sense of the unexpected is a big part of the appeal. “Not only do I gravitate to how Tamara’s work looks and feels, but I find myself saying, ‘What’s going on here?’ and trying to figure out how she’s doing it,” he says. “Her work possesses a free-form quality, but it’s also very structured. It’s pretty amazing.” 

Scott-Anderson has always been drawn to textiles, but making the fine art pieces she creates today wasn’t always how she spent her days. The southern California native graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in art education in the mid-1970s, then spent a decade or so teaching at elementary schools in the Tucson area.

The artist in her home studio
Scott-Anderson has been fascinated by headless torsos since she studied art history in college. “Beach Bum,” created with salvaged materials, has several unexpected details, like a bespectacled rubber cat and a plastic bath toy. 21"H by 17"W by 4"D.

Unfortunately, in the 1980s public schools started  moving into a “back to basics” mode, she explains, and it became increasingly difficult to find a position as an art teacher. Her interest in fabrics and colors seemed to lead naturally to a new career in interior design. She worked for several design firms in the Tucson area before buying a furniture store about 20 years ago and turning it into an interior design center. 

It was a fulfilling career, but except for the occasional commissioned piece for a client, she says, “I put my art on a shelf while I owned a business.”

Above and below right,“Shimmering Desert,” shown here in detail, was inspired by the iridescence of a hummingbird when it catches the light. 15"H by 15"W by 2"D.

Retirement let her focus on her art, and once she did, the floodgates opened. “My first pieces just poured out of me,” she says.

Each work begins with hardware cloth, a metal mesh something like chicken wire. She cuts it into the shape she wants—often a simple square or rectangle, but sometimes something more organic for one of her torsos or ethnic mask-inspired works. Negative spaces here and there are created by cutting, then using needle-nose pliers to bend the wire back. It’s not easy, she admits, but with practice she’s gotten pretty good at it. “I don’t hurt myself so much now,” she says with a laugh.

Scott-Anderson paints the mesh and, once it’s dry, weaves strips of fabric through it. Besides her scavenged material, she pulls from a stash amassed during her years as a designer. She also takes plain cloth and hand dyes it or uses found items with interesting shapes to make block-printed fabric.

Florals are a favorite subject, and many of Scott-Anderson’s works celebrate the flora of Arizona in vivid color and texture. “Purple Prickly” was inspired by the Santa Rita prickly pear so common to the Southwest. She rendered the plant’s purples with hand-dyed fabrics, then hand-painted the background greens. Finally, she used embroidery thread, rickrack and beads, some made of glass, others of dried seaweed, as embellishments for extra sparkle and texture. 

Lately she’s been turning her artistic attention to the abstract. “I’d like to do some big textural explorations of color and texture in a larger scale,” she says.
The ideas arise faster than she can keep up with them. “I have a rule: I can’t have more than three pieces in process at once. I would get too many things started and never finished,” she confesses. “But I can have as much as I want in my head.” 

“Potted Garden” brings together fabric, thread, metallic yarn and a variety of beads to form an abstract still life that references succulent plants, a favorite subject of the artist. 15"H by 15"W by 3"D.
Hand-dyed and hand-painted fabrics, dried seaweed beads and glass seeds give “Purple Prickly” its vivid color and rich texture. 34"H by 10"W by 2"D.

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