The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Jean Matzke, "Silver Tongued Devil or A Way With Words," 1984. Coiling with wool, cotton, metal thread and raffia, linen fringe. Photo by Peter Lee, courtesy of the Saint Cloud Arts Commission Municipal Art Collection
When Lowertown artist Jean Matzke died in a fluke accident in 2009, her loss left many in the state’s arts community reeling. She was a fixture in the fine craft scene for decades, known for her beautifully crafted fiber art and as a lifelong champion of others’ work, particularly those working in rural Minnesota.
Her friend, filmmaker Deborah Wallwork, paid Matzke eloquent tribute shortly after her death:
Here was someone who held many threads in her hands; an individual who gladly took on many roles and made many connections in the circles of her community. Jean was, first of all, a bright smile you encountered at the Textile Center, WARM [Women’s Art Resources of Minnesota] meetings, the St. Paul Art Crawl. A can-do person, she was enthusiasm incarnate, someone who’d jump in to help out, who took up others’ ideas and ran with them. … A wonderful artist in her own right; she was also loved for being one who served. She ran a gallery in St. Cloud for many years, and she continued to be a resource for many artists and students from outstate who came to the Cities. After she moved to St. Paul, into Lowertown Lofts Artist Coop, in addition to showing her own work, during the Art Crawl, she organized a ‘theme wall,’ where she curated and hung a show of other members’ work.And now, nearly four years after her death, friends and colleagues have honored her work in a new book, “Fiber Matzke,” which features a generous collection of her hand-sewn, meticulously adorned masks, inspired by ritual and mythological traditions the world over. She made many of the pieces in the 1980s, while in graduate school, but continued to return to the form, here and again, in the 20-some years that followed.
Her friend, filmmaker and photographer Mike Hazard, calls the masks a “trip around the world,” rooted in Matzke’s eclectic interests in anthropology, global art and cultural traditions. In an essay about the new book, Hazard writes:
She made masks to see what others look like. They are her as well as hers. As Leonardo noted, all artists paint themselves, so Matzke’s masks embody the late artist’s stellar color, gentle humor and technical virtuosity. They celebrate her study of other cultures. … Educated eyes see traces of art from the Northwest Coast, Guatemala, Africa and New Ireland in her own masks. Still, none are copies.It’s clear as you peruse them, none of Matzke’s masks are intended to comment on or replicate the imagery and forms of any one tradition. Rather, these are plainly composite creations, artistic responses reflective of Matzke’s hungry intellect and penetrating curiosity about the world around her.
What a wonderful way to be remembered.
“Fiber Matzke,” is available online from publisher Carol Olig; the new book is also for sale at a number of independent bookstores and galleries around the state: SubText Books, the Grand Hand Gallery, Common Good Books and the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul; Stillwater Booksellers in Stillwater; Lake Country Bookstore in downtown White Bear Lake; the Hill Monastic Museum, bookstores and gift shops at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University; and Paramount Theatre and Visual Arts Center in St. Cloud.