Column: Macon fabric artist’s ‘Canopy Project’ anchors bicentennial art show opening

Gerard Ortiz

Macon fabric artist Wini McQueen’s mammoth “The Canopy Project” will be the centerpiece of Macon200’s Bicentennial Art Show opening with a reception at the Macon Mall from 5-7 p.m. Thursday.

Macon material artist Wini McQueen’s mammoth “The Cover Project” will be the centerpiece of Macon200’s Bicentennial Artwork Clearly show opening with a reception at the Macon Mall from 5-7 p.m. Thursday.

Exclusive to The Telegraph

Fabric artist Wini McQueen has been busy this week readying an exhibit of her extraordinary work for display as the centerpiece of Macon200’s Bicentennial Art Show at the Macon Mall.

The exhibit launches with an open-to-the-public reception from 5-7 p.m. on Thursday, March 16, and will run through the end of the year with works by a variety of rotating community artists alongside.

The exhibit will be open from noon until 5 p.m. on March 18-19, the weekend following the reception, with days and hours subject to change through the year.

However, McQueen said she intends for her gallery, located in a former commercial space on the mall’s second level, to be open most weekends.

The community artist space is on the first level.

But there’s more to McQueen’s offering than what’s in the gallery. For this show, she’s unfurling 25 40-foot long, radiantly colored and carefully patterned fabric banners from the mall’s skylight. Her show is a whole is called “The Canopy Project.”

“Oh, it’s thrilling to see the banners being loosed and hanging in such a space,” McQueen said as the pieces were being installed. “But oh, being in that lift myself and going up so high like that – well, that was a challenge. They assured me I was perfectly safe but it didn’t feel like it. But I’m back on the ground now, thankfully.

“It’s amazing to see because before now, I’ve only seen these pieces hanging horizontally from my clothesline. Seeing them vertically together like this is a whole new experience.”

True, McQueen and friend and fellow artist Marvin Holloway have been busy this week preparing for the exhibit, but truly, preparations go back weeks, months, even years to when McQueen was a girl and her father brought home bits of cotton and cloth scraps from the mill where he worked.

From them, McQueen fashioned a quilt of her own design. Through the years, she has stuck to fabrics as her medium of expression and gone beyond quilting to dying, painting, block printing and otherwise creating her own fabric masterpieces.

At some point, McQueen crossed the line from being a celebrated quilt maker to being a fine artist with work recognized internationally and shows throughout the U.S. — including at the Museum of Arts and Sciences — and in such faraway locales as Africa and Japan.

And her fascination with cotton has only grown as she studies and is inspired by the plant, even growing it in her yard for her own observation and use.

“Wini is a wonderful artist and a very deep thinker,” said Julie Wilkerson, executive director of the Macon Arts Alliance which is the physical sponsor of the exhibit. “She is one of the most globally well-known artist who is from and still lives Macon but many here don’t realize who she is or what she does. This show is a chance to see and be inspired by her work and to get to know about her.

“She has studied more about cotton and her materials than anyone realizes. She creates great beauty that is so inspiring because she creates her art from her life and her experience. Plus, her point of view is uplifting – there’s always beauty and hope involved.”

McQueen and Wilkerson both said as efforts progressed on “The Canopy Project,” the challenge was finding the right spot to show such a large work. Then all fell into place when the opportunity with Macon200 and Macon Mall came.

Considering the size and scope of the hanging work, you’d think it came from a grand studio-factory. Appreciation multiplies by realizing McQueen produced it in her home, her kitchen, her backyard. And standing at just 5 feet, 3 inches in her 80th year this year, the enormity of her work speaks only to her substantial vision and fierce talent.

And know this: the 25 gigantic panels are only the tip of the iceberg of McQueen’s current creations and past work ranging from her quilts to socks, handkerchiefs, scarves and other accessories.

“There are deterrents and challenges, you know,” McQueen said. “And I guess mostly it’s been the weather. I’ve had more than a share of my days running in from the rain after being out working on or hanging panels, hoping it would stop before everything melts. There’s video of me during a tremendous storm walking around my table just going, ‘Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no.’

“But that’s the reality of the experience and actually it’s been a delight – a challenge and a delight. I don’t remember a day that I thought was a failure or not worth it whether picking my own cotton, working with the fabric, patterning it or whatever. I’ve been lucky and healthy enough to do what I’ve done, travel where I’ve been and see what I’ve seen to create all these things.”

As McQueen continues to fine-tune the exhibit for opening – with the help of Holloway who will have his own work displayed, including a large piece made from fire hoses – much of it is being captured by Tabitha Walker and her crew at Big Hair Productions for a coming film. McQueen is confident all will be well by opening day, both in her gallery space where a variety of her work and accessories can be viewed and purchased, and in the open mall hanging space where the larger work will always be visible.

Officials say it’s best to access the exhibit by entering the second level on the food court end via the Mercer University Drive upper entrance.

Contact writer Michael W. Pannell at [email protected].

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