Material Worlds

A Madison textile artist crafts maps from fabric

If you Happen to see a woman on an airplane busily sketching the landscape thousands of feet below, there’s a good chance it’s local artist Leah Evans getting a start on a new project.

That’s because these drawings—plus maps, aerial photographs and satellite imagery—inspire the maps she creates by dyeing, embroidering, appliquéing and quilting fabrics.

Evans’ maps feature beautiful colors and intricate patterns. She borrows imagery from her native Kansas and the Madison area, where she and her husband have lived since 2003, but few of her works are based on real locations.

“I like for them to be more ambiguous,” she says. “It’s more about the theme of a place being impacted.”

Amid rivers, fields and isthmuses, Evans shows evidence of humankind’s effects on the landscape, from strip mines to pivot irrigation to light pollution. She keeps her commentary on environmental impact subtle, allowing viewers to come to their own conclusions. Yet she trusts they get the message.

“I do want them to take away how landscapes are impacted,” she says, “to shift from ‘pretty map’ to ‘this is the reality.’”

This month, Evans and three other Wisconsin textile artists—Terese Agnew of La Crosse, Chris Niver of Milwaukee and Sarah Gagnon-Hunter of Madison—showcase explorations of the landscape in Stitched Ground: Four Artists Embroider the Land, running February 23 to April 11 at the James Watrous Gallery.

Katie Vaughn is associate editor at Madison Magazine. Read her A&E blog here.

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