Bettina Matzkuhn: expressive textiles

Bettina Matzkuhn: expressive textiles

The Craft Council of BC is joining the #5WomenArtists movement, started by the National Museum of Women in the Arts, once more in March. This campaign calls attention to the fact that women have not been treated equally in the art world, and today they remain dramatically underrepresented and undervalued in museums, galleries, and auction houses.

We are featuring some of the talented women in craft – follow us on Instagram where these artists will be taking over to share a glimpse of their practice, and everyday activities. Can you name 5 women artists?

Bettina Matzkuhn works in the textile medium and lives in Vancouver. In the 1980s, her NFB animated films –using textiles– garnered awards and an interest in narrative continues to inform her work.  She holds a BFA in Visual Arts and an MA in Liberal Studies from Simon Fraser University and is the recipient of Canada Council and B.C. Arts Council Grants. Stories about ecology, history, and geography appear in her embroidered sculptural sails, maps of many kinds, and experimental pieces. Matzkuhn has collaborated with people from disciplines such as meteorology and marine biology. Using machine and hand embroidery, paint, and collage, she values the familiar and versatile language of textiles. 

Matzkuhn has exhibited in solo exhibitions across Canada and her work has been included in shows in Korea and the U.S.A. Public collections include the Surrey Art Gallery, Cambridge Art Galleries and the University of Western Ontario’s Weldon Map Library, as well as in private collections. She writes professionally on the arts, lectures, teaches and volunteers.

“Working with textiles is like a language I’ve learned over decades.”

I learned embroidery as a child and use it to discuss everything: illness, separation, war, childhood, nature, etc. Working with textiles is like a language I’ve learned over decades. I cherish its range of textures, opulence and associations. I’m a slow thinker, often taking years to hatch an idea, so hand sewing’s sedimentary pace is perfect. By synthesizing reading and research into my work, I try to broaden my understanding.

I went to college in the 1970s because I couldn’t afford university. Two decades later, with children and a day job, I began to burrow through a degree in visual arts. I wanted to know how my work fit into the visual arts –something I still don’t get. I also wanted to become a better writer as I realised that grants, proposals, statements and all the verbal business that accompanies art is often what makes people want to see it, and what remains after an exhibition in the form of essays and reviews. University made me question, but never stopped me from thinking about myself as a craftsperson. The textile community -both traditional and contemporary- is a dynamic family to which I belong.

I had a day job for 26 years which fed my family and supported my art habit. I retired from that two years ago, so am now self-employed. I go to my studio every day, pack my lunch and work. Part of my morning is spent writing and catching up with emails. The studio is tiny, with no windows, but I seem to get a lot done there, lost in the process. My work is in two streams: experimental work that may be sculptural, strange, cryptic, and work that I sell such as landscapes and small sketches. I learn from and enjoy both.

Bettina Matzkuhn