Portland Museum of Art

Portland, Maine

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Cut from the Cloth of Life: The Fabric Collages of Elizabeth B. Noyce

 

Elizabeth Bottomley Noyce (1930-1996), remembered as Maine's leading philanthropist and art collector, also used her gifts with a needle to create an art form that is at once highly personal and widely engaging. Cut from the Cloth of Life: The Fabric Collages of Elizabeth B. Noyce is an exhibition of more than 40 appliqués on view at the Portland Museum of Art from September 22, 1999 through January 7, 2000.

Employing the technique of appliqué and scraps of cloth gathered from family and friends, Noyce crafted fabric collages that shrewdly, wittily, and lovingly depicted her world. Like generations of women before her, she found that the needle arts could be freed from their roots in the production of functional objects to become an expressive outlet. Her distinctive fabric pictures that evolved over several decades say much about their maker. Their subjects affirm Noyce's commitment to family and community life, while their execution reveals her as a keen observer of human nature with a sharp sense of humor and an eye for gesture, color, and texture.

During her childhood in Auburn, Massachusetts, Elizabeth Noyce was taught to sew by her mother. She credited growing up in Depression-era New England with giving her an enduring appreciation for Yankee thrift (the basis of the method that she called "scrapping"). Needlework became an avocation that she integrated into each phase of her life. As an undergraduate student of literature at Tufts University, she applied her skills to working as a costumer for theatrical productions. After marriage and the birth of four children, she turned her talents to making clothing, toys, and costumes for Halloween and seasonal pageants.

It was while raising her family in the late 1960s that Noyce began to experiment with making narrative fabric pictures of family life. In these early efforts, Noyce's strong sense of composition and her flair for capturing body language were already evident. In the years that followed, she developed those strengths in fabric collages that tell individual stories. As with her early work, these scenes frequently draw their subjects from family life, but they also reflect other activities that filled her life on the coast of Maine, including her passion for sailing and her participation in community groups such as garden clubs and quilting bees. A spirit of warm affection imbues all of these works, tempered by Noyce's healthy sense of the humor inherent in her subjects.

The majority of Noyce's fabric collages were created between the late 1970s and the end of her life; that was also the period when she became increasingly involved in forming an art collection that celebrated Maine's role in the development of American art. Many of the paintings that she selected, some of which will be on view in this exhibition, share qualities with her own work. For example, Noyce clearly studied Charles H. Woodbury's Ogunquit Beach House with Lady and Dog (1912) and the way he arranged the figures and constructed them from simple geometric forms. She often observed laughingly that Woodbury had portrayed her in his depiction of a woman, dressed in heavy clothing and absorbed in sewing, with her back turned to a beach crowded with sunbathers.

Elizabeth Noyce's personal interest in needlework led her to collect other portraits of women sewing as well as antique needlework tools, a selection of which will be on view at the Museum. These reflected her deep regard for the role that needlework has historically played in women's lives as a vehicle for self-expression within the confines of domestic responsibility. Her appreciation was borne, in part, from her firsthand understanding of the fulfillment that comes from combining skill and creativity to create an art form that gives shape and meaning to personal experience.

Cut from the Cloth of Life: The Fabric Collages of Elizabeth B. Noyce will travel to the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine (February 10-April 30, 2000).

Images from top to bottom: Halloween Costumes, 1987, Appliqued plain and printed cotton, 9 x 90 inches, Private Collection, Photo by Melville McLean; Vinnie's Garden Party, 1983, Appliqued plain and printed cotton, 20 x 16 inches, Private Collection, Photo by Melville McLean; The Fabricand Family, April 1994, Appliqued plain and printed cotton, 13 1/2 x 16 1/20 inches, Private Collection, Photo by Melville McLean

Read more about the Portland Museum of Art in the Resource Library


For further biographical information on Charles H. Woodbury please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 10/18/10


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