encoding identity: Mary Zicafoose’s ikat fingerprints

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The Blue Print Series

blueprint no 7

Mary Zicafoose, “Blue Print #7”, weft ikat tapestry, wool

The Fingerprint series of tapestries began in 2008, emerging out of a five month art residency at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Omaha, NE. Two Men and a Truck moved my 10′ Cranbrook and a 5‘ Macomber to Studio #104, a massive space in an old warehouse building, that came with great light and a very stimulating energy, spilling over from thirty years of artists creating there before me.

Blueprint No 1

Mary Zicafoose, Blue Print  #1

The residency experience came at a pivotal time. My daughter had just left home for her first year of college, the nest was empty, and my life was changing—ready or not. I was the eldest, by several decades, of the 8 international artists in my Bemis residency peer group. Over the months together there was hardly a topic we did not dissect, talking introspectively about art, the world, our lives, our work, and our unique identities within these different worlds.

The scale of the work I created while at the Bemis was initially a direct response to my stimulating new work space. As I reflected on my life changes and shift in identity I kept returning to the fingerprint as the universal label, or personal coding, if you will, of a human being. I could think of no better way to build a series of work referencing personal identity than to use my own fingerprints as the blueprint. I was graphically attracted to the visual appeal of the fingerprint and also very technically challenged to see if I could render it intimately detailed and massively scaled in weft ikat.

Hence was born the theme and the name of the series. In all I wove an edition of seven Blue Print tapestries, named and numbered one through seven. The final culminating piece, Blue Print #7, in which two thumbprints are rendered side by side over three panels, an ikat tapestry triptych, was wrapped, dyed and woven in three versions, two in silk and one in wool.


Mary at Bemis, working

I was not a novice to the ikat technique, nor was it a requirement for my residency. I had already spent more than 20 years behind ikat boards stretching, wrapping, and dyeing yarns to create movement and visual surprise in woven cloth. But I had not yet rendered a project of this degree of complexity in ikat. The lines, rivulets, patterns, and nuances of the fingerprint were made for the wonderful wicking and shifting that happens in ikat. I knew idea and technique were a perfect match. But was I a match for the scale and scope of the project?

Blueprint in progress

Blue Print in progress

The Blue Print series was a massive technical undertaking and in the end it rendered me a master at weft ikat. No ancient and intricate Indonesian textile has too much of anything over on the technical enormity of that body of work. It took 3 months of wrapping and 68,000 knotted ikat ties to create the thumbprint triptych: every line of design and coded yarn was exactly and precisely collated and accurately fell into place when woven to create the imagery.


 at the loom



Blue Print #7, weft ikat tapestry, silk/ bamboo

The double thumbprints of Blue Print #7 were commissioned by clients, who flew me to NYC to personally capture their thumbprints. They had seen the evolving Blue Print series on my website and were interested in a large scale piece for their contemporary home. The mission was to create a tapestry capturing male/female energy, duality, and their love story—the weaving of two lives together. The center diptych panel contained one-half of each of their prints. The side panels the other half of each print. I wove three versions of #7, two rendered in silk/bamboo and one in wool.   One silk thumbprint tapestry was exhibited at the 10th Tapestry Triennial in Lodz, Poland, the commissioned silk piece hangs in Manhattan in the original home, and the wool version recently sold and is part of a private collection in Nebraska.

Mary's triennial Images #1

Mary and Blue Print #7 at the Lodz Triennial

I have lots of stories that came with the territory of working months on the pieces. Everyone I knew got involved in some capacity, wrapping ikat for an afternoon, stretching yarn, stirring dyepots or untangling something. Even my mailman came and lent a hand, curious about the green plastic ikat tape that had escaped recycling and was wrapping itself around mailbox poles and blowing around the neighborhood. As my deadline approached I enlisted the neighborhood Girl Scout troop to help unwrap the 68,000 bound resist ties on 40 wrapped panels of weft and gladly purchased a small warehouse full of Girl Scout cookies in exchange

Blueprint Wine and Willow

Blue Print Wine and Willow

Each piece had its own version of who it was, becoming an original statement of its own identity beyond and despite my meticulous planning or control. In the final stage of the process, the actual collating of all the ikat into a weaving, each shuttle was precisely numbered and ordered in design sequence. One would think I had the ability to weave them in proper order, but not so. In haste, several shuttles were woven in the wrong order— which changed the original code and actually made some of the pieces much more graphically interesting and compelling. In the same way that humans differ, so did these Blue Prints, despite my initial painstaking efforts to render them accurately.

Blueprint No 3

Blue Print no. 3

The Blue Print series of tapestries was woven before the word, Selfie, had found it’s place in Webster’s dictionary and long before the activity of self photo documentation had become an international pastime. But not unlike a photograph, this body of work was my response, a weaver’s response, to a moment in time— to place, events, change, and my curiosity in attempting to capture and record the genetic visual code and markings of personal identity.

                            —Mary Zicafoose, 2016



Thoughts on the Blueprints, a Commentary—see: https://selfiesonslow.wordpress.com/commentary-on-mary-zicafooses-fingerprints


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