Marianne Lettieri is known for her mixed media works that incorporate artifacts once central to daily rituals and work routines. The resulting compositions explore the human experience. The artist values the narratives of the past that these objects hold, bridging a contemporary audience to their forbearers by exploring cultural shifts and community ties.
Lettieri is currently preparing for the exhibition “Never Ending Thread.” Opening on January 19, 2020, this collaboration with Dallas, Texas artist Shirley Cunningham will be held at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles, and “engage the infinite thread that runs through time,” says Lettieri. Identity, community, and creativity are met with meditations on the human desire to create and how “evidence of the past informs our present experience.” The work of these artists suggests the flow of time and the ties between our beginnings and our present. Lettieri’s work in “Never Ending Thread” includes more than 1,000 river stones that the artist covered with carefully sourced antique lace. She calls these objects of material history, many of them obtained through The Lace Museum in Sunnyvale, California, “records of a place, a time, a person.” Cunningham’s installation is a series of intricately handworked fabric wall hangings that explore spiritual and material translations of the Genesis creation story. Lettieri calls them “imaginary tapestries – painterly stitching and embellishment on antique garments.”
Community has played an integral role on Lettieri’s own journey to creative and spiritual expression in the fine arts. After earning a bachelor’s degree in Drawing and Printmaking at the University of Florida in 1971, Lettieri entered the world of commercial art and graphic design. She would transition into public relations roles at Hill & Knowlton and Apple Computer until the late 1990s. After retiring, Lettieri wanted to explore her art practice in depth. “I wanted to understand the conceptual underpinnings of my own art,” she says, which led her to an MFA in Spatial Arts at San Jose State University. There, she would hone her skills in fabrication, metal casting, and working with wood and glass. Further searching for her place as an artist, Lettieri explored the internet to find a community where there was dialogue about art and faith. “As I focused on developing as an artist, I knew faith was a part of it,” she says. “My belief systems were informing my work.” Her local church community had trouble understanding the bridge between art and faith, and those in the secular Contemporary Art world had a difficult time exploring the subject matter. This led Lettieri to The Glen, a retreat created by Image Journal to foster engagement in western faith traditions, literature, and the arts. There, Lettieri happened to meet Cameron Anderson, who was then the Executive Director of Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA). When Lettieri later began an art and faith community group in the San Francisco Bay area, membership quickly swelled to 150. Anderson and the CIVA board members provided guidance on structure and facilitation. CIVA would also invite Lettieri to join their leadership team for Doing Good Well, a partnership with The Sister Fund, that supports female artists as cultural leaders. She served on the CIVA board of directors 2011-2019.
On her art and faith journey, Lettieri says that being a part of CIVA was “a real life changer.” There, she has found a tribe of artists who are approaching the mystery of God as creator through their art. The CIVA community’s focus on connecting artists who explore their faith through creativity transcends hierarchy. At CIVA conferences and events, artists from various backgrounds and levels of professional recognition socialize amongst each other. Lettieri can say the same for The Glen where she has led mixed media workshops and benefitted from the diverse instructors. Professors, acclaimed artists, and creative types with no art-making experience have attended her workshops. Often, Lettieri finds that the least-experienced attendees create engaging pieces, which in turn inspire her. She feels that these creative communities, with faith at the center, “make a statement about how life should be.”
Lettieri, and other artists engaging in the topic of faith, see the door to spiritual topics slowly opening in the art world. “I see different museums looking at faith and mystery, and not just on the surface,” she says. Lettieri remembers a time when faith within art, even if it was acknowledged by an artist, was not included in museum programming or education. The comprehension of these works has begun to include an understanding of the theology when “it used to be just color, shape, and form.” Museums are still sensitive about the perception that theological agendas are being pushed, treading carefully, but engaging in spiritual conversation in a new way.
Never Ending Thread will be on view in the New Year until April 12, 2020. Learn more about Marianne Lettieri and the upcoming exhibition here:
San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles
520 S. First Street
San Jose, CA 95113
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