BankRI Turks Head Gallery Presents
“Gobelin Tapestries by Bonnie Schultz Platzer, ”
November 2 through December 6, 2017.
There will be a Gallery Night reception on November 16 from 5 to 8:30 pm with live music by guitarist Mark Armstrong and light refreshments.
MEET THE ARTIST – BONNIE SCHULTZ PLATZER
It was 1969 and a young Bonnie Schultz Platzer had just graduated from college. She was working temporarily at an investment firm when she received news that would shape the course of her life. She had been accepted to the Peace Corps, but where was she supposed to go? The letter seemed vague, saying only that she had to go. Later it dawned on her that she had been directed to go to Togo in West Africa.
Platzer has lived on three continents in five different countries. Austria, Kenya, Morocco and Togo sound exotic compared to Platzer’s beginnings in rural Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and to the condo by Miriam Hospital where she now lives in Providence.
At age 22, she packed her bags to travel to Togo. This was the late 60s – career options for women were limited, and Platzer was excited to go off and see the world.
There was no Internet and limited international phone connections. She didn’t see or speak to her family for two years.
The experience gave her a whole new perspective on what it meant to be an outsider. Platzer grew up relatively safe and sheltered. Nothing prepared her for the reaction her mere presence could cause.
“When a child looks at you in fear,” Platzer explains, “and starts screaming, it makes an impression.” Platzer was the only white person in the village. Some of the children touched her skin to see if the color would rub off. Others ran from her, a symbol of centuries old white slavers who had come before.
Still she was safe amidst a family-oriented society that in many ways looked very much like the environment she grew up in. People in Togo married, had children, nurtured their families and worked hard not unlike the residents of rural Pennsylvania.
When her two years with the Peace Corps were up, Platzer returned to the United States and settled in New York City with a group of ex-Peace Corps volunteers. She worked at the African American Institute in NYC and took advantage of the multitude of educational opportunities New York offered.
Platzer had images and experiences in her head that she wanted to share, but she wasn’t sure how to do that. Impressed and intrigued by the textiles in West Africa, she turned to weaving. In the adult education programs at the New School and at Parsons School of Design, she studied spinning, dyeing and of course, Gobelin tapestry weaving.
Gobelin tapestries flourished in 17th century France. The technique allows for intricate designs that have a painterly feel. Plazter has almost 100 different colored yarns that she uses as a palette to create depth and dimension in her detailed hand woven tapestries.
Impressed by the people she encountered in her travels through life, she focuses mainly on images of people in real life settings. A Moroccan father and child, proud northern Togo women at market, an Amish boy hanging clothes, a grandmother and her grandson on Hope Street – these are the images that compel Platzer to make art.
She takes photographs of her subjects and refers to them for composition and color choices. Full-sized black-and-white photographs in reverse help her plot things out on the vertical loom. Then the weaving begins – each piece takes anywhere from four to six months to complete. There are no computers, no assistants to help her. This is one woman’s meditation on the people she has met throughout her journey.
The whole time she is weaving on her loom, she is weaving from the back side of the tapestry. Platzer never sees the entire piece until she cuts the tapestry from the loom. Hanging from the loom is a small mirror. It is only in the mirror that she is able to see details of the tapestry from the front.
Except for another two-year stint in the Peace Corp in Morocco, Platzer has lived in Providence for twenty years now, the most time she has spent in one place. If it seems strange that such an adventuresome person has settled in Providence, Platzer doesn’t think so.
“I wanted diversity. I wanted the cultural life, an academic community and of course, the ocean. Providence has a lot of the qualities I loved about New York, – it’s just smaller.”
The BankRI Galleries are curated by Paula Martiesian, a Providence-based artist and arts advocate. Exhibit hours are Monday through Wednesday 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Thursday and Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 401 574-1330.