Wende Woodham

by Dana Kester-McCabe

Meet artist Stevensville, Maryland artist Wende Woodham who paints with ribbons.

Wende Woodham had a career as an Army recruiter and had probably not seriously ever considered that she would make a living as an artist until she retired. And then, she did just that, jumping into it with both feet. I met with Wende in her Stevensville home recently and she told me how this happened.

Wende Woodham:
“I’ve never really taken any art courses other than in elementary school. And, I spent twenty-four years in the Army. And I have always been a collector of ribbons I have just always been into ribbons, and fibers, and trims without any knowledge of what I was going to do with them. And so, I ‘ve had these stashes of ribbons for years. When it got close to retirement I thought I’m going to start doing something with these. So, I decided I would make up a piece for my commander’s wife. At that time they were moving to another place.”

“At that time it was just a weaving process. Over and under, but with different colors, bright cheery colors. Things like that. This one I put together with red, white, and blue, on a navy-blue mat. And, I called it “Susan’s Patriotic Garden”. And, she just cried. I said that is what I am going for. [Laughs] Let me make ‘em cry. If I can make ‘em cry I know I’ve done something.

“Anyway, that was my very first piece and I did that for many years. Oh, I retired in 1999, the very end of 99. So I worked on that for probably the next three or four years. Just doing the weavings, incorporating different types of weaving. So, um, I got bored with it. I said, “This isn’t doing it for me anymore.” So I decided to see if I could incorporate pictures somehow into it. And that seems to be what nobody else does. I haven’t found anywhere else and that’s what people come to me for as a normal rule.

“I have several stores that I supply, But, um, they’re one of a kind pieces. So, it’s not something I can reproduce. Everybody that gets anything from me, it’s one of a kind. I can’t duplicate what I do.”

Wende explained how she goes about developing and constructing one of her works of art.

Wende Woodham:
“I’ll be just driving down a road and I’ll see a tree scene, or a bunch of grasses, something that just sparks my interest. And, I’ll just store it away. As I told you, I am not a drawer. I draw for placement only. So I’ll get a little sketch pad out, even if it’s a little spiral bound pad next to the phone; just do a little jotting down so that I can place my things as to where I want them.”

“What I do is, it is all done with pin weaving. So, it’s not like I have to have a loom. Everything I do can be done on my lap or on a table, and I use foam core board for it.”
“I start with my background. And a lot of my work has to do with the Chesapeake Bay. So, when you work with ribbons you have to work from the back ground or the bottom up. So, I lay out what I perceive to be the water, or maybe there are grasses below that, or a beach below that. So, on the horizontal ribbons I am laying out the colors based on the colors I eventually want to end up with.”

“There’s glue that is archival. There’s tapes that are archival that are sticky on both sides. My ribbons are actually fused, like what you would use as interfacing if you were a sewer, like an iron on kind of fuse. So I use that for all the big pieces, and for the small pieces I use double sided archival tape.”

“Then I work on my pictures from there. If it is a heron I’ll do the body of the heron. I’ll usually draw it out on piece of paper. And then I will make ribbons, just vertical, and then I’ll do a cut out from those ribbons. Then that gets fused onto the paper. So, that’s kind of how I work.”

“For the little tiny pieces like his eye, things like his beak are so pointed, ribbons ravel so easily, so I put paper or some other kind of fiber that you’re allowed to make a point to, so that it won’t unravel eventually, [laughs] when it is hanging on somebody’s wall. So, that’s kind of what I do.”

“I am probably most famous for my herons, my sailboat scenes, my suns. I’ve started a line of trees.”

From a distance Wende’s compositions have the same effect as an impressionist painting. When you get up close you can see how geometric shapes of the ribbons act like brush strokes and the color combinations play together to create vibrant hues.

Wende Woodham:
“To me colors have always been fascinating. Weaving has always been fascinating, although I’ve never gotten into things having to do with looms or anything like that. That just doesn’t interest me at all. But when I can work with my hands and make something happen, that just means a lot.”

“I do have some pieces that I really do feel spiritual when I am doing them. And, even the fitting together, I just love that. It really is like a puzzle. I mean, it takes so many tiny little pieces. I counted up cuts one time when I was done. And there were like 4,000 cuts, individual cuts on something. And that’s just amazing that you have produced something and that you’ve done that much. And you don’t realize that it takes a lot of time to complete a large piece. But once you do it and you stand back and look and you say “Wow, that’s really amazing that I did that.”

“I’m probably amazed more than most people because I wasn’t trained in art. And I don’t have that… You know, it’s not inbred in me that I just… It’s just something that I love to do.”

“I hope to accomplish many more commissions for people that I can go in there and hang them up and they are crying or laughing or… I don’t, I don’t choose to put my mark on the world. It doesn’t matter to me. I don’t care if they are around five thousand years from now. I don’t count that inner draw like a lot of artists have. But I really just like to bring a smile to people’s faces. And when I make something special for them, and years later I go to their house and it’s hanging there. I mean it’s there. I mean there’s no better compliment.”

A recent commission for the new wellness facility at the Ginger Cove Retirement Community blossomed into not only orders for a number of her larger handcrafted pieces but also several print reproductions of her work for their dining room. Wende has also branched out into vibrant ink painted jewelry.

She is a member of the Artist Round Table of the Eastern Shore which is a collective of about forty artists that meet regularly to critique and support each other in their work. She will participate in their show at the Queen Anne’s County Art Council next spring. She also has her work in galleries in St. Michaels and Easton, as well as several stores including Island Shipping in historic Stevensville, Maryland.

Find out more about Wende:

Find Wende’s work in these galleries: