top of page


Threads of Connection

essay by Lauren ONeal, Artist and Curator

"Turn the corner and you discover a burst of activity on the opposite side of the room. A rhythmic procession of colors unfolds across the wall, intricate textures and patterns stretching from floor to ceiling. This activity captures your fancy. It invites you to move closer.  At mid-range, you begin to see suggestions of places and people, elusive memories: late afternoon walks alongside oceans flecked with light, hide-and- seek in the wild overgrowth of an abandoned garden. A pocket peeks out from the colorful patchwork. A sleeve makes a slight gesture, beckoning you. Moving in closer, you see hundreds of pieces of fabric, stitched together to make a whole, a landscape of stories and sensations pieced from the fragments of many histories.

As you walk along this multicolored tapestry, the feelings of familiarity grow stronger. Perhaps you recognize pieces of napkins that bore witness to signifi- cant family meals. The living room curtains you secretly despised. The delight at recognizing a favorite blanket or scarf. You turn with enthusiasm to share these memories with your companion. We want our stories to be heard.The work encourages us to listen.  The work of Merill Comeau, crafted from the extraordinary assemblage of ordinary materials, is an invitation to enter into relationships with our past, present, and future, and to share these memories with others. Drawing from fabrics and materials often originating in domestic settings—the faded table- cloth, the softly worn cotton of a favorite dress, the childhood overalls— Comeau assembles the scraps of fabric from and of our lives to create sites for contemplation and connection.

Comeau’s practice is part of a dynamic lineage of feminist fiber arts, from  the quilted tableaux of Faith Ringgold to the embroidered samplers of Elaine Reichek. The work mines the interior spaces of our most personal and private experiences, as well as offers pointed sociopolitical commentary.

The work is hauntingly beautiful, but the beauty that Comeau proposes is complicated, and contradictory. The lush, immersive landscapes, and the intricately embellished altered clothing and domestic objects, carry urgent questions. How do we live in a world of extreme political strife, environmental collapse, and deeply personal traumas, such as those provoked by addiction, domestic violence, and mental illness? How do we offer each other dignity, respect, and compassion?

The formal aspects of the work echo these themes. The fabric is embellished by techniques including rust dyeing, block printing, and stencils that reveal bodies, everyday objects, and domestic imagery. Wall hangings that seem initially coherent dissolve and fragment into raw and frayed edges, threads trail- ing. The stitching is not hidden, but rather emphasized in its raw, sometimes surgical connective presence. The labor involved in making connections—

of care and repair—is evident. Subjects are always in the process of being made and remade. Despite the challenges inherent in living together in the world, we very much need each other. The desire for connection is tenacious. The acts of mending, tending, and attending speak to a desire to honor and trouble the past, as well as to recuperate personal and family histories through the careful reuse and reconfiguration of household textiles.

Comeau herself is a connector. Any reflection on her work must include her thoughtful and generous engagement as an educator. She has worked with learners at all stages of development, and in a variety of contexts, from young artists in the juvenile system and university students, to contemporary art audiences of all ages. Within each setting, she works with extraordinary care, attentiveness, and responsiveness. Much of the learning is done collaboratively and in community—the quilting bee and the barn-raising being earlier exam- ples of these collective creative activities. Comeau facilitates making personal, social, political, and affective connections between self and other, and between individuals and communities, through the interwoven values of respect, celebration, and justice.


Lauren O’Neal, Artist and Curator

bottom of page