When Professor of Arts and Education Louise Napier began teaching at Wingate College in 1965 it was a two-year college with about 1,500 students. This May, Napier will retire as chair of the Art Department of Wingate University, which now serves over 3,000 students on three campuses, and offers two doctoral programs.
Napier’s recent exhibit “Fabric to Fashion” at Wingate’s Batte Center celebrated a marriage of her favorite mediums. The exhibit was summarized by Napier’s book “Kira’s Closet,” a collection of stories and fabric designs that capture the memories of her granddaughter’s life. It features paintings and prints, many of which have been transferred to fabrics and transformed into wearable art.
“I am always searching out new ways of approaching to keep myself interested.” This year Napier will celebrate her 50th wedding anniversary to Henry. Both of their daughters are also art educators.
Q. What art form did you dabble in first?
A. Pencil drawing because it was the easiest. Then I did more painting in oil than anything else, and then I discovered watercolor, and decided that was my favorite medium. I did oil until I had my first child, and then decided I didn’t want the solvents within her reach.
Q. What is appealing about watercolor?
A. It is versatile, in that you can work very abstractly, because it flows. You can work with tiny brushes and do very meticulous detail. I like the range from abstraction to detail.
Q. How did you get interested in surface design?
A. My daughter was an art student at East Carolina, and her interest was fabric design. I’ve been to workshops in Arrowmont (in Gatlinburg, Tenn.). I like silkscreen printing, felting, Shibori and Arashi, which are ways of clamping, twisting and dyeing to create a resist for the fabric before you dye it.
Q. What are the limitations?
A. I wanted to make some yardage of fabric that I could make into clothing. To silkscreen by hand takes a very long time. A friend told me there’s a company that will print it instead of me hand printing it. So I began to look at my watercolors and decide which looked good as fabric. I love hand dying, and will continue to use my silkscreen printing, but this is a different form of printing on fabric using my original designs.
Q. What have you have made out of your fabric?
A. Mostly scarves, wraps, and a couple of long skirts. When I started making fabrics and clothing, I got the idea of the book, which led to the garments fitting this 10-year-old child who is my granddaughter.
Q. Two of your patterned paintings are groves of flowers …
A. My mother … would take her children to Richardson Creek, which runs behind the house, and those flowers are part of my memory from those childhood walks.
Q. What do you find gratifying about teaching?
A. The first thing is the excitement I see in students when they think they can’t do art and find they can. The second thing is to watch a student see how sophisticated their art becomes over the space of 4 years.
Q. How has your teaching evolved?
A. I started teaching right in the middle of an abstract movement. I used that to focus on the elements of art and all the aspects of color. That cycled more into realism, and now it has cycled back toward abstraction. I like repetitive images, I like a lot of grid designs. The same principles and elements occur in abstract and modern art.
Q. What’s next?
A. I will continue working with fibers, and I’d like to get into the actual fabrication of fashions. I’d like to do more designing children’s clothes, using my own fabrics.
Q. What will you miss?
A. I’ll miss the daily contact of students and friends at Wingate. I will miss the inspiration I get from watching students come up with their own ideas, and learning about the kind of art that excites them. It’s been a good experience, to have a daily encounter with all the activities.
This story was produced as part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance.