RVA artist Andrea Donnelly combines fine art with function with her hand-woven scarf collection

Posted by: Amy – Nov 30, 2016


Local artist Andrea Donnelly combines fine art with function in her collection of hand-woven scarves, stretching the boundaries of what the consumer can think of as collectable art.

Donnelly first started weaving almost 13 years ago, and began making her design scarves after getting her master’s degree in fibers from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2010. Coming out of a background in conceptual art through the medium of textile, she first turned to “wearable art” as a way to support her studio work post-graduation.

“I don't really fit into any categories really well,” Donnelly said. “It's hard to tell people exactly what this work is, because it's not just a scarf, not by a long shot. It's not priced that way; it's not made that way.”

Donnelly was recently featured in Charleston-based Garden & Gun Magazine for their Made in the South awards for her production of finely made scarves. For Donnelly, the production of the scarves is more about the craftsmanship than the functionality of the item.

“They are truly their own works of art and I view them that way and make them that way,” she said.

In her fine art, which includes large-scale production of colorful textiles to be displayed on the wall, Donnelly approaches production from a conceptual angle, relating working the loom to playing an instrument. The methods behind the conceptual art then directly feed into the way she approaches her “wearable art.”

“One feeds the other,” Donnelly said. “All of those techniques that I master to make my artwork does really specific, interesting things on their own to those threads which give it a certain look. I use that knowledge and transform that into scarves. And then in experimenting with scarves and new materials and colors, that's gone back into my artwork.”

Each quality scarf takes around 13 hours to produce, while scarves with smaller detailing that require dying threads before they go onto the loom take up to 20 hours.

Her line of handmade scarves, which range from $450 to $1,200 in price, reflect the craftsmanship and quality of production that goes into each product. The designs are hand-made on the three looms Donnelly has in her Manchester studio.

“The market I've found is a very interested group of people that get what I'm doing,” Donnelly said. “The easiest person to sell this to is a textile lover that understands that I'm coming from a place of cloth being a very powerful object in our lives. I have this collector's mentality towards textiles and cloth but that extends into everyone's life.”

Donnelly related this idea to the memory of your childhood blanket or another piece of textile that you form an emotional connection with.

“We have very emotional responses to cloth,” she said. “When I make these pieces, I'm thinking about the ideal collector and that they'll see the work and there's a connection like 'this piece was waiting for me.”

With her two bachelor’s degrees, one in art and design and one in psychology, from North Carolina State University, Donnelly’s interest in cloth and textile extends beyond just production, but into the psychological and sociological connection between humans and textile. Her most recent design inspiration was the inkblot used in psychological analysis.

“I got really interested in this spontaneous action that gives us this random design but then we all put our experiences into that and come out with something different,” she said.

Donnelly urges purchasers of her work to not feel like the scarves can only be used as an article of clothing. She thinks that the purchase of high-end products is related to the growing acceptance and awareness about our consumption habits, starting with the focus on quality food or clothing.

“This work in on the upper scale of that,” she said. “You could hang these on the wall. So I'm in this weird place where I'm figuring out how to tell that story really well.”

“This is something you want forever,” Donnelly said. “It's not something you want for the season, these are beyond fashion, beyond a trend.”

Words by Megan Corsano