If you ask Louise Halsey when her weaving career began, she'll tell you it started when she was only five years old. “I was an avid maker of potholders and God’s Eyes,” she said with a smile. Officially, her passion for weaving was born in 1971 after attending an introduction to floor loom weaving workshop. Forty-six years later, she is still weaving on floor looms and loving every minute of it.
Her decades of artistic accomplishments, along with her dedication to teaching the craft to others, have earned her the distinguished title of 2017 Arkansas Living Treasure. Halsey will be honored at a free, public reception from 4-6 p.m. on Thursday, May 4, at New Deal Studios and Gallery on 2003 South Louisiana St. in Little Rock. Space is limited. RSVP by April 28 to [email protected] or 501-683-4365.
Now in its 16th year, the Arkansas Living Treasure program, sponsored by the Arkansas Arts Council, recognizes an Arkansan who is outstanding in the creation of a traditional craft and has significantly contributed to the preservation of the art form. An independent panel of craft and folk art professionals selects the recipient based on the quality of work, community outreach and overall contribution to the field of traditional crafts.
A multiple award-winning artist, Halsey creates vivid tapestries that are linear and abstract, with an emphasis on bold colors and simple shapes. In addition, she creates rugs that are practical, as well as abstract wool rugs designed for hanging on a wall. She also creates three-dimensional works, including a series of Peruvian-inspired woven dolls on sticks.
Halsey and her husband, Stephen Driver, live deep in the Ozarks near Oark off a scenic county road near the Mulberry River in a house they built. Her husband creates wood-fired pottery and sculptures. Together they own the Little Mulberry Gallery.
As the daughter of two visual artists, Halsey fondly remembers growing up in Charleston, S.C., in a home filled with stunning art. "Both of my parents were painters and sculptors. They ran an art school out of the back of the house and I would help with the classes. Unlike other families, where kids are encouraged to be doctors or lawyers, my siblings and I were supposed to be artists,” she said.
Halsey began her education at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy. She studied weaving at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina and Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Tennessee, as well as the University of Wisconsin and the University of Georgia. In 2007, at the age of 55, she received her Master of Fine Arts degree in interdisciplinary arts from Goddard College in Vermont.
Her work has been featured in 70 exhibitions and is found in collections throughout the United States. "A high point of my career was having four of my tapestries chosen for the 'High Fiber: Women to Watch 2012,' sponsored by the National Museum of Women in the Arts in D.C. Only seven women from around the world were selected to exhibit work in this show.” She was also selected by the Arkansas committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts to display work in the “Arkansas Women to Watch” exhibition, which spotlighted work from five fiber artists in Arkansas.
In recent years, Halsey has created a series of tapestries featuring houses that have cracked facades. “This series conveys my concerns about the effects of both man-made and natural disasters, social issues, economy and environmental changes,” she said. “My intention is to have my houses spark a conversation about environmental threats and the need for sustainable practices.”
Her house series was featured in an exhibition called “Solastalgia: Views of Home,” which also featured paintings of houses by artist Susan Chambers of Little Rock. Since 2011, it has been exhibited in three locations in Arkansas.
Numerous publications have featured Halsey’s work. This summer, her tapestries will be featured in a book called "Artistry in Fiber: Wall Art" and her Peruvian-inspired dolls will be featured in “Artistry in Fiber: Sculpture.”
Her passion for her craft is evident by her dedication to teaching it to others, both young and old. Since 1977, she has instructed art and served as an artist in residence in Arkansas, Kentucky and Georgia. As a member of the Arkansas Arts Council’s Arts in Education Artist Roster since 1980, Halsey has traveled to numerous schools throughout the state teaching students in K-12 the basics of weaving.
She teaches the younger students how to make mini rag rugs using fabric strips, while she teaches older students how to work with yarn to create tapestries. “I love working with children,” she said. “I love giving them the freedom to do the things the way they want. Even now, too many teachers are trying to manage the project so that everything turns out right. My specialty was letting them manage the project in a way that it reflected their energy. I’ve learned that students are starved for hands-on projects”
Halsey shared that a lot of her students have told her that they want to be weavers. “One of my students wanted his own loom. So he went home, got a board, and put nails at the end of each board and strung a warp and wove his name and brought it in for me to see.”
June Freeman, a former colleague of Halsey, said, “Louise Halsey is one of the most enduringly creative and dedicated people I know. She has inspired students for more than a generation, and continues to actively share her well-honed skills with people of all ages.”