Mary Wonser Fiber Artist Seeing the World Through color


Story by Magdalena Bokowa

Photography by Chadd Tullis


It all begins and centers around color. In a sea of various fibers, one or two shades always stand out for Mary Wonser, a fiber artist who specializes in weaving. Color is the kickstarter and the rest seemingly falls into place. She observes “even in the everyday, color is the first thing that I always notice. It’s what everything is centered around.”

Wonser has had many incarnations as an artist. In her youth, her mother taught her to embroider, her sister to knit and she self-taught herself to sew and quilt. A constant explorer of everything fiber related, she decided on a whim to try something different and took a weaving class at the local college. She thought it might be a fleeting medium. But, that was more than thirty years ago. A loom (or four) have adorned her home ever since.

Having lived in Colorado before moving to Bend almost 25 years ago, she still credits the southwest as a major influence in her work. You can see it in her wall hangings that are full of patterns and vibrant colors, one of which is so intrinsically detailed that it took several years too perfect. It was a labor of love and she was quite happy to oblige. But that is the nature of weaving, it is a slow and meticulous process, difficult to master, with not much room for error. When asked what happens if a mistake is made, Mary laughs and replies “that’s what’s called a design feature.”

Having recently retired from the program committee of the Central Oregon Spinners and Weavers Guild, Mary is constantly creating for either her resident spot at the Artist’s Gallery in Sunriver or at the numerous fairs and art shows she attends.

“I’m always thinking of the next thing,” she says, “it’s hard to describe why exactly I feel the need to constantly create, but I know that when I have a few weeks off, there’s this emptiness of when I’m not working and I feel a deep desire to come back to it”

Her newest creative endeavor has morphed into felting wool into shapes that resemble Mesa Verde pottery. The southwest influence clearly evident, the woolen pots are crafted in such a way that the colors change and fade to mimic the clay that inspires them. They are unique and handcrafted, true works of art.

Wool is by far her most favorite versatile fiber and she is a trusted friend to Jeanne Carver, owner of Imperial Yarn (the wool that Tommy Hilfiger used to craft the 2014 Olympic sweater). Carver raves about a shawl that Mary created years ago, and says that it’s still one of her favorite pieces of all time. Such is the reputation of a woman that still has some visible reservations of being called an artist. She is unassuming and humble. Gentle and kind.

This extends to her own generosity, in a quiet and unostentatious way. She has travelled to Guatemala three times to help Habitat for Humanity build homes for underprivileged communities. Something she calls a life changer. “I love Guatemala, not only for its friendly and warm people, but also because of all the colors that they use in their textiles. It’s inspiring. But also, I come back home and can’t help but realize how much we have here compared to what Guatemalans have access too. But they are happy. That awareness gives me the ability to just sit back and enjoy things a bit more. To be happy by simplifying.”

Mary is returning back to Guatemala and knows she once again will be inspired by the unique artistry there. She reflects, “Someone once told me, that if you meet the artist while you are looking at their work, it’s a sign that you should take a bit of their art home with you. And so, there is a blouse that I bought from a woman there and every time I put it on, I still see her face. It’s the same with whoever has met me and bought my things…they have a small bit of myself with them.”

Such is the power of wearable art – the wearer showcasing a small bit of the artist’s self, for what could be an eternity. A wonderful way to beautify the world, Mary Wonser is helping in this quest, one simple act at a time.

Mary Wonser’s work is exhibited at the Artists’ Gallery in Sunriver.

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