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It Is Woven Into the Fabric of Her Life

By James Russell Ratigan
Photos Courtesy of Arts Fort Worth

Almost two decades before she became Arts Fort Worth’s 2022 Emerging Artist in Residence, Sarita Westrup was a 15-year-old addicted to textiles. She dabbled in quilting, read Fiber Arts Magazine, and watched the PBS show “Craft in America.” What she had not done, however, was taken an art class. But she was so hooked on textiles that she eventually received her graduate degree in the field from the University of North Texas in Denton. 

Now she’s seen as an up-and-coming artist who has exhibited nationwide. She has studied, taught, and worked at some of the country’s most prestigious craft schools, including Arrowmont in Tennessee and Pendleton in North Carolina. At Arrowmont, she met Ann Coddington Rast, a contemporary basket weaver who became her mentor.

Textile and fiber arts include basket weaving, looms and glass. Artists in the field will perfect form and highlight the intricate details. Some artworks can become commodities.

Other work can take a conceptual turn.

Take her tunnel series, which she started in 2021. “I was in a rut. I was looking to ground myself. As an artist, you need to make something,” she said, even if that means projects may take a while to formalize, if ever. The tunnels, which span from small to life-size, use materials typically associated with textiles, such as wood, metal and various fabric forms. But she also, for the first time, incorporated heavier materials such as graphite, cement and steel. The tunnel-like forms represent checkpoints at borders. In this case, that border is between the U.S. and Mexico. 

She was raised near the border in the Rio Grande Valley. She was aware of the politics of the border as a wall. It was on her mind as her family traveled to Mexico. But a class, Contemporary Mexican Art in the 20th Century, was pivotal in her studies and work going forward. “Being exposed to the Chicano art was a huge shift in continuing to think about my work,” she said. 

It led her to think more critically about the border and how to incorporate native grass, concrete, and rock into her work. She has the space and time to focus on new forms, including an emerging interest in mosaics. But staying ingrained in the tight and vibrant textiles community is essential, too. The opportunities available to grow and collaborate are exciting. “I feel that I live in the realm of community with the textiles community. I get the opportunity to speak at textiles conferences and guilds and frequently connect with other artists that are textile based. I truly identify as a textile artist and participate in the textile community,” she said. 

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