Collage Artist Brings Patients Piece of Mind

Collage Artist Brings Patients Piece of Mind

Elaine O'Neil shares how she got her start in textile art and what inspires her to create peaceful, cohesive images from fabric.

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Elaine's in her studio--her own little house on the same property where she lives.
Elaine in her studio–a little house on the same property where she lives. Photo by Briana Brough

An interview with textile collage artist, Elaine O’Neil.

How did you get started with textile art?

My college degree is in textile design and I thought my career would focus on designing fabrics. When a gallerist friend in Maine asked me to create some textile art for an upcoming show, I created five scenes of Maine life from childhood memories, things like lobstering, a lighthouse, blueberry picking… and they all sold on opening night! I was stunned.

How do you start a project?

I begin every textile collage with a simple, rough sketch. If I am working on a specific place, I have photos to try to capture the feeling of that place. Once I am happy with the sketch, I pull fabrics from my bins to create a color palette. At that point, I start layering the background colors – sky first – then the land on top of that. I use sturdy backing fabric underneath. I sew each layer using a very close satin stitch. Most often I don’t make patterns, but simply cut the shapes and position them in place and then again sew around each, covering the raw edges. I use threads with different sheens to add different effects. The last step is always placing a crescent – sometimes full – moon in the sky.

Where do you go to get things done?

I have a separate studio: my own little house on the same property where we live. Each day I simply go out my back door, walk across the path and up the steps into my studio to work.

Where do you source your material from?

I have collected fabric for many years and have lots of colors, textures and patterns to choose from. I am always on the hunt for more! I shop at local quilt shops and places I find on my travels. I use home decor fabrics that people give to me, as well as wool, corduroy, silks and metallics from many sources such as garage sales and specialty stores.

What in your work gives you purpose?

I think I’m most honored to have my work hanging in several hospitals. If my art catches the eye of a stressed patient, a worried family member or a tired nurse and transports them for a moment to a happy place, then I could not imagine a greater honor as an artist. I have work at the North Carolina Cancer Hospital, the UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill and Hillsborough, Maine General Hospital, the Yale New Haven Hospital and the Mayo Clinic.

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Associate Editor Laura Zolman Kirk is a Kentuckian turned Chapel Hillian and totally in love with this special slice of North Carolina.