August 2019

New York-based weaver Molly Haynes' work is a play on duality–structural yet wild, energetic yet serene, mechanical yet handmade. 

Drawn to the strange sparsity of life in the desert, Haynes' sculptural pieces embody the simplicity of natural phenomena and honour the use of natural and at times, derelict materials. With a heritage rooted in creativity, we learn about how Haynes' liberal techniques push her work outside the recipes of traditional weaving books.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your creative background

I grew up on the North Shore of Massachusetts surrounded by coastal marsh landscape and my family’s ancestral artwork. Creativity runs deep in my family, my mom is a chef, my grandmother was a dressmaker and my great-grandfather was an abstract painter in Bulgaria in the early-mid 20th century. I think growing up around his work definitely heightened my eye for discovering beauty in the tactile world around me. I was always drawing, collaging, and collecting natural materials like seaweed, moss, and rocks. 

It wasn’t until I graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design that I actually turned around one of his paintings and read on the backside “Impression of a Bulgarian Rug” and found out that he created an entire series.

How did you become a weaver and is the method/technique difficult to master?

I decided to major in Textiles at RISD after taking a machine-knitting class. I had never worked with fibre before. This class introduced me to yarn and I fell in love with the sculptural potential of the material. I took weaving in my sophomore year and it was incredibly difficult at first to learn how to set up the loom. So many hours go into creating the warp (the threads that run vertical) and carefully organising them through a system that is basically an ancient computer made of wood and metal. Once the loom is set up, there is no limit to what you can weave with–which to me is the best part. We were trained to think conceptually through material and structure. The limitations of weaving, the interlacement of vertical and horizontal threads, present a grid that is asking to be disrupted. I found that I could create a physical tension between the materials I used to assert a stronger impact than if I were drawing them. I developed a woven language which embraced the natural phenomena that always inspired me through the power of repetition and structure. I loved the idea that a textile, which historically is subordinate as an art-form, could wield the same intensity as an abstract painting or sculpture. 

After graduating, I landed my dream job designing luxury interior textiles for NYC-based firm Pollack and as of last month, I started my own practice weaving full-time.

How would you describe your aesthetic?

Tactile, achromatic, sculptural, linear, complex, rhythmic, utilitarian and constantly balancing dualities; structured yet wild, energetic yet serene, mechanical yet handmade.

Weaving is an ancient craft, but your style has a contemporary flare that renders it timeless – is this difficult to achieve? 

It’s difficult to set yourself apart when the basic mechanics of the craft have not changed in hundreds of years. It happens organically after becoming comfortable with the tools and medium enough to truly experiment. For me it's important to stretch my idea of weaving outside the 'recipes' of traditional weaving books, and look more towards the art and natural world for inspiration. That means taking a step back to consider aspects like scale and composition. I am always searching for unconventional materials and definitely find myself at the hardware store more frequently than the yarn store. I’m altering traditional hand-weaving patterns by manually re-programming the setup to suit aesthetic needs rather than performance. I’d like to think that the works could be ancient or contemporary considering the fact that most of the materials have been around for centuries.

Tell us about some of your recent commissions and your latest collection – ‘Controlled Landscapes’ which launched at INC Architecture & Design in New York, earlier this year.

About a year ago, I started to work with Colony (a furniture, textile, and lighting designer co-op based in Manhattan) on their newly envisioned program called the Conception Serieswhich introduces American creative talent to the international contemporary design world. The culmination of our collaboration was to produce the exhibit of my series 'Controlled Landscapes'which examines the intersection of natural phenomena with the built environment. After installing at INC, we took some of the pieces at NeueHouse Madison Square and some are still available through Colony's showroom.

What is New York like to you as a place to live and work?

New York is a lot of things, but at it’s best I believe it is a city that brings together like minded people, no matter how niche your community is. I moved here because I got a job in the textile design industry and have met so many other artists and designers through that network. I know a lot of people with the same drive to create as I do and we all support each other.

Where do you go in the world to find inspiration?

I’ve been exploring the US for the past couple of years. I love going on road trips in extreme desert environments. I have family in New Mexico and am endlessly entranced by the strange sparsity of life in the desert. The flora and fauna stand out bold yet delicate amongst the emptiness. I still collect natural materials from the landscape, such as dead and dried yucca leaves, and cholla cactus skeletons,  like I did as a kid. My most recent burst of inspiration was found whilst at an artist residency at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts on Deer Isle, Maine. It’s a small architectural wonder embedded on a craggy, moss covered lobstering island. We drove to the local transfer station and picked through a used lobster line (gold mine) of colourful material to weave with. I became obsessed with the unruly nature of the rope and how it imitated the natural eccentricities of the sisal I have been working with. The idea that this line would never biodegrade, as it is made of polypropylene, definitely set-off a new mission to work with more materials deemed 'derelict' and transform them into something desirable.

Can you name some influential figures you are inspired by?

Francoise Grossen, Lenore Tawney, Sheila Hicks, Annie Albers–female pioneers in the assertion of fibre art as 'higher art'. I am also inspired by land art and minimalist artists: Agnes Denes, Agnes Martin, Michael Heizer, Donald Judd, to name a few.

Are you involved in any special commissions/projects at the moment and what’s to come in the year ahead?

Right now, I am weaving a new series using the salvaged lobster line that I found in Maine. I’m combining the used rope with my sisal twine to create net-like compositions where the natural and man-made materials are at odds with one another. I am also preparing new works to be shown during New York Textile Month in September, now that I’ve left my full-time job, I’m planning to take on more commissions and collaborations in the year ahead!

Photography by Julia Hirsch & Sophie Fabbri