By Katie Vaughn | Photography by Hillary Schave
Years ago when her son was very young, Maria Amalia would drive the streets of Madison until he fell asleep in his car seat. She spent hours looking into horizons, noticing the colors of sunsets and the patterns of birds. It got her thinking about migrations and connections, sparking ideas for a new collaborative project and nudging her to dig deeper into her own story.
Amalia was born and raised in Honduras, with time spent in Madison, where she took her first art class. After studying art at Judson University in Illinois, she returned to Madison and worked for fair-trade nonprofit SERRV International, which sent her to Latin America to visit with artisans. Eventually, she earned her MFA in textile art and design from UW–Madison.
Along the way, she cultivated passions for working with women, sharing stories and experimenting with papermaking and fiber. And while she has showcased her art in exhibitions, Amalia prefers to bring others into the creative process. She has collaborated with children — such as at Lighthouse Christian School, where she teaches art — and created an incredible community with Latina immigrants.
One special project was the piece “Viajes del Horizonte,” inspired by those evening drives and carried out in a residency stint at the Madison Public Library’s Pinney branch. Children made paper by hand, Amalia collaged the pieces into a dynamic 5-foot work and then she invited 10 Latina immigrants to join her in embroidering it while sharing their life stories.
“They stitched their own journeys creating a textured surface where all paths of life were welcomed,” Amalia explains on her website.
This year, in addition to having her work featured in “Hand Papermaking’s” annual portfolio, Amalia is leading “Bordando Memorias,” or “Embroidering Memories,” in a community art residency at Synergy Coworking. She sets up tables with embroidery hoops and invites Latina immigrants to sit, share stories and embroider flowers native to their countries as well as Wisconsin. Later, she’ll open up conversations to the broader community, with the goal of fostering connection and understanding.
“I’m hoping that sharing stories is what breaks down the walls, those invisible borders that create division,” she says. “That’s what art can do; it can facilitate those conversations.” mariaamalia.com, @mariaamaliawood