One quilter’s scraps are another artist’s treasure.
When her friend, a quiltmaker, gave her some fabric scraps, New York-based textile artist Ann Cofta transformed them into cityscapes, portraying skylines, buildings, smokestacks and water towers inspired by city neighborhoods.
“I’m exploring ways to capture the city as I see it: the energy, the diversity, the changing color of the sky,” said Cofta.
Her artwork is on display in “Solace,” a solo exhibition at Communitea in Long Island City, which will be up through July 15.
Cofta, who has lived in Woodside for 22 years, draws inspiration from long walks from Queens to her art studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. She captures the solitude and loneliness that comes with city life, especially since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, but also the familiarity of distinguishing landmarks, like the water towers that define each neighborhood. They each have a uniqueness and are grounding, said Cofta.
“I think the grounding part of them is that they give you a sense of where you are and it’s a connection to the past,” she said.
One water tower that appears in her artwork resembles one she would see when taking the 7 train from the city, letting her know she was two stops away from home.
Each piece is handstitched and can take weeks to months to complete depending on the size. The quilting requires three layers: fabric, “batting” or wadding in the middle, and another layer of fabric. Every tiny stitch provides texture and dimension, paired with techniques like embroidery, applique and printmaking for the windows.
Cofta says her work is inspired by artists like Romare Bearden and his urban collages, Edward Hopper and his paintings of empty towns evoking solitude and seclusion, and the quiltmakers of Gee’s Bend, an African-American riverbank community in Alabama known for stunning and improvisational quilts featuring unexpected patterns and color combinations.
Cofta taught art to high schoolers for over 20 years and found that when she was teaching sewing and embroidery, she was incorporating it more in her own work. She taught Native American students in South Dakota and they showed her how to do traditional beadwork. She now uses the technique on her hand-sewn reliquaries, small embroidered pouches that are tiny versions of larger structures and objects, like iconic bridges and buildings, typewriters and, again, water towers.
“I love the idea of playing with scale,” said Cofta. “It’s a challenge to try to capture something in miniature and make it work.”
Cofta saw a direct link between the size of her artwork and the space she was working in once she got the opportunity for studio space in Brooklyn. “There’s no way I would be able to do these larger pieces if I were still working from home,” she said.
The theme of “Solace” encompasses the peace that being able to go to the studio brought her throughout the pandemic. “It was comforting and a relief not to be in the same apartment, the same four walls,” she said.
As museums and exhibits open back up, Cofta, who has been featured in exhibitions throughout the Tri-State area, is grateful for a solo show at Communitea. “I’m excited that this came along when it did because I have all this new work and it’s exciting when you’ve just made something to be able to actually put it up,” said Cofta, who also uses the space to invite and reconnect with friends she hasn’t seen over the past year and share the art with them, too.