MAY FLASH // FORMIDABLE: The Touchable Sculptures of Betty Maguire Hayzlett

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When I visited Betty Maguire Hayzlett’s studio in December of 2013, I was immediately taken with the wall of fuzzy color—floor to ceiling shelves filled with yarns and rovings in colors that would make any rainbow envious.  “Yes,” she said, “I collect!  I used to dye my own yarns, but the colors weren’t always stable, so now I just collect what pulls at me, and stick with a few favorite suppliers for the felting wool.”

Though Hayzlett has a degree in Fine Art from the University of Colorado, she didn’t discover fiber art until years after graduation.  Decades later, as is evident in her art-filled home and studio, she is an accomplished fiber artist and has moved from off-loom weaving to felting, and with felting, she rediscovered her love for three-dimensional work.

Having seen Hayzlett’s recent (and stunning) felted vessels, I was surprised to note an absence of a sink or plumbing in her studio. “This is a dry studio,” she said, “I make do with gallon bottles of water and a bucket under the drain spout from my table.”  “Making do,” of course, is an understatement.

Using a wet-felting process Hayzlett works layers of wool over both sides of an inner layer of bubble wrap to form vessels.  “But I don’t think in terms of layers structurally; I think in terms of color and form,” said Hayzlett.  She covers the form with a layer of mesh and then she pours a mixture of hot water and soap over it and starts gently rubbing.  “Once the fibers have begun to hang together, I can shape the felt, sculpt it really, working from the original shape laid out on the table.”

Color, texture and form, that’s what’s it’s all about.  Overhead in her studio, wrapped-wire mobile sculptures spin slowly, their organic lines defining the spaces within.  Various experiments using a wide variety of techniques, from collage to basketry and crochet, cover the walls.   Taped to a cabinet door are four samples of experiments — cobalt wool fibers frame glimmers of pearlescent mesh material, strands of dark teal wool branch through another mesh, like seaweed pulsing in a tide, and beetle black felt with turquoise highlights frames the power of pure open space.

Hayzlett incorporates other materials into her felt–integrates luminescence and shifting and contrasting textures and colors—inviting  surprising final products. The fabric puckers as the felt shrinks into it’s final shape.  “For me,” she said, “it’s an experimental and exhilarating direction in my work.  Incorporating this technique into vessels is part of my challenge and adventure.”

You can see all of this in her current works.  “Metastasis,” perhaps my favorite, is a bright pink vessel with darker raspberry colored dendritic felted ropey fibers.  Here, the simple felted surface of the vessel is in dramatic contrast with the simultaneously delicate and intimidating fibers that emerge from the vessel and move over its surface.  Another work, “Desert Grasses,” offers a smooth felted surface the color of loam covered in large part by long, shaggy yarns in various shades of earth and plant.  Other vessels in the series, namely “Internal Inspiration” and “Magma Rising,” pair the felt’s soft matte surface with hard and shiny stones, wires, beads, yarns, and fabrics, while “Milky Way,” is a vessel of the galaxy with midnight blue embedded with shine.  Clearly, Hayzlett’s work is informed by nature—biology, geology, astronomy, botany—and, like nature, part of its strength lies in not being able to place each little detail with exactitude, but rather in trusting it to be as it must be.

Rebecca Mitchell is the founder and executive director of Surel’s Place.