Artist Q&A

Mary Zicafoose
Question and Answer script


1. Describe your normal studio or workplace.

For the last seven years I have worked out of two studios. My downtown public studio is the home of my primary weaving loom and is located in the co-lab of the Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture Firm located on the ground level of the Tip Top Building on the corner of 16th & Cumming in Omaha. My private studio is the wet studio, where all the dyeing and over-flow weaving is done, located in the lower level of our home.


2. Describe your makeshift studio or workplace in a time of social distancing or isolation.

In keeping with CDC guidelines, Alley Poyner closed its doors to the public on April 1, 2020 and sent it’s 100+ employees, staff and co-lab colleagues to work from home. A 10-person maximum policy was established for the building. Under those guidelines, those who required use of special equipment were allowed access on a daily basis. What was a bustling, inspiring, professional environment full of talented creatives, became a dark empty quiet building.  Mary Zicafoose Textiles, which included myself and my two studio assistants, have worked daily throughout the pandemic. Initially we staggered days and hours. We wear masks and distance when together in the studio. For sure, plenty of work has gotten done, but I must be honest, it hasn’t been nearly as much fun.

HOWEVER…two weeks before the Pandemic hit the US my husband and I broke ground for a new home and studio on property we have owned for many years on the Platte River near Cedar Bluffs, NE. Building during the pandemic has been challenging for every obvious reason, but also, very rewarding.  I hope to move into the new studio this March. The house will not be completed until the late summer.


3. How has sharing your work with co-creatives or others shifted?

The shift has been social, revolving around the showing and the powerful experience of viewing art in person. The Pandemic suddenly cut off this vital main artery and critical visual platform. At the time the pandemic hit I had a solo show of my work on exhibition at the Creighton Leid Gallery. The last week of the show  I received a frantic phone call from Jess Benjamin, the Gallery Director, saying Creighton was closing down campus the following day and we had to get my work down roger, as it could be months before anyone was again allowed access to the Building.

In that moment the exhibition season as we have known it came to a close—and for how long will it be before we all gather, get inspired, and celebrate at an opening gallery reception together?  Obviously, the face-to-face experience of what we do has changed.

But then along came ZOOM, and here we all are, sharing our work and lives in new ways that are also very powerful and intimate and satisfying.


4. What is your favorite non-art oriented activity that inspires you?

Nature. Nothing expands me, feeds me, fuels me, like a hike in the woods, time on the river, a day spent outside ending with a glorious Nebraska sunset. Time spent in the natural world is my re-set button.

How has working in a socially distant environment affected your work?

What the pandemic has clearly emphasized and brought home to me, is that I always have worked in a socially distanced environment and I thrive in it. Not much has changed in my day to day scope of things. My work is very labor intensive and the only way anything gets done is if my studio keeps a low social profile, our heads down, and we all practice a strong daily work ethic.  My lead studio assistant, Anna Nance, has worked with me for almost 10 years. We have spent more than one thousand days together in the studio, and in that time we have gone out to lunch exactly once.


5. What is your favorite go-to snack after long hours working on your artistic practice?

Pre-pandemic I would have said my decadent guilty pleasure after a good day in the studio was watching the 5:30 news with a handful of kettle cooked potato chips. Now, it is a glass of very cold dry white wine, a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, minus the news…..


6. What are one/two of your favorite books that resonate with you and/or your practice?

I don’t know if I have ever read a book that resonates with my practice, but there is one powerful poem by Ted Kooser that makes me absolutely crazy and tells a masterful story in 104 words about the making of cloth. I have recited this poem hundreds of times over the years, each time I deliver a keynote speech, teach a class, give a talk. It is titled The Jacqard Shawl, from Ted’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, Delights & Shadows.

A Jacquard Shawl

A pattern of curly acanthus leaves,

And woven into one corner

In blue block letters half an inch tall



As it is with jacquards,

the design reverses to gray on blue

when you turn it over,

and the words run backward

into the past. And the rest of the story

lies somewhere between one side

and the other, woven into

the plane where the colors reverse:

the circling dogs, the terrified sheep,

and the meadow stippled with blood,

and the weaver by lamplight

weaving what wool she was able to save

into the faintly bleating, barking loom.

Books that have changed my life?  Oh, so many. I must be terribly impressionable, particularly to the written word.  After reading Heidi in 2nd grade I started salting away my weekly allowance for a plane ticket to Switzerland. I booked that flight the summer after I graduated from college.

I’m a reader and belong to two book clubs, but the books on my nightstand that I return to over and over are poetry, Diane Wakowski,  Mary Oliver, my friend Meredith Fuller,  and the master himself, E.E. Cummings.


7. Who are one/two of your favorite artists that inspire you?

Who hasn’t inspired me?

Early on in my work as I was becoming a weaver and mastering making color through dyeing, I was deeply influenced by the work of Mark Rothko. Not only the scale of his pieces, but their incredible simplicity, relying on pretty much only color, and just a few at that, to tell madly moody moving evocative stories based on the blending and starting & stopping of pigments.

I can’t mention Rothko without following up with Josef Albers, perhaps the most famous, prolific, and technically driven colorist in the world. When in undergrad school my photography class went to an exhibition of minimalist artists in Chicago. I was speechless, stunned, deeply impacted by the work I experienced that day. Agnes Martin, Ellsworth Kelly, Donald Judd and Josef Albers each acknowledged something very primal and personal in my understanding of visual order, something that I have carried with me in every piece that I have made.

These are the classic iconic influences. Current contemporary artists whose work I love are Sean Scully, Lloyd Martin, Jane McCormick Carney, Nancy Crow, and Dorothy Caldwell. 

Grant Application Information

  • The Nebraska Arts Council has revised grant programs in response to the changing needs of artists and arts organizations during the current global pandemic. NAC’s new grant programs provide support for virtual programming, individual artists and organizations.

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