Words, wonders and worldviews are woven with feathers, wool, pineapple thread and dreadlocks in the innovative, evocative artworks of Bridgehampton's Candace Hill Montgomery. The artist's weavings are featured in "Hills and Valleys" at the Sag Harbor Whaling & Historical Museum as part of this year's Parrish Road Show. Organized by senior curator Corinne Erni, it's the museum's annual program bringing art to the community.
"It was a big surprise," Hill Montgomery, 74, says with a bright, infectious laugh. "It's been almost 30 years since I've shown in a museum," adds the Guggenheim Fellowship recipient whose paintings and sculptures have been exhibited around the world. "I've been knitting and doing fiber arts all my life. My grandmother taught me. I never thought of them as [anything] except my own side art."
In the decades since those early shows, Hill Montgomery raised a family and pursued a teaching career. "It's a sort of resurrection of an artist who had her time and then went quiet," says Erni. "Now she has this whole new body of work that nobody has seen. I was blown away by these weavings. I thought they were incredibly strong, incredibly beautiful aesthetically — the colors, the combinations and different layers. Literally, you can weave in so many layers of stories, and that's exactly what Candace does."
FINDING HER INSPIRATION
With pop stars and political figures like Rihanna and Michelle Obama referenced in her work, Hill Montgomery collects her inspiration from the day's headlines and her materials from life and her past. Her great-grandfather was a metalsmith and wrought iron forms the support for many of her pieces. There's a link to an age-old tradition of weaving in African art, and a feminist connection as well. Since the 1970s fiber arts have been used by women to proclaim that they should be treated with as much respect as any other art form. "I've always wanted to stay on that feminist path. I have two daughters and I raised them essentially alone," says Hill Montgomery, "and I want it known that I'm 60 percent African. But I'm also trying to eliminate that background and get at a totally American way of looking at a story in a new way. That's what the abstract painters did. That's what I'm trying to do."
Citing humor as a key element, Hill Montgomery embeds surprises in her titles, but leaves them open to interpretation. They reflect her poetry and a love of words inherited from her mother, a professor of literature. Human equality and environmentalism are central themes, as can be seen in "I Had to Assure the Falcon Its Wings Would Be Kept Together as a Family," a 2018 work. Its upper portion, filled with intense greens and blues, recalls a vivid landscape, while feathers dangle at the bottom, suggesting both the delicacy and strength of nature.
A former model, Hill Montgomery spent years in the fashion industry, and years more learning needle skills from her grandmother. Growing up in Queens, she summered with her grandmother in Alabama. Though quite young, Hill Montgomery still remembers the harshness and discomfort of segregation. "My father stopped us from going after Emmett Till was murdered," she recalls, "and we got a summer home out here in the black community in Sag Harbor." Since retiring, in 2011, she moved to the East End permanently.
POLITICAL AND SOCIAL URGENCY
Hill Montgomery's weaves, says Erni, are the culmination of a lifetime's artistic practice. "It goes back to what she knew as a younger woman and that craft, but it's still imbued with political and social urgency. She hasn't lost any of that, but the material is lovelier and more appealing. Maybe that gives people more access to it."
"I'm interested in everything that goes on in our world. Everything that can make a person feel low in life, I'm trying to look at it and combat it with art," says Hill Montgomery, "and with a bit of intense humor."