Ray Materson

 

Materson embroiders miniature pictures using thread from unraveled socks. His subjects range from realistic portraits inspired by sports heroes to theatrical dramas and songlyrics, as well as autobiographical narratives that evoke nostalgic memories and expose the pain and suffering he endured from an abusive father. Hopes, dreams, andfears are graphically translated into small, intricate vignettes. He estimates that each work, most the size of the palm of a hand, takes sixty hours to complete, and thathe sews 1,200 stitches to the inch.Materson began sewing in 1988, after serving seven years of a fifteen-year prison sentence at the Connecticut Correctional Institution in Somers, Connecticut, for armed robbery. Art transformed the life of this former alcohol and drug abuser. Observing the rimmed mouth of a plastic container in his cell, Materson remembered hisgrandmother Hattie’s embroidery hoop, and pictured her embroidering on the porch of their home in Parma Heights, Ohio. He fashioned a hoop, and cut another hoopfrom the container lid to hold in place a small piece of cloth from his bedsheet. A sewing needle borrowed from the prison, his unraveled sock thread spooled around a pen barrel, and pencils became Materson’s primary tools.Materson’s first project was a sewn M that he stitched and then transferred to a cap he made, as an expression of pride for Michigan, his home state team.Materson then started to make logo and flag designs for fellow inmates, reflecting the interest of the recipient. The respect Materson received from fellow prisonersgave him the courage to contact Country Folk Art Shows, based in Michigan, to request an exhibit with them. The organizers were impressed; so was MelanieHohman of Albany, New York, who saw the traveling exhibition and wrote to Materson. Hohman and Materson met, fell in love, and married while Materson was stillserving time. Acting as Materson’s agent, Hohman took his work to a curator at the Albany Institute of History and Art, where a show called “Peace” that includedMaterson’s work was organized in 1991. Local television cover age, an Associated Press interview, and the sale of three pieces to the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico, were the results.Crediting artwork along with religious faith as a cure for his dysfunctional behavior, Materson created an anti-drug poster, a thread picture for the Special OlympicsWorld Games, and a mural for the prison in which he had served time. The Aarne Anton of the American Primitive Gallery gave him a solo exhibition in 1994 that brought him more reviews and extensive media coverage. His memoir,Sins and Needles: A Story of Spiritual Mending, was published in 2002. Materson was granted a conditional parole in 1994.