Written by Communications Intern Emma Rubin
“I’ve been surrounded by crafts other women have made my entire life,” Irene Mudd, a Louisville fiber artist and painter, said. She recalled a quilt made by her mother’s quilting group and the countless items knitted by her grandmother dispersed around her home. “I had never met these women, but I had [these] tangible artifact[s] of their life and their talent.”
As Mudd learned more about her grandmother and how she was not able to complete college due to her role as a woman and mother in the 1950’s, she became fascinated with the idea of untapped potential and the erased histories of women as a focus in her art. “I think for myself, that is my biggest fear, just not utilizing my potential,” Mudd said, “That’s what feeds into my interest with these other women.”
Mudd remembers creating art since she was young, “I’ve just always had an overactive imagination and always wanted to make things that I had come up with,” she said. When she was 11 years old she first learned to knit by taking a class at a local yarn store, “I was just this 11 year old girl hanging out with old ladies knitting,” she said. As she learned new techniques and later experimented with projects like fiber based sculptures, art transformed into something more than a hobby.
Mudd attended Manual High School for its visual arts program where she continued to develop her skills in fiber and other media, including painting. It was also there that after meeting several professional artists, she first realized the potential of pursuing art as a career. She continued her arts education at University of Louisville’s Hite Art Institute where professors introduced her to artists who would be very influential to the technical and thematic aspects of her work. She also drew inspiration for the feminist themes in her art from her background as a women’s and gender studies minor. Foundational texts from writers like Alice Walker convey some of the motifs present in Mudd’s current artwork.
Walker’s essay “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens” is the main inspiration for Mudd’s “Suspended Vision” series, a sequence of knitted portraits of women, like Mudd’s grandmother, who were hindered from achieving their goals during their lifetimes due to societal restrictions. Her painting series also focuses on women subjects and often have embroidered pieces as well but tend to have more surreal elements. “I Got Standards” a woman dragging two miniature houses by her ankles and “Plait Collective” illustrates several small shelters made out of women’s whimsically long braids.
Mudd admits that her creative ideas are not always clear to even herself. She keeps multiple journals where she processes ideas and themes for her work. Through words and rough scribbles she transforms her more abstract and unclear visions into fully realized works of art.
Mudd appreciates the art community of Louisville which she described as “inclusive and collaborative.” And even as she continues to establish herself within Louisville’s art scene, Mudd still sees art as “the simplest form of joy.” When she makes art she feels her worries and stress float away, “It’s kind of a little magical, just making something new,” she said.