Lyman, South Carolina

Reminiscent Objects
Converse College Teacher Exhibits Textile and Clay Artifacts At Co-op

Mary E. Carlisle, an Assistant Professor of Ceramics at Converse College, will exhibit “Reminiscent Objects,” a collection of found and handmade cotton mill artifacts, at West Main Artists Co-op, Feb. 15-March 10. The exhibit is insightful into the industrial era of the cotton mill and the impact it made on cultures around the world.

The exhibit will be open for free public viewing Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Carlisle will host a reception on Thursday, Feb. 15, 5:30-8:30 p.m., during the city’s monthly ArtWalk, a self-perpetuating community event when many local galleries stay open late to give patrons an evening opportunity to see what is new in art in Spartanburg.

“Several years ago, I began collecting a group of objects from the textile industry. These materials included a large number of bobbins, spindles and shuttles of various types. As my collection grew, I began to see the marks and patterns of the individual craftsmen who created these tools as well as those who used them,” Carlisle said. “I was drawn to the patina of age from the touch of the worker’s hand and the thread that was repeatedly wound and unwound around them. As I began responding to these forms, I was also experimenting with alternative processes for working with clay. For example, turning clay on a wood lathe. Or soaking cotton yarn in slip and allowing the cotton to burn out, leaving only the shell of the form replicated in clay. I later began combining my clay objects, which looked industrial, with the collected objects from the textile industry. This exhibition is both a continuation of and expansion on the work created for my MFA thesis series ‘Work = Worship,’ which combined the use of found objects from textile mills with elements made in clay such as thread and gears. Some objects are exact replications and others my own interpretations.”

Carlisle is a native of Greenville, SC and holds a bachelor’s degree in studio art from Converse College, a master’s degree in studio art from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA, and another master’s degree in arts administration from Drexel University in Philadelphia. Her studio work has been in ceramics. She has exhibited extensively since 1999, when she took first place in open media at the Spartanburg Sidewalk Art Show. Other exhibiting experience include Converse College; Milliken Gallery; The Fine Arts Center of Greenville County; City Hall in Columbia, SC; ArtFields in Lake City, SC; Cambridge; Boston; and Asheboro, NC. In addition to her teaching at Converse College, she has been an adjunct instructor arts management  and course instructor at Columbia College. She currently lives in Greenville.

“I have driven past abandoned textile mills on a daily basis for much of my life and heard stories passed down from family who worked in the mills. I think so many of us who live in textile towns drive by these spaces, and now even live and work in them as they are repurposed, but are removed from the original function,” Carlisle said. “Industrial objects once served a very specific function, yet now they are devoid of utility, just as the spindles I use in my work are empty of the thread they used to carry. I have placed these objects in relation to one another to provoke the viewer to think about tensions between material, process, meanings, context, history, and method. I also want viewers to see these objects not only as relics of industry but as objects that were handcrafted. They were just as functional to industry as utilitarian ceramic object would be in the household.”

Over the years, Carlisle has collected hundreds of textile objects, such as spindles, shuttles, and bobbins, some given to by friends, other purchased at antique stores in the Carolinas or online. “While the configuration of my work installed in a space often echoes the machines of industry, the composition also creates a contemplative space, as the handmade softens the industrial,” she explained. “Relics, real and imagined, are gathered and displayed. I seek to evoke a sense of ritual – a ritual that comes from work. The ritual comes partly from my own serial act of making, which is similar to the repetitive acts of the mill hand who tended their posts as rhythmically as one would say the rosary. One could get lost in their work – in this repetitive act that required concentration without distraction.

“I hope that viewers will see something familiar in a new way. During the reception for my MFA thesis I was approached by a woman from India who had no connection to the university but came inside saying she had seen my work through the window facing Massachusetts Avenue. She, too, grew up in a former textile town and worked in mill. The objects reminded her of home. Exhibiting some of these works in New England also brought similar stories from natives of that area. During such a divisive time in our country, it is nice to realize that what constitutes ‘home’ – whether our own experience, the architecture we drive by daily, or the stories and objects passed down to us have some commonality regardless of where we are.”

West Main Artists Co-op is an all-volunteer and nonprofit arts agency in Spartanburg that houses about 30 working and/or gallery studios for local artists who range from potters and painters to actors and quilters. It has about 50 members, and it hosts about three exhibits each month. In addition, the facility, located in a repurposed church at 578 West Main Street in Spartanburg, has four public galleries, a retail shop that sells only locally made art, a printery, and a pottery studio. It is generally identified as Spartanburg’s grassroots arts agency, providing “Art For The People, By The People.” For more information about the Co-op, please visit online:

Press Release 
Prepared by
Steve Wong

Textile Exhibit 1   Textile Exhibit 2