Linda Faigen's Profile

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Meet Betty Busby--An extraordinary fiber artist

Recently, I asked Etsy artists who worked in fiber or fabric to let me know if they would like to be featured here. I received many interested applicants but wasn't really seeing what I was looking for. So I did a search for "quilts" and sorted by the most expensive ones first and voila! There was Betty Busby's amazing work.


Sometimes the most expensive is not necessarily the best; but in this case, the work was so clearly head and shoulders above the rest that I had to contact the artist and ask permission and cooperation to tell you about her.


Betty Busby lives and works in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the USA. Her work is shown at Gallery 101 Main in Collinsville, Connecticut. You can visit the Gallery at:


Betty majored in ceramics in college and received her BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design with a focus on sculpture, and also studied fiber there (as well as at the Kansas City Art Institute). She eventually invented a process in her studio to make stoneware tiles and had to learn how to install them herself because professional tilesetters refused to work with them. This led to her starting her own company in California called Busby-Gilbert Tile, Inc. She operated the firm for 18 years and then sold it in order to retire to New Mexico. The company is still in operation today.


Betty began quilt making in the 1970s. She picked old clothes out of trash cans and took apart curtains and dyed them. Today she works with all types of fabric, and her favorite materials are cottons, silks, and even polyester and nylon. Right now she's making a tree out of weed barrier! She works alone so all of her pieces are designed and handmade by her.


When asked what her design process is, she said, "One thing leads to another. A recent progression started with rocks. Then rocks + plants, then rocks + trees + water, then trees + rocks, then trees by themselves. (I'm) still stuck on them."


I asked about the profound influences on her work and style, and Betty said, "My ceramics professor at RISD, Jun Kaneko, showed what it is like to make art #1 in your life. Nancy Crow is my quilting idol. I love the progression that her work takes." She also said, "My sister, Kitty, for letting me share a house with her and have the time and space to make things."


Betty has a goal of helping to make fiber art more fully integrated in the fine art world. She says that more exposure and aiming to reach the highest level in the medium is what will get fiber artists there. Currently, she is the only fiber artist featured at Gallery 101 Main and feels that the variety of mediums there is very complementary. She applies to and shows at regular art shows when there is a good fit.


I asked Betty if there was a new technique, medium, or art/craft that she would like to learn and she replied, "Always! I love learning new techniques and working with new materials. I just ordered a bunch of Reemay from a museum supply house and can't wait to tear into it." That response required me to go see what Reemay is. It turns out to be that weed barrier stuff she mentioned. This quilt I've got to see.


When asked what the weirdest thing she ever made was, she said, "I chopped the head off a dead mouse I found and substituted a sardine head. Didn't smell very good." Yikes! I think I'm glad she prefers to work with fibers.


As a result of a big personal setback that occurred nearly a year ago that involved Betty's desire to keep working on her art, she realized how important it is to her and has rededicated herself to working harder. This holiday season she is planning on good sales at the gallery and her Etsy shop. In the Etsy shop she even has some quite affordable pillows that she made. She says that making the pillows is fun for her; kind of like a vacation.


You really have to see the detail on Betty's quilts up close to appreciate the work that goes into them. I have enlarged one below and included a closeup view of some of that detail.


Betty describes that quilt in her own words:

"Willow Moon" is one of the later ones in the rocks, water, trees series. It's pared down to just the essential elements, the tree and the moon, because it is a study of reflected light.

"The background material is 1,000-thread-count cotton sateen. I dyed it 4 or 5 times to get really rich, deep colors. Then the tree trunk and the moon area were discharged by 2 different methods. Then I stenciled most of the leaves using various iridescent paint sticks. On top of that, I fused handpainted organza leaves for transparency. Finally, it was quilted on my frame system using metallic silver thread for the leaves, and muted, dark-colored thread for the background and tree trunk."