Spirituality looms in artist’s life, work

For Wendy Bialek, weaving is more than an art form – it’s a metaphor of life.

“Each experience is a thread, which, added to others, helps create the warp and weft of that most nearly unique fabric – the self,” the Sedona artist says.

When she is commissioned for a project, Bialek seeks out the buyers’ motivation in placing the order, which often entails meeting in their home or her studio to discuss their expectations.

She calls this “weaving with intention.”

“I translate the tapestry of each client’s lifestyle and personality into an artistic statement of color, texture and pattern,” she says.

Bialek, 44, began weaving when she was 16. As a child, she spent a lot of time watching her grandmothers sew and embroider, and at 8, she took up a needle and thread “to stay connected to them.”

Growing up, she often visited museums in her hometown of Washington, D.C., where she discovered the weaving craft and became interested in exploring the work of various cultures throughout time.

In 1980, Bialek earned a bachelor’s degree in art weaving at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., and, in 1984, a master’s degree in special education at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.

She taught for four years, mainly in public elementary schools in Ohio, then opened a knitting, weaving and spinning store, where she taught art classes and started a “Weaving for Wellness” program. Her students were mainly professional women, and she taught the concept of weaving as a “professional tool” for relaxation and creative expression.

Years later, Bialek continues this work with Heartwizdom, a program in Sedona that she and her husband Jeff Burger developed to customize retreats for families and businesses, incorporating nature, art and movement.

When she moved to Sedona 6 1/2 years ago, she met Burger on opening day of one of her gallery exhibits.

“It was love at first sight,” she says. The couple have been married for 4 1/2 years.

Bialek’s “Hand-woven creations by Wendy Bialek” include wall sculptures, floor screens and “elegant window treatments.”

Her wearable art, called Sedona Wraps(tm), include meditation shawls, dresses, vests and jackets.

“Because of my Jewish background, I also create tallitot (prayer shawls) … things that I weave that are specifically for enhancing somebody’s prayer or meditative process. … I would call that a ‘woven prayer.’ ”

Woven prayer pieces include tallitot, chuppah (wedding canopies), wall hangings and any piece in which she’s “incorporating symbolism from our faith and basically honoring the traditions of the past in that way, yet at the same time being in the present.”

When ordering a custom project, clients choose yarn and colors and decide on specifics of the piece, such as if they want to tie their own tzitzit (fringes) on a tallit.

“People love the experience of seeing the process, seeing the work. Even though they are not weaving it themselves, they are part of the whole process of the weaving,” Bialek says.

Burger says Bialek weaves more love and joy into every piece than she does thread.

“That’s really true,” she says. It’s a “form of service and an expression of love, and I feel very blessed to have this gift to be able to create.”

Bialek produces her artwork in her home studio in Sedona and typically has work in progress on all six floor looms.

Before beginning, “I’ll meditate on my clients every time I go to do anything related to their piece. And so the energy, the space that I’m in, is clear and clean, and I believe that’s what allows the creativity to flow through me. I get out of the way and something magical happens. … I’m the instrument that’s creating it.”

One reason Bialek enjoys custom work is that “there are zillions of different ways of combinations of pattern, color and texture with infinite ways to explore.”

It takes her two weeks to two months to finish a piece. Both the time and price vary depending on a client’s needs, the size and complexity of the piece and her schedule.

Pieces generally start at $500.

Bialek’s clients are from all over the world, and her business is mainly word-of-mouth.

This article first appeared in the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

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