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A Country, A Culture,
Entwined in Woven Copper
Like her native Colombia, a country of exquisite natural beauty riven by violence, the works of Monica Naugle evoke power and confrontation at the same time that they harbor a quiet harmonic beauty. Amazingly, Naugle, forty-four, the daughter of a diplomat, had never woven a yarn when in 1989 she began handweaving flat copper strips she had discovered at her husband’s construction company.
“One day changed my life,” explains Naugle, who came to Tampa, Florida, to study English when she was seventeen, fell in love, and stayed. “I saw the copper tape, and suddenly pictures came into my mind to make weavings of them. I took a piece of the tape home, and with one needle I made holes in the tape, trying to make something larger, a textile. Then I found metal mesh, the kind for pouring concrete. It comes with holes, and I started threading it with flexible wire.
“Then I really wanted a loom. I had never imagined the need to own
a loom—it’s a total mystery to me. In my country, weavers are everywhere. I wonder if the tradition is instinctive in me, because I never had any education in what I do, no guidance. I put the loom [a 60-inch countermarch] together myself. I call her ‘my baby.’ ”
Naugle, her husband, and their three teenage children live amidst lush nature on a twenty-acre parcel of citrus groves, Florida scrub, and their own extensive garden, from which she takes cuttings to incorporate in her work. Naugle also uses pebbles, grapevines (boots, mosquito spray, and a machete are her harvesting tools), and exotic seeds, many of which—for example, the three-inch-long, marble-like tagua and ojo de buey—she collects on trips back to Colombia. She is an inveterate garage-saler, scouting out broken machinery, springs, pieces of stainless steel, and burned wire, which she weaves into her dominant material, usually copper wire, as she works the loom. She strips old extension cords of their insulation, exposing the copper wires, and to give them the right patina either burns them in a big pit in her yard or encourages her children and dogs to urinate on them. (“It’s the best patina in the world,” she says. “Picasso did that. So did Salvador Dalí.”)
Above: Skirt, 2003; copper with patina;
24” x 17” x 30”. Photo: Bud Lee.
Her powerful, large-scale works are marked by her inherent sense of balance both in composition and in the interplay of light and dark space. Though the metal pieces can be heavy—one recent work weighed 200 pounds—the roughness of the material somehow results in an overall feeling of softness and naturalism. Even provocative works such as Panties (2000), a procession of seven wire “panties” on stakes, and Social Confusion (2002), her most political, assuage as much as they assault the viewer. Naugle’s work frequently addresses women’s sexual and political oppression, as well as her belief that people of all cultures are mired in hatred, fear, dread, and egotism.
“All my pieces have a meaning, a feeling, a state of mind,” she says, as she prepares for a 2005 solo show at the Polk Museum of Art in Lakeland, Florida. “The fascinating thing about my materials is that they have texture and flexibility and they are forever, just like an idea.”
Rhonda Sonnenberg is an author and journalist who lives in St. Petersburg, Florida.