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Ocean meditations

Fiber artist Mary Babcock weaves tapestries out of old fishnets

By Joleen Oshiro


Mary Babcock draws on her backgrounds of psychology and art to offer a meditation on water in "Hydrophilia," an exhibit of tapestries crafted from fishing nets. The show runs at Hawaii Pacific University Art Gallery through Jan. 14.

While living in Oregon, the fiber artist collected gill nets from a man who ran a fishermen's union. The discarded nets, dumped in a freshwater river when they became ripped or obsolete, were sent to the union for recycling.

"He had a whole room full of old nets. It was amazing and beautiful, all those co-lored pieces of fiber," she recalls.

Babcock cut up the nets and wove them back together using deep-sea leader lines. The end products reflect the green and blue hues of the ocean.


On exhibit: Through Jan. 14, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays

Where: Hawaii Pacific University Art Gallery, 45-045 Kamehameha Highway (Kaneohe campus)

Call: 544-0228


"Each (tapestry) is primarily one net apiece. All that color range comes just from being used out in the water and the sun. I did no dyeing," she says. "The real exciting thing, when I moved to Hawaii and brought them with me, was that in the Northwest, that's not the color of the water. But they reflect so much of the colors of the water here."

BABCOCK'S FASCINATION with fishnets continued when she moved to Hawaii five years ago (she's chairwoman of fiber at the University of Hawaii-Manoa art department), and she began collecting nets at Kailua beaches. A couple of tapestries in the show are made from nets retrieved from Kalama Beach.

"I think it's seasonal. The nets seem to wash up during the winter," Babcock says.

Nets from Kailua shores are different from Oregon gill nets. The fibrous lines are 1 inch thick and much more vibrant in color. Babcock says that because these nets come from the ocean, with living debris such as algae attached, preparing them for weaving requires sun bleaching to kill the debris and do away with the strong ocean smell.

It's easy to make distinctions between the gill net tapestries and those made from nets from Kalama Beach. But one piece, titled "Pacific Exchange," combines the Oregon and Hawaii nets.

"They're really both from the Pacific Ocean — from opposite pieces of the same ocean," says Babcock.

She says the piece is an example of the direction she wants to take her work.

The exhibit is meant to be a meditation on the changeability of water and its para-llels to human emotion.

"Water can change from agitated back to smoothness instantly, then back to agitated again. I think of water as how the mind works."

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