When Tressa Sularz’s basket said, in effect, “You’re not the boss of me,” she couldn’t be upset — once she accepted that her art would never again be as it was. The mutiny wasn’t so different from how her own body had turned on her.
The northeast Minneapolis fiber artist had found fulfillment in the control she brought to her fine arts basketry. Her patterns were refined, her vessels symmetrical, the stiff rattan she used flexing into the art she foresaw. She loved details; the more tedious, the better. “I always was more about doilies than afghans.”
So it was unsettling when her baskets rebelled. She’d shifted from rattan to waxed cotton, and began adding stone beads, “not to be pretty, but because of their meaning.” Jasper, for example, symbolizes prosperity.
One day, the basket at hand began curving back on itself, insisting on making a spiral.
“I finally let it go instead of trying to make it stay flat,” she said. “And it was a huge breakthrough. For me to let go and not control where it was going was so new to me.”
She realized that she was tired of trying to make her designs appear seamless. Maybe, she would try being pulled along instead. After all, she had been given a second chance.
In 2013, Sularz was found to have breast cancer. The tumor floored her, having escaped notice in a recent mammogram.
Worse, the doctor found five more during the operation. Her excellent health had mutinied.
The ensuing chemotherapy and radiation did their jobs. Still, she thought, “at least I know now how I’m going to die.”
She returned to her art, but couldn’t raise her arms high enough to work with rattan, so she shifted to waxed cotton — then watched everything else change. Her works no longer are baskets, but shells and enclosures and fantails.
“It sounds really weird to have something forming in your hands that you didn’t intentionally have in mind,” she said.
The results are on display at the Textile Center, 3000 University Av. SE., Minneapolis, in an exhibit called “Dancing My Way Home,” which runs through April 30.
Sularz began basket-weaving about 25 years ago. She’d always been crafty as a stay-at-home mom.
When she finally took a basketry class, “I was so impressed that someone could love what they do and earn a living.”
Cancer transformed her approach to her work, as well as her life. She has kept her short-short hair, and in her dress and jewelry is something of an art piece herself. Still, she knows it has been a highly personal journey.
“I wouldn’t want to say to everybody who’s sick, ‘Don’t worry; something’s going to come out of it.’ But being willing to stick with it, well, it changed me.”
She’s not sure what’s next on her artistic journey, only that “this is where I’ve ended. For now. But it’s not over.”