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Material Girl

CAS alum uses fibers to create mesmerizing designs

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In the slideshow above, view the works of sculptor Jodi Colella (CAS’81). Photos of Colella by Melody Komyerov. Other photos courtesy of Colella

Jodi Colella’s fingers have a restless curiosity, not content to let the transformative potential of materials they touch lie dormant. A Somerville-based fiber artist and teacher as fascinated by process as by its outcome, Colella (CAS’81) sees the bizarre and enticing capabilities of the substances she works with. “I’m very curious about materials,” she says. “Just playing with them to find their qualities. Usually they do unexpected things.”

Her inquisitiveness comes in part from a love of nature’s building blocks. She studied biology at BU, and she says that “aesthetically, I have always loved cellular forms. In fact, if you look at my notebooks from back then, I didn’t write too much information, but I had all the images.” One of her recent works, Seeds, evokes biological forms, but is rooted in textile traditions too. She experimented with needle felting (a method of transforming wool fleece into felt), creating dysmorphic orbs of burred fuzziness and vivid layers of color. The process signified concentrated potential, each needle prick a compacting of Colella’s own energy into the “seed.”

Colella first encountered traditional textile methods like felting and knitting during summers at her grandparents’ Cape Cod home. “I was brought up always working with my hands,” says the former graphic designer, “and I’ve always loved doing that. So I think that’s where I start, and then hopefully it goes somewhere else.” Her fingers often reach for things that stretch the definition of fiber, such as the window screen she used to make Undercurrent, a work about barriers and duplicity.

Photo by Melody Komyerov  for Boston University Photography.

Photo by Melody Komyerov for Boston University Photography.

Sculptor Jodi Colella (CAS’81) feels the artistic possibilities in a variety of textures, exploring unconventional materials to weave and shape unique creations. Photo by Melody Komyerov

In One Day, an award-winning project currently on display at the Textile Museum, in Washington, D.C., Colella started such a transformative journey with plastic newspaper delivery sleeves. In cutting them, pulling them apart, shredding them, and spinning them into plastic yarn—“plarn”—she discovered their capacity to take on new properties, different densities, a metallic sheen. “I also became intrigued by the idea that I was collecting daily,” she says. “It was a comment on the passage of time. And as time went on, it grew into something else.”

She needed so many bags to create the project that she asked friends, neighbors, and students to pitch in. They did, with gusto. “Every time I would see people, before they even said hi, they’d stuff a bunch of bags in my hand,” Colella says. They were amazed at the bags’ various colors and qualities when compressed or stretched. “That’s the surprise of this project, that level of depth, that all of a sudden I was opening other peoples’ eyes to material.”

Colella is no stranger to opening eyes. As a teacher at the deCordova School, in Lincoln, Mass., she helps students develop their art, from fiber to sculptural jewelry. Patience, she says, is the key. “It’s very difficult to be in the position of trying to figure something out, but you can’t. And to have somebody show you, or indicate a way that you can figure it out yourself that makes you feel good is really important,” she says. “There’s just a level of fulfillment there in people sharing with you, you sharing with people.”

It’s easy to imagine one of her students catching her fervor for experimenting with materials. “Very often,” Colella says, her eyes lighting up, “you get these surprises that are nothing you would ever dream of. That’s what I love about it.”

Annie Laurie Sánchez can be reached at sancheza@bu.edu. Grace Ko can be reached at graceko@bu.edu.

A version of this article originally appeared in the spring 2011 issue of arts&sciences.

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