October 20, 2021
An Ode in Memory of Paola Besana
The VAWAA family is ever expanding, our team is always looking out for inspiring new craftspeople who are happy to open their hearts and studios to curious travelers and lovers of art. One artist we really connected with was the Italian weaver Paola Besana. Her textiles, inspired by an eclectic array of influences such as anthropology, experiences in her personal life and postcards featuring textile subjects from around the world, drew us in completely with their intricacy and variation. Even those who’s artistic preferences lay outside the realm of fibres found themselves drawn into Besana’s world.
When we reached out, we were sad to learn that she had recently passed away. While dismayed at the loss, regretting not having discovered her earlier, we felt touched by the connection we had found to her. Even with the knowledge that she’s no longer with us, the mastercraftswoman was present every time we marveled at her work or read her wise reflections on her website.
“To paraphrase Italo Calvino, creativity is like jam: you have to spread it on a solid slice of bread [i.e. technical knowledge]. If not, it remains a shapeless thing, like jam, out of which you can’t make anything.”
Paola Besana started weaving at the age of 23 in the year 1968. Having studied and worked in New York, Oakland, Naples, she eventually settled in Milan. Along with her creative experimentation and production, she dedicated her life to passing on her knowledge to others through the opening of her own workshop ‘Studio di Tessitura Paola Besana’.
“I’ve always put teaching at the forefront of my activity, with full-time courses and seminars in my studio on a score of different topics. Interconnection between courses is something I’ve always tried to achieve, in order to offer programs that could gradually and systematically develop both technical and designing abilities in weaving.”
Besana continues to be a valuable source of knowledge even after her passing. Although a website can’t fully encapsulate her creations, accomplishments and deep inner knowledge of her craft and journey, it’s still a wonderful resource. Along with her writings on craft, there’s an elegant gallery of images showing her work in detail. From thought provoking wall hangings, such as ‘Waterfall, 1969’ - the same object can at any moment find a new balance and unfold into different shapes – as happens to each of us - to knitted sculptures of trees - Why knit yet another fashionable sweater? Knitting is basically knit stitches, purl stitches, increases and decreases, so let's have fun with it - Besana’s imaginative wanderings are sure to inspire future generations.
Whenever we bring something into existence with our hands and mind working in tandem, we are distilling a piece of our consciousness; capturing it in some new form. When we pass on, it’s clear how potent our art is as a vessel containing all the intention and concentrated imagination from a particular moment in a life.
VAWAA artist Siem’s inspiration, ceramics artist Paulus Berehnson described creating as ‘a way of making a life’ rather than a way of making a living. When his student’s pieces weren’t selling, he recommended they ‘give it away, or return it to the earth, or place it some place anonymously’. He recognized their creations were imprints of humanity, invaluable, carrying their own stories and the powerful potential to inspire others.
Paola Besana’s handwoven patterns, masterful designs and poetic structures have become precious fossils in the wake of her departure. Thankfully we can still see them and have her words guide us through her creative processes in the library , click here to visit her site.
Explore all mini-apprenticeships, and be sure to come say hey on Instagram. For more stories, tips, and new artist updates, subscribe here.