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How the Valley’s Seasons and Gardens Inspire Pattern Designer Jen Hewett

The Hudson-based artist shares how her practice has evolved since moving from California, how she’s helping advocate for creatives of color, and how gardening grounds her.

by Mazuba Kapambwe

Printmaker, surface designer, and textile artist Jen Hewett loves to spend time in her garden. As a formerly full-time San Francisco-based artist, she has found one of the benefits of moving to Hudson was having a garden of her own for the first time since she was 17. “When I bought my house, I knew that gardening was what I wanted to do in the spring and summer … I think of gardening as a creative practice, and it’s also a way of rooting and grounding yourself to a place,” she says. Her love of plants is an inspiration in most of her textiles and prints, which are botanically-based.      

Most of Hewett’s textile prints are botanically based. (Photo: Courtesy Jen Hewett)

Moving to Hudson also gave Hewett the ability to experience more seasonal changes. This has inspired her textile and print practice. “The light has changed, my landscape has changed,” she says. “I find that my colors are still bright, but they tend to be a bit more muted and a lot less saturated than they were when I lived in California.”

As an artist of color, Hewett advocates for other creatives of color, especially women. In 2021, she released her second book This Long Thread: Women of Color on Craft, Community and Connection, which features interviews and essays from female makers. This was inspired by her experiences at conferences and organizations, where artists of color are routinely excluded, despite the diversity of the industry. “Women of color have always been involved in craft, from weaving during slavery to today,” she says. “Most of this practice was passed down from grandmothers and mothers.”

Hewett’s studio includes plenty of color, plants, and natural light. (Photo: Courtesy Jen Hewett)

Since 2020, on a national level, the artist says that she has seen more women of color at textile events. She attributes this to “more organizations hosting [these events] being confronted with their own exclusivity. They have made more of an attempt to get people [of color] excited and involved and to attend.” She’s also noticed more diverse students in the printmaking classes she teaches, as well as museum shows that feature artists whose work utilizes textile, such as the Faith Ringgold “American People” exhibition that the New Museum hosted in 2022. “I look at her holistically as an artist, and illustration and textile happen to be her medium,” she says.

Another female weaver and textile artist that has been the recent subject of a museum exhibition is Dorothy Liebes (1897-1972) at Cooper Hewitt. Although Liebes was commercially successful and is known for creating the “Liebes look,” the museum recognizes that “her powerful impact on 20th-century design remains largely unacknowledged.” This could be attributed to the fact that “craft in the U.S. and other western countries are coded female… Anything that non white creators do is usually pushed aside,” says Hewett. She is hopeful that more cultural institutions will continue to dedicate exhibitions to women in craft.

Artist and designer Jen Hewett in a field of black-eyed Susans. (Photo: Courtesy Jen Hewett)

Collaborating with major brands like Anthropologie, Wall Pops, and World Market have been major highlights for Hewett. For World Market, she designed various items including dish towels, ceramic canisters, and mugs.

Seeing her work on that scale was exciting to her, as was taking her mom to visit one of the World Market stores in Southern California. “My mum saw the huge photo of me that the store had put up and said, ‘I think you’re pretty successful!'” Hewett says, laughing.

Hewett has collaborated with major American brands, and her designs have included fun fabric flags. (Photo: Courtesy Jen Hewett)

Hewett notes that her hand printed work is limited edition, and she does not do re-runs. This is both for sustainability and personal reasons. “In order for me to continue to be engaged, I have to keep doing something new. I have some things that have been wildly successful that I might bring back the same color, for example — but usually when I’m done, I’m done,” she says. She stores each design in a digital format so that she can look back and be re-inspired for future collections.

Next Hewett is excited about her latest collection, which required the purchase of a screen printer exposure unit which she has set up at her home studio. “This gives me the freedom to experiment. I can try out different things.” Before getting her own screen printer, she had to have film sent off to other printers.

A selection of Hewett’s textile patterns in some of her favorite shades. (Photo: Courtesy Jen Hewett)

In addition to her own work, Hewett has continued to teach at various schools and universities. In February 2024, she was named the 2024 Diana Lee Fox ’75 Resident Artist at the Park School in Baltimore, Maryland. She will also teach at Arrowmont in Tennessee, one of the oldest craft schools in the United States. When not teaching or working on her craft, Hewett takes her dog on long walks at Olana, where she likes to watch the seasons change, the Empire Rail Trail, and at the 150-foot High Falls waterfall. “You’re not allowed to swim in the pond, but sometimes you just [want] to wade in there,” she says.

Writer Mazuba Kapambwe holds a master’s degree in Africana Studies from SUNY-Albany. She fell in love with the Hudson Valley on countless bus rides between the Capital District and her family’s home in Scarsdale, N.Y. Her work has appeared in Conde Nast Traveler, Culture Trip, CNN Travel, and more.

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