Laura Willits: Beading Light & Dark

Laura Willits: Beading Light and Dark

Maborosi means “illusory light” in Japanese and refers to an inexplicable calling that draws fishermen, against their better judgment, to death at sea. The term captures how powerful light, especially when in the presence of darkness, can be. Laura Willits’s delicate bead weavings depict nocturnal landscapes, landscapes that glow and shimmer in darkness. Similar to how the Japanese phrase suggests movement toward the unknown, her work guides the viewer toward a distant, unseen light.

Key to this work is the artist’s self-confessed “comfort with darkness, both in my work and within myself.” So too is her ability to make darkness feel anything but oppressive. Perhaps unsurprisingly, nocturnal working habits inform much of this work. “I like to be awake and working at night,” she explains. “The busy world is at a low ebb then, and I am free to pursue my work with no distractions. The people who will see my work are asleep and dreaming. At night, logic seems less important than vision and sensation.”

“I’ve always thought in terms of value,” she explains of her early training as a printmaker. Over a decade ago, Willits began exploring fabric in a search for “brighter lights and darker darks.” “Beadwork,” she concluded, “combined the greatest range of values,” as well as “satisfying a sense of order within my work.” Her subject matter includes landscapes both real and imagined, often “quick glimpses of things seen in the world outside my head, from walks or drives or views out of windows.” This spontaneity belies the reality of loom weaving with beads, a notoriously time-consuming craft with outcomes that often suggest an examination of minutiae rather than passing glimpses.

Willits creates photographs, drawings, and monoprints, which are then scanned into the computer to create a cartoon or bead map that she uses to plot her work. In some pieces, the title is incorporated into the surface with a pixilated quality reminiscent of the text on the sides of large-format slides, or of the time and date printed in the corner of holiday snapshots—reminders of fleeting images that may otherwise go unnoticed. More recently, she has woven tabs onto a side of each piece, allowing her signature, the date, and the work’s title to be integral to the piece without disrupting the image.

“I want these works to live beyond me,” she explains with the pragmatism of an artist committed to a particularly labor-intensive practice. These weavings are, I suspect, maborosi of sorts. They draw us not toward death but certainly on a powerful, if inexplicable, path toward light.

The artist’s website is

FiberArts magazine (Jan./Feb. 2007: 28-29)