LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) - Lean forward and take a closer look.
From a distance, Shawne Major's works look like abstract tapestries. Close up, they're complicated - a bit like life, she said. Thousands of objects - among them children's toys, costume jewelry, auto parts, electrical cords, strings of freshwater pearls, Christmas lights, computer chips and baby shoes - intertwine in explosive color and texture.
"Rhyme & Reason: The Art of Shawne Major" is on display through Dec. 8 at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette's Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum. Other featured displays are "Aquarellistes: Louisiana Watercolorists" and "Louisiana Voices: Six Artists Speak to Us."
Major, 43, graduated from New Iberia Senior High School and attended ULL and then Rutgers University in New Jersey.
She began drawing and painting as a child, and learned to sew from visiting cousins and great aunts.
"Every time they would come over they would have some sort of new project and I would be like 'Oh, show me how to do it,'" she said the night before her exhibit's opening reception in September. "But as a kid I didn't know you could be an artist. I didn't know that was something like that was an option."
In college, she met other students with similar interests and ambitions and decided to be an artist.
After starting with acrylic paint, she began experimenting with textures and using a variety of objects in her work.
"The paint seemed to be more about art and art history, and the objects seemed to be more about experiences, whether they were my experiences or other people's experiences," she said. "They carried emotional weight."
She'd collect materials at garage sales before the days of eBay, she said. And she also receives material from friends or even strangers across the country.
"I like to use materials that have history so I prefer to use things that other people have had for a long time," she said. "I really like when they are things they valued. Things that don't have value to anybody else. They are just sentimental."
Major now lives near Opelousas with her two children, 12-year-old Ruby and 8-year-old Kharod. Her studio is a renovated barn. Her pieces can take anywhere from six months to two years to create, she said. Some are several feet long and each one is hung in the studio as the 5-foot-tall artist sews objects into them one by one.
She begins weaving fabric through chicken wire. The cloth is from salvaged formal dresses, some with embellished, sparkling taffeta, and wedding dresses found at consignment stores.
Because such dresses are generally worn only once, Major said, she likes to think she has "saved them" from an otherwise forgotten existence.
When she begins a project she's never quite sure how it will end, she said.
"The journey is what's important to me, and by the end the audience may not see everything that went into it. But it's good to have that dialogue. I like to hear what other people have to say. I look at these pieces as a filtered way on how we see life. Everyone is looking at each object through a different pair of eyes."
Major has galleries in New Orleans, Houston and Atlanta and has held three solo shows this year around the country.
The phrase "One man's junk is another man's treasure," parallels with Major's fascination with the concept of value.
"Questioning value and the creation of value really interests me," she said. "Everything we put value on is made. We've made value. Something like gold, which is worth a lot right now, but it is just metal. Yes it looks pretty, but it's just metal - but yet we've put a value on it."
The exhibit at the Hilliard Museum, which also includes her free-standing piece "Scared Dragon Rocking Horse" borrowed from the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, is the first she's had in Lafayette in eight years.
She gets a kick out of the fact that children particularly enjoy her work.
"Kids can appreciate art just like adults," she said.
Though she keeps an open mind toward what materials to use, she excludes one easy-to-get freebie.
"I do not use Mardi Gras beads," she said. "There may be strings of beads or pearls, but you will not see Mardi Gras beads. They are just too identifiable here."
Information from: The Daily Iberian, http://www.iberianet.com