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Artist Insight - Interview with Hillary Steel, Individual Artist Award (IAA) Recipient

Artist Insight - Interview with Hillary Steel, Individual Artist Award (IAA) Recipient


Learn about what makes Hillary create and her experience receiving an IAA

May 29, 2018

June 2018 Artist Insight - Interview with Hillary Steel

Artist Statement

Material and process are what drives me to create art. The slow labor of preparing and dyeing materials, dressing looms and weaving, affords me time to think and physically transform a simple linear element into whole cloth. I have inherited a wealth of knowledge about textile processes from both known and unknown artisans. I have practiced my craft for over thirty years and continually discover new ways to think about my work.

How did you start making art. What inspired you?  

From the time I was small I made things – drawings, collages, clothing for my stuffed animals, while at University, I studied and earned a B.A. in English Literature. A Textile 101 class that I took in my senior year opened the door to the work that would consume me for years to come. I bought a floor loom, taught myself about dying and experimented in between part time jobs. I also took classes and workshops in my field as well as in the studio arts (drawing, sculpture, color and design theory) and art history to round out my education. I learned mostly by doing and was fortunate to have great teachers and experienced artists who encouraged me.

Do you have a piece you are most proud of and why?

There are a few large pieces that are my favorites and they tend to be recent works (probably because they reflect, utilize and combine multiple dye techniques and complex weave structures that were used alone in older works).

“Embrace” is made of many yards of hand woven cloth that, once made, was cut up, sometimes resist-dyed again, and re-assembled into its present state.  I worked on it slowly, over the course of five years. “Embrace” is an homage to my mentors and traditional artisans whose legacy enriches us all.

How did you come to learn about the Individual Artist Awards?

I am no stranger to the IAA Awards and, over the decades I have applied, applied and applied. In between, I won a few awards in 2001 and 2007. That is how it is in the arts – you just keep plugging away.  

Also, for many years, I was active in the Arts in Education: Artist in Residence program through the Maryland State Arts Council and worked often with students in Anne Arundel, Howard and Montgomery Counties on large collaborative textiles that hopefully, are still on view in their schools. The opportunities provided by our local and state Arts Councils are incredibly important.

What does it mean to you having received an IAA?

I greatly appreciate the recognition signified by this award. I hope that my work was chosen with the understanding of my commitment to excellence in my field.  There is always more to learn, more to discover about one's field. This award encourages me to keep growing and developing my skills, and to teach others about what has been and continues to be an engaging and fascinating journey.

The money will help me to offset studio, travel, research and documentation expenses for ongoing study and preservation work focused on endangered weaving and dyeing techniques. After all, these are the processes that fuel my knowledge and contemporary work, and that I intend to keep alive by teaching others.


Hillary Steel is an artist and teacher who specializes in weaving and resist dyeing.  She incorporates ikat and shibori (jaspe and amarras) into her hand woven wall pieces. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo.  After graduation, she studied textiles via post-baccalaureate coursework at Buffalo State College and the University of Pittsburgh as well as through travel to Cote d'Ivoire, Peru, Chile and Mexico. Hillary received a Masters in Teaching degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. She has worked in public and private schools in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia as an artist in residence, creating site-specific collaborative textiles with students. Since 2006, along with colleague Virginia Davis, Hillary has been studying with and documenting the work of Mexican master rebozo weaver Don Evaristo Borboa Casas. They have produced a short film about his work.

Steel’s personal artwork embodies a strong international presence, influenced by traditional textiles and her travels. Her wall pieces have been included in national and international exhibitions - at the North American Cultural Center in San Jose, Costa Rica, the American Consulate in Taiwan, and at our Embassy in Mexico City and Lima, Peru. Her textiles have been the subject of solo shows at the McLean Project for the Arts and artspace Gallery in Virginia, at the Glenview Mansion Art Gallery in Maryland and at other venues in PA and Ohio. Steel’s work is also included in the book Art on the Edge, Seventeen Contemporary American Artists published by the U.S. Department of State. Hillary’s textile art is held in private and public collections, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery, The GW University Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., at the American Embassy in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso and at the American Consulate in Tijuana, Mexico.  She has been a resident of Montgomery County, Maryland since 1994, and maintains a studio in Takoma Park, Washington D.C. She is a recipient of a 2018 Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award.

Image: "Tels"TEXTILE  Ikat Resist Dyeing, Handweaving, Sewing, Cotton 80”h x 75”w x 10”d