Vineyard artist’s unfinished project joins others in U.K. book

When not working on one of her large scale projects, artist Paulette Hayes keeps busy making little gifts. — Photo by Gwyn McAllister

Paulette Hayes is one of a handful of textile artists whose work appears in a 2012 book called “Tales of the Unfinishable: Investigating the Incomplete.” The book, published in the U.K., features a variety of textile projects with one thing in common: in each case the artist halted progress for one reason or another leaving — literally in some cases — a thread dangling.

The book explores the reasons why a project suffered an untimely demise — never for anything as ordinary as say, running out of a particular color of yarn or getting bored with the project. The variety of explanations give insight into the artists themselves.

Ms. Hayes’s unfinished piece consists of hundreds of embroidered patches with images of fetuses. The patches were intended to make up a tapestry with the images — all slightly different sizes and colors — appearing to float across a fabric field. Ms. Hayes explains in the text accompanying the picture in the book that work was inspired by a traumatic experience in her life. In 1986, Ms. Hayes gave birth to a six-month old stillborn child. “It was the worst thing that ever happened to me,” said Ms. Hayes in an interview at her Tisbury studio.

She hoped that constructing the piece would be a cathartic exercise and that she could send a message to other women who had gone through a similar experience and to people whom she has noticed tend to make insensitive remarks following this type of tragedy.

However, Ms. Hayes could never quite find a way to arrange the patches to achieve the desired effect and so she shelved the project for good. She eventually used the imagery for another tapestry but not the 200 plus patches. Ms. Hayes was referred to the authors of the book by an online friend. After communicating with the authors, she sent the patches to the U.K. to be included in both the book and a traveling exhibit.

The tapestry is not the first project that Ms. Hayes has undertaken to send a message through an art medium. In 2007 the Australian native conceived of, designed, and facilitated the erection of the Myall Creek Memorial, the first one dedicated to an Aboriginal massacre in Australia.

Many of half-dozen or so other tapestries that Ms. Hayes has completed are social or political commentaries, but also quite beautiful as works of art. Among the issues she has commented on in her large, complex pieces are the role of women in the Middle East, Lyme disease, the Cambodian killing fields, and the dispossession of aboriginal people in her homeland. The tapestries involve a great deal of work and encompass a variety of techniques such as photo transfer, hand dying, collaging, and lots of machine stitching.

It wasn’t until she moved to the Vineyard that Ms. Hayes started pursuing a career as an artist (although she says that she has always sewn, drawn, and painted). The bio on her website reads like the plot of a mini series, and a quirky one at that. The animated, energetic Ms. Hayes has variously worked as a sheep farmer, psychiatric nurse, school teacher, sawmill owner, social activist, costume and set designer, typesetter, photographer, and journalist.

The story of how Ms. Hayes ended up on the Vineyard is far from the typical, “I came for a weekend and never left” explanation. In 2007, the newly divorced mother of three grown children found herself with too much time on her hands. She was living a comfortable life in Australia (“I had a seven-bedroom house, a Mercedes and a position in the community,”) but decided she needed to move on.

Ms. Hayes sold everything and set out on an odyssey that took her from Paris to London to Ireland to South Dakota to Kentucky to Mexico to Guatemala to Washington, D.C., to Martha’s Vineyard. Only Paris and London were on the original itinerary, the other destinations came about due to chance encounters and the whims of the adventurous woman.

She met her second husband, artist Nick Mosey, in D.C. in 2008 and the couple bought a house on the Island. Mr. Mosey had often visited friends here. Their cozy home is filled with artwork, including a number of pieces by Mr. Mosey’s late wife, sculptor Ella Tulin.

When not working on one of her large-scale projects, she’s busy with imaginative little gifts. She creates personalized lace doilies embellished with humorous messages or graphics to send to fellow members of an online crossword puzzle group. For an upcoming wedding, Ms. Hayes is crafting fortune cookies and chinese food containers from white organza.

Now the couple is planning to move to Australia, where Ms. Hayes’s three children still live.

Ms. Hayes, whose work has been included in shows and won awards both here and all over the U.S., will continue to pursue her textile art. As she explains on her website, the work incorporates all of the skills and lessons she has learned throughout her rich and varied life.

“Nursing taught me to feel compassion and understanding of the human condition,” the artist writes in her online bio. “Farming led me to growing my own flock of sheep, learning to shear, spin and dye using native plants from my own land. Teaching forced me to educate myself about all forms and expressions of art. From my social justice involvement I learnt that something amazing can be created from hard work and love and that following my heart was where my strength was to be found.”

The sawmill experience, Ms. Hayes credits with another life lesson. “Don’t waste your time doing something you don’t want to do,” she says with characteristic frankness. Anyone who knows the tireless Ms. Hayes can attest to the fact that wasting time is not something she is ever likely to be accused of.