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Maia Tsinamdzgvrishvili: Seashells from the Caucasus to Florida

By Mary Ellen Chatwin
Friday, January 25
By word of mouth that zips through the expat community from time to time, Maia continues to have an unusually large following of art lovers, though her name is rarely on front pages in Tbilisi. Although highly respected by her colleagues in the vast Georgian cultural milieu, she is not part of the 'art bourgeoisie'. Yet hardly a diplomat's family has never visited her breathtaking work during the International Women's Association Christmas bazaar, and this is where many discover her unique expression of traditional arts of the silk road regions--silk and wool.

Georgia's silk industry thrived until recent decades, and the Silk Museum in Tbilisi is a gem still reflecting the important place this cottage industry had in the country. Maia manages to find families here who cultivate silkworms--she buys the fibers and cocoons directly and uses some of this raw material for her intricately fused silk and wool scarves. One visitor to her studio exclaimed, "These warm scarves feel like clouds!"

She also uses the cocoons, dyed by hand and sliced, to make collages that resemble sea shells on a Florida beach. Perhaps this is the reason Deborah Butler, from the Big Arts council on Sanibel Island, was so enthralled when she visited Maia's atelier in the old Sololaki neighborhood, in 2011. Sanibel Island, in the Gulf of Mexico, is known for its exceptional geographic east-west position that makes the rising tides leave millions of shells each day on its beaches. So on March 4, 2013, Maia's 'Seashells' collection will be the center of the Sanibel Island show. The masterpieces of her exhibition, however, are large tapestries (called gobelini in Georgian, after the famous French family that founded the first tapestry center in Paris under the reign of Louis XIV), which seem indeed more like paintings--watercolor or gouache--with their spontaneous splashes of color. Visitors often come up to look closely, at first not believing they are undeniably woven tapestry!

Maia specialized in her field and graduated from the venerable Tbilisi State Academy of Fine Arts Textile Department during its highest days of glory, and is respected by her former classmates, many of them well-known in Georgia and abroad. She has shown her work in the Netherlands and in Switzerland at the Open Studios International Artists Exchange Program of the Christoph Merian Foundation in Basel, where she created astonishing works such as dry river-plants from the Rhine, caught in crystal white, hand-made silk paper. The beauty of all Maia creates has to do with texture. Whether cloth or paper, these are fabrics of mesmerizing precision that belies their spontaneity and beauty.

When Maia's Lufthansa flight takes off for the US in late February she'll have overcome many obstacles. Yet the main hurdle for this artist just might appear from an unexpected direction--will Americans be able to pronounce her name? English-speaking friends are working to help her meet the challenge--Floridians on the coast know what a 'tsunami' is; it's only one more step to saying "Tsinamdzgvrishvili" ...well, we are half-way there. (See link at: