For Betty Usdan-Zwickler, of Palm Beach County, Florida, and New York City, there is something special, even magical about the wool yarn and other materials she uses in her unique art. This former painter says she paints with wool. But that hardly encompasses the totality of her process. She uses weaving techniques of wrapping, knotting, and twining. Sometimes, she incorporates other materials like beads, buttons, art papers, pearls, crystals, and found objects in her work that defies comparison to the work of any other artist. 


About Betty Uzdan Zwickler Fiber Artist

The results are unique, colorful conglomerations of materials that spark wonder about how the artist made them and the source of her inspiration. Abstract rather than figurative or narrative depictions of people and places, Usdan-Zwickler’s artwork takes shape in a Zen-like process of letting the materials dictate what to do. She prefers not to start with a pre-conceived plan.

With more than thirty years on the burgeoning South Florida art scene, Usdan-Zwickler also has a proud history of museum and gallery shows throughout the U.S.  This former gallery owner is represented in numerous municipal, corporate, and private collections.


Art has been a life-long pursuit, beginning in childhood and private art lessons when she was just eight years old. The evolution of Usdan-Zwickler seems destined to have come full circle, since she was born to a father who was a piece goods manufacturer and a mother who enjoyed knitting. She herself studied textile design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, but initially worked in acrylic and mixed media as a painter. She was also involved in stone carving, printmaking, and photography.


Getting into another medium, fabric, was the result of a conversation with a fellow artist in 2009.  Usdan-Zwickler was at a point of stalemate with her painting. After taking a class taught by fiber artist Leora Klaymer Stewart, she was hooked on working with something new and abandoned her other forms of art.


Knitting, weaving, and needle felting are her techniques now. Everything Usdan-Zwickler does is by hand, without the use of machines. Her travels often serve as inspiration. Years after a trip to Australia and New Zealand, she made "The Great Barrier Reef," a tapestry using pink and orange yarn with braids that the artist describes as looking like fish.


Usdan-Zwickler is ineluctably drawn to brightness and boldness in her choice of a palette, making her a premier colorist. Though she never lived on a Caribbean island, she favors the saturated hues of blooms on a royal Poinciana tree or a hibiscus bush. She also likes the jazzy juxtapositions of color within the same artwork.


How or when her love of color began is a mystery. "Even in the darkest days, I used a lot of color," Usdan-Zwickler says. "It makes me happy."


The three-dimensionality and tactile nature of her artwork make it attractive to people, sometimes too much so. Usdan-Zwickler describes the case of a four foot by two-foot tapestry created for a three-year traveling exhibition called “Global River Exchange.” “My piece was about the rivers in the world that are polluted, inspired by my trips to Croatia and Slovenia,” she says.


When the show was over and her artwork returned to her, Usdan-Zwickler says the piece was "tattered" from the touching of many hands. Rather than set it aside and forget about it, she did what a highly creative person would and re-fashioned it. Usdan-Zwickler set to work folding the artwork into a soft sculpture and adding numerous wrapped yarns. Now measuring 28" X 20" X 12" she calls it "Isn’t She Lovely." But the artist wasn’t finished yet, "I needed to put something inside it. I found a bent-neck lamp that suited the purpose. Now it’s kind of a funky piece."


For this artist, there is no painful rumination about what to create next. Ideas for new pieces are sparked by a visit to a New York yarn store, where the colors and different thicknesses suggest shapes and combinations for future pieces. She also is nourished by her participation in an all-female artists’ group in West Palm Beach called the Gastrofiberists, because some members are also chefs and restaurateurs. When the women get together, they exchange ideas and provide each other with constructive criticism.


Essential for an artist, she keeps learning and evolving as the expansion of her knowledge continues. The discovery of neon-colored paracords, cable ties, and electrical wire caps in Home Depot led to the creation of "Short Circuit."  "I’m having a lot of fun," says Usdan-Zwickler. "I love all fiber work. It’s more exciting to me than when I was painting."


Article by Candice Russell 

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