Carla Stehr

Carla is a fiber artist influenced by a scientific career as a Marine Biologist. As a scientist, she studied cells and tissues of marine organisms and photographed the complexity and beauty of aquatic organisms with a scanning electron microscope. Several of Carla’s microscopic images have found their way into her fiber art.

Carla began working as a scientist for National Marine Fisheries Service after finishing a MS in Fisheries. In 1982, she enrolled in art classes and experimented with drawing, scientific illustration, colored pencil and watercolor. Her fabric addiction started after making her first quilt for a niece. The textural quality of stitch and fabric led to more experiments, and a sudden realization during a free motion quilting class that the sewing machine could be used to draw. Carla began using cloth and stitch to create art in the late 1990’s. She now frequently adds paint, dye, colored pencil and more.

In 2009, Carla began a book of the most artful microscopic images that she and other scientists had photographed during 30 years of research. Also, Carla began using her microscopic images as inspiration for her fiber art. The book, Sea Unseen: Scanning electron microscopy images from Puget Sound and Beyond, was published by the US Government Printing office in 2012.

Artist’s Statement: I use cloth, paint and stitch to express my fascination with aquatic life and natural patterns. My work is inspired by a life-long obsession for exploring tide pools and a career as a Marine Biologist where I had the opportunity to photograph amazingly beautiful aquatic creatures with a scanning electron microscope. I am especially drawn to organisms that may be hard to see, like the tiny Moonglow Anemone partially buried in sand, or single-celled plants such as diatoms that are so small they can only be seen with a microscope. The textural properties of fabric and stitch lend an organic quality that I am compelled to use in my art. I may use overlapping layers of silk organza to suggest transparent structures such as anemone tentacles. Or, to suggest the multi-layered cell walls of diatoms, I may use multiple layers of fabric, creating openings in the top layers to reveal textured patterns below. My intention is to illustrate features of plants, animals or natural patterns that might be unnoticed without looking really close.