Lara Plecas weaves paper quilts that tell the American pioneer story.

Artist of the Month: Lara Plecas

Written by Leah LeMoine Category: Arts Issue: July 2017
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“A lot of my work is based on migration and patterns of migration,” mixed-media artist Lara Plecas says while she flips through a slideshow of her work – paintings of forlorn trees, birds flying in formation and desolate landscapes, most done in encaustic (wax hardened with resin and colored with pigment) on panels. The theme is most beautifully illustrated in her paper quilts.

“I really love the aesthetic of old papers, books, encyclopedias, maps,” Plecas says. “I cut the papers into quilt patterns. Quilts tell stories... I love that I was able to tell stories from my family that were passed down.” One of those family stories is that of John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed, a distant ancestor who inspired her collage “The American Frontier.” 

Plecas draws heavily from folk traditions and textile art to craft her collages, which feature old magazine scraps and photocopies of antiquated European currencies “stitched” in patterns. “When you look at textiles around the world, they all have this language that connects,” she says. “That’s what I’m tapping into… It’s about the tribe.” 

Plecas grew up in “a very traditional Lithuanian household in Chicago” before migrating west herself. She studied exercise science and dance at Arizona State University, but visual art always called to her. “I’ve been doing art for 17 years, and it takes a long time to find your voice... and create what you want to create,” she says. “I feel like I’m finally there.”

Plecas’ work is on display at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport’s Terminal 4 Museum through October. She and her husband, adobe tradesman Clint Plecas, are launching workshops under their Desert Crafted label (desertcrafted.com) this fall.

— Leah LeMoine