Courier-Journal-CoverA World of Color

Artist’s work gains attention

By Zahra Farah
The Courier-Journal

For fabric artist Pamela Mattei, art can look more like science.

Her workroom is filled with measuring cups, labeled color bottles and a scratch book in which she’s written down the thousand of colors she’s created in the past.

While listening to her favorite rock band – O.A.R. – or Broadway show tunes, Mattei, 31, spends hours in the basement of her home off Dorsey Lane.

“I know it’s a successful dye day when I have dyed my body different colors,” she said.

Mattei and her art drew lots of attention recently when she was in the running to be on the cover of a national magazine called The Crafts Report. She finished second in a vote on Facebook.

Courier-Journal-Column-1“Thursday morning I woke up with a dream to have my artwork features on the cover of a national magazine. I came in first runner up,” Mattei said. “Thursday night I went to bed with a bigger and better dream, to have my artwork featured on the cover of a national magazine, not because I won a contest, but because it deserves to be there.”

Even without the cover, the buzz she created is something most artists find hard to do.

For Mattei, dyeing is like “coloring outside the box.” Once she has her dyes and powders, she can create anything. Each scarf is original and can have up to three to ten blends of color.

“I’m trying to broaden my color palette and build my rainbow,” she said.

Growing up, Mattei never envisioned she would want to become a fabric artist. It wasn’t until her parents enrolled her in a weeklong sewing camp that she found out she liked working with fabric.

She enjoyed sewing camp so much she wanted to be in the advanced class the following summer. Two summers later, she finally made it into the class but was faced with a dilemma.

“I could either go to Walk Disney World with my aunts, uncle and three cousins, or sewing camp,” she said. “I choose sewing camp.”

Her passion for dewing carried on to high school, and only strengthened her sophomore year when she shadowed well-known fabric artist Penny Sisto of Floyds Knobs, Ind.

“When I went home I told my parents I wanted to be a fabric artist,” Mattei said. “I think my mom was surprised. My career ambition as a kid was to be a championship Uno player.”

“My mom said. ‘OK, what’s that?’ I explained it to her what it was to be a fabric artist, and now I’m proving it to her,” she said.

Courier-Journal-Column-2Mattei went the Xavier University and majored in art with a concentration in fibers and a minor in business. After she graduated in 2004, she immediately started her own business. She made her basement into a studio, and started working her way up from there.

She worked to become a juried artist for the Kentucky Arts Council’s Kentucky Crafted program and sold her work at the Buyers Market of American Craft, one of the largset trade shows in the country, which brings together American and Canadian artists to sell their work to gallery buyers.

“Not only do you have to market your work, but you have to market yourself and market your brand,” she said.

By 2011, she took her home business and made it into a corporation called DyeSigns By Pamela Inc.

Emily Moses, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Arts Council, said Mattei has shown dedication to her craft. “I really think her ‘no prisoners’ attitude toward reaching her goal is a great example for other artists to follow,” she said.

Mattei’s scarves retail for $30 to $50 and are now sold in 150 galleries in more than 30 states. In Louisville, they’re sold at Gallery Janjobe at Mellwood Arts and Entertainment Center, 1860 Mellwod Ave.

Her passion for art also includes working on the theater. She has worked on costume designs for Broadway shows such a as “The Phantom of the Opera,” “The Lion King” and “Wicked.” She is also the assistant stage manage for the Louisville Ballet.

“You have to believe in yourself,” Mattei said. “You have to have passion, it has to be something you’re willing to work for.”

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