The Age of Understanding

Heather Hietala is still on her journey.
Photo by Colby Rabon

Multimedia artist Heather Hietala confides that her repertoire derives from “the intensity of life, love, loss, and grief I’ve experienced — and the understanding or wisdom that comes with age.” She has authored craft books, her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, and she’s taught at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts and Penland School of Craft. She earned an MFA in textiles from Dartmouth and a BFA in sculpture and painting from the University of New Hampshire.

The Space Between

Early on, Hietala excelled at “architectural textiles.” The colorful 2D fiber art depicts interior building spaces like stairways, doorways, walls, and halls that appear so convincingly 3D they look almost inhabitable. But there’s another dimension that her work explores with deep-rooted introspection. Everything produced in her studio expresses meaning to be interpreted both literally and metaphorically, and the metaphors are often multilayered. They allude to life journeys, chosen paths, fateful thresholds and transitions, and pivotal rites of passage across the fullness of time. 

Detail of Venture Forth

Along the way, her experimentation with different artistic mediums has been sort of reverse-engineered. She contemplates what she wants to express. Then she starts searching for materials that can bring that feeling to fruition. Because she has a lot she needs to say, Hietala has become proficient in an astonishing number of techniques, including ceramics, sculpture, drawing, painting, collage, printing, stamping, and weaving. She leads workshops in a wide range of skills and used to work for Biltmore Estate doing period-specific fabric replication requiring meticulous embroidery skills. 

Venture Forth

In 1996, the artist’s home was destroyed by fire, along with decades of Hietala’s archived creative writing and artwork. But that’s also where she got the idea of trying wood-fired ceramics. She started using a salt glaze in her firing because, she says, “Salt is equivalent to tears, so in my mind the pieces went through a tear bath of loss inside the kiln.” At another time, in the wake of losing a significant number of loved ones, she found herself in Paris. “Along the Seine, I noticed how you walk down steps to get into a boat — and also, in Japan, they had these beautiful steps you use to go down to a boat, so I began to meditate on how boats universally symbolize the voyage of life.”


 Thus began her 20-plus-year creative exploration of vessels. “Somehow, on a small boat, you are on a journey, but the gravitational pull is different, like a sense of weightlessness you don’t feel when you are on land.” 

Hietala often inscribes her ceramics with emotionally loaded words such as “love,” “silence,” or “greed” as yet another dimensional element. 

Letting Go

“In this world, where we are so on-on-on and go-go-go,” concludes the artist, “I just hope my work inspires a sense of connection and a pause for a moment of reflection.” 

Heather Hietala, Asheville, represented by Momentum Gallery, 52 Broadway, Asheville. Momentum opens a show featuring Hietala and fellow gallery artists Samantha Keely Smith and Brian Sostrom on Thursday, May 9, with a 5-9pm reception. An artist’s talk with Hietala happens Sunday, May 19, 2pm. The show runs through Saturday, June 22. See and 

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