Don’t try to put Johanna Norry in a tidy box. She can be found weaving, hand knitting, stitching, collaging, and manipulating family photos. For her art, she uses natural fibers—cotton, wool, linen, bamboo, and also incorporates synthetics like vinyl, and found objects.
Since 2012 she has been featured in dozens of juried shows around the country. Just last year, Norry had pieces in shows in New York City, San Antonio, at The Bakery in Atlanta, the Hudgens Center in Duluth, and a duo show at the Moon Gallery at Berry College in Rome, Ga.
She said, “Lately, my work has exploded in color, and I must credit a colleague, who, by laying colorful thread on top of my work, convinced me that it would be exciting to see the same forms I was making, but with more color. She was right.”
Norry came to this art form when she met and married Rabbi Hillel Norry. His mother, Sharon Norry (daughter of Atlanta Jewish community leaders the late Ruth and Sol Singer), had a weaving studio in Rochester, N.Y., where she and others made beautiful hand designed tallitot.
Sadly, Sharon Norry died from cancer just a few years after their meeting; and as destiny called, Johanna inherited everything from her studio.
Johanna recalled, “I was pregnant with our son, and I couldn’t imagine having the time to learn to weave, so I made myself a promise that I would learn on the same schedule she did—when my youngest was 5 years old. I kept that promise and signed up for a weaving class at Callanwolde. Being immediately hooked, and I signed up for classes every term after that for several years. One of my weaving teachers suggested a dyeing class at Georgia State with the new textiles professor. A few weeks into that class, I knew that this was where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do: making art, and in the textiles classroom, for the rest of my life.”
She stayed at Georgia State for two-and-a-half years and earned her bachelor’s in fine arts in 2015 and received her MFA from the University of Georgia in 2018. She now teaches weaving and textiles at the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega. She exclaimed, “I’m doing exactly what I set out to do, and I love it!”
Her current work is made from the accumulation of raw materials that she has either handwoven or handknitted, which makes it difficult to gauge the amount of time invested in a piece. Most of her new collages are created from that material in a day or two, and she always balances multiple pieces concurrently. Some pieces resolve easily, and others need to percolate longer before she considers them finished.
For the next several months, Norry will take part at the High Museum of Art in activating a part of Sonya Clark’s exhibit, “We Are Each Other.” Along with two other weavers, including one of her students, Norry will weave the Truce Flag as part of the “Reconstruction Exercise” project, and facilitating visitors to the exhibit to take part in the weaving.
Being married to a rabbi, Johanna answers the query about interpreting Judaic themes, “I mine my own life, my memories, and my family history for much of my artwork. I haven’t made a lot of work that I would characterize as Judaic, but I did do a whole series of sculptures when I was in grad school based on the prayer
Asher Yatzar. They were very abstract—silk tubes filled with knitted and woven tubes. To me, they were very spiritual and celebrated the miracle of the human body.”
She continued, “I can’t separate being an artist from all the other parts of my life, and so, of course, being a rabbi’s wife, a mother, a Jew by choice, all factor into what I make my work about. Hillel has always been incredibly supportive, and I use him as a sounding board for my ideas all the time. I’m sure that fact alone means my work would be different without him, just as I would be different without him.”
Rabbi Hillel Norry summed it up, “Johanna’s art inspires me. I think her creativity and spirituality are inseparable.”
Norry sells her work from shows and can be contacted through her website at www.johannanorry.com and @johanna.norry on Instagram.