Ann Cofta Translates New York Icons into Embroidered Art

A vintage type writer, one of Ann Cofta’s many fabric creations

Ann Cofta finds details in the small: she sews her embroidered art entirely by hand, a slow and deliberate process that allows her to map out the entirety of a Brooklyn water tower or bridge in one small fabric. As a long-time New Yorker, she’s had years to soak in these architecture’s details and dispense them in her work. Ann is also no stranger to local art shows — she’ll be featured at Greenpoint Open Studios come June 2–3 — and below she shares her experience traveling the world, translating cityscapes into fabric, and finding an embroidery community in Brooklyn.

Greenpointers: How long have you lived in New York? Do you work or live in the neighborhood?

Ann Cofta: I’ve lived in New York for 22 years; I live nearby in Woodside (Queens), so I am able to walk to my art studio in Greenpoint. I taught in Brooklyn for 16 years and only recently took a job in Manhattan.

GP: We don’t come across many embroiderers as our local artists; I wonder if you’ve found a community of those artists here? 

AC: When there are open studios, exhibits, or other art events, I always seek out artists who work with fabric and embroidery. I am energized by the innovative work I see. I feel as though textile work is becoming a greater presence in the art world, in both galleries and museums. I am not aware of an established community of embroiderers in Brooklyn. However, Brooklyn Craft Company in Greenpoint, and the Textile Art Center in Gowanus, both offer classes. I recently joined the Textile Study Group of New York, which is a national organization that hosts monthly talks and occasional group shows.

The Brooklyn Bridge

GP: Water towers and bridges are motifs in your work, and they are obviously iconic in Brooklyn cityscapes. Can you talk about your inspiration to craft those?

AC: Our surroundings always impact us, sometimes in ways we are not even aware of. I believe we relate to many city structures, because of their longevity and connection to the past. They mean different things to different people, but they resonate on some level. There is a universality to that interconnectedness.

Like most artists, I latch onto an image or idea for a while, and it shows up to a greater or lesser extent in my work.  Water towers and bridges are such an integral part of the landscape, defining the city as a whole, as well as individual neighborhoods.

GP: Your website mentions you’ve lived abroad, in Asia and South America. Is there something that has continually brought you back to New York, and how have your travels affected your work?

My overseas experiences were when I was a child. They instilled a love of travel and visiting new places. I regularly use imagery from my trips (now mostly domestic), particularly in landscapes that I sketch while on the road, then turn into stitch “drawings” on fabric.

Living in a foreign country automatically makes you an outsider. It has made me more sensitive to people who are new to a place, or who don’t know anyone or don’t speak the same language. I think we would all be kinder and more welcoming if we had more experiences of being the “other.”

An emroidered water tower

GP: You and your work often appear at local art shows/markets. What is often the response to your work, if you don’t mind sharing?

Participating in local shows and markets is great fun, because you have a chance to interact with people and get honest responses to the work. It’s an opportunity for people to ask questions, and for me to explain my process or tell the backstory behind a particular art piece. The artwork occasionally conjures up memories for viewers. I did a series based on rides at Coney Island, and it prompted people to share personal stories from long ago visits — it was very touching.

People are surprised at the size of my pieces, which are very small, and that they are sewn entirely by hand. Embroidery takes time to create. Unlike other materials that can be manipulated at a range of speeds, hand sewing it is always slow. Working small allows me to play with scale and proportion. You can only see the intricate details if you view the art up close. My hope is that pieces invite and welcome people in.

About Billy McEntee

Billy McEntee has been fortunate to work for arts non-profits in Boston, Denver, Berkeley, and now New York. His writing has appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Brooklyn Magazine, Indiewire, HowlRound, Eclectica Magazine, and others. He's usually getting wine at Dandelion or eating cookies at Archestratus.

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