Michelle Wentling

Visual Description for "Cuyahoga Impression"

Seven three by seven inch, tightly woven tapestry panels hang from a thin, three-foot-long, rusted steel rod. Each panel is woven in a solid color with thin, white, messy fringe dangling from the bottom of each piece. From left to right, the tapestries are colored in blush, golden ochre, deep coral, blush, blush, deep coral, then blush. Across the panels the shape of a river is exposed through negative space.


Michelle Wentling grew up in rural Northeast Ohio where her family has worked in the rail and steel industries. In 2018 she moved to Salt Lake City to study at the University of Utah. She has a background in Environmental Humanities and is interested in the connections between craft, ecology, and community. In addition to making art, she enjoys walking, baking, bike riding, and playing trumpet. Michelle currently works at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art and is learning how to weave on a Macomber loom passed down from her late grandmother Maxine.

Artist Statement: "Age ten: I’m at summer camp, lying on a makeshift raft in the middle of the Cuyahoga River. It’s made of patched-together newspapers and magazines, so I know it’s only a matter of minutes before it sinks. As I lay there, I feel water steadily filling the raft and my body slowly submerging beneath the river’s glimmering surface: an unintentional baptism.

Years later I learn that the Cuyahoga River, the site of this sacrament, has caught fire over a dozen times. Amid the industrial development of the Cleveland area in the nineteenth century, the Cuyahoga transformed into a landfill, carrying slicks of oil and other toxins on its waters. For decades the River showed no signs of visible life––not even leeches or slug worms who often thrive on waste and disturbance. The water that purified me as a child also carries memories of fire, oil, and steel––memories of humans’ past relationships with the land.

The negative space of these weavings outlines a section of the Cuyahoga River. Using hand-dyed, woven yarn in concert with rusted steel and tangled fringe, this piece blurs the distinctions between purity and toxicity. Cuyahoga Impression embraces imperfection and explores the possibility of repairing connection with places once sacrificed or neglected."