ELLSWORTH — When Julianna Wood lays eyes on a metal form, she gets a creative itch.
Whether she’s spied a conical tomato cage, the rectangular frame of a for-sale sign or a cork holder shaped like a chicken, the urge is the same.
“If it has metal around it, I want to weave it,” says the 81-year-old Ellsworth artist.
An exhibit of her hand-woven tapestries is on display at the Ellsworth Public Library through May 5.
The wall hangings — some flat, some three-dimensional — are textural and colorful. They beg to be touched and bring visual warmth to the library’s somewhat austere Riverview Room.
Most of the tapestries were woven on the frames of Realtors’ signs. Wood used to purchase metal wire frames for the purpose at craft stores, but had to get creative when the product was discontinued.
Creative repurposing is a common theme in her artwork, which has spanned many genres over the years. She has hand-painted lobster claw ornaments, weaved lampshades, wrapped wine bottles with intricate patterns in yarn and made a 6-foot sculpture out of tomato cages. Oh, and she paints and draws too.
She has more art than walls in her Shore Road home, which has a cozy second-floor studio overlooking the Union River.
Wood began drawing as a child in Delaware (she preferred blank paper to coloring books) and her work was featured in a museum when she was in high school. A lifelong passion, art also offered a peaceful reprieve from her former career as a hospice nurse. The job was stressful, spiritual and incredibly rewarding, Wood says.
She worked the night shift. Dying patients would reveal their darkest secrets and life stories.
“It was beautiful, and I learned so much about life,” Wood said.
She retired in 2002 to care for her husband, Verne, who had multiple sclerosis. The couple lived in Frankfort.
Wood was also a long-term caregiver to her aunt, mother and mother-in-law.
Working on art provided some time alone in a full house. Weaving was a particularly convenient medium because, unlike painting, it was easy to set aside at a moment’s notice.
Wood became interested in the craft because of an aunt who was a loom weaver. Her first experience with a loom was a disappointment, however, and she found the process “too confining.” So she began hand weaving on metal forms, including bicycle tire rims.
Her technique is unusual in that she wraps the warp of the yarn around both the front and back of the frame to create two layers. The back layer serves as a background while the foreground can be woven into patterns, such as trees, for a multidimensional effect.
Her massive yarn collection has taken over a closet intended for a washer and dryer so she heads to her daughter, Debbie Crowley’s, house to do laundry.
Crowley inherited her mother’s love of art — she felts and makes pocketbooks — but has a different style. She attributes that to being the daughter of an artist and an engineer (her father, George Tice).
“I’m very logical and symmetrical,” Crowley says.
“And I’m not symmetrical at all,” Wood laughs.
Wood enjoys her weekly sessions with the Wednesday Painters, a group of about 17 women (and occasionally a man or two) who meet at the Friends in Action Senior Center on State Street.
“Everybody learns so much because we’re all doing something different,” Wood said.
At home, she’ll work on a tapestry in spurts over time. If she’s unhappy with it, she’ll take it apart and start again.
“Everybody asks ‘How long does it take you?’” Wood said. “I have no idea.”