Interview with Penny Mateer

With the new exhibition coming up we wanted to check on artists who participated in previous exhibitions, see what they are up to now and how participating in Fiberart International impacted them. If you are a previous Fiberart International participant and you would like to update the community on the happenings in your life, please contact Katie Bulova at

Written by Katie Bulova

Penny Mateer – Fiberart International 2010 and 2016

The benefit of living in a small city such as Pittsburgh, home to the Fiberart International, is that very often, your circles overlap with other circles. I met Penny Mateer for the first time on a beautiful spring day, sitting distanced, in the sun, in a backyard urban garden.  Within five minutes, we had established two overlapping connections in public health work. 

Penny Mateer
Penny Mateer

Penny worked as a social worker in public health; she is one of our truth-tellers who remembers and worked in the early days of another pandemic, AIDS. Penny’s career has made her essential to the region with her community knowledge, her community service, and her community connections. While she no longer works in public health, her activism and sense purpose continue.

Since 2016, she has taken her passion for equity and truth and transformed her art practice into a mirror that reflects the American experience. Holed in her studio during the Covid winter, she was able to mobilize the past four years of New York Times front pages into an immersive piece that bears witness to today’s political, societal, and emotional turmoil. Her quilts become a quilted room. The room pieces together our collective recent past; in a way, this room is both our conscience and purgatory. We can move forward but must do so by remembering and carrying the past with us.

Her pieces are not without whimsy. It seems complicated to reconcile the grief and losses of this year with levity. Still, there I stood, holding a soft, sculpted baby block embedded with images of divisive political leaders. The experience of touching the faces of politicians – talking heads with their mouths agape mid-speech- printed in a soft, velour texture is one thing. The experience of knowing that this object might likely be used to brush a baby’s cheek or to be enfolded into a hug by tender arms is another thing. I found that I could not fully close my fingers around the block.

And maybe that is truth for all of us: we cannot fully hold reality, the upheaval of disease and inequity, in our hearts and minds.  In order to make sense of the world and to move forward, we must examine the things that create discomfort and we must understand the ideas and actions that reflect our culture.  We should not look away but instead move forward.  We can, as Penny’s work suggests, do what our hands are capable of- whether it be holding a pen, gripping a protest sign, clutching another hand, or brandishing a needle and thread.

Penny Mateer

Penny Mateer

From Penny:

Participating in Fiberart International was particularly meaningful to Martha and I because of the importance of the subject matter we address, black lives matter. We were able to reach a wide audience and had the opportunity to help viewers understand the impact of police violence on our black and brown brothers and sisters. It is especially gratifying because we are both long term members of the Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh, it’s where we met. 
One of the best things about Fiberart International is the forum. It is such a wonderful opportunity to meet the other artists and talk about our work. Because it is an international exhibition, so well known and highly regarded around the world, many travel from all over to participate and it is truly a treat. Plus the guild makes it a very special affair.
Finally, Fiberart International is particularly special to me because I was co-director of Knit the Bridge, a community-made public art installation of knit and crochet material on the Andy Warhol Bridge here in Pittsburgh, for the FI13 outreach project. It was truly life changing. I met and worked with some of the most amazing people and learned so much. It was a privilege.

Quilt Pieces in Production

The work of Penny Mateer and her collaborative partner, Martha Wasic, was selected as best in show in Fiberart International 2016. Penny was also a participant in Fiberart International 2010.
She will be submitting to Fiberart International 2022.

Her upcoming exhibitions include Unsmoke Systems Artspace, Braddock, Pennsylvania (June, 2021).

Website:                                                                                                                                     Instagram: @pennymateer

If you are a previous Fiberart International participant and you would like to update the community on the happenings in your life, please contact Katie Bulova at