Chico State professor sews together self-portrait to be displayed in local art exhibit


Rebecca Shelley

Shelley is using a drawn version of her self portrait to help guide her as she creates a new one using fabrics.

Monca’s (Museum of Northern California Art) current exhibit, “Those Who Can Teach…Can” puts Butte County teacher’s artwork on display.

One of the teachers participating in the exhibit is Chico State and Butte College professor, Rebecca Shelley. Shelley is one of many teachers affected by the current virtual learning environment. 

Shelley’s contribution to the museum is a self-portrait composed of various fabrics that she dyed herself using various natural materials. Along with the finished product, Shelley is offering an inside look at the artistic process. There will be three Zoom sessions this month which is available to stream through monca’s website. The next two Zoom sessions will be available on Oct. 17 and 24.

Behind Shelley’s restored sewing machine table is a quilt that she has also made.

“Part of the reason why I wanted to do the Zoom portion of it is because this is kind of our contemporary way of teaching right now and why not use that to talk about the work and the progress,” Shelley said.

Perhaps the virtual landscape is not the ideal way to teach students art but Shelley admits to adapting well to the situation. 

“We are creative people,” Shelley said. “We are able to manage things in ways others aren’t.”

Shelley, who originally went to school for painting, has taken up another artistic hobby which involves using natural items such as plants, fruits and seeds to dye various fabrics. Shelley decided to use fabric she has dyed for her self-portrait which is somewhat representative of what Shelley has been up to during her free time this year. 

Shelley combined this newer hobby with her love for sewing. In the first Zoom session Shelley hosted, she walked viewers through the basics of her process and how she rebuilt the sewing machine table that she is using for her self-portrait. Shelley applied her knowledge of woodworking to restore the vintage machine.

Shelley spent countless hours restoring a vintage treadle sewing machine table that she will be using for her self portrait.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has shaped this year but artists like Shelley have turned to their passions and used this time to create. Overall, Shelley’s piece serves as a combination of her favorite things to do with art which are representative of what Shelley and many others lives may be like right now. 

Sophia Pearson can be reached at [email protected] or @sophia__pearson on Twitter.