Terry McMillan, Textile Designer
Terry McMillan, Textile Designer
Novelist Terry McMillan has a new passion: textile design. Starting Tuesday, her works will be on display in New York's Central Park. The exhibit benefits Harlem Textile Works, a non-profit organization dedicated to exposing kids to textile design.
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ED GORDON, host:
I'm Ed Gordon, and this is NEWS AND NOTES.
Terry McMillan is one of the biggest names in literature today. But lately, McMillan has gotten into textile design. She's been creating dyed linens.
Starting tomorrow, her work will be on display in New York's Central Park. Proceeds from the exhibit will benefit Harlem Textile Works, a nonprofit organization dedicated to exposing kids to textile design. McMillan spoke about her new preoccupation with NPR's Farai Chideya.
FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:
So this is the first that your works are going to be shown publicly in a big display. How do you feel about that?
Ms. TERRY MCMILLAN (Author; Textile Designer): Nervous.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. MCMILLAN: Seriously, I'm a bit nervous. I'm excited but nervous because, you know, I wanted to do this for Harlem Textile. I mean, I basically donated the sheet, and then this way, I don't have to worry about people trying to decide how much they cost, because I have no idea.
CHIDEYA: So just to explain, you're doing - I mean, I've seen pictures of the sheets. You're doing these gorgeous kind of silky sheets with - is it a batik, or how are you doing those?
Ms. MCMILLAN: Well, thank you. I'm glad you like them. No, they're not - it's not batik. It's - let me tell you, honey. There are so many different techniques that I use. If you saw my garage right now and my driveway, you would not believe it.
CHIDEYA: Covered in paints and dyes, and...
Ms. MCMILLAN: Oh, no, not covered in paints and dyes. You know those things that are called horses, you know the horse that people use to saw?
CHIDEYA: Ah, yeah.
Ms. MCMILLAN: I have about 40 of those, and on top of them are particle board, two layers of half an inch each, and then on top of that is tarp stapled in layers, and then I have sheets in the driveway, two of them. In the garage - I have a four-car garage - I cannot park in it. Oh, my goodness, you just would not believe.
CHIDEYA: So your garage is your art studio, and...
Ms. MCMILLAN: Yes.
CHIDEYA: We understand that you've been getting inquiries from department stores, other places that want to sell your sheets. Are you going to go ahead and make this into a second career?
Ms. MCMILLAN: Well, I'll put it this way. I think I must have about 300 sets. My interest is, because a lot of people have wanted to buy them, and I just - I gave them away. But I decided that what I would do is sell some of them signed, and then I'm setting up a corporation so that - all of it I want to go to help children and people who are suffering and struggling for whatever kind of abuse or malady or tragedy, so that it's an ongoing thing, much like Paul Newman does.
CHIDEYA: Yes, I think Paul Newman has raised $150 million or something like that with Newman's Own. But, you know, you mentioned that the money that you raise is going to go to people who are involved in difficult times or tragedies, and you have just gone through a very public breakup. Has this artwork been a solace or a refuge for you?
Ms. MCMILLAN: Well, it was very cathartic, but it was - I started it, basically - you know, light plates that cover - when you turn your lights on and off?
Ms. MCMILLAN: That's how this whole thing started back in 2003. I have a house up in the mountains in Lake Tahoe, and they were - the sun had turned them all yellow, and so I replaced them with these maple ones. Then they just looked so boring, so I got some spray paint and one thing just led to another. The next thing I know, I started with lamp shades, then blue jeans, then old purses, then sneakers, then my old Prada boots, and then I was washing some sheets and I realized, these are a little dingy, and I said, let's drop them in a dye and see what happens. But there's more to it than that. There's a technique that I have to use to prepare them for the dye. And that's sort of how it started, but yes, it basically helped me stay sane prior to going through the whole proceeding, because I knew I was getting - I knew I wanted a divorce prior to my ex coming out.
The public really thinks that that's the reason that prompted the divorce, but that was not it. That's what he has hoped that everybody - he wanted everybody to believe that, and also the hope that my anger stemmed from his being gay, and that's on the bottom of the list.
CHIDEYA: Well, obviously....
Ms. MCMILLAN: These sheets have been my salvation.
CHIDEYA: You know, because of, I guess, the nature of your celebrity, a lot of people got to know a lot about you...
Ms. MCMILLAN: Too much, and it was intentional.
CHIDEYA: So is it all resolved now? Are you...
Ms. MCMILLAN: Oh, no.
Ms. MCMILLAN: Oh no. The last episode was blackmail on the phone. I have a message. He should've just let it go, but he can't stop, so it's okay. I've said too much.
CHIDEYA: Oh, no. Let me just ask you one more time, though. You said that doing this work was like salvation for you, so do you find a spiritual side in it?
Ms. MCMILLAN: Yes, because you know what? Nothing ugly gets in, you know what I mean? It's almost like meditating. You know, when you meditate, all you do is focus on your breathing, and every time a thought pops into your head, you discard it. Well, I have that option when I do this, but it's not so deliberate.
Because I am so focused on what I'm doing, that sometimes when I stop, a lot of other things are resolved. You know what I mean? Things that seem to have been problematic no longer are, and I wish I had been doing this a long time ago, but it's okay.
CHIDEYA: Terry, have a great show, and thank you.
Ms. MCMILLAN: Thank you, and I really appreciate your calling, and I'm glad you like them.
GORDON: That was NPR's Farai Chideya speaking with novelist and textile designer Terry McMillan. Starting tomorrow, Terry's works will be on display at the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center in New York. Again, a reminder, the proceeds benefit Harlem Textile Works, a nonprofit organization dedicated to exposing kids to textile design.
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