ROSE HILL, Kan. – From her studio in Butler County, Marian Vavra works with wheat the way a sculptor uses clay.
“I love the feel of it. I love its color,” said Vavra, as she showed off a bundle of dried wheat. “There’s this rustle kind of sound to it, which is beautiful at harvest time. It’s spiritual actually.”
So inspired by the golden crop nearly 40 years ago, she asked a farmer for a sample.
“He looked at me and looked down at my scissors and said, ‘Honey, you take as much as you want out of that field!’”
From a book and a kit, Marian learned to cut, dry and clean the wheat, then weave it into delicate designs.
Now, she is the teacher, demonstrating her techniques to kids and adults in classes and workshops.
To make a harvest angel, she begins with straw that’s soaked in warm water to make it pliable – then bundles several heads of wheat to make the skirt of the angel.
Then come the smaller pieces.
“So I’m actually going to plait, and plaiting means to braid or to intertwine,” said Marian.
Her fingers move quickly among several stalks of wheat, making a loop that will be the angel’s arms.
Next are the wings, which must be the same size and a mirror image of each other.
Once they are finished, Marian assembles the angel and bends some longer stalks into a halo of hair, tying it all up with thread.
It’s a basic design that still demands patience and precision.
While a harvest angel might take Marian an hour to make, an Easter cross displayed on her wall took about two months’ work, or 100 hours.
It features a technique called cloisonne, where intricate details are applied to the paper background the cross is mounted on.
Her elaborate crosses and other creations are not just an expression of her faith, but are made to be family heirlooms, even memorials to lost loved ones.
She’s also passing on the legacy of wheat weaving that dates back hundreds of years.
“I have had my hands on pieces from the 1600’s,” said Marian.
So as the golden color of her artwork deepens over time, perhaps the meaning does, too.
“This is one reason I love our Kansas wheat,” said Marian. “It’s so beautiful.”
Even spiritual, for a farm girl turned artist, who puts her heart in every finishing touch.
You can find Marian’s artwork at these stores around Kansas:
Maxine’s – 4737 E. Douglas, Wichita
Exploration Place’s Explore Store – 300 N. McLean Blvd, Wichita
Kansas Museum of History – 6425 SW 6th Avenue, Topeka
Kansas State Capitol Visitors Center – 300 SW 10th Street, Topeka
She has also written a book about wheat weaving, Celebrating the Cross, that is sold at Courtyard Gallery, 125 N. Main, in Lindsborg.
Marian Vavra can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.