The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

December 15, 2013

Making the pieces fit

Textile artist Carmen File

By Lisa Shrewsberry
Lifestyles Editor

— Carmen File didn’t realize as a child the full influence her parents would have on her artistry. She wouldn’t recognize until after dance and a full career that she was an artist.  

“My father, Martin Hajash, was a printer who worked for Biggs Johnson Withrow Company,” she explained. “He was supervisor of the composition room.” There was paper everywhere at her disposal, “…rooms full of it. Paper then was really paper — high quality.”

Carmen would cut the scraps to make crafts and occupy her creative mind.

She is now discovering her dad’s same knack for the transformation of the castoff, repurposing old clothing, blankets and curtains into her richly textured textile art. More recently she has revisited her past with collages made from her very first medium — paper.

When Carmen found herself without a job after a long career as a senior paralegal, she decided to change the direction of her life entirely by finding an art she could master. She spent a good deal of time experimenting with various media until finally settling on textiles. Her mother, Naomi, had taught her to sew.

“She was a great seamstress. She made all of my dance costumes,” remembered Carmen, a former dancer.

Working with fabrics and fibers as her mother had taught her meant she could have an economical, limitless supply of material to repurpose into permanent artwork, something her father, Martin, was fond of doing. Martin was ahead of his time, with the ability to repurpose virtually anything.

“He made this Liberty Bell out of old typeset letters,” she described, showing where he detailed down to the characterizing crack in the bell on a piece of assemblage now hanging inside her Beckley home.

“Most of what I do is tear stuff up,” Carmen said, half in jest.

She works with the fabric she finds to dissemble it into confetti-sized pieces using a rotary cutter. The hues of the cut cloth become her palette.

“I usually spend a day or two before putting a piece together just chopping and cutting. This style of quilting is hard. You can see these women gliding through making quilts like butter, but they are using one or two pieces of fabric.” Carmen, on the other, generally sore, hand, is literally coaxing thousands of pieces into form.

Treescapes are her inspiration. Using colorful cloth particles, Carmen arranges them onto a backing or mat of material. She then quilts them between layers of batting and tulle as art for display. The top layer of tulle holds the pieces in careful position, lending a gauzy, dreamlike quality to the finished squares. Pointillism without the paints — tiny shreds of color converge to create dramatic thickets, autumn limbs feathering out against a backdrop of full moon, a forest at wintertime, or the delicate hope of spring’s cherry blossom.

When first perfecting her technique, Carmen would go through as many as three sewing machine needles an hour. Between needles and blades for her rotary cutter, she’s dulled enough hardware to prove a drive to adhere to her own style.

“I’ve found quilts done similarly by a Japanese artist. The process is the same, but the end results are different,” she said.

Carmen’s later-in-life handicraft is a transition from the performing arts, her initial creative endeavor. She spent her early years as a dancer, selected to study at the prestigious North Carolina School of Arts, where she completed high school. Carmen earned her bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University in home economics.

“I don’t think they have that anymore; back in my day, that’s what they called it,” she said.

Her latest artistic works are related to the dance years and have proven popular with art lovers. For a Beckley Art Group exhibit called “Book Art,” she created a tutu collage from carefully selected, dog-eared, torn and shaped pages of old books. Her entry took second place at judging and immediately caught buyers’ eyes. She’s been filling commissioned orders for more tutus ever since.

Dance, she describes as her past calling; the tutus, a marketable addition to her home workshop. But in the fall, from scenes available by memory of her travels and ones from her backyard, Carmen finds swirling leaves more appealing than twirling tutus.

Appropriately, one quilt titled “Backyard Sunset” earned inclusion in Tamarack’s Best of West Virginia Juried Exhibition, later selling to a buyer.

The majestic mountains of West Virginia, she said, provide her unlimited inspiration for more quilts. Still considering herself “new at this,” she is committed to staying true to what both her father and mother taught her, namely that beautiful things can come when you least expect them and from what is already here, perhaps just beyond the door.

Carmen is a juried artist at

Tamarack. She is a Beckley Art Group member and a member of the White Oak Depot Artisans Gallery and the Fayetteville Arts Coalition.

For inquiries about Carmen’s art, e-mail her at cjfile@frontier.com