UW–Madison MFA student’s photography leads to passion for textile design

by Jack Kelly


Having grown up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Dakota Mace decided to stay in her home state during her time as an undergraduate. She attended the Institute for American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, a college that focused on building on indigenous arts and arts practices, where she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2013.

During her senior year at IAIA, a visit from UW–Madison professor Tom Jones convinced her to come to Wisconsin to pursue her M.A. Jones is one of the few Native American professors in the country to work specifically in photography, and Mace cited working with him as one reason for choosing UW–Madison.

It's been a really amazing three years to work with, not only [Jones] in the art department, but also to see Wisconsin's community,” she said. “I've been very fortunate to get to know a lot of different people.

—Dakota Mace

Mace completed her M.A. and MFA in art at UW–Madison, something that prompted her to pursue further opportunities at the university. The New Mexico native focused on photographing Navajo textiles while working on her master’s, a practice that led her to learn to weave.

As a result of this newfound passion, Mace decided to pursue an MFA in design studies in the Human Ecology program. A process that was capped off with her exhibition “We Weave What We See,” which was hosted at the Arts Lofts Gallery in April.

“The influence of 'We Weave What We See' was focusing on Navajo women weavers and the historical background they have in connection to weaving and the landscape,” Mace explained. “It was all based on this idea of wanting to translate the understanding of the designs and the motifs used in Navajo weaving, but bringing it more into the fine art world.”

She went on to explain that the exhibition was meant to not only build on her own heritage and understanding of weaving, but also about spreading the history of Navajo weaving to the outside world. Mace did this by focusing on a traditional Navajo weaving patterns: the cross design—also known as the spider-woman motif.

Mace will begin her second MFA in fall 2017. Mace explained that she wants to learn even more about weaving over the next two to three years, while working alongside Professor Marianne Fairbanks.

In July, Mace will travel to Oaxaca, Mexico for a textile conference. At the conference she will be participating in workshops with indigenous weavers, and doing some ethnographic work about the history between Oaxaca weaving styles and Navajo weaving styles. In fall 2017, she will be traveling with Fairbanks to Peru for a similar workshop.

Mace wants to eventually become a professor. She believes that in this role she will not only afford the opportunity to be a leader in academia, but also one in the Native American community in Wisconsin.

“[Jones] had inspired me to be not only a professor, but also a leader in Native American teachings for younger generations,” Mace said. “There aren’t a lot of Native American professors out there, so bringing the knowledge to the younger generation is what's most important to me.”


About the Author

Jack Kelly


Journalism Student, UW–Madison
Author, Graduate School Profiles

Jack Kelly is a junior majoring in journalism. He has had a number of roles with The Daily Cardinal, UW–Madison’s independent newspaper, and works as a reporter with Madison Commons. Jack also does freelance writing on a variety of subjects, and hosts a bi-weekly sports podcast.

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