The painterly, expressive embroidery that emerging artist and recent Get Ready grantee Amber Mustafic creates is as visually stunning as it is introspective. Amber is a first-generation Muslim Albanian-Montenegrin who uses embroidery to create imagery that reflects her daydreams, fantasies and emotional experiences. Her personal approach to embroidery also celebrates her family’s cultural heritage. She became the first woman in her family to graduate from high school and continued on to receive her bachelor’s degree in Art History and minor in Museum Studies from Colorado College in 2019.
Born in New York City and raised in Rye, New York, Amber was encouraged to focus on her education and career, a significant departure from how other women in her family were raised in Montenegro. Her mother, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers had all been expected to engage in domestic and traditional textile work, creating tablecloths, doilies, pillow cases, and more.
“One of my most precious possessions is a set of hand-woven towels made by my great-grandmother; she picked and spun the cotton and everything before weaving them. It is usually expected of women in my culture to create a beautiful and clean home, so in the wintertime it was very common for women to gather together and embroider, sew, knit, crochet, etc. to make objects to adorn their homes that also served a functional purpose. I found my way back to my textile lineage without any push from my family; it makes me feel like textile work is truly in my DNA. Women in my lineage have been extremely repressed in so many ways, and I love to take a medium that is normally associated with women being quiet and domestic, and use it to share my ideas and feelings through evocative images.” –Amber Mustafic
As an undergraduate, Amber initially studied oil painting, but in 2020, she received a fellowship at Colorado College, which fostered her love of embroidery. The fellowship included a museum collections-based project to organize and catalog the college’s private art collection and design an art lending program. The second part of her fellowship involved creating an independent body of oil paintings. “But then, COVID hit and I had to vacate my studio and work from home. I couldn’t make big oil paintings at home because of the mess and the fumes, so I did a lot of experimenting.” She taught herself embroidery and has focused on it ever since.
As an emerging artist in Manhattan, Amber says that time is her biggest challenge. She works on her embroidery for four hours a day and currently sells her work through the online art collecting platform PxP Contemporary, as well as her own website. Amber also works as a cataloguer and nanny to support herself.
Embroidery work poses significant physical challenges due to the repetitive movements involved. Amber recently received a Get Ready Grant from CERF+ and used the funds to purchase tools and materials to build an embroidery floor frame, which allows her to work ergonomically, reducing strain on her wrists, neck, and shoulders.
The challenges faced by emerging artists like Amber resonate with Patricia Mortenson, a regular and treasured contributor to CERF+. Like the bright embroidery threads that permeate Amber’s work, the generosity of donors like Patricia forms a critical safety net, allowing CERF+ to operate and assist artists. The Get Ready Grant program is open to artists at all stages of their careers, and it is especially popular among emerging artists because it provides a much-needed boost that helps budding artists like Amber work more safely and build career resilience. CERF+’s Get Ready Grants award up to $500 to individual artists working in craft disciplines to conduct activities that will help safeguard their studios, protect their careers, plan their legacies and prepare for emergencies.
Creative to her core, Patricia was an active artist for over a decade who began exploring art while trying to stay active after her husband retired. Patricia experimented with different media, including clay, fused glass, and encaustics. Although she no longer creates artwork herself, she donates to CERF+ in order to help new and amateur artists. When asked why she gives, Patricia said, “Many of these artists are skating on the edge of insolvency. I give to CERF+ so you can save a few from despair.”