Mending the Soul with Miniature Stitches

Mending the Soul with Miniature Stitches: The Needlework of Ray Materson

September 22, 2015 through January 10, 2016

Included with admission. Free for museum members.

While serving a fifteen-year prison sentence for drug-related crimes, an angry and sorrowful Ray Materson sought redemption and found solace in stitching his life story using scraps of bed sheets as canvas and threads from socks he unraveled. Materson’s small-scale needlework provided a vehicle for him to contemplate the experiences that shaped his life and led to his downfall, while simultaneously fueling his redemption. This selection of twenty-three miniatures, which Materson created while imprisoned, presents the story of an all-American boy who lost his way and literally mended his soul, sewing small narratives with 1,200 stitches per square-inch.

The pieces in this exhibit are on loan from the Louis-Dreyfus Family Collection in New York.

Header image: Detail from Once a Young Man: Dad in Central Park c. 1940, Ray Materson, 1996, 5.25"x3". Below are images of a selection of the work that will be featured in the exhibit. Images courtesy of the Louis-Dreyfus Collection. Images may not be used or reproduced without permission.

Audio Tour Available

An audio tour narrated by the artist accompanies this exhibit. Bring your own smartphone or tablet to access the tour at the museum per the instructions in the exhibit. Please remember to bring headphones, or you may check out a pair of headphones at the front desk. You can also listen to the combined tracks here.

A Few Visitor Reviews

"Never seen anything so wonderful."

"Very moving, thank you for showing these beautiful works."

"I'm so moved by the artistic detail, it lifts and inspires the soul. Thank you."

"The work combats stereotypes of people in prison. His work tells a narrative of a smart, reflective, determined person. I was moved."

"So amazing! Feel enlightened to have seen it in person!"

"I'm humbled. His talent is immense. His story moving and helpful."


Artist Biography

Ray MatersonRay Materson is a nationally renowned, self-taught artist who found inspiration in a pair of socks while in prison. During the first year of his 15-year sentence for drug-related offenses, Ray was angry at the world. In a moment of inspired clarity, Ray traded some cigarettes for a pair of socks, secured a sewing needle from a prison guard and started stitching his way to redemption.

His creative ability is all the more amazing when you realize that most of his miniature masterpieces measure less than 2.5" x 3" and include approximately 1,200 stitches per square inch. His unique works have been featured in numerous exhibitions including the American Museum of Folk Art in New York City, The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, MD, The Center for Contemporary Art in Seattle, WA and the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City to name but a few. Many of his pieces currently reside in private collections, including those of William Louis-Dreyfus & John Malkovich.

Since his release from prison in 1995, Ray has worked as a teacher, counselor, caseworker, program director, design consultant and speaker. With the help of his former wife Melanie, he published his autobiography, Sins and Needles: A Story of Spiritual Mending (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2002). In 2003, he became the first artist ever to receive the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Innovators Combating Substance Abuse Award.




This exhibit is supported in part by the Arizona Commission on the Arts, which receives support from the State of Arizona and the National Endowment for the Arts.