Pilar Sans Coover

Pilar Sans Coover was born María del Pilar Sans Mallafré in the old Roman city of Tarragona, Spain, in the middle of the Spanish Civil War on 16 September 1936, the Catalan daughter of a doctor and a poet, and she grew up there during the repressive Franco years. After university training in Barcelona as a biologist and some years as a classical guitarist, she turned to fiber art in the early 1970s, and over the subsequent decades, using thousands of different threads gathered on her travels as her palette, produced well over a hundred intricate multitextured needlework tapestries, all using her own highly original designs.

Her approach has been to seek to transcend the limitations of traditional needlework by opening every possibility between thread and canvas, remarking in an interview that "I feel as free to move my needle as a painter his brush, and as a painter mixes his paints, I'll combine any yarn, thread, whatever goes through a needle, to create the desired design and texture, my central aim being to combine as much as possible the fluidity and spontaneity of painting with the warmth and textural richness of textile." Working primarily on a two-thread penelope canvas with a 10/20 mesh, she has created many of her own stitches, often combining strands to create new colors and twisting together silk, cotton, wool and acrylics to make new textures. For detailed work, the threads are separated with the needle to create a petit-point stitch, while backgrounds have tended to use the Aubusson stitch, a durable diagonal stitch that crosses both wefts and one warp thread. But here too exceptions are more often the rule.

Exhibited internationally and winners of numerous awards, they have been compared by critics to the paintings of Bosch, Breughel and Blake, as well as to the illustrations of Arthur Rackham and Charles Bragg, but the imagination at play here—witty, erotic, disturbing, subtle, at times nightmarish, yet always vivid and engaging—is entirely her own. Her name was legally changed and shortened when, as the wife of novelist Robert Coover, she became a U.S. citizen in 1961.