Article by Marcia Darnell
Local artists – July 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine
BANNER DAY STUDIO in Del Norte is a fascinating mixture of construction and creativity. Two rooms, warehouse-sized, are lined with banners and bolts of cloth. Worktables, tools and the detritus of sewing let visitors know this art is serious business. The finished pieces on the walls and windows say this business is about beauty.
Mettje (rhymes with “you betcha”) Swift is the artist and driving force behind Banner Day, which creates those silky hangings you’ve seen dangling from lampposts, across city streets, and in public buildings.
Most of Swift’s works are commissioned — and unique. “Other people make banners,” she says. “They design one and make lots of copies of them, and they’re usually sewn at home or in Taiwan.”
Many of Swift’s works are in Durango, where she got her artistic start, but she moved to Del Norte four years ago for the affordable studio space. Her creation, “The Refuge,” is a 14-foot-by-7-foot banner that depicts cranes on a landscape in shades of blue, red, and pink. “The Refuge” won the people’s choice award at a show in Durango.
Swift also constructs stage sets, teepees, palapas (garden umbrellas), and architectural mobiles. “The mobiles are usually stainless steel, sometimes fiberglass, covered with cloth,” she says. A large mobile is suspended in the bell tower of the Pueblo Convention Center.
Swift had a show at the Sangre de Cristo Art Center in Pueblo late last year, at which she displayed her larger works, including tapestry banners. “It was great,” she says. “They have the space for them.”
Swift also designed the Christmas tree teepee that graced the Alamosa County Courthouse last year. “We had a problem with that,” Swift says, laughing. “I designed the tree to drape around the flagpole, but the pole was crooked. That didn’t work.” The cloth was damaged and Swift and her crew had to mend it.
“We do mending here on all our stuff,” Swift says, acknowledging the down side to outside art. “You’re putting your work out there to get worn in the sun and rain and wind, and it’s hard.”
Swift employs two people at least 30 hours a week, and more worker artists when her studio’s busy. She offers flexible hours for her workers, mostly women with children, and allows them to bring their kids to work. A grandmother, Swift remembers the strain of working and raising children.
Swift’s studio was in a lull when I visited there this spring — with the banners for the Ski Hi Stampede just finished. Also finished were two small banners designed to go up in the space shuttle in May.
On its launch into space, Swift’s work accompanied Astronaut Kent Rominger, who hales from Del Norte. And this summer, Swift plans to share her gift with kids. “It’s great to work with kids,” she says. “They come up with great ideas and you’re never bored.”
Swift began sewing when she was a girl. At 12, she was already 5 feet, 8 inches tall, and had to make her own clothes. Soon she was designing, for others as well as herself. She sewed for income during college, where she studied art and theater arts, honing her craft with costumes and stage sets.
In 1978, she began making and selling banners with a partner, and has been on her own since the early ’80s. Her first commission was for the city of Cortez.
“It was my first city project, and my first community project,” she says. It was a community project because volunteers sewed the 240 banners the city bought for its centennial.
“At heart, I’m very much a landscape artist,” she says. “The landscapes of Colorado — I was born and raised here — come through my art.
“I try to make banners mean something. If I make one that resonates with someone, then I’ve reached the full potential of the art form.
“Beauty is my motivator.”
Banner Day can be reached at (719) 657-2967. E-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org there’s a website at www.bannerart.com.
Art lovers can see Smith’s work at Guaranty National Insurance in Parker; Loyola Medical University near Chicago; and throughout Durango.
Marcia Darnell lives and writes in Alamosa. Her book, Museums of the San Luis Valley, is out now.