How Columbia artist Dave Walker creates realistic 'fabricscapes' from around Missouri

"His Eye is on the Sparrow" by Dave Walker
"His Eye is on the Sparrow" by Dave Walker

The moment after driving or hiking past a scenic vista, we engage in an intimate dance of forgetting and preserving.

Our minds and souls embed the place within. But, without a photograph or several more passes to fix each detail, certain elements fade from true definition. The scene becomes both representation and impression.

Dave Walker captures these images in what he calls “fabricscapes.” Stiched, sewn and hand-painted, his scenes stand in for real places across Missouri yet are mixed with the Columbia artist’s own recollections.

A number of Walker's fabric creations make up Familiar Views, an exhibit at Orr Street Studios through the end of May.

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Walker's work begins where memory and material interact. Owning a degree in art education, his skills came together as a painter. Trying to cut down all the fussing and fidgeting while he quit smoking, he learned to sew quilt tops and keep his hands busy.

Examining the abundant scraps of fabric collected on his work table more than a decade later, Walker began mentally composing in fabric. In a very real sense, the material tells Walker what it wants to be, where it wants to live.

“Whatever fabric I have leads me to create whatever I come up with,” he said.

Often working in season, he will sift fabrics that suggest winter during cold months, for example, then see how they fit together.

"Icy Lake"
"Icy Lake"

Walker's landscapes and farm scenes seem to roll on for miles, but working with fabric imposes certain limitations. Swatches printed with houses often prove hard to come by, so astute viewers might notice the same dwellings recurring across scenes. Though this reduces Walker's available options, it lends a sense of unity and familiarity to the work.

And if he really gravitates to a certain pattern, it's best to seize as much as possible.

"Fabric is like wallpaper — once they print it, they don’t reprint it," he said.

Walker both does and doesn't simply take what the material gives him. Sometimes he "Photoshops fabric," as his son describes it, joining pieces of two barn structures or animal forms to create the right image.

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He will apply paint and, thus, authenticity to a bale of hay, or add more natural shadow. And he often leaves "Easter eggs" within a piece — not-quite-hidden visual details that reward the truly attentive viewer.

Walker also responds to the potential in a piece of fabric. He saw the night sky in a glittery, purple textile that no one should want to buy, he said — the print looked uneven. And yet Walker elevated the material, helping it fulfill a better destiny than it faced without him.

"Christian County"
"Christian County"

The balance and texture in Walker's fabric compositions carry over from days predominantly spent painting. He relished working with palette knife and oil, and it shows in well-plowed fields, earthy ripples and natural striations.

Before stitching a landscape together, lending it a certain permanence, Walker approaches a piece with an ever-so-slightly-different perspective. Once the fabric is arranged and balanced, he leaves it alone for a couple days before returning to see what should shift or deserves different treatment.

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Orr Street visitors will recognize — at least, tonally and temperamentally — scenes around Missouri: Putnam County, Christian County, Pickle Springs near Ste. Genevieve.

Walker's view expands and evolves still. Presently, he's working on visual treks into the American Southwest, and he occasionally creates abstract compositions.

But representation remains Walker's passion, and he continues learning and experimenting with technique. Lately, he's found fresh ways to create reflections, representing an element within a body of water using the backside of a fabric or cutting and applying strips that replicate the dominant image.

In this way, Walker displays his commitment to recreating landscapes as real as anything impressed upon our memories.

"The Glade at Pickle Springs"
"The Glade at Pickle Springs"

Familiar Views remains on display through May 28. Learn more at and

Aarik Danielsen is the features and culture editor for the Tribune. Contact him at or by calling 573-815-1731. Find him on Twitter @aarikdanielsen. 

This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: Columbia artist Dave Walker creates realistic Missouri 'fabricscapes'