Ruth Tabancay’s passion for science led her to study microbiology in college. Following a stint as a hospital laboratory technologist, she went on to medical school. After 11 years in private practice, she left medicine to study art. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley; the University of California School of Medicine, San Francisco; and the California College of the Arts. Her work has been exhibited regionally and nationally, most recently at the Museum of Craft and Design, the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, the California College of the Arts, and the Berkeley Art Center. She is a member of Mercury 20 Gallery in Oakland, is on the Board of Directors for Pacific Rim Sculptors Group and is the Northern California Representative for the Surface Design Association.
I first used tea bags for art in response to an assignment that asked me to make artwork with something I used every day. At the time, my teenage daughter and I had been spending evenings drinking cups of tea, snuggled in comforters, doing her geometry homework. As the leftover tea bags accumulated, drying on the window sill, I had the idea to stitch them into a quilt to celebrate those intimate moments. Tea provided physical warmth on a cold night and the emotional warmth of time spent with my daughter. As a stitched surface, the confluent tea bags remind me of squamous epithelium as seen through a light microscope, one of many human body tissues I studied in medical school.
With my studies in bacteriology and human tissues and work in a hospital laboratory, I have spent many hours looking through a microscope. The forms of bacteria and fungi have been embedded into my subconscious and have formed the basis of much of my work. Recently I took an embroidery class and was startled to find that particular stitches resembled microorganisms. Colors of fabric and thread correlate with colors of stains, actual organisms, agar media, and light and scanning electron microscope fields. Setting the embroideries into Petri dishes provides the laboratory context.