Materson, Ray 1954-

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MATERSON, Ray 1954-

PERSONAL:

Male. Born 1954 in Michigan; married, 1993; wife's name Melanie (an artist and musician); children: David, Savannah, John (stepson). Education: Grand Valley State College, Michigan, B.A. (philosophy).

ADDRESSES:

Agent—c/o Workman Publishing Company, 708 Broadway, New York, NY 10003.

CAREER:

Artist and drug counselor.

WRITINGS:

(Coauthor with Melanie Materson) Sins and Needles: A Story of Spiritual Mending, Algonquin Books (Chapel Hill, NC), 2002.

SIDELIGHTS:

A classic "good boy gone bad," Ray Materson turned his life around in prison when he discovered a rather atypical talent for convicts: embroidery. Starting with the simplest of designs, Materson eventually perfected his technique, and today his miniatures fetch up to $4,000 at prestigious galleries. They also brought him a new family when a fan named Melanie began helping to promote them, then writing to Materson, and then marrying him in 1993, while he was still in prison. Today, the couple have three children, including Melanie's son John, and in Sins and Needles: A Story of Spiritual Mending Ray and Melanie Materson tell Ray's remarkable story of fall and redemption.

As a boy, Ray Materson was an good student with a desire to enter the priesthood, but a dysfunctional family and an addiction to drugs and alcohol led him into trouble culminating in 1988 with a fifteen-year prison sentence for armed robbery. Feeling hopeless, the incarcerated Materson was looking at a bleak Christmas that year but was slightly cheered by the news that the University of Michigan was going to the Rose Bowl. A Michigan native, Materson wanted to do something to show his support for the team. Remembering the pleasant hours his grandmother had spent embroidering, he used thread from his and a cellmate's socks to embroider a "Michigan M" in the maize-and-blue team colors. Worried that other inmates would look down on his hobby, Materson discovered instead that they were eager for logos of their own favorite teams, as well as for flags and emblems, and were willing to pay with the classic prison currency: cigarettes. From there, Materson began to embroider more elaborate scenes of prison, of everyday life, and even a complete series on the 1963 New York Yankee line-up that ultimately fetched $15,000 from a private collector. As he told Sports Illustrated reporter Amy Nutt, prison "saved his life by giving him the opportunity to become an artist. 'I believe we all have a drive to create.…If it's not nurtured, then the exact opposite happens: People learn to destroy, and sometimes they destroy themselves.'"

Eventually, Materson sent his pieces to a traveling folk art show, and then began submitting to galleries. There, his work was spotted by Melanie. Impressed, she began writing to Ray and offered to represent him at craft shows. Soon she gained him national attention at prestigious art galleries, including New York's Museum of Contemporary Art; eventually, the two developed a friendship, which led to their marriage in 1993, two years before Ray was paroled. In addition to his artwork, Ray Materson works as a drug counselor, helping people avoid his mistakes. In Sins and Needles he tells, "compellingly and with winning simplicity, an inspiring and touching story of the transformative power of art," in the words of Booklist reviewer June Sawyers.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, August, 2002, June Sawyers, review of Sins and Needles: A Story of Spiritual Mending, p. 1897.

People, October 28, 2002, review of Sins and Needles, p. 98.

Sports Illustrated, October 17, 1994, Amy Nutt, "A Stitch in Time," p. 7.*