Linda Gass was born to be an artist. She started creating as soon as she was old enough to hold a paintbrush; now, several decades later, Gass has fulfilled her childhood dream and then some. The Bay Area artist creates vibrant works of art on cloth, but they’re not just pretty pictures. Each of Gass’s stitched paintings, as she calls them, also serves as a stark illustration of the damage we’re causing our planet. 

Gass grew up in the 1970s, along with the first stirrings of modern environmentalism. By the time she reached college, the movement was in full swing. It was a “lifestyle,” she tells mental_floss. “It really opened my eyes.” 

But there were practical concerns to attend to. Gass’s parents wanted her to find a career that would support her, which made becoming an artist out of the question. She turned instead to math and computer science, eventually entering the software industry. And her parents were right: she was well-supported. But she wasn’t satisfied. So after years of saving up, she quit. 

“It was a really tough decision,” she says. “I had worked all my life to get to the point where I was in the software industry and it certainly paid well. All of my friends were there. So I had to really build up my courage to step away.”

The risky decision paid off. By 1998, Gass had found her way into textile art, and she never looked back. “I love working in textiles,” she says. “There’s something about fabric that’s very comforting. It’s beautiful and a pleasure to work with.” 

But her environmental roots were calling. It wasn’t long before Gass realized she could integrate her concerns into her art. Her first ecological piece, After the Gold Rush, was inspired by an aerial photograph of California’s Interstate 5.

Painting after painting followed, addressing themes of land use, water pollution, and human violence against the landscape. Yet each image is luminous and lovely to see. This is intentional, according to Gass: “I try to lure people in with that beauty to get them to confront the hard issues we face.” 

Click on each painting's title for a brief description.

Over the last two decades, Gass has expanded her repertoire to include sculpture and landscape installations. Last year, she was honored with a creative ecology residency in East Palo Alto, California. She chose to work on Cooley Landing, a public beach that had, until recently, been landfill. Understandably, the community was somewhat hesitant to spend time there. But through Gass’s free workshops, locals of all ages were able to discover the natural beauty and heritage of their new shoreline. 

East Palo Alto is something of an economic island, a low-income city in a sea of wealthy neighbors. The ecology residency had a dual purpose: introducing the city's residents to their new open space, and offering them an opportunity to engage in hands-on art and science. 

Gass and her workshop participants sketched the wildlife they saw and created a huge installation along the coast—thousands of bright-blue flags, marking where the waterline had once been.

Gass also used her students’ drawings to create a blank silk canvas for community members to paint.

“I overheard some of the girls while they were painting with the dyes, saying, ‘This is magical!’ Which is exactly how I felt about silk painting the very first time I tried it," she says. "It is this very magical, mesmerizing technique. It was so great to be reminded of how lucky I am to be able to work in this art form.”

Gass shows her work in galleries and museums around the country. To see her paintings in person this year, check out the Institute of Contemporary Art in San Jose, California, or the Euphrat Musem of Art in Cupertino, California. 

All images courtesy of Linda Gass.