I grew up in the Midwest - Kansas to be exact.
Best parts of my childhood were spent outdoors, riding bikes around the neighborhood, staying outside swinging on swing sets until dark when my folks would ring a big brass bell on the back porch to call my sister and me reluctantly inside. Our older brother mostly ignored his sisters as we were just noise in the room to him. Growing up in a strict cult religion home I spent a great deal of time when with my friends trying to explain it all. Why I would get in trouble for being sick? or for asking questions to find answers to their questions? Needless to say, when I graduated high school and went to college, it felt like I was running away from home. I went to great lengths to avoid living in the same town with my folks after that and never lived at home again. We got along as long as we didn’t talk about anything relevant.
My grandmothers, aunts and mother were expert needle workers and I was given a cross stitch sampler kit at age 12. What joy I found in handwork! I could lose myself in cross stitch, needlepoint or knitting for hours on end and a needle became my lifelong companion. My sister and I made doll clothes for our dolls and colored new paper dresses for our paper dolls. I took every art class available in high school. When I went to college, I had no clue what I wanted to do other than escape. But I enjoyed languages so I started as a German major. Then in my sophomore year I discovered the art department on the 3rd floor of Strong Hall. Drawing, painting, design, ceramics, jewelry and weaving – I got to try it all. Weaving spoke the loudest – all the patterns, all the colors, all the textures. I had found my home. I was taken as an apprentice my senior year to Chautauqua, New York by Mary E. Snyder , traditional weaver extraordinaire. She was very demanding and I soaked it up, graduating with my BFA in Weaving. (I married my college sweetheart and not only had a husband but a business partner as we have had tandem jobs much of our lives). But first I received a National Endowment for the Arts grant to teach weaving in a small town. I was given a large unused library as my studio and worked with kids in all the schools, kindergarten through high school. I loved that job, teaching kids that they could be creative, that they could weave, but didn’t like the politics of teaching. Spent a couple of years working as an in house weaver in an American handcraft store in Kansas City (my husband was the buyer). I had my studio in the glass walled shop along with a potter and a jeweler. We traveled around the country buying crafts for resale and when in the shop I demonstrated weaving in my window studio. The owner was a drunk, so the business didn’t survive. So we moved to Richmond, Virginia and tried city life on the East coast. Missed the sky and shoulder to shoulder horizon in the Midwest – reason enough in those days to move back.
We went to work together again - we managed an international folk art store and the surplus store across the street owned by the same people. We were sent to Guatemala, Panama and Ecuador to buy indigenous art for the international shop and to Los Angeles to buy up 2 train box car loads of nylon webbing for the surplus store. Little did I know the 2 purchases would be intertwined in my artwork a few years later. Always we moved and lived with my giant floor loom, it usually taking up the dining room in our home. I wove on the side making large corporate installations. But during the South American tour I contracted Guilin Barre syndrome. A nervous disorder that took all my muscle control away – I couldn’t even sit up without falling over. It took a full 2 years to regain my strength ; to learn to walk, feed myself, write and everything else I had taken for granted until then. I was 28 and I was lucky, it all came back. We decided to reinvent ourselves.
We formed our own sales agency, left the loom in storage with my sister and moved to Texas. I agreed to help for 5 years to get it off the ground. But that quickly turned into 30 years! We have sold wool socks, sandals, hiking boots, camping gear, and backpacks to outdoor stores in Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas. We helped introduce clothing and merchandising/display to the industry. A good way to make a living (in the old days, we could take the entire month of July off and kayak around places like Puget Sound).
I kept my studio going the whole time. Without my loom, I turned to what I had – lots of nylon webbing, climbing rope, paint, beads and embroidery thread. With my needle and my sewing machine I started to make my version of landscapes using the webbing as my canvas. I managed to exhibit a few in shows. Moved again, further south, to bigger quarters and I could have my loom again. But over the years collage had won my heart and the loom mostly became a coat rack. But always the weaver, even with collage, cutting up colorful papers and weaving them back together. When sealed with matte medium, the paper weavings can be cut up again without coming apart. I used my big loom some, but didn’t weave a lot until I discovered pin looms at a weaving trade show. Started with a triangle loom and then a few years later added a rectangle loom. Both have small nails around the edges and are continuous weft looms. These simple looms allow me to play with colors, textures and luxurious fibers rather than pattern structure. I have made lots of shawls and scarves with both of them and last year I had a very successful year selling my things in Taos, New Mexico.
3 years ago I met surface designers and learned how to dye and print fabric. A whole new world has opened up and it’s time to reinvent myself again. I still work in the agency, but my role is getting smaller and smaller and I will retire soon and have more and more studio time. I sold my big loom last year to make room for a print table and once I finish the pieces underway on the pin looms, they will be disassembled and stored for now. I have new tools and new ideas thanks to this course.
I generally assemble parts.
These parts can be many different things, but will involve lots of colors and lots of patterns.
These will be intertwined somehow. Maybe by weaving together, maybe machine stitching, painting. Usually I like to start with 6 or 8 pieces of canvas, canvas paper, watercolor paper or cotton or linen fabric. These ‘sheets’ are then all laid out on the table together and marks made on all at the same time in random configurations. These can then be cut apart into strips and these strips woven back together.
This structure will then be marked again and cut up and woven back together. Layers of colors held together with stitching.
Or these parts will be cut up into body parts and made into soft, felted dollies. Dollies make themselves and come in a wide variety of forms.
I don’t always know where the process will lead, but let it unfold as I go along. I listen to the parts and my hands put them back together.
Gloomy sounding, but not meaning to be.
Lately my thinking is of isolation and abandonment, the aloneness of each of us on this huge planet. Especially thinking of all the various groups of people displaced from their homes, their countries, turned out, chased out by others with nowhere to go and no one who wants them. Think of the little kids for whom this lack of place is the baffling new norm. The people left behind by death, still needing to move forward but without direction and purpose.
The idea of putting back together lives with structures, using lots of colors, textures and layers as a map to aid in the mending. To create a patchwork of textures, something tangible to hug along the way, to be comforted by on the long journey to what’s next.
Maybe it’s a soft sculpture, maybe it’s a soft fabric – hug it, stroke it, and find comfort.