Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bauhaus Show Preparation...

It has been a while since I actually hung my own show. I forgot how much preparation time it takes to get a show ready, and I only have 4 pieces in this one!

Here they are ready to go to Albuquerque tomorrow morning to hang in the Open Space Gallery. It is good to finally be at the point where we can put it up!
The show is called Interwoven Traditions: New Mexico and Bauhaus and is the first of two shows; the second in Erfurt, Germany in September and October.

This show is a collaboration with Cornelia Theimer Gardella and James Koehler. See our project website for more information here.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A blue day...

I took a class today with Liesel Orend through Espanola Valley Fiber Arts Center (EVFAC) about indigo. Liesel is an amazing natural dye master and a great teacher. I learned a lot about different kinds of indigo vats and thoroughly enjoyed the magic that is indigo. I even finally understood how to balance a vat and how to keep using it continually. I think I see an indigo vat in my future.

We did four different indigo dye vats: a soda/spectralite vat, a fermentation vat, a fresh plant (woad) vat, and an instant indigo vat. We started out picking woad in Liesel's dye garden. It is still very early in the season, and there wasn't much dye in those plants. We did it to see what we would get anyway.
Unfortunately my camera focused on the ground behind my hand, but this blurry yarn was the result of dying with the woad plant, a very light blue-green.

I think this is called the flower on the top of the indigo pot. I believe this was the fermentation vat. I liked the colors from this vat the best, but maintaining one is much more fussy! I doubt that I have the patience to maintain the temperature on the vat at all times, much less to wait a week after the bath is exhausted before I can use it again! Underneath this purple, the liquid is a grassy green.

Yarn coming out of the soda/spectralite bath.

Some of the yarn we dyed. People brought all kinds of fibers, some already dyed to overdye. I liked the results on good-quality wool and silk the best. Poor quality yarn (Clasgens anyone?) still looks bad once dyed in indigo.

I brought two skeins of Brown Sheep Worsted and a half pound skein of Harrisville singles. I dipped the Harrisville into the soda/spectralite vat three times. I did one skein of the Brown Sheep twice in the fermentation bath and the other once in the instant indigo bath. I will probably use the Brown Sheep yarn for a small knitting project. I liked the fermentation bath colors the best, but was also very pleased with the Harrisville. It dyed evenly and was quite dark. See the photo at the top of this post for those yarns.

A big thanks to Liesel for all her help, for sharing her beautiful studio and dye plants, and for answering my completely unrelated natural dye questions for an upcoming project. It was a stellar day.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


I have loved all the comments on my last post about getting an MFA (master of fine arts). Thank you all for your thoughtful responses.

I like Juliet's suggestion of doing an ATA Tapestry Topics issue on this topic. I think there are probably a lot of fiber artists out there with opinions on the subject.
(I have also found out lately that there are a lot of fiber artists out there with opinions on spinning wheels. Thanks to the people who said, "Try out lots of wheels." I am going to do just that at Convergence. And thanks to EVFAC for loaning me this "emergency" Louet wheel until then! And yes, my lateral epicondylitis is feeling much better partly thanks to the hand therapist living in my head. Whew--sometimes my writing "style" is exhausting.)

How do we (people-who-define-ourselves-as-artists-sometimes) fill that need to "feel like an artist" when we don't have a degree in art? Work in fiber has traditionally been considered craft, not fine art. Having a tapestry of your painting woven was once considered a great honor and a mark of how good your art was (and places like the Victorian Tapestry Workshop in Australia still do this)--and these tapestries are fabulous, but those weavers are not the artists, they are the technicians. If we both design and weave a tapestry perhaps we are both an artist and a technician. Or is the act of weaving the tapestry any different than the act of painting a painting? Painters also need skill in craft and are also "technicians".
I do not believe, as some artists seem to, that craft is a dirty word. Craft has been a unifying force in our country in so many eras in history. My job-that-pays-the-bills, occupational therapy, started as a mental health profession that did crafts with soldiers returning from WWI to facilitate return to normal mental functioning. (About here I am wondering if I was born in the wrong era.)

Lyn asked how we fill the need to become "more" of an artist? And I think many of us wonder why we should feel we need to validate our art in the first place.

I love all the ideas about stimulating creativity: artist residencies, classes in other media, books, taking college classes but not necessarily in a degree-seeking program... I read something not long ago about a practice of carrying around a small sketch book/journal for ideas and making much of your day about creative process. I have found that when I do this, it really works. I do pull the little moleskine out of my jeans pocket and scribble something down and that gets me thinking and before I know it I have three more ideas. Most of these ideas will never make it into a tapestry, but it gets my creativity flowing and that is what is most important.

Some new questions I am mulling over tonight:
Is tapestry weaving an art form or a decorative art? In what way is it each or both? The word craft comes into play there also. I am finishing the Bauhaus Tapestry Project this summer and fall with shows in Albuquerque, NM and Erfurt, Germany. My study of the Bauhaus also brings up some of these questions. Initially, the Bauhaus had a master of form and a master of craft in each workshop. The master of form, perhaps unsurprisingly, got paid better than the master of craft. The idea however, was that the student had to learn both the craftsmanship of making something and the artistic design skills to make it a piece of art. The Bauhaus had the added intellectual goal of relating each kind of art to it's place in architecture.

All of these questions are murky and my thoughts about them are not at all clear--which is undoubtedly evident in this post. It is good to wonder about them however.

And finally, at least for tonight, thanks to Renee for saying, "You don't need a degree to have validation in the art world. Your work is your validation."
I agree Renee. I don't think I need an MFA to make me a "real" artist. But I do think that the work in a collaborative setting is extremely valuable, sometimes frustrating, and mostly fruitful. I will continue to look for ways to interact with other artists and teachers from my seat right here for now.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

MFA in fibers

I have been kicking around the idea of getting an art degree. I have a sneaking suspicion that part of this has to do with my love of school and that going to school for a Masters of Fine Arts in fibers is really a way to delay some dedicated work in my own studio. However, another part of my brain wonders if there are things to be learned in art school that I have missed completely (actually I'm sure this is true) in my haphazard, cobbled-together art education. Can I find those things on my own (without a formal educational setting that is)? Probably, if I have a little faith and find the people who can help me learn them. But how do I continue to find those people?

A decade ago I visited Cranbrook with my artist/architect sister and wished that I could be part of that fiber department. The fibers instructor recommended I get a BFA before I came knocking on her door again (and admittedly at that point I had no body of work at all, so she was right). And the price of that institution now that I might consider trying to get in, is prohibitive.

The crux of it, I believe, is that I want to have the opportunity to become submerged in my own art-making. I think I have some notion that if I was in an art-school environment, there would be ideas literally bombarding me at all times and I would just have to reach out and pluck them out of the air and weave them into my tapestry. I suspect this is not the reality. On the other hand, my realistic self understands that making art is a difficult and sometimes painful process and that art school may only magnify that, perhaps to good end--or perhaps will simply frustrate me as I try to complete other people's assignments and don't have time for my own ideas.

I think this question of professionalism and art degrees is something that we (artists, fiber people??) don't talk about much. Are those who have advanced degrees in art afraid of devaluing them in some way? Is spending years working in photography, print making, or sculpture really helpful if we want to be fiber artists? I suspect there are great benefits to working in other mediums... but I also suspect that I have passed the place in my life where those pursuits are useful to me.

Still, the question remains, MFA or not? Any thoughts?