I had wonderful adventures in Tennessee and Mississippi last week. My trip started off a little rocky with winter weather messing up my flights. I ended up spending some quality time in the Detroit air port waiting to fly into Memphis. To make matters worse, I had been routed to Minneapolis and was walking down the entryway to the plane when I heard my name faintly called, rescuing me from a few more unwanted hours in transit. The good news was that I decided to see about checking in my needle felting materials on the TSA sites before I left and learned that they were acceptable as part of my carry-on stash, along with with some snacks. I sat in Detroit and poking away at carrots. There’s always a bright side and my progress was good, although I suppose I got a few interested looks.
At the end of my expedition I found the welcoming arms of the the Memphis Guild of Handloom Weavers. They had invited me to do a workshop for their group and fourteen people signed up. That’s a good size and they comprised an incredibly enthusiastic bunch with varied experiences.
Some had been doing tapestry weaving for years, while others were learning to distinguish the warp and weft. We all held hands and worked through the process together. I was well supplied with yarns and materials for inclusion into the weavings. I had shipped three big boxes of supplies, plus I jam-packed a checked suitcase full of more recycled weaving materials. Off we went!
I always start my workshops with a little history of who I am and how I got to the point of my fiber art career. It’s fun to watch people’s faces when they hear about my path to my fiber artist career. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Western Ontario in the Plant Sciences department doing molecular genetics.
I enjoy trying to convince people that creating fiber art and planning a genetic screen are both very creative processes that depend heavily on planning, creative thinking and problem solving.
I’ve done a lot of workshops, and I always enjoy traveling to meet new people and put them on. In part, I think that’s because I don’t do cookie-cutter workshops. I don’t want everyone to have the same object to compare at the end. Each person is encouraged to delve into their own creative abilities and create something that truly reflects them.
Some people come to workshops with a photo, and one in particular this time brought a beautiful image from a trip to China. The colors of orangey-red branches on a tree that I think was in the birch family stood in the foreground with fabulous teal blue water and shore in the background. In the mid ground there were reticulated white branches, which came together in a beautiful composition. That’s what she wanted to emulate, and she did!
I’m looking forward to getting an image of the completed piece. Another person traveled a fair distance to attend the workshop and must have woven all night in the hotel room to create the art that came together over the weekend. She had a very clear vision of where she was going with her piece. Others very very happy to just do samplers and experience all of the varied techniques that I introduce and explore using the mountain of materials and colors available for their compositions.
In so many ways my workshops prove to be a starting point for the participants. I give them permission to be creative without all the rules and structure they have embraced in the past. It’s a lot of fun to look at the weavings and watch how tight and rigid and consistent the first few rows appear. The emerging rows tell a temporal story, with the highest rows revealing the most relaxed and undulating structures.
The emerging artwork parallels my relationship with the participants as we become more relaxed with each other and are able to share our experiences. I feel that I come home with mountains of new ideas. It’s hard to say goodbye to all of my new friends.
I need to mention my side excursion that accompanied my trip to Memphis, which was a visit with relatives in Oxford Mississippi. They told me that their house was only an hour or so from Memphis, and they volunteered to host me for a couple of days outside of the workshop. It was so much fun to see all of the places and people connected with the family stories I’ve heard over the years. Now when Martha talks about the basketball arena and her seats I’ll know exactly where she is. When they talk about McEwen’s restaurant downtown I can remember our table, which is right in the middle of the website picture. We stopped into Martha’s daughter’s store, Amy Head Cosmetics, and I had a wonderful visit with the store manager. She turned out to be a fiber artist and we bonded immediately.
When I got home I hit the ground running on my suspended projects in Bloomington. Friday was the opening reception at the Blueline Gallery for a subset of my Beauty and the Beast costumes. They were paired with sketches of fashion from the fifties, which was beautiful artwork from the grandmother of the owners of Blueline. The exhibit is called Fashion and Fantasy. It was great fun to revisit with all of my costumes.
Distance does make the heart grow fonder, and I haven’t seen them since November. I love the way that Jim Andrews has curated the exhibit—there is a flow and a logic to the interactions and a color story so it feels very natural. The exhibit will be up until April 29th and there will be a second reception on the first Friday in April. Come visit if you’re in town.
While it was wonderful to visit with family and to make new friends, there’s no place like home. I found a bouquet of roses and a delightful fish dinner with wine when I got home, and I relished sleeping in my own bed. Best of all, on Saturday morning a tart cherry pie appeared! I’m going to have to travel more often!
Until next week,