artist residencies

Pentaculum 2018: Red, for Sorrow and Renewal

In November 2016, Gatlinburg, Tennessee suffered a devastating fire that destroyed hundreds of homes, businesses and tree-covered acreage.  As news broke on social media, we watched the unfolding story as it related to Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, a beloved crafts school with a network of artists, fans, and workshop attendees spread across the globe. The stories of escape from quickly advancing flames were horrific. We were frightened for Arrowmont’s staff and families, and we worried that nothing would remain of the school. When morning came, the dormitory I’d stayed in just one year earlier while attending a Surface Design Association conference, was one of two buildings destroyed in the fire, but the rest of the campus had mercifully been spared.

So, when I was invited to attend Arrowmont’s Pentaculum 2018, a gathering of 80 artists and writers working in clay, metal, fiber, 2-d, and wood, I felt both delight and reverence. I wanted not only to inhabit this loss but pay homage to renewal. I’d make a piece in my Tarp Series, in which I position my expressive textile paintings as metaphorical tarps. I see tarps as protective, versatile and adaptive. I’d start with drawings on campus, translating them to cloth, then photograph the piece outdoors in select settings.

Upon arrival, inevitably I recalled a much earlier connection to the Great Smoky Mountains. During very formative years as a 19 year old, I spent two months at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, then known as the Maryville College Environmental Education Center. It was 1973, and I leaned into the wildness, leading school children on hikes, learning about material culture, foodways, harp singing, launching myself into the art making and community arts career that has been a part of me ever since.

At Pentaculum 2018, we did not anticipate the very unusual cold weather, which made outdoor drawing impossible and photography challenging. But I let my eye be “open,” with doodles and observations on walks and out the studio windows.

The imagery in the resulting piece, Sorrow and Renewal, is more representational than is usual for me.  Colors are black, grey, —and red. Red for pent-up passions, energy, sorrow, fire, joy and heat. But it is in the context of the forest, streams, rocks, gnarled trees, that this red makes the most sense and feels right.

Scouting photography locations in 13 degree weather, I explored the woodpile of huge downed trees, there perhaps not from the fire but adjacent to the hill where remains of the fire are visible. And also there, grapefruit sized piles of bear scat from visits to nearby dumpsters. But it was a place along the river that truly allowed this piece to find its singing voice. Renewal is apparent, gratifying, and not to be taken for granted.  Pentaculum 2018 was a wonderful experience. And Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts continues to be a magical place.

Bumping into The Fabric Workshop in Philadelphia

In mid-February, I attended the Buyers’ Market of American Craft as a buyer for Iowa Artisans Gallery.  As we prepared to leave, we discovered our flight was canceled and rescheduled for late in the day. What to do in this lovely city? Our answer was to meander, walking the streets in ways we’d been unable to do prior to this point. Next thing I knew, I was literally bumping into The Fabric Workshop and Museum, a stone’s throw away from the Convention Center, where I’d attended the show for 15 years.

The Fabric Workshop! I’ve been reading about this venerable institution for more than twenty years. Articles have always pinpointed the Workshop’s focus on screen printing, and I’ve been an enthusiastic screen printer for years. Naturally, I’ve always wanted to visit.

The Fabric Workshop was founded by Marian Stroud in 1977, both as a place to train apprentices in the field of textile design and to work with mature artists interested in fabric and unconventional materials. A Decade of Fabric and Art  celebrates the 10th Anniversary of the Center. This publication points out the 1960s connections of major artists like Alexander Calder, with the making of fiber art pieces, tapestries in Calder’s case. This precedent led Stroud to invite artists like Louise Nevelson, Robert Morris, Robert Kushner, Jun Kaneko and Ned Smyth into the Workshop early on. 150 artists in all were served during the first decade.

As a screen printer, I gasped with pleasure at the long tables and deep space of this printing studio.

The Fabric Workshop refined its mission in 1996, adding Museum to its name. Artists are still offered the chance to work as Artists-in-Residence with unconventional materials, not all of them fabric or textile-related. The screen printing areas serve at-risk youth in Philadelphia schools, as well as high school-, college- and postgraduate-level apprenticeships. Current artists in residence at the Workshop are profiled on the website.  The Workshop is housed on several floors of a building, with exhibition halls, screen printing production studios, administrative offices, and conservation facilities for its 5500 objects made by 400 participating artists. It also houses a museum shop where screen printed items are sold in addition to books and other goodies.

During my visit, I viewed New American Voices II, an exhibition of contemporary sculpture, installation and wall works by Robert Pruitt, Jim Drain, Jiha Moon and Bill Smith. Vastly different in concept and execution, these works will challenge anyone looking for a more traditional approach to fiber art. I was especially drawn to the work of Robert Pruitt. His website does not do his contemporary work justice, so I won’t cite it here. I am not able to share images of those exhibits with you.

By becoming a contemporary art center, the Fabric Workshop has invested in its future by insuring two grant-funding streams: contemporary art, plus under-served populations. I hope that it continues to capitalize on its roots in fiber art in its appeal to artists, providing them a truly unique opportunity to make works not otherwise easily made. If you’re in Philadelphia, don’t do what I did and wait 15 years to visit this inspiring and provocative place.

interesting way of preserving samples
a wall display shows images from early years
Screen, test piece and drop cloth
The Fabric Workshop & Museum is located at 1214 Arch St in Philadelphia
the front window of the building showcases items fabricated from FW&M fabrics, for sale in the Museum Shop
My $12 purchase, a bag with two interesting sides, a difficult choice with so many patterns to pick from
The Fabric Workshop and Museum is located at 124 Arch Street in downtown Philadelphia. For contact and membership information, please visit this link.