Friday, January 18, 2013

From Sheep to Shawl

Nest by Katy Olson
Sumac Vest by Sharon Marquardt

One of the nice things about being a shepherdess and a fiber artist is that I am intimately connected to every step in the process of creating a piece of art. At the most basic, I choose the breed of sheep which will produce the wool I use. Over the last thirty years I’ve shifted the flock from strong, lustrous Lincoln cross wools  to soft crimpy Rambouillet cross wools as I shifted from spinning weaving yarns to knitting yarns.
I choose the dyes I use – commercial, Kool Aide™ or natural – depending on the effect I want. I choose the techniques. Do I want a fine yarn or a bulky yarn? Do I choose to weave a rectilinear piece on a loom or a less controlled collage of Ojibway Dream Nets? Does the visual interest derive from color, as in a Scandinavian sweater, or from stitch as in a crocheted shawl. Will I knit, crochet, weave or felt to get the effect I want?

Right now, I’m working with large three dimensional pieces in felt. I don’t even have wall space big enough for my latest. But that’s okay; it was designed for From Sheep to Shawl, a traveling fiber exhibit on which I am collaborating with three friends, Karen Aakre, Katy Olson and Sharon Marquardt. From Sheep to Shawl looks at the history of fiber work, from the prehistoric to the present, it talks about the ideas of craft and art and the differences between the two. Hopefully, it shows that craft can be art.

Last week, I helped hang the exhibit at the Stevens County Historical Society Museum. The Museum has a beautiful gallery with high ceilings and perfect lighting. The woven coverlets, felted vests and boots, knit sweaters, stenciled shinfeller pieces and felted sculptures glow against the walls. The four of us have traveled different directions in our work, but the colors and textures and shapes bring the pieces together into one glorious whole. I felt such joy as I gazed around the room. Such a simple thing to tangle wool fibers together, and yet the finished work is intricate and beautiful.

Color wheel by Joan Ellison
From Sheep to Shawl will be on display at the Stevens County Historical Society Museum until February 28. Karen Aakre will be offering a shinfeller workshop on Saturday, February 23. Contact the Museum to register for the workshop. 

From Sheep to Shawl will be traveling for the next year. If you live in west central Minnesota, keep your eyes open, it may come to a venue near you.

Shinfeller Vest by Karen Aakre

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