How were you first introduced to felt?
I was first introduced to felt through the gift of my dear friend, Peggy Thompson. We oftentimes, instead of giving material gifts (neither of us much caring to dust), give each other gifts of some type of shared experience, be it a concert, play, some type of pampering (manicure, pedicure…), and so for Christmas (I believe it was seven years ago now) that particular year, she enrolled both of us in Suzanne Higgs needle-felted hats class. My friend, Peggy, actually thought that she would become the felting enthusiast, but after poking herself with one of those oh-so-sharp needles, decided that perhaps this was not to be her calling;-) We’ve probably lost a few would-be feltmakers through that experience! Even with a few pokes, I was instantly drawn to felting and loved the endless possibilities and began experimenting, reading everything that I could get my hands on, and found what has become, I’m afraid, an obsession…I mean a passion!!! My husband, not knowing that he was helping to create a monster, purchased the gift of a weekend workshop for my birthday that same year, with the very giving Ann Arbor feltmaker, Loretta Oliver at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, which introduced me to nuno-felting, and again another window was opened. It wasn’t long before my dining room turned into a make-shift studio space, meals put on hold until the latest creation could be finished up, my oak dining room table now needing a tablecloth at all times due to the finish being partially removed from excess water! Not a big deal though as I also caught the dining room table on fire, and so in addition to the water damage, it’s also singed, but that’s another story!
What are you favorite wools with which to work?
While I know that there’s a plethora of amazing wools from which to choose, I still work primarily with Merino. It’s fantastic for next-to-the-skin wearables, and as I love to make hats, Merino is my wool of choice. I did have the opportunity to work with raw wool in Elis’ Raw Fleece Bags Masterclass held at the Creative Felt Gathering in Manchester, Michigan this past Fall (2011), and greatly enjoyed the experience and the possibilities that this new-to-me technique offers. While raw fleece is a teensy bit smelly, I hear that if you work with it long enough, that it actually starts to grow on you….Baaaaaaa…Oops, sorry, couldn’t help myself! I love the three bags that I made in Ells’ workshop (in addition to the one made in class, I stayed late in the studio to make two more), then came home and dyed two of the bags a deep, rich red for the 2011 FeltUnited. I know that I’m off topic here, but if you’re around me long enough, you know that’s common and I eventually get back to the original topic at hand;-) Anyway, if you ever have the pleasure of taking a workshop with Elis, by all means do. Elis, is one of those people who make you feel empowered, not giving easy answers, asking that you try to figure things out on your own, challenging you to go beyond what you feel you’re capable of, telling you when your notion might be ‘too simple’, even asking one to sketch when they’re not a sketcher (which I’m not…scared me to death!)… I love these growth opportunities and challenges to stretch. In addition to Elis’ mad felting skills, I adore her, love the singing and dancing that one might experience while working late into the evening listening to one of her Peatbog Faeries music clips or perhaps a little SuperTramp (I believe it was Take the Long Way Home and as best I recall, we were quite good;-) See what you miss if you go to bed too early;-) And, I of course love her heart, mind, sense of humor, compassion, and passion for whatever it is that she’s doing at the moment….And, she’s always doing something!
From what do you get your inspiration?
From so many different places, but right off the top of my head….
- Lots of things in nature…amazing shells from the ocean, intricate bark patterns on a tree, beautiful/colorful flowers and plants, amazing things that soar (birds, butterflies)…Wish I could fly.
- Imagery from poems.
- Saying ‘yes’ to challenges, things that are intimidating, feeling out of our comfort zone…being successful and then feeling that the risks are worth the fear and the willingness to try again.
- Unexpected sources such as going to buy housepaint, only to be sidetracked by the paint chips, loving a certain color combination, and thinking, ‘Hmmmm….wouldn’t that be cool to try on …….’
- I love browsing antique shops…looking at beautiful vintage hats/ dresses, old postcards with written notes from long ago, old books…
- Don’t we all love being around other creative people? I know that I do…always inspires and brings about a sense of appreciation for the creative bent in others. Also, being around people who are much the opposite of me and hearing their take on things. I like to listen, people watch.
- Workshops. I always bring home loads of inspiration and a renewed energy.
- Music…all different types. This is a big one for me…just puts me in the mood to put the inspiration into action.
- Love to laugh, from the silly to the absurd…Makes my heart happy and that brings about an inspired sense in me.
- Being loved and accepted by friends and family and feeling a sense of gratitude for that.
- And, lastly, having the time and freedom in order that I might feel inspired in the first place. Sometimes life gets so busy that it’s hard to carve out that creative space. That’s one of the things that I struggle with, as I’m sure many do, so trying to work on that in my own life…The balance of it all. Can’t be inspired if your plate is too full.
What is your background? (feel free to discuss family, education, prior artistic experience, whatever you care to share…)
I’ve always loved creating, but never really felt that I was a ‘true artist’. This was one of my monumental take-aways from my first meeting with Elis (Summer 2010). Do you remember bringing that subject up Elis on that very first day of the CFG, sitting around in that circle sharing? Well, it really struck a chord in me, actually made me teary, because though I loved feltmaking, and had enjoyed various creative pursuits (including pottery and stained glass), I never really felt worthy of using the word ‘artist’. In fact, likely never would have called myself an artist, reserving that word for I suppose the likes of Monet, Rembrandt, Degas, Hemmingway, Mozart, Bach, Elton John, the Beatles… But certainly not myself. I have been blessed by those moments, hearing just what I needed to hear at the most opportune time. While I learned so much during that week, what I most needed to hear, and that big lightbulb momnet for me, was that it wasn’t boastful; it wasn’t an ego thing, to call oneself an artist, and to look at why we fear using that word. I admit that I still hesitate to call myself an artist, but I’m mindful of it, and somewhere in the back of my head, I think to myself, ‘I am blessed to be an artist, to be doing that which I love, blessed to have met the people who have come into my life, and for this wonderful gift of feltmaking.’
I have no formal art education/ background, but have benefited greatly by either having been befriended by, or having taken class with, some of those on my bucket-list of fantastic feltmakers, in addition to Suzanne, Loretta and Elis (already mentioned above), also Marjolein Dallinga (Canada), Nicola Brown (Ireland), Anna Gunnarsdottir (Iceland), Chad Alice Hagen (North Carolina), Thomas Horst (Ohio), and Joni Cornell (Australia). I will also have the great pleasure of meeting and spending time with Charity Vd Meer (Netherlands) and Chrissie Day (UK) over the course of the next year.
I’ve learned so much from each of these friends and mentors, that I barely know where to begin and it would take too much space, but will leave you with a couple of thoughts that have been meaningful to me…This of course in addition to honing the technical skills, but you all know how to do that (read, take classes, ask questions, practice, learn from mistakes, ask more questions…). But these pieces of wisdom have taken more time for this feltmaker to trust and to sink in, and so perhaps you may benefit from it, too:
One, if you’re making art, following your dream/passion, growing through your work, well you are an artist and don’t let anyone make you feel less than. I’ll share a little story that meant so much to me. Last year in one of my e-mails to Elis, I believe that I may have been gushing a bit too much about how much I enjoyed meeting and getting to know her and taking her workshop, and she wrote back to me and stated something to the effect of, ‘Dawn, either take me off the pedestal or join me on it’. She wasn’t saying this to be unkind, but quite the opposite, as that is the mark of a true friend and mentor. And, I would recommend searching out those people in your life. Those who want the best for you and don’t tell you that you can’t, don’t belittle you, don’t cause you to doubt yourself, but instead lead you to believe that you’re capable, can do it, and to please join them in this rich pursuit.
And, from dear friend, Joni Cornell, I’ve learned that we’re all on our own journey, that others can and will support us in our endeavors, but that the gift is inside us, and that we need to own it.
And, then from Marjolein Dallinga, at the conclusion of her workshop at the Felters Fling, asked this, “What do you give to the world when you make things?” How do you change the world with your art?” Words that perhaps we should all ask from time to time.
We’re so fortunate to be able to find amongst the tight-knit feltmaking community, those who can/will impact our lives in a positive manner.
I love these quotes relating to artists:
“Beware of artists – they mix with all classes of society and are therefore most dangerous“. ~ Queen Victoria
“As long as we have memories, we have yesterday. As long as we have hope, tomorrow awaits. As long as we have ART today is beautiful.” ~ Ixchel Suárez
What are you favorite materials to combine with felt?
Silk (all forms…hankies, fabric, fiber, cocoons), locks, wool nepps, leaf skeletons, embedded objects to reveal (such as stones, glass…), and I love beads combined with felt…love the contrasting matte wool and shiny beads when I have the time to add (and am able to locate my reading glasses).
What would you like to try that you have not done before? (installation art, books, wearable’s, teaching, dyeing, raising your own sheep..or even a new artistic field or media…)
Yes ;-) All of the above (well except for raising the sheep…which I’d love to try but as I live in the city, my neighbors would turn me into the authorities ;-)
I would love to work on a group exhibit with some of the felt artists with whom I feel an affinity and would also love to work on a book.
I love teaching…It’s been a great joy and I definitely hope to add more of this to my schedule.
One of the things that I tried for the very first time, and something that I had always been deathly afraid of, was public speaking. But I was asked to give a feltmaking presentation to a neighboring museum, and decided that it was high time that I got beyond that fear. I took the group along on a little ‘tour’ via my PowerPoint presentation to ‘meet’ my fellow feltmakers around the world, giving the audience members ‘passports’ that I’d made up to check off all of the countries represented. It made it much less intimidating for me to speak, having my friends projected on the screen, showing the various ways of working with felt, along with their artist statements …Was as if it were a joint effort and I actually found that while I was a bit nervous, that I actually enjoyed the experience.
Are you currently working on a special project that you would like to share?
Well, I don’t know that this is technically a ‘project’, but as it’s foremost on my radar screen, I will add it here. I will be teaching my first international felt hat-making workshop(s) in April 2012, traveling to Ireland. I have been asked by dear friend, Nicola Brown, to teach, so not only will this be my first international teaching, but also my first international travel where a passport has been needed. I am thrilled beyond belief to have this opportunity. As a bonus, this will be my first face-to-face meeting with long-time friend, Chrissie Day. Nicola will then be returning to Plainwell the following month, where I will host her feltmaking workshop in May, and Chrissie traveling to Michigan in the Fall.
Next up, is bringing dear friend and felt whiz, Charity Vd Meer of the Netherlands to teach here in July 2012. Just lining up the venue, so don’t have all of the details quite yet, but will within the next few weeks, and of course, I’m over-the-moon happy to meet Charity.
As for myself, I continue to create hats for the galleries in which I sell. I’m also focusing on gathering all that I’ll need to travel and teach in Ireland and would love to continue along on this path. Can’t think of a better combination than work/play and seeing the countries where my friends live, work and play.
Can you share with us 5 names of inspiring artists or work, not necessarily in the textile field.
Well, you’ve already read of many of my feltmaking friends and nstructors, so I’m going to shorten this, as I’m getting long winded, and this one could wind up being the size of War and Peace if I were to add all of the many artists that I’m inspired by in the feltmaking world. But, I will name a few outside of the feltmaking realm (or at least having an additional pursuit).
- One of my newest favorite artists is poet and spiritual writer, philosopher, and healing arts teacher, Mark Nepo. Mark is a Kalamazoo, Michigan resident, and his book, The Book of Awakenings, was one of Oprah’s book club selections, and of course with her endorsement, shot to the top of the New York Times bestsellers list. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy…Mark is down-to-earth, wise, and insightful, having gone through some of his own life struggles, including cancer. He and his wife, Susan McHenry are such lovely people and are both artists (she’s a marvelous potter).
- Andrea Eimke, Director at Atiu Fibre Arts Studio, Cook Islands. Though still fiber related, she’s not a felt artist. I adore Andrea’s work. She’s currently exhibiting her entry, Third Space II, as part of the Lovelace Exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia. Her contribution is composed of lace textile panels (35) made of bark cloth (Tapa), cotton gauze, interfacing, thread and soluble stabilize. The images are gorgeous. How I wish I could see her work in person, but as the next best thing, we can all see and hear of her intricate work, by going to: LINK
- I had the great pleasure of meeting Debbie Harbin-Wagner at the 2011 Felters Fling. She’s an amazing human being and one can’t help but be drawn to her with her beautiful smile and open manner. While Debbie is a feltmaker, she’s also a gifted painter. Do read her inspirational story which was recently spotlighted in the national/international news, telling of how Debbie, a brain-tumor survivor, begins her day in the darkness so that she is able to watch and paint the sunrise. This has been her daily ritual for over 2,200 mornings. Her sunrise paintings are touching the hearts of many. You can read her story at: LINK
If you could set up an exhibit (group or solo), where would you do it and what would it look like?
Well, I am currently working on this, so not sure that I’m at liberty to speak of it yet as I’m just in the fact finding and proposal stage at the moment. Will keep you posted though ;-) And, I can say that it would/will definitely be a group exhibit.
anything else you would like to add?
In closing, one final thought from me pertaining to FeltUnited. It may be that I’ll be in Australia visiting with my dear friend, Joni Cornell around the time of Felt United 2012. While I knew of Joni, initially through Flickr years ago (we had both taken part in Nicola’s Clasheen Felt Swaps, though had never been paired as swap partners). Joni and I became better acquainted through Facebook, and she later invited me to participate in the ‘Battlecoat’ project, a collaborative effort for the 2010 FeltUnited, along with conceptual artist, Lisa Kaftori, and felt artists Victoria Marshall Clegg, Ginny French, and Althea Bilodeau. That project and the friendships that ensued have been such a gift to me.
Joni and I had an interesting dialogue on this year’s FeltUnited theme: Fire, and how that will mean something different to each person. For me, I likened fire to warmth, a fireplace, candles, or even the fire of friendship, but I hadn’t stopped to think about the associations that come to mind for Joni, living in fire prone Australia, and the devastation to life and property there. I’m sure that emotions and entries will be quite varied depending on ones own experience and associations with fire.
We come from varied backgrounds, lifestyles and places from across this great big world. Somehow bringing us all together through this shared passion of felt-making really does make the world seem much smaller, more approachable, richer and more fulfilling, and I think that’s what I love most about Felt United. The bond that we all share, each expressing their passion in their own way, but all coming together and sharing our love of all things felt.
Links to Dawns work:
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