Thursday, September 16, 2010

Creative Cross-Pollination

I was asked to write a guest column in conjunction with the 2nd annual Scotts Bluff Valley Fiber Arts Fair for the Gering Citizen this week.  I felt honored and excited to share a few personal thoughts on art, creativity, knitting, fiber art, and the fair itself.  Below you will find the article in its entirety.  As always, would love to hear your comments.

Knit On,

Donna

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It was by no means a masterpiece, but my very first knitting project, a small square of dark green yarn seamed together on one side, became a “skirt” for one of my dolls. This humble project was, amazingly enough, the foundation and inspiration for the work I currently enjoy today. As a child, I loved making art. Don’t we all start off that way? Think finger paints, construction paper, glue, popsicle sticks, and of course a box of crayons and the endless possibilities of a blank sheet of paper.

Thanks to the patience of my grandma, Betty Thompson, knitting was one of those creative endeavors that I have had with me since the age of 8.  I remember the blue and white, flowered recliner chair with the wooden arms she had me sit in as I carefully listened and tried to follow her instructions.  Each stitch was a challenge and each one that I completed a victory.  I have been stitching the stories and emotions of my life into my knitting projects in one way or another ever since.

At the risk of this sounding like a confession, though, knitting was only the beginning of my explorations.  In my early adult life, for many reasons, I used to keep my creative endeavors to myself. I didn’t get together with friends or join groups or even take classes, and often times these weren’t even available.  I simply walked into an art or craft supply store, purchased what I thought I needed, and proceeded to make, bake and grow things to my heart’s content.  It wasn’t a secret, mind you, but quietly I set about trying my hand at crocheting, quilting, sewing, embroidering, scrapbooking, cross stitching, and card making.

The beautiful thing was that there were no rules and no levels of perfection to attain.  That discovery alone gave me insight into why I enjoyed these domestic arts so much.  The other revelation I had during all of this time was that there was a definite theme to the creative outlets I enjoyed.  I would later learn someone had named that theme fiber art.  But I will get to that in a moment.  There was something else though, a discovery more important, and it took my thoughts back to my grandmother.  This wasn’t just creativity, but creativity with a practical, purposeful side as well.  I never thought of myself as an artist, believe me, but the history and importance of these arts of domesticity connected me to her, and others that came before me.

A common enough idea these days, but for me it added value to the time and money spent on these explorations in a way that was deeply satisfying.  This wasn’t something to hide or keep to myself.   This was something to embrace and enjoy with others.  You see, the very strong feminist in me (I am my mother’s child) must have being doing battle with the young woman that was taking such pleasure in all of these things.  Why did it have to be one or the other?   Who was I in all of this?  Just because I knit didn’t mean that I couldn’t go out and advocate for women’s rights, did it?  Such contradictions, yes, but such sweet satisfaction I took in learning that in fact creativity doesn’t have labels and gender specific laws.  (Just ask the men I know who knit! They would have their own story to tell, but I digress.)  The point is there is no need to choose.

I also feel that too much emphasis is put on the idea that we are either creative or we aren’t.  I can’t tell you how many times a day I hear someone say, well, I’m just not the creative type, as they talk about what they will be making for dinner that night and the beautiful flowers that grow in their garden.  I send them home with a bag full of yarn and wonder who ever gave them the idea that creativity had any boundaries.  Once I embraced these concepts, my art and creativity, especially my knitting, took on a life of its own (ask my husband or daughter who have been witnesses to my journey).   Something was set in motion, and with a few detours along the way, I arrived where I am at today and can say with pride and immense gratitude: I am a fiber artist and certified knitting instructor.

A term I heard a few years ago I feel describes fiber art perfectly is: creative cross-pollination…a combination of so many things and includes so many things all at once (that’s me). And yes, that’s fiber art.  It’s a collage of color, texture and technique.  It’s construction. It’s often functional and frequently beautiful.   It’s art.  It’s a picture.  It’s a sweater.   It’s a soft, heathered gray hank of hand spun wool.  It has words and music that you can’t necessarily hear, but they are there nonetheless.  There’s something incredibly satisfying and comforting to me knowing that the work I do with my hands is all of those things and more.

Art allows us to free our minds and hands and eyes to enjoy often neglected and undervalued skills, color, textures, and patterns. Being creative is about taking the steps to learn how to make something, to allow yourself to be a beginner, and not to get discouraged if one kind of creativity doesn’t turn out to be ‘your thing.’  And everyone needs an occasional dose of inspiration, creative cross-pollination, or a light-hearted reminder about not expecting perfection.  Just begin.

This Saturday at the county fairgrounds in Mitchell, Barn Anew Bed and Breakfast and Brown Sheep Co. will be hosting the 2nd annual Scotts Bluff Valley Fiber Arts Fair (SBVFAF).  It is a celebration of textiles and fibers, specifically natural fibers.  It is an exploration into the rich and practical history textiles have in our lives.  Before trends and fashion came in, we were clothing ourselves for the lifestyle we lived and the needs we had. We used materials that came from our natural surroundings such as plant and animal fibers. Fiber art fairs and festivals are a representation of those natural fibers and the many, many processes we use to turn them into useful items and works of art.

The heart of any fiber arts fair is education and inspiration.  There is an industry term known as “sheep to shawl”.  It’s a concept that entails taking a raw material such as wool, silk, cotton, or linen, turning it into yarn, thread, fabric, or roving, and then making it into a finished product.  Fiber festivals are all about giving you an inside look at that entire process.  It’s about preserving and passing along traditional techniques and sharing contemporary methods and ideas with the artisans that spin, weave, felt, quilt, dye, knit, and crochet.

My personal hope is that by combining an understanding of the past with the present, it will give you greater confidence in your individual creativity, offer new ways of looking at century’s old skills, and help you to feel proud of and see the worth in yourself and what is considered art.  How you express yourself through creativity is entirely up to you.  Spend time with others, join a group, or take a class.  My grandmother offered me her time and talent and that is a gift that has lasted a lifetime.   I pay homage to her by teaching and encouraging others.  How complete that circle feels.

I spent a lot of time recently thinking about why events like the SBVFAF are so important.   I have come to believe that creating things by hand speaks to both the pleasure of the process and also to our natural instinct to create something useful or beautiful.  Even though our world has become reliant on the work of machines rather than human hands—and speed and economic gain often seem to be valued over all else—the desire to make something, however time-consuming that process may be, remains with us.

If we no longer have to knit socks, make quilts, or bake bread, why would we want to do so? The true significance lies beyond usefulness.  It is in the process and satisfaction of creating that we have the most to gain.  Somewhere along the line I think we stopped giving hand crafted the respect it deserves.  I hope you take the opportunity to visit the fair and I hope that you find joy in everything you create.

For more information about the fair visit www.nebraskafiberfair.com or call 635-2198 and you can follow my personal knitting journey at www.theartofyarn.blogspot.com.

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