This recently abandoned, temporary dwelling (which we hope kept eggs and baby birds safe while learning about their new life on planet Earth) was in the trees and spotted by someone else while I was busy combing the ground for mushrooms (see my last Post).

The entire structure was attached to a perfectly appointed V-branch with what look like blades of grass, apparently serving as a sort of “warp” or framework for the rest of the construction.  Interwoven were oak catkins, bits of decomposing bark, twigs, leaves and pine needles, now all dessicated, soon to slough off and rejoin the soil.  A simple but sturdy sanctuary, all made without hands.  Think about it.

We have had a good deal of rain in North Georgia – a welcome respite from the dry heat of late Spring. With all of that moisture in the mix, many a latent mushroom has pushed its way through soil, moss and leaf litter to play out its short, above-ground life cycle. A recent trip to the mountains revealed just how variously mushrooms have responded to these conditions – in one particular spot, condensed in an area of roughly a few thousand square feet, everything from Chanterelle and Boletus spp. to Amanita muscaria (and many more) were called forth.

As a student of native herbaceous perennials, I have typically focused on the ground with its rich layers of tone, color, pattern and texture. In addition to providing creative inspiration, attentiveness to the details of the ground layer cultivates a broader appreciation of the smallest creatures of the visible world, including all manner of insects and, of course, mushrooms. Fungi are our great allies (even the poisonous ones). They play an essential role in soil building and nutrient conversion. We could not live without them as they have, among other things, co-created the forests which shelter us and the earth on which we walk. Year-round, but especially in the Summer, mushrooms bring to mind the essence of both exuberant abundance and creative destruction.  Here are some photographic observations:

Mechanical resists are one of the most basic and enduring mark-making techniques on cloth, and although not structural, are as fundamental to the history of textiles as spinning, weaving and felting.  This class of resists includes stitching, folding, clamping, binding (including Ikat), and wrapping, and is known collectively in Japan as shibori. The results are quite complex at times for such a seemingly simple process.  Key to these resists is the dye process:  all resists are only made manifest through that alchemy (whether through immersion or direct application).

In mechanical resist dyeing there is a subtle dance of control and surrender.  Even the most skilled practitioners, who can produce a great deal of precision, allow that it is still a loose and ultimately imprecise practice (with the possible exception of stitched resists).  But that is its inherent beauty – and the root of my attraction to it.  Much of my textile production is exacting and not forgiving – This process allows me to step out of the way and let the surface unfold on its own.  Of course, I am still exercising my will over the process while I bind, stitch, etc., but after that, I let the serendipity of the dye pot take over.  And since the hand and heart of the binder/stitcher/clamper is as essential to the alchemy as the dye chemistry, I know no two pieces created will be alike….It is thrilling every time for me to witness the “emergent” in each piece (especially after folding/wrapping and binding).

There are many wonderful books on this topic, including the definitive texts written by Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada, as well as one classic volume by Jack Lenore Larsen (see the “Books” tab).

I have recently been making occasional forays outside of my primary technique to revisit mark-making  practices on cloth (specifically, mechanical resists and printing).  These more immediate surface techniques are among the first I explored when I was first discovering a love for cloth – kind of the “gateway” techniques for me – when I knew I was “hooked.”  Even though I embrace laminated felting as my central path to textile/fiber bliss(!), it is always interesting to see how one’s view can change in the process of exploring/revisiting other allied techniques.  Indeed, I find it essential to dip back into these processes periodically to see how those roots have grown and changed as I have become more focused on laminated felting.  This process is a kind of interior correlate of cultural cross-fertilization.  Inevitably, for all of us who make space for them (regardless of medium or discipline), these journeys create new types of interactions and creative feedback loops which are ultimately energizing. 

Of the many issues I want to examine this year (see my last post for the definitive list!), is finding satisfying and more environmentally ethical alternatives to petroleum-based colorants.  I continue to use my usual dyestuffs but have been highly inspired by Australian artist, India Flint, who, in advance of her U.S. visit to the U.S., has received much attention this year for her “ecoprints.”  I began my process this year by exploring the wonderful world of rust – oxidized iron fragments –  in this case, oxidation is hastened by the use of vinegar. These surfaces in their intimacy are so suggestive of otherworldly terrain that they have supplied a suitable number of textural tangents to distract me from other work entirely!  Here is are samples from my excursions and an impression of a piece I am in the process of completing. 

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Some years ago, I was fortunate to be able to spend a couple of weeks in Spain with my aunt and cousin.  It was a typical whirlwind trip but I tried to soak up everything I could about the area, in spite of catching a cold almost immediately upon getting off of the airplane!  One of the highlights for me was the time we spent in Barcelona taking in the work of Catalan master architect Antonio Gaudí, who primarily practiced in Barcelona in the 19th and early 20th centuries – the images shown here are from a visit to glorious Parc Güell.

Though a singular expression, Antonio Gaudí was reflecting a strong desire prevalent among his generation to look to the past for the seeds of a new sensibility which would counteract the fragmentation and alienation of the industrial era.  Gaudí was well aware of the work of contemporaries like the Pre-Raphaelite, John Ruskin, who called for a re-examination of industrial values and inspired the Arts and Crafts movement in England.  Through architecture and design, Gaudí looked for his inspiration and found it in nature.  Like his contemporaries, he embraced NeoGothicism and was strongly influenced by Gothic architecture; however, but he was also a keenly observant student of the nature.  His intuitive grasp of the formal and mechanical essence of the natural world would provide the foundation for innovative architectural solutions reflecting the fluid lines found in nature.  As a practitioner, he also had direct experience laboring with the materials that would become part of his oeuvre and continued to involve local craftsmen in the completion of each architectural project.  His work reflects the successful collaboration of master architect and master craftsmen in all trades.  A relatively lone voice in the architecture of his day, he challenged the hegemony of the simple geometry of square and circle.  Of course, by the time of his death, his vision was to be eclipsed by European modernism as exemplified by the work of Walter Gropius, among others – the complete antithesis of Gaudí’s aesthetic.

I feel a kinship with the Pre-Raphaelites and Gaudí, and definitely walk in that the same stream.  A recognition of the value of work made by hand, particularly one resonating with the pulse of nature, is what links many craft-artisans in the present era. Clearly in the late 19th century, there was a real desire (and need) to elevate hand-crafted work as a forceful counterpoint to the industrial steamroller.  Arguably, this current still runs through the motivation to consciously choose Craft today.  As we now begin to transition beyond the information age, it seems even more imperative that we rediscover our connection with the beauty of nature and the imperfect-perfection of hand-made work – work produced with “skillful means” at all levels.