Sustaining Communities Through Museums

Museums have helped support cultural diversity in the US by collecting and preserving artifacts and documents from immigrants around the world. During the annual meeting June 7-10, we will visit the Vesterheim Museum in Decorah, which houses a collection of fine arts and folks arts made by Norwegian immigrants and their descendants.

Preserved History

The museum collection started in 1877 to assist Luther College students in their studies. Within a few years the faculty and alums of the college decided the focus of the collection would be the material culture of Norwegian immigrants. In 1964 the museum became an independent institution, The Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum. History comes alive when you enter the main building and see an immigrant log house from 1853, fabulous woven tapestries and a 25-foot wooden sailboat.

Culture Change

Norwegian immigrants used the word “vesterheim” to refer to their western home in America when writing to those still living in Norway. Imagine how different their new life was in a little corner of Iowa. The museum has emphasized the diverse backgrounds and experiences of Norwegian emigrants, using the material culture from the old country and the new to tell a story of identity, faith and beauty. The objects, such as costumes, paintings, silver wedding crowns and carved butter molds, speak the colorful stories of the ancestors and those who journeyed into a new world.

Textile Treasures

Norwegian museums gifted important textile collections to the Vesterheim in 1925. The textile collection now numbers 5,500 and includes clothing, household textiles and decorative items. They came from rural and city areas and the collections reflect these differences. Examples include embroidered samplers made by young women attending needlework schools in cities, as well as bedding, weaving and spinning tools…and those wonderful mittens!!

Other collections and experiences at the Vesterheim Museum

In addition to textiles, one can view a diverse collection of decorative woodcarving, fine arts, Norwegian metalworking, rosemaling and decorative paintings. Many of these objects can be viewed online in the museum’s virtual galleries. Books, photos and archives relating to the art and artifacts round out the collection. The museum offers more than exhibitions of objects. Visitors can take fiber arts classes, attend textile symposia and even textile study tours to Norway.

Sunset on the old farmstead in north central Iowa where I grew up.

What does it mean to celebrate culture in Iowa?

I am an Iowa native and museum anthropologist, but no road has yet taken me to the Vesterheim Museum. Sometimes the best things are right in our own backyard and we miss them for all of the tall corn in the way! I left my Iowa farmstead years ago for the rolling hills of Eastern Washington. I have lived in five different states, Colorado twice. And yet, returning to the land where I grew up offers another new perspective on creating a connected textile community. We will learn about sustaining our environment, our multifaceted culture in the US and each other. Let’s get this show on the road! The Tradewind awaits our arrival…

 

 

Creating Connected Communities Through Seed Saving

Weavers, spinners, fiber artists and anyone working with natural fiber and cloth rely directly on seeds for fiber plants like cotton and flax. Seeds are vital in the food production for wool-producing animals like sheep and alpaca. So it is easy to imagine the importance of safe-guarding access to seeds. Seeds are the first step in our food and fiber systems.

Why seed saving is important

Saving seeds and sharing them with others has been a critical practice that helped sustain us as a species for thousands of years. Through seed saving practices, gardeners, small-scale farmers, agriculturalists and eventually small, independent seed companies specialized in open pollinated plant and crop varieties that were well suited to local environments. These practices also created a vast array of crop varieties and allowed communities to conserve, preserve, grow and promote local seed diversity and cultural heritage.

Decorah, Iowa in 2018

Attendees to WARP’s annual meeting in Decorah, Iowa (June 2018) will have a chance to visit Heritage Farm, part of Seed Savers Exchange (SSE). For over 40 years the SSE has been caring about seeds through their mission to… “conserve and promote America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food heritage for future generations…”. Seed Savers Exchange accomplishes this by collecting, growing and sharing heirloom seeds and plants at the farm and through a seed exchange program.

The farm curates more than 25,000 heirloom and open-pollinated vegetable, herb and plant varieties, including over 1,000 varieties of heritage apple trees. Backyard gardeners from around the world can share and exchange home-grown seeds with one another through membership in the a kind of “seed swap-meet” known as the Seed Exchange facilitated by SSE.

The importance of crop diversity

The work of SSE in maintaining plant biodiversity is vitally important today, especially in the US where a decline in crop diversity since the early 1900’s is between 75%-90%! Maintaining biodiversity is like having an insurance policy against extinction. This loss of diversity is due in part from advances in biotechnology resulting in GMO (genetically modified organism) and hybrid seeds. Multinational corporations absorb independent, regionally based seed companies to gain monopolies on seed and seed distribution. Corporations then use the notion of intellectual property rights to gain patent rights on crops containing modified traits. This directly affects farmers who no longer are allowed to exercise control over seeds produced in their fields without patent infringement and other consequences such heavy fines, lawsuits or in some extreme cases, imprisonment.

Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange.

In contrast, organizations like SSE and seed libraries across the country rely on a network of growers to advance their mission as they work to keep seeds in the hands of as many people as possible. We can all create connected seed saving communities where we live.

FUN FACTS: Seed Savers Exchange currently offers 8 varieties of cotton seed (brown, green and white) and 2 varieties of rare flax seed.

READ MORE about seed saving in the October 2015 WARP blog and check out these resources:
Josie Jeffery, 2012, Seedswap: The Gardener’s Guide to Saving and Swapping Seeds, Ivy Press Limited, UK.
Suzanne Ashworth, 2002, Seed to Seed: Seed saving and growing techniques for vegetable gardeners, Seed Savers Exchange, Iowa.
Cindy Conner, 2014, Seed Libraries and Other Means of Keeping Seeds in the Hands of the People. New Society Publishers, Canada.

Special thanks to Shea Conlan of Seed Savers Exchange for her assistance with this blog.

Gail Ryser is an Andean archaeologist specializing in paleoethnobotany. She is a seed saver, gardener and active water-harvester. She will miss attending the annual meeting this year because she will be teaching students about archaeology, plants, and people during the months of May and June in Arizona and New Mexico.

 

Connecting to WARP Leadership

Our April blog introduces you to a new board member and two nominees. Janice G Knausenberger will fulfill the term left open by the resignation of Devik Wyman. Mariana Mace and Carrie Miller have been nominated to run for two open board positions and if approved by the membership in June, both will serve on the WARP board for three-year terms.

Janice shares her story…
I have always loved plants, nature, art and needed to keep my hands busy. I grew up in California, where I graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, in Biology. I received my Master’s in Entomology from Virginia Tech. While there, I took short courses in basics of weaving and spinning, courses that helped change my life. We then moved to St. Croix, USVI, where we began raising our family. After a health crisis, weaving became my source of self-expression and creativity. I also taught weaving at a local high school.

In 2000, we moved to Kenya where I mostly worked with Kenyan weavers in techniques, production and design while I continued to produce new pieces on my own looms. I also consulted with ICIPE (International Consortium of Insect Physiology and Ecology) in Nairobi on silk. In 2008, Laura Lemunyete and my article on the Revival of Rendille/Samburu Baskets of Northern Kenya was published by the Kenya Museum Society. My years in Africa were filled with discovery, inspiration, and new friends.

In the summer of 2010, we returned to Maryland where I was later elected to be president of the Weaver’s Guild of Greater Baltimore. I continue to create art through my weavings, pushing limits and exhibiting and selling my work. I continue to travel to Kenya to see friends and consult with weavers there. I am energized when others share what they know in the fiber arts and love sharing what I know.

What I bring to WARP
I am most comfortable in groups of mixed ages and cultures. I embrace the fact that WARP reaches out to youth. I hope we can more heartily find ways to learn from and encourage groups who bring different ways of seeing the fiber arts and weaving. I am particularly interested in weaving from the continent of Africa…Janice

 

Meet Mariana Mace…
I have been a loom weaver for almost fifty years and a basket weaver for more than twenty. I enjoy collecting or creating the materials I use, going out in the woods to pull bark from cedar trees and grub in the dirt for spruce root or tules. The weaving that travels through my loom is inspired by my handspun or hand dyed yarns.

Working with my hands connects me to family – to the aunt who taught me to knit, the parents who encouraged me to bead, the daughter who wound skeins and balls of yarn for my weaving, and the granddaughters who learn basketry from me. Handwork also connects me to artisans of other times and other cultures. I’ve loved collecting and then re-gifting world textiles for a very long time. My goal is to respectfully use some traditional ideas, materials and techniques in my own way, in my own work, creating new art from old traditions.

My academic background is in anthropology, textiles, Native American art history and museology. I was a special Education teacher and testing specialist for fifteen years. Then I became involved with the Jensen Arctic Museum at Western Oregon University as a volunteer, board member and finally curator/director for fifteen years until I retired.

I became a WARP member very early on. I remember being totally awestruck at the breadth of experience and commitment that was evident from the first conference I attended. I’ve been a delighted witness to the influx of new and younger members, especially the students. It would be a pleasure to serve on the board…Mariana

 

Connect with Carrie…
Carrie Miller is a textile artist and sculptor currently living in Colorado. Her working process and material curiosity are the products of an untamed childhood that she hopes to pass on to her daughter. Growing up on a farm, Carrie was constantly exposed to new life, death and whatever could be accomplished in between. Her time was split between adventures in horseback riding, backwoods archaeology and whole days hunkered down behind her sewing machine. The rhythm of this lifestyle is the source of Carrie’s enthusiasm for the challenge to find and make tools, learn new techniques and manifest a plan.

Carrie was trained as a seamstress and she pursued design and art simultaneously throughout her undergraduate degree. She has been an art instructor, in a variety of capacities, to students of all ages. Carrie is the current Fibers Graduate Teaching Assistant at Colorado State University and will be graduating with her MFA in May 2018.

Her recent professional projects include assisting with the curation of a historic bridal exhibition at the Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising and interning with the non-profit organization, Weave a Real Peace. Carrie was the 2017 recipient of the Charlie and Gwen Hattchette Creativity Scholarship and the Handweavers Guild of America’s HGA scholarship. Her work was recently featured on the cover of Shuttle Spindle Dyepot magazine and accepted to Scythia, the 12th Biennial International Textile Exhibition in Ukraine.

My Body at Home, 2017; organza, pigment dye, thread.

My interest in being a board member
Part of my internship with WARP was researching and writing a Young Members Initiative. Through this process, I was able to participate in a strategic planning meeting with the WARP board. I was very inspired by all the behind-the-scenes enthusiasm for the continued health of the organization.

Bandage, 2017, handwoven yarn, rust dye, acid dye.

As a WARP board member I would look forward to being a liaison to other young members. I have several ideas for projects that could build on the Young Members Initiative. One of these ideas is writing a grant to fund a textile education project that young members would lead in their local neighborhoods. The goal would be to provide funding for young professionals to gain experience while they facilitate WARP’s mission of creating connected textile communities. I feel purposeful and comfortable in the WARP community and would be so honored to be a board member of this organization…Carrie

Carrie Miller

 

 

 

 

The Making of THREADS: Kantha Behind-the-Scenes in Bangladesh

This month I would like to share a blog I recently wrote for ClothRoads about the documentary film project our WARP member, Cathy Stevulak, produced in Bangladesh. Cathy has an article in the current newsletter.

The film THREADS is a story of kantha cloth and women. Kantha is an ancient form of hand-stitch embroidery originating in the Indian sub-continent (Bangladesh, West Bengal and Bihar regions). Kantha refers to the indigenous quilt form and to the running stitch itself, which gives the cloth the wrinkly appearance that is characteristic of kantha. We thought it might be fun to take you behind the scenes to see how this documentary film evolved.

The Making of a Documentary Film

Did you ever wonder how documentary films are made? The vision just seems to appear on the screen as if by magic. The film, THREADS, tells a story of inspiration, determination and liberation about how one woman, Surayia Rahman, transformed the lives of artisan women in Bangladesh. But the production of the film THREADS is also an inspired story put together by a group of dedicated people who succeed through hard work and a little serendipity. This documentary film, by Canadian filmmaker Cathy Stevulak, has an intriguing behind-the-scenes production story.

Finding the story

Good stories do not just fall in one’s lap. Cathy first heard about “ a woman with gray hair who does remarkable embroidery work” from a museum volunteer in a gift shop. She eventually found Surayia during her stay in Bangladesh, but it was years later, after a suggestion by a professor that Cathy began to think about creating a documentary film to help raise awareness of the importance and impact of global artisanship.

Filming in Bangladesh

Challenges were daunting despite having collected a talented and experienced film crew from Bangladesh. One of the biggest was the fact that Surayia was quite elderly and not in the best of health. She rarely left her house or her favorite chair, so action shots were not in the cards. Gathering the artisans she worked with meant juggling schedules and navigating politically motivated strikes. Surayia’s modest home was surrounded by constant city activity and the noise in Dhaka was ever present. Some sound recording had to be done at night after much of the day’s activity was over.

Searching the world for art

Most of the art Surayia and the artisans had made over the decades had been sold to foreign visitors or gifted by the Government of Bangladesh to dignitaries of other countries. Tracking the art down took four years of detective work. But enough artwork was eventually found on five continents to provide the high quality art images needed for the film. As with so many projects, serendipity came into play time and again. Letters arrived in the mail at just the right time and patrons were found who filled out the storyline.

Why does it matter?

Screenings across the world have inspired others through the story of Surayia and her dedicated group of women artisans. At a screening in Dhaka, a young girl from a poor area wondered if she could learn how to do this “famous kantha”, envisioning a future where she might control her own fate.

 

Thanks to Cathy and her talented team for this inspiring story.
Read the ClothRoads November 2016 blog to learn more about kantha cloth. And many thanks to ClothRoads for letting me share this wonderful story with WARP members.

Dakota Mace Weaving Diné Art

Dakota Mace is a graduate student in the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and a 2017 recipient of the Alice Brown Memorial Scholarship. She shares her work and philosophy.

Dakota discusses her artwork with WARP members in Oaxaca.

Dakota’s work “speaks about the dialogue between traditional vs. fine art and the way that the western world continues to perceive Diné weaving as utilitarian objects and not works of art. I have approached this conversation by subtly introducing western forms of weaving in combination with Diné beliefs. By doing so, I am creating an entirely new concept that translates the language of Diné weaving through the understanding of the fine art world. This serves not only as a different approach of cultural reclamation and preservation but also the importance of the meanings of the motifs used in my weaving.”

She says, “as an artist I feel that in order to understand a cultural history you must do so through design. I’ve focused on researching other artistic mediums that have a unique cultural narrative in relation to my own Diné culture. This includes paper-making, beadwork, digital weaving, quill-work and many other techniques. I continue to look to other cultures as forms of inspiration and teaching others about the importance of cultural appropriation in relation to Native American design.

Q. Do you think creating connected textile communities is important and why?

A. I think that one of the most important parts of connected textile communities is the relationships that it creates. Growing up in a craft based family, it was understood that to pass on the knowledge of my families craft we needed the interest of a younger generation. With that in mind, it is also very important to distinguish the idea of teaching others and passing on traditional knowledge. I have been fortunate to learn from various communities as well as cultures and I’ve come to realize that Indigenous communities are well aware of these practices. There is a need to create connected textiles communities for the sake of keeping the arts alive but there also needs to be an understanding that not everything about the medium will be fully discussed. I fully support connected textile communities and the amount of effort that goes into them and the understanding that there are still groups of people that have a very vibrant history to share others.

Q. What has drawn you to WARP?

A. What drew me to WARP was the fact that it wanted to connect communities with other textile enthusiasts. I support that idea of wanting to create bridges for future communities as well as continuing textiles traditions. I was fortunate to meet many amazing individuals through WARP and happy to continue my support!

Special thanks to Dakota for taking time and sharing with us. More Dakota at http://www.dakotamace.com/

Spotlight on St. Louis ArtWorks by Kelsey Wiskirchen

Apprentices at St. Louis ArtWorks in the Textile Studio

St. Louis ArtWorks is a job-training program combining art and life-skills education to create opportunities for high school students through a vigorous program using the arts as a vehicle for gaining multiple skills. Teens are hired as apprentices, working closely with a teaching artist to become immersed in a specialized artistic discipline.

In-Progress Batik
Apprentice Cutting Batik Fabric for Sewing

I teach textiles, and apprentices begin by learning dyeing techniques such as batik and itajime shibori. In the first few weeks, they produce a large collection of fabrics exploring a variety of patterns and color schemes.

After creating their collections, apprentices learn machine sewing for construction and hand embroidery for embellishment. Finally, the fabrics are combined to develop a line of home goods, accessories, and decorative wall hangings. Through the processes of designing, dyeing, cutting, sewing, and finishing, each item created contains the work of multiple apprentices.

The creative work done at STL ArtWorks is a vehicle to in-depth real-world job training. For many apprentices, this is the first experience with applying to and interviewing for a formal job, receiving a paycheck, and being accountable to a work environment. The program is structured to incorporate extensive professional development – everything from introducing themselves and shaking hands when visitors come the studio, to presenting design concepts and receiving critical feedback at a client meeting. Additionally, the program includes life-skills training sessions on topics such as fiscal literacy, health and nutrition, and resume writing.

Hand-Batik Fabrics Sewn into Pillows

As stated by the organization, “The mission of St. Louis ArtWorks is to broaden educational and career opportunities for youth in the St. Louis Region through apprenticeships in the arts and through community collaborations. The organization’s goal is to create positive educational opportunities through art for youth through paid apprenticeships.” It has been incredible to witness the empowerment and confidence developed within the framework of this program. As a teaching artist, I have seen how the experience of working in this apprenticeship directly impacts the apprentices, manifesting in pride for the quality of their work and pride in themselves.

More about STL ArtWorks can be found online here.

Table Runners Made from Hand-Dyed Fabrics
Batik Fabric with Hand-Embroidery

 

 

Indigo Dyed Placemats

 

 

Apprentices Hand-Embroidering Batik Fabrics

This article was written by Kelsey Viola Wiskirchen, and shared by Judy Newland.

Kelsey Viola Wiskirchen is a textile artist & educator living in St. Louis, Missouri. She has been a member of WARP since 2010, when she was a graduate student at Arizona State University and received the Alice Brown Memorial Scholarship to attend the annual conference.  Kelsey currently teaches textiles at St. Louis ArtWorks & community workshops from her studio in St. Louis.

Tinkuy 2017: A Gathering of Textile Arts in Cusco

Tinkuy 2017, celebrated in Cusco, Peru from November 8 until November 11, began with the much anticipated parade from the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco to the Convention Centre, where the meeting was to be held. The colorful display of tradition and exuberance was clearly felt far beyond those attending the meeting. Citizens of the Cusco region and tourists alike stopped in their tracks to watch the prideful display of traditional textile techniques, many originating from far beyond the Peruvian border.

This, the third Tinkuy, came with notable additions. Formerly subtitled the “Gathering of the Weavers”, this year it was called the “Gathering of the Textile Arts”, which meant that embroiderers and specialty dyers were included in the celebration. Also, as if celebrating traditional techniques was not enough, this year the underlying theme included celebrating the continuation of tradition by including the youth. Lectures and discussion often involved ways that village members are transmitting technical information to the younger generation and also talking about how the social relevance is conveyed and maintained. Many young people attended the meeting, particularly on the last day of the conference which included a “Passing of the Torch to the Younger Generation”, a particularly poignant moment.

Every day’s packed schedule included guest textile artist presentations, which for me were particularly interesting. At this time, the artisans had an opportunity to talk about what they are doing within their communities as they move forward, how they have formulated their future plans, and how they intend to ensure that supplies will remain available and/or their deliberate return to traditional methods. They also talked about their young people and how they are tending to them and their commitment to maintaining tradition. It was humbling to listen to the effort that they are expending in keeping their creative lives meaningful for their children.

Teaching the youth.

The keynote addresses set the backdrop for the conference and tied the evidence that we were seeing around us to the textiles’ long and extensive history. That perspective really was essential, forcing the conference participants to take a deep breath and try to understand the magnitude of all that was around them.

The schedule included time for demonstrations and workshops every day. This time clearly pointed to the unspoken theme of Tinkuy – the cross pollination of ideas and techniques. This happened at so many levels – from one culture and/or village to another, from one specialty to another, from one fiber-type to another, from one country to another – and it was all truly magical.  People had come from many villages within Peru, as well as other countries within South America, such as Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. Traditional artists from Guatemala, Mexico, the United States, Canada, Afghanistan, India and Laos also attended.

People gave so much of themselves, often with so much thankfulness. Sometimes the gift came in the form of a song, sometimes in the form of a dance. Tinkuy 2017 was a special time of color, textiles, dance, music, learning and inspiration. Thank you CTTC and ATA!!

Thanks Teena for sharing your wonderful experience with all of us!

Textile Teena in her element!

On the Road with Weaving for Justice

ON THE ROAD
People who love textiles love to travel because of the many opportunities to learn and experience culture through textiles and textile traditions. Traveling is one way to create or be a part of a connected textile community like WARP. But when travel is not possible, you can often connect to textile communities in your own back yard!

Weaving for Justice founding member Christine Eber, took Weaving for Justice on the road in October. Her vehicle was full of woven textiles and handmade items from several womens’ weaving cooperatives located in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico. After a stop-over in Tucson, AZ, she headed to California for the 52nd Annual Borrego Days Desert Festival. She happily connected people in Southern California to the Maya textile communities in Chiapas.

WEAVING FOR JUSTICE SUPPORTS WOMEN
For decades Weaving for Justice, a non-profit, volunteer organization headquartered in Las Cruces, New Mexico has worked in solidarity with women’s weaving cooperatives in state of Chiapas. The organization’s goal is to assist co-op members to continue living in a sustainable and respectful way on their ancestral lands, to honor their Tzotsil language and their cultural traditions. Weaving for Justice has helped raise public awareness about social and economic justice, threats to efforts of the Chiapas weaving cooperatives and to issues of human rights in the region.

The collaboration between Weaving for Justice and the cooperatives assists weavers in finding various ways to market their products through a model of fair trade with 100% of the sale proceeds returned to the weavers.

COOPERATIVE WORK
Connecting the cooperatives with artisan groups on the US/Mexican border is one way products are marketed. Women weave to support themselves and their families. Co-op members unite around their work as weavers and common interest in issues of social and economic justice.

STOP IN FOR A VISIT
If you are in Las Cruces, NM stop in to visit La Frontera, the all-volunteer fair trade store run by Weaving for Justice. It’s located in the Nopalito’s Galería at 125 S. Mesquite St. (lafronterafairtrade@gmail.com). You will find hand-woven items from Chiapas, as well as textiles made by women from the cities of Juárez and Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico. The store is open Saturdays 9-4 during the months of November and December or by appointment (contact Christine Eber ceber@nmsu.edu).

Weaving for Justice will be on the road again, returning to Tucson in spring 2018 bringing a trunk show hosted by EXO Roast Coffee Co. (403 N 6th Ave.). This is what my community looks like. What does YOUR community look like?