This month’s featured artist is Barbara Harman, who was my mentor for two years (2005-2006) as part of the WARM Mentor program. Barbara works in painting, printmaking, book arts and fiber arts. I was drawn to her as a mentor because of her wide-ranging facility with materials and processes, her appreciation of hand stitching and other fiber arts, and because she finds her primary inspiration in natural forms, as I do.
Here is an excerpt from Barbara’s artist statement.
“The longer I have lived in this part of the Midwest, the more my art has become about the abundance and compressed view of the natural landscape. When I go to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge south of Minneapolis, there are few places where it is possible to see for any distance. Over the years, I have become increasingly focused on what lies between me and that distance. My most recent works dispense with any attempt to separate intervening elements. I am engaged in reassembling my experience of layer upon layer: trees, leaves, grasses, water, birds, flowers, seeds. I want to reflect the crowded abundance of what I see, at the same time answer what I experience as a demand to pay closer attention. I often isolate something in a piece to comply with that demand. I’ll bring it forward, enlarge a small detail, incorporate text, add stitching or beadwork. I want to draw my viewers in, past what is transparent to what may be hidden or overlooked. I want my work to reveal the things that may be only imagined: the bird singing high in the canopy, the roots of a tree buried under earth and snow.
While working together in 2005-06, Barbara and I collaborated on the piece shown below. Our collaboration started with small pieces of hand dyed fabric, which we printed, painted and embellished, and passed back and forth a couple of times, each adding to what the other had done. Eventually we had a stack of pieces, which we decided to arrange quilt-like on a dyed, stenciled and hand-quilted background. When I look at this piece I see windows showing glimpses of the places we walked through; I also recall bits of conversations we had as we worked together over the two years.
Here is a close-up of one of the rectangles. Barbara added the beading to this piece — click the image to zoom in.
Jean Shannon is a Minneapolis woodblock printmaker. She studied with Tetsuo Itoi when living in Mashiko, Japan, where her husband, potter Lee Love, was an apprentice with Tatsuzo Shimaoka. Below is an example of Jean’s work, a small print called Kitchen Goddess. Click the image (or link) to go to Jean’s blog, where she explains the significance of this delightful little figure in Japanese Culture and how she has interpreted it.
Jean on her work:
During my ten years in Japan, I studied woodblock printmaking (sosaku hanga), a “made by the artist” style that includes monoprint techniques. I draw in many mediums, but I prefer printmaking to painting because it is always full of surprises for me.
Because of my long-standing interest in Asian culture, I tend to focus on process rather than on products or intellectual stance. There is a paradox about creativity in that the creative impulse is a natural part of the human spirit, yet it can be hard to activate and difficult to sustain.
Jean and I are both fans of Keisuke Serizawa, a prolific katazome textile artist who was part of the Mengei, or “people’s crafts” movement of ’20s and ’30’s Japan. Jean offered me an “extra” February from a Serizawa calendar folio in her collection, which I couldn’t pass up (see below). Serizawa’s number and letter forms are so animated and energetic! I also admire the simplicity of the birds and blossoms!
Scanning the textile shelf at my local used bookstore yielded a serendipitous find: a small paperback entitled Dyes from Nature: Plants & Gardens (Brooklyn Botanic Garden Record, Vol. 46, No. 2). Published in 1990, the 96 page volume features 28 articles by 21 different authors, experts and/or dyers, describing natural dye traditions from Mexico, Turkey, Japan and many other cultures around the globe. Each article includes color photographs. Fanning the pages in the bookstore, I noticed two articles written by M. Joan Lintault, a fiber artist and author of two blogs I follow (Magic of Light, Mystery of Shadow and My Wabi Life).
Joan sent me a few paragraphs describing her passion for natural dyeing:
I can hardly remember when I became interested in natural dyes. It was certainly when I was in the Peace Corps 43 years ago. I was living in the mountain village of Quinoa, Peru. The village ladies taught me to spin, dye with walnuts, cochineal and dahlia flowers.
My interest continues today because I do love a mystery and I still can’t believe it works. I especially love indigo dyeing because it is the mystery of all mysteries. I love giving control of my work to the dye pot and receiving in return the random flashes that can be likened to fire marks on a piece of pottery.
I like that indigo is considered a living entity in many cultures. Most importantly learning about natural dyes is empirical knowledge handed down from one person to another. My love of dyeing led me to research the processes from India then to Japan. I wanted to go to these places and see for myself what processes existed and how the process changed from culture to culture.