Author Archives: Laura Foster Nicholson

animated objects

Sad Mango

Sad Mango, 2018. Handwoven tapestry, 9” x 8”, Wool with cotton

When I was very small, riding in the backseat of my father’s big Chevrolet, I started digging away at the rather worn upholstery. I dug out a piece of foam cushioning, roughly in the shape (I was sure) of a little Scottie dog.  I pocketed it and treasured it as a toy, but it disappeared. No doubt my mother found it and tossed it, not recognizing its significance.

I always seem to animate, or anthropomorphize, inanimate objects, and it gives me a great deal of pleasure.  Lying on the sofa post-nap, I gaze out a bare branches and find faces. I make dolls out of humanoid kinds of objects — clothespins early on, now seedpods and finials. I was about to cut open a mango a few weeks ago and noted its sharp vertical fold, with a brief v-shaped indentation two thirds of the way down, and found a face.  Accentuating that with a marker, I was no longer able to cut it open, so watched him shrivel away sadly on the sideboard until it was time to bury him gently in the compost.

Today, I decided to make a series of portraits of my found friends.  Weaving them is, as always, a translation. I consider these portraits to be sketches, 8″ wide by roughly 10″ tall.  More to come!

Looking for Vision

alder eye

Bird Marsh, Bloedel Reserve

Bird Marsh, Bloedel Reserve

For me and for many people I know, 2017 has proven, so far, to be a year full of dread.  The hope and creativity I reaped from an artistic retreat at Bloedel Reserve on Puget Sound last October remains a fragile flame to protect from howling winds of change around me.  I am grateful, so lucky, to have had the opportunity for that beautiful and thoughtful time, just before the election, to focus on what was important to me as an artist, and to sharpen my ability to see, and to manifest what I see in my art.

My work for many years has been more about pleasure, contentment, finding the good in my world.  It has felt solid, providing a vision of beauty as a way of making sense of what is important to me. That no longer seems to be enough.

weaving a river

Weaving a River

I recently began a weaving which, in spirit at least, felt totally new to me.  Some of the visual techniques are familiar, some  are stretching, as I struggled to manifest something deeply felt and ineffable.  I have decided that it is the world of the feeling and the spirit that have meaning for me now. How to show them?  

As I was trying to focus on how to go about the new work, I was doing my morning crossword and hit upon a clue to both a word, and to what I was thinking about: “river of forgetfulness”.  Aha. It resonates.

Crossword clue

New York Times Crossword Clue

The resulting tapestry refers to the sad, longing eyes in the alder trees which watched after me on my daily walk through the woods.  They were growing around a gloriously evocative bird marsh at Bloedel Reserve, and the knots where limbs had been were all eye shaped.  This image spoke so strongly to me I knew it was a big metaphor.

alder eye

the watching alder tree

I know it seems to be a dark work.  It hurts me to look at it.  The silver river winds among the watching trees, trying to distract from what they are seeing.

River Lethe

The River Lethe, 2017
handwoven textile 34″ x 27″

targeting with the kaleidoscope in clothing design

Like many designers, I have been having a load of fun with the recent kaleidoscope apps available everywhere. Like a funhouse mirror, they can be amusing;  refining them into a usable design and actually applying them to product can get into more skilled and rewarding work. Here are a few things I have culled from my designs at PAOM.com.

WaWa body dress LFN

WaWa body dress LFN Textiles for PAOM

prairie dazzler hat LFN

Prairie Dazzler Baseball Cap LFNTextiles for PAOM

buzz star boxers LFN

Buzz Star Boxer Shorts by LFN Textiles for PAOM

prairie dazzler body dress LFN

prairie dazzler body dress. LFN Textiles for PAOM

I have spent the last six months re-evaluating just about everything in my life, from personal relationships, to how I spend my day, to what is the most essential part of my artwork.

It is a tedious task. You would think it would require an afternoon in an armchair, thinking; a few conversations with close friends; an analysis of the bank account. It certainly does, but it is so finely detailed and so incremental I can hardly tell when any progress is being made.

One of the more amusing things I have experimented with while considering the subject, was to take a number of things I had made, ranging from a small hand woven tapestry to a hand-printed tea towel of the sort I sell at the farmer’s market, to be entered in the “Open Entry” section of the local 4-H fair last week. When in Rome, I thought….

I thought it would be interesting to lay out a few things I spend my creative time on, to the kinds of people who are deeply involved in 4-H around here. I am sure we have a lot in common regarding topics like cooking, good vegetables, and what constitutes a well-sewn seam. It was, in fact, a sort of astonishing experience.

First of all, after paying my $1 fee per entry, I had my items examined by the intake crew. Hand-printed towel? I didn’t sew it, only printed it? Hmmmm. Let’s put it under fabric, hand-painted. OK. No mention of whether the design was original (why would it be?).

Second entry: the tote bag, made from my own design, quilting fabrics and ribbons.  Category: sewing.  Subcategory: totes.  Oops! I noticed just before handing it over that the stitching was far from perfect.  I had just been thinking about the wonderful design of my fabric.

Third entry: a hand woven tapestry of a butternut squash, in a nod to all the lovely vegetables entered around me.  Not mounted, so they could see the back, (I quickly surmised that, since it was not framed, it would have a hard time competing as Fine Art, so entered it under “crafts”. Of course.)

What a palaver!  was it stitched? no! painted? no! what then, woven? hmmmm.  Well, next year they guessed they better have a category for Hand Woven.  So it went into Crafts: Misc.

At this point I was thinking longingly of how relatively easy it had been to acquire an MFA from Cranbrook, where these distinctions might have been debatable but the world of definition was ever expanding.

Five days later, after a busy week, I returned early enough to see the exhibition and then collect my poor trusting entries.  The results were humbling.  In a world where every entry gets a ribbon (think youth soccer), I still was deftly and strictly judged.  All were happy with my cute printed (painted?) towel, which depicted a local kind of melon.  Blue ribbon there, and all potential factors deemed Excellent. The tote bag only got a red ribbon, as the stitching was “faulty”, though the colors were noted to be “nice”.

The hand woven tapestry?  Well, the judge felt that its usefulness was questionable, the finish so-so, the materials appropriate.  But it was “very cute” and had “nice muted colors”!

laura foster nicholson tapestry

Butternut Squash, handwoven textile, 11″ x 10″, 2014

At the end of this trial, I felt satisfied.  I had undergone a trial by my current peers in a rural community, and had been judged “good”.

The larger question remains, though.  Do I want to remain among people who are bemused by my activities, or do I want to return to an arcane community which holds great meaning for me but leaves my current neighbors untouched?

Cropping Imagery: LFN Designs for Kess InHouse

The art of cropping imagery to make it more interesting is a recent trend, a modern stance on meaning.  If an image was meant to be read in one, static way (think Mona Lisa), showing it cropped to an essential detail reveals a new way of considering it, sometimes with humor, sometimes surprise, but always it provides a different perspective.

Mona-Lisa-detail-eyes-cropped

I have been providing pattern or surface-design images to a few print-on-demand online companies for a while now.  All were new a couple of years ago, eager to get rolling, pulling in hundreds of artists in an attempt to have a wide range of hip designs for their fairly basic merchandise.  One company, Kess InHouse, in particular caught my eye, as they were taking digital images and blowing them up to the size of a bedspread or shower curtain.  I though, fun! I would love to have a shower curtain with my Leeks design on it! So I submitted a variety of designs and waited to see what would turn out.

Fun indeed!   Kess does a great job of making your designs into interesting products, but the submitted design is simply stretched to fit the format.   I find it interesting and amusing to see the results of this way of using an image: no matter what the product, the image is just made to fit, with sometimes no rhyme or reason: very postmodern! Here is a selection of items with my designs, to illustrate the point. All products are available at Kess InHouse under Laura Nicholson.

 

Looking at Old Photos: Source and Inspiration for Weaving Tapestries

Recently, I had a fit of pique when going through my tapestry inventory.  I saw I had too much work around, and decided to have a flash online clearance sale. It was fast and furious, and I sold 14 out of 15 tapestries in 36 hours. It was so gratifying to send old work to appreciative new homes — particularly to those who had often expressed the desire for my work but felt they would have to win the lottery to be able to afford it.

Today, in response to a note from one of the happy purchasers, I was looking through my old source photos, and I thought it would be fun to pair the source up with the tapestries which resulted. I often work from photographs when the source is out there on the highway, and sometimes the relationship between the source and the resulting artwork is very obvious.

The tapestries shown here all date from between 2008-2010, and are based on the rural landscape near where I live in southern Indiana.

All tapestries are copyright Laura Foster Nicholson, and photos are either by myself or by Ben Nicholson.

Rural Landscapes: Power and Light

Small Tank Batteries, 2014.  Handwoven, wool, cotton & metallic, 18″ x 19″
Since moving to southwest Indiana in 2006, I been mesmerized by the flatness of the landscape in this region.  Beginning with a series of tapestries depicting simple farm structures – grain bins and barns, I made a woven language of great simplicity, concentrating on color and composition, and light, highlighted by the textures of the weave.

During this time I have become increasingly aware of the American food situation and how that is illustrated so accurately by these landscapes.  I am surrounded by fields which grow corn for livestock and for ethanol, not for humans; my food arrives on trucks from great distances.  Moving from elegiac work about the beauty of the landscape here, I see it now as a perfect manifestation of the modern ethos of Form follows Function.

We are trained by culture to regard the sleek simplicity of modernism to be beautiful, elegant, and so I have experienced quite an Aha moment in realizing my work has celebrated the very thing I have fought against in in our hyper-rational food culture.  What made sense at the beginning, now has become the height of absurdity.

As I continue to drive through this landscape I have begun to notice all of the architecture of energy generation and how that interacts with the simplicity of the farming structures.  From wind turbines, which radiate their simple elegance of hope for a new energy, to power-line towers, to the aging battery tanks for storing crude oil and the small oil pumps dotting the landscape, these structures modify that original simplicity with their own functional lines.  I am seeking with this most recent work to come to terms with what this landscape means for us in this region, using the loom’s simple, rational methods to try to make sense of a strange new composition.

Spring Field, 2014, 26” x 27”, wool with cotton & metallic
Uneasy Sunset, 2014, wool, metallic, 27″ x 29″

Midsummer; 2014, wool with cotton and metallic,  26” x 35”

Pumping A.  2015, 26” x 35”, wool, metallic, cotton, nylon

Battery Tanks, Wadesville. 2014,  24” x 28” wool, cotton, nylon, metallic

All work is handwoven by Laura Foster Nicholson, and copyright Laura Foster Nicholson 2014-15.  Please do not re-use without permission.

The Freedom of Weaving Samples


 I rarely take the time out of my regular studio work to weave samples.  Every once in a while I get a commission for a specialty fabric and it is a pleasure to follow the road of the client’s ideas to find a lovely woven idea.

The last two weeks, however, I decided to weave a series of samples on spec, for products that would eventually be handwoven by someone else.  Flying without any clear plan, I have put multiple warps on the loom (trying to keep up with the legend that Jack Lenor Larsen wove off a warp a day when he was at Cranbrook).

I remembered early weaving classes where I resisted understanding weave drafts, and had loads of fun with the simplest renditions of summer & winter or honeycomb with unusual materials and colors.  So I went back to my worn old copy of Marguerite Davison’s A Handweaver’s Pattern Book to begin, and spent a couple of days playing with simple twills and honeycombs, using linens and wools and odd knitting yarns.

Trouble is with shuttle weaving, I get bored easily, so samples are great for me, with their short lengths and narrow widths.  Just about the time I think I will scream with boredom, well it is time to start the next one.  I never have a set plan, because the fun is in the ideas that stream out as I go along.  What about this color combo?  How about varying the treadling this way?  How will this look in metallic?

Friday I began a new warp with flat weave rug samples.  I spent an inc and a half doing weft faced tapestry and quit from boredom; went back to shuttling stripes in colors which fascinated me.  I hope to finish those tomorrow — pulled out Peter Collingwood’s The Techniques of Rug Weaving for some pattern based weaves to try.

My guess is that at the end of the rug samples, I will be very happy to return to my half-finished tapestry.

Muddling to Enlightenment

“Mid Summer”, 2014, Laura Foster Nicholson (copyright). 28″ x 35″, wool with cotton and metallic

Tomorrow marks the opening here in New Harmony of my first show of all-new work since 2010.  I have been in a major hiatus away from weaving after the last exhibition of new work opened in Santa Fe in 2010 failed to sell anything (yes, I am accustomed to making my living from the sale of my artwork). I had thought it was wonderful work, and it crushed me that Nothing Happened.  I have continued to show that work, and I have sold some of it as well, so my ego has recovered somewhat, but in the process came a deep examination of what I expect from my artwork beyond making a living.

The time off was spent working very hard to find alternative, creative, means of support, which mostly involved textile design and hand-crafted objects.  Both are processes I greatly enjoy, but neither nurtures my soul the way that art making does by invoking  the voice of the individual speaking what is true.

I wrote about all of this at length in my last post so I will get to today’s point.  As I drive back and forth across the midwest from here to Chicago mostly, I spend the hours contemplating how I can make weavings that talk about the amazing and significant architecture that is springing up wherever I look, in juxtaposition to the modernist, “conventional”, swaths of endless agriculture.  These are the enormous, awe-inspiring and scarily anthropomorphic power towers for transmitting electricity. Along with cell phone towers and the occasional, beautiful and bright wind turbine, they punctuate the rural scene with an insistent hubris, and are reminders of our addiction to power.  I recently asked a friend who knows more about these things than I, why does it seem that I see more of them every time I drive?  He responded that even with renewable wind energy, we still need the power towers to transmit the electricity.

Am I the only one who ponders these things when I am driving through the fields?  Ah, then I find this inspired design as I scroll through Google images:

“The Land of Giants”, Choi+Shine Architects

So I am inspired to try to make sense of these through my art, and the best way I know to make art is to weave.  Even though these power towers seem like giant textile constructions, they would be murder to make as woven (all those non-90 degree lines!).  For a while I fantasized about learning to make Batternburg lace and making them that way.  (Here world, I throw this idea out there for someone else with more time to figure this out!)

But I digress.  I like to use weaving the “easy” ideas to ponder how I will move along, as well as to ponder where I am going.  The hands at work makes the ideas flow like clear water.  I have found that color is thrilling me again.  I wove several pieces on a not-to-waste 6-yard warp I had wound on a year ago (!), when I was thinking of doing something else entirely.  (For those of you who don’t weave, this is a major investment of materials and time, as a 30″ wide warp at 30 threads per inch is 900 threads carefully handled throughout the whole process…).  As I fought the predetermined color and fineness, I started experimenting on another loom with scaled up thread, same weave, still wool, but heftier (and thus carrying less ability to hold detail).  I find that for where my head is right now, the heavier threads are giving me a new language of color, and I am thrilled.

But the Power Towers?  ach. Not yet.  As I drove through Posey county regularly this summer, however, in addition to enjoying watching the color waft through the spectrum week by week as time worked on the crops, I began to notice our own interventions.  This area is part of the Illinois Basin, a deep midwestern oil resource that brought us an oil boom in the middle of the 20th century.  The landscape is full of oil storage tanks, small oil pumps, flames shooting off gas exhaust at night.  I realized that this is all part of the story, and part of my current weavable vocabulary as well.

“Uneasy Sunset”, Laura Foster Nicholson, 2014.  Wool with metallic and cotton, 27″ x 28″

I rushed to complete this work in time to hang the show yesterday.  I am thrilled with the color (though this is a hasty photo), less thrilled with the craftsmanship (haste makes waste…) On we go. Watch this space!

How I spent my summer hiatus

I have not written on either of my blogs for several months.  I have been a period of fairly deep transition — no, let’s say self-examination.  It’s been a few years of most of my studio work being design and craft based, while avoiding the issues and depth of the fine art-making that I associate with my woven work, and in the spring I began to feel that I was spinning off center.

Spring Field, detail.  2014, wool with cotton & metallic, 26″ x 27″
Laura Foster Nicholson (copyright 2014)

Ever since I began weaving I felt an almost mystical connection with the process.  For many years I worked almost like a demon, taking few breaks, focusing on weaving as my most important means of communication in art.  I strayed off the path in the early 90’s when I bought a computerized knitting machine, and substituted knitting jacquards with deep focus.  Then in the mid-90s I learned to design for and weave on the jacquard loom, and eventually segued that knowledge into founding a ribbon business, which for a number of years took up a great deal of my time.

Generally when I work through whatever it was that sparked such intense curiosity I come back to the loom full of fresh insight.  After machine knitting, I rediscovered the joy of slow hand manipulated weaving with a lot of detail.  After jacquard, the investigation of color re surged with great urgency.

Each time I take a break of any significance from my woven thought, I come back to it with a changed point of view, which seems to amplify the expressive powers of my chosen medium.

Now, after spending 7 years expanding my practice of textile design through ribbons and home furnishing textiles, I am finding that I need to let the artist gain precedence once again.  Here is my thinking.

For me, design, while a great discipline with which I have barely come to terms, remains something which is tied to someone else’s needs.  I began by working with smaller companies which, like me, valued individuality and creativity for their own sake, and the interaction with the market was a happy one, where (as it appeared to my admittedly naive eyes) the customer came because she valued what we put out there under our own terms.  But now (after having read hundreds of posts and comments and opinions about the value of promotion and marketing), I feel impatient with the fickle customer, for whose favor I must fight constantly.  It would seem that it is not only essential to have a broad range of styles, but one must be able to work completely in disguise as some other creature.

Maybe I am just to old and stubborn, but I see that in art, one of our primary tasks is utter honesty about what is being made, the voice that is speaking; whereas in design for the general market (I should qualify that to say “surface design”), the job seems to be to do anything to stay the most popular girl on the block.

I am aware this could seem jaded or bitter.  I still very much enjoy designing ribbons and rugs, and value the support of my clients who want my work in its fullness, not a pastiche of trend.  But the reinvention on a seasonal basis of style, palette, and trend are making me crave the solitude and thoughtfulness of my studio and my loom.

All this thought takes introspection, and I don’t like to write when I have nothing to say.  But I’m back, and will try to stay here!