Category Archives: process

Sandra Brownlee, Inspired Artist

Sandra Brownlee, Weaving in progress, Pages Series #1

One of my dearest and most creative friends of all time is the Canadian artist, Sandra Brownlee.  We studied together at Cranbrook Academy of Art in the early 80’s, and I learned an enormous amount from her freshness, her curiosity, her generosity, and her openness to learning.  A born teacher, she has taught itinerantly for many years, workshops mostly but also at Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science (now Philadelphia University), Philadelphia College of Arts (now University of the Arts), and Nova Scotia College of Art & Design among other places.

She has been on my mind lately.  I owe her a phone call, and we are always plotting to figure out how we can get together, since Halifax, where she lives, is an expensive plane ride away.

I looked her up online today with an idea to finding out her teaching schedule, and I found that she has won another prestigious award, this month.  There is a Youtube video of Sandra musing as she works.  Watching it made me fall in love with her all over again.  Her philosophy is a simple one, in fact it is the same one I have for working:  “Make a mark.  See where it goes.”

Here is the transcript from the video (taken from the Youtube site):

Published on Mar 4, 2014
2014 winner, Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts

Directed by Tim Wilson
Presentation of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Independent Media Arts Alliance

For more information, visit: ggavma.canadacouncil.ca
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Sandra Brownlee — Transcript

You have to begin. You have to make one row, one row of weaving. That’s all you have to do. And then, you look at that row and you take the very first thought you have in your mind: “Oh, I am going to make the next row this way… then the next row this way.” And it just starts to grow.
The way I basically proceed is: What I feel like doing, I do. I don’t question it so much, I just do it. I often start my day in the studio with some kind of repetitive drawing exercise. So, here’s another circle. This is made of soil from my vegetable garden, and I rubbed it with my hand into the paper.
I’m very tactile oriented and through touch and all my senses is how I access ideas and feelings… and knowledge, really. I’ve found a way of working that really suits me, which is this improvisational weaving. Very low tech. It’s like I work with a limited palette of black and white usually, and a few tools. It’s sort of like drawing and handwriting.
Almost the moment I sat down at the loom I felt at home. First of all, you have a piece of equipment that you’re sitting at. You have a place to be. You have all these procedures. And it was just exactly what I needed as someone who gets quite distracted. It was just very calming for me, and it made me feel secure and all settled so that somehow, I was able to go deeper within myself. And at the same time, going beyond… using it as a way of somehow witnessing to life… my life.
Make a mark. See where it goes.

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Gotta go: time to call Sandra.

Rowland Ricketts III Talking about Indigo

Today I had the great pleasure of going into nearby Evansville and hearing Rowland Ricketts III speak about his life in indigo.

It is always a treat to see Rowland.  Here is a man who is so wholly devoted to one substance, one central process, that his entire conceptual being is wrapped up in a single integrity which is hard to match in today’s world.

I have known Rowland for about 8 years now, watched him move from a man with a vision to a man with an intense reality.  He grows his own indigo, processes it, ferments it, adds his home made lye (made of wood ash from his woodburning stove) and dyes his heart and everything else deep, calm blue.

Immanent Blue, Installation at New Harmony Gallery of Contemporary Art, 2009.
gradated shades of dyed indigo panels; dried indigo plants

One of my favorite tangible things about him is his always-blue hands.  In the plants, in the dye, every day. An additional beauty is that this dye is non-toxic and he CAN stick his hands into it with impunity (a question on his Facebook Page, Indigrowing Blue: Can I use our kitchen blender? I don’t think there’s anything harmful in the Poligonum tinctorium leaves. ”  His answer: “ I use just water and leaves. As much leaf and as little water as possible. You can use your kitchen blender.”) 

I am Ai, We are Ai. Installation of fabrics individually dyed by master dyers of Japan.  Tokushima, Japan, 2013

Today’s talk underlined his deep commitment to process as content.  The integrity of the process, the deep craft, becomes his purpose and give meaning to every step.  This is the way it is done.  This is the way it has always been done, because this is the only, best way. From growing the plants, drying, pulverizing, sorting, composting and storing the final blue dye powder, to developing and fermenting the mysterious, alive and potent, indigo vat, Rowland’s world is deep, deep, deep.

Dried and crushed indigo leaves, ready for composting (from www.rickettsindigo.com)

dip-dyeing paste-resisted fabric panels in an indigo vat  (from www.rickettsindigo,com)
Ramie panles printed with indigo dyes.  Shown at Melvin Peterson Gallery, University of Evansviille

For information on the processes of growing indigo, processing the leaves into dye, and preparing the dye bath, there is a very helpful website that Rowland (consummate teacher that he is) has prepared about his Indigrowing Blue venture at Indiana University, where he is assistant professor of textiles.  The site covers the process from saving seeds and planting them through harvest and drying the plants.

Rickett’s indigo vat at Indiana Univesrsity, fermenting away.  Photo from www.rickettsindigo.com