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?

5 thoughts on “Re-Evaluations

  1. Bish mumford

    We all have two feet. One can be in each. Can it be frustrating? Yes. Can it involve compartmentalizations? Yes. Does it open the door to learning about strangers, and thus ourselves? Yes.
    Just remember, that is why Sara sells wine by the bottle! I know!

    1. Laura Nicholson

      I know what you mean, Bish. I have viewed my time here as a way to engage in a different way of life with a willingness to respect and to learn.

  2. Rita Hicks Davis

    I enjoyed reading your post and decided to comment. I feel it comes down to ‘judgement’. No matter where I have lived whether in a small rural community or a big city, I have been judged. The critiques I have received in the small communities have sometimes been harsher and should I say ‘raw’. Raw in a ripping your guts out raw. Those that don’t surround themselves with fine art and craft everyday, or look at our work with experienced eyes can most often ‘cut to the quick’!
    That sort of base honesty has at times helped my work, especially when it came down to matters of precision and nuance. However, I must say that many times I have been very hurt by the lack of support that my art work has gotten. While I am taking my art seriously, even though it might not look serious, others find it ‘cute’, as you mention in your blog.
    Coming to terms with the mindset of those ‘uneducated in art’, is a big reckoning. While in an urban area you will probably find a lot more like minds and support, you will also have the big monster called competition which again can either fuel or dampen ones progress.
    I came to the conclusion years ago that I was not in the business of educating everyone about what I do, but just needed appreciators by way of knowledgeable critiques and ardent collectors.
    Unfortunately, we have to go outside of our ‘box’ in order to do so, and that’s a hard one.

  3. Marion

    Laura I have just discovered your blog and must write to tell you how much I love your work: and your honest reflections of deep felt passion. Most poignant is the burning barn! I too struggle with having left another life which included an inclusive “arcane” community of artists and residing in a small rural community where I expected to commune with like minded artisans, only to discover I am alone in a swarth of people who enjoy craft work. My finding you is related to searching for updated information on Theo Moorman’s work, and discovering your more refined method. I would love to know more. I understand the notion of having a 3 shaft twill but still unclear of the process. I wonder if you have written more definitively on this, or would be interested in sharing specific details?

    1. Laura Foster Nicholson Post author

      Marion, how good of you to write. I so appreciate your empathy, and guess what, I am still re-evaluating!
      To answer your question, I assume you read the entry from the article I originally wrote for Shuttle, Spindle and Dyepot about my techniques. It is pretty straightforward. Three harness twill, using 1 up 2 down for inlay and switching t2 up, 1 down for the ground shot. Couldn’t be simpler. I can’t remember if I put the draft in the article but I chose that structure after looking at Kashmir shawls and finding they were woven as three harness twill tapestry, which made the cloth more supple. In my case, I like it because it hides the ground weft, as I am too impatient for true tapestry. Thank you for writing. I do hope to post more very soon.

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