Last week I was in Nova Scotia, reveling in the sparkling cool weather and in the company of my dear friend, Sandra Brownlee. Sandra is well known for her finely detailed weaving, and for her inspirational workshops on Tactile Notebooks and the Written Word.
We have been creative friends since we were at Cranbrook Academy of Art together in the early 1980’s. Sandra was a strong and compassionate mentor then, and continues to teach me with her love of making. Here, with her permission, a few photos of her magical home, a huge inspiration to me.
Everything has its place
Hand prints strung on a line
Studio wall with Sandra Brownlee weaving and notes
Sandra Brownlee’s studio
Inside the entry, front door art
Braided mats by Sarah Bude lead upstairs
Braided mats by Sarah Bude
Threads and art. Print on right by Doug Guildford
Story text printed on fine muslin, by Jan Baker
|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
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.
Gotta go: time to call Sandra.
A couple of weeks ago my good friends Rita and Robin invited me up to the farm for Sunday lunch. Beautiful weather, up at the top of the hill, lunch from the vegetable garden made by both of them — heavenly day.
But what I love about them is their immensely creative life. They live in the farmhouse where Robin grew up, surrounded by cornfields. Over the years they have transformed the house into a song of elegant simplicity with painted and stenciled floors, carefully selected antique items (often quite curious), and their artwork. Robin was trained as a ceramist and Rita is a self taught folk artist. Both now make their living at selling antiques, but their lives are those of artists. I always love creeping around and examining their work and their peculiar and wonderful objects. Here are some snip of that day’s “show and tell”.
I have been fascinated with doilies for the last couple of years — I have designed lots of things with them, some of which will be coming out later this year, but I decided that I wanted to try my hand at some surface design techniques for a change. I am really rusty here — the last time I remember doing anything like this with textile paints or printing techniques — outside of teaching them — was at KCAI when I was student there in the 70’s! But I have been frustrated with the limitations of my abilities recently, and my friend Christine Tarkowski visited a couple of weeks ago and she is always great at challenging me. (Chris has a terrific show at the Chicago Cultural Center right now, closing on May 2 with a concert with Jon Langford, but go if you can and see her kick-ass prints!) So these frilly doilies are for you, Christine!
(above, textile paints on cotton batiste, Laura Foster Nicholson; below, Last Things Will be First and First Things will be Last, Christine Tarkowski, 2010)
My very dear friend, Bhakti Ziek, is coming to visit me here in a couple of weeks, her second trip to New Harmony. A consummate weaver, and a renowned teacher, Bhakti will be the featured speaker at the upcoming Weaver’s Colloquy at St Meinrad Archabbey, in nearby St Meinrad IN.
Colloquy originated with a group of complex weavers in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, where they met regularly to converse about their passion for weaving and the tools of weaving. Eventually they moved the meetings down to St Meinrad, where Brother Kim Malloy, a textile enthusiast and quite a raconteur, hosts everyone for a week in its beautiful surroundings in Southern Indiana. When I presented there two years ago, Br. Kim delighted us with several hours spent poring over the jaw-droppingly elaborate textiles in the vestry, an experience I will not soon forget.
Bhakti currently lives in Randolph, Vermont, where she weaves in a beautiful old house she shares with her husband, Mark Goodwin, a formidably talented sculptor. Bhakti takes in students for advanced tutorials in dobby and jacquard weaving. She keeps a TC1 loom along with various other hand & dobby looms in her studio.
October 12-15, 2009
St. Meinrad Archabby, IN
Bhakti Ziek will be the
Contact Kathy O’Neal for
or call 219-938-2936
Bhakti Ziek and Alice Schlein’s book,The Woven Pixel: Designing for Jacquard and Dobby Looms Using Photoshop ©
Co-authored by Alice Schlein and Bhakti Ziek. 362 pages, many illustrations. Includes a CD with over 1400 weave structures.
(shown here, 2 lampas weavings by Bhakti Ziek, “Chaos & Order 3” and “Natural Dyes 2”; Bhakti weaving at her TC-1 loom, and a drawing by Mark Goodwin. Note the relationship to Bhakti’s weavings!)