North House Folk School at 20

In the classroom my leather tote bag class was held at North House Folk School is a splendid wall installation, with small samples showing the variety of craft at North House. From the information sheet:

In celebration of twenty years of hands-on learning at North House, all instructors, current and emeritus, intern alumni and staff were invited to contribute to [a] group project to reflect the broad range of skills, interest and materials that are part of North House Folk School. The project is comprised of individual pieces displayed as one work – a mosaic of craft. North House is unique in the ever-evolving array of traditional northern crafts that are part of the school and community. The finished piece is intended to convey the individual personalities and interests of the many members of our community as well as a larger sense of connection to North House, the folk school tradition and the northern landscape.

Enjoy the gallery below of some of my favorite selections. Click on any of the images to enlarge, and/or play it as a slideshow.


Sonya Clark at the Minneapolis Institute of Art

Sonya Clark chairs the Department of Craft/Material Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. Sonya is currently well-represented in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area – she had three simultaneous shows. As part of her inclusion in Minneapolis Institute of Art’s “State of the Arts: Discovering American Art Now,” she recently spoke at that institution, and I was fortunate to go.

Those of us in the bead world may know Sonya best for her unparalleled beaded hands and other bead sculptures, and her Beaded Prayers project. The mail-in portion of the project was completed in 2004; it was a group art project where contributors sent in a square of beadwork with a prayer sealed inside, and you were to make the same to keep for yourself. I participated with some friends, and there is an exhibition catalog. When the exhibition is at new venues, new beaded prayers are added.

For this talk, she concentrated on her other work; all of her work is tied together with the concept that textiles have meaning, and how we are in connection with people across time who have been involved with textiles.

Sonya’s ancestry is from Trinidad, Jamaica, Yoruba, and Scotland. Yoruba has a celebration with a figure bedecked in strips of cloth – whispering cloth, celebrating ancestry and roots. “This is yours too,” Sonya told us, “We all came from Africa.”

She traveled to Africa, and learned how to weave traditional strips of cloth; men traditionally wove, and a man taught her. They had no shared language: he would weave, then unweave, then Sonya would weave until she got the pattern correct. She would learn the pattern, then he would unweave her work because she wasn’t getting the selvedges correct. She would get the pattern and selvedges correct, and then he would unweave because she was not holding her body in the right way.

Sonya explores the relationships between text and textiles – in kente cloth, the patterns are proverbs and have meaning. In Detroit, she wove pictures in strip woven cloth, using those African techniques on a European loom. The proverbs woven were of fertility, growth, self-sufficiency, and advancement  — and a woven American flag. Sonya asked African-Americans to tie the cloth on their head and say what they were thinking. Some displayed both American and African portions of the cloth, and some chose just one.

“We mark ourself through our cloth.” Sonya’s Scottish roots are the McHardy clan, and she wove her clan tartan from bagasse, the fiber remaining after squeezing the juice out of sugar cane. Sugar cane is the reason that her ancestors ended up to Jamaica. Sonya wove 18′ of bagasse McHardy clan tartan, enough to make a kilt. Her vision was to take formal portraits of her family wrapped in the cloth on a trip to Jamaica for a family funeral. (But when to approach people for this? Someone finally pried out of her what was in her bag.) She returned with pictures of smiling people in rows on benches, draped together with the tartan. “I thought I was making art, instead I made an heirloom.”

One media Sonya is exploring is hair; she has been interested in hair braiding for a long time. As a young child, she had her hair braided by daughters of the ambassador of Benin. “I could be sculpture and art. My hair could be sculpture and art.” She understood braiding as a sacred art form and ritual activity. Sonya made a series of 12 wigs attempting to remember some of those wonderful braids. All but one were from memory as there is just one extant photograph.

Other hair pieces are the 44 Afro Abes she made to honor Obama’s presidency, giving the Abraham Lincoln on the dollar bill an afro. Her Heritage Pearls are “pearls” of her hair, in a beautiful presentation box. Sonya strung violin bows of hair – a blonde one and a dreadlocked one made of her hair – for Sounding the Ancestors. Jazz violinist and African-American woman Regina Carter played and recorded using these bows.

Another media that Sonya is using is the ubiquitous black pocket comb. She showed us a picture of Iterations, a “family tree” of combs going back ten generations, as there is a Yoruba saying, “You don’t know who you are until you can name yourself 1ten generations back.”

Sonya made a comb portrait of the first self-made woman millionaire, Madam CJ Walker – not just the first black self-made woman millionaire, but the first woman millionaire. She sold hair products. “There’s activism in hair salons.”

More: she made the McHardy plaid design out of combs. Sonya then started wrapping the spine of the combs to incorporate color, and created Kente Comb Cloth.

Showing now at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in “State of the Arts” is her homage to Joseph and Anni Albers. Joseph’s book, Interaction of Color, is an art school classic showing how color is relative, always affected by its context. Sonya used this to create her Albers Interaction series, an homage to Joseph and Anni (a celebrated weaver) with textiles and color and a comb wrap. Her studio assistant thought it was too complicated, if Sonya had to explain the piece that much. Sonya simplified it to peach and brown tones, the color of skin.

She has created works using the Confederate flag; the Black Hair Flag with braids tied in the flag, and Unraveled/Unraveling. For the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Sonya started unraveling the Confederate flag by hand.

Hair is the first textile art form. For her last project discussed, the Hair Craft Project, 12 hairdressers braided her hair, and Sonya had her head photographed and wore her braids with a card for each hairdresser in her pocket to hand out to admirers. “I don’t think of myself as an activist, but I do think everything is political.” The showing of her photographed braids in a Richmond gallery was the most diverse audience that gallery has ever seen, including people from the Richmond art community to the family and friends of the braiders/artists and their community.

Finally, for inspiration and for rumination, here’s what Sonya tells her art students:

Find your authentic obsession
Nourish it
Explore it
Connect it to others
Never let it go.

Antique Pattern Library

So here’s something that I want to share: the digitization of out-of-copyright craft books in the Antique Pattern Library: “This ongoing project is an effort to scan craft pattern publications that are in the public domain, to preserve them, so we can keep our craft heritages in our hands. Most of these scans have been graphically edited to make the images easier for craft workers to see, and to reduce file sizes. They are available, for free, to anyone who wants them, for educational, personal, artistic and other creative uses.”

Categories range from Battenburg lace and filet and flower arranging, to knitting and crocheting and quilting. And beading! This collection is small and has works in progress, and they do accept donations if you have any old beadwork books. It appears to be a small nonprofit, with at least some of the work to scan done by volunteers.

David Dean seminar

Beading in the Native American Tradition by David Dean is one of my go-to references for Native beading. If you’re in Oklahoma, I just read in the Gilmer Mirror that Dean is teaching a seminar on Native American beadwork: “Items to be discussed include how to buy beads and supplies, basic instruction in four different and unique bead working techniques, history of how techniques are used and their purpose, how to age beadwork, and the significance of each technique in the development of beadwork styles on the North American continent. Many tribal differences will be explained as well as the use of the various techniques.”

The seminar will be at the Museum of the Red River in Idabel, Oklahoma on May 23-24 for a nominal fee, AND there is a free lecture. This is a great opportunity, if this is convenient to you.

Side note: I have updated my computer, making blogging more pleasant. While I’m really not beading much right now, I do have things I’d like to share. It’ll be easier now.

Online inspiration in the American Craft Council Library digital archives

I work as a librarian in two different jobs, one of which is for the American Craft Council Library. The ACC Library has many resources available to the public, if you are able to visit our location in Minneapolis, Minnesota. There are books, periodicals, exhibition catalogs, and artists files (possibly including photographs, slides, resumes, exhibition catalogs, and more). The ACC Library is also home to the archives of the American Craft Council (1941-present), Museum of Contemporary Crafts/American Craft Museum (1956-1990), World Crafts Council (1964-present) and the Craft Students League of New York (1932-2005).

For those who can’t visit, I’d like to introduce the American Craft Council Library Digital Collections. In brief, they contain ACC’s magazine Craft Horizons (now called American Craft) in fulltext from 1941-1965; selected photographs and documents from ACC conferences, exhibitions, and fairs; ACC newsletters; and photographs from the artist files. As of this writing, there are approximately 5,000 items in the digital archives, only a small percentage of the physical archives, but the ACC Library is continually increasing its online content.

The software used for the digital archives, CONTENTdm, is powerful, but not immediately intuitive. To that end, the two of us who work in the library made a series of four videos, each less than five minutes long, to describe the digital archives and how to search. CONTENTdm is able to search the text of the documents as well as the description of the item that is entered for each item. It is well worth your time to view these videos if you are at all interested in finding inspiration for your work in craft history, or if you simply would like to read early Craft Horizons in their entirety. There was no other craft magazine in the United States in the early years of the magazine, so this is an invaluable historical resource.

What can you find? This search for jewelry images (including the terms “jewelry,” “necklace,” “earrings,” or “bracelet”) returns about 200 photos of great shapes and designs. This 1975 knitted silver wire bracelet by Arline Fisch shows her early work in this media. Mary Walker Phillips made this macrame how-to, illustrated in 59 photos.

The ACC Library highlights finds in the digital collections every week with the blog post series “Throwback Thursday.” You can find out about Museum of Contemporary Crafts exhibitions, single works by artists, and more. Please let me know if you have any questions, or feel free to contact the ACC Library.

North House Folk School and other schools


North House Folk School was a wonderful experience for me, as I wrote about when I described my recent sweetgrass basketry class. The school started with Mark Hansen teaching interested area residents a skin-on frame Inuit kayak, and with the enthusiasm of the community, progressed to the founding of the North House in 1997 to teach traditional northern hemisphere crafts. “North House is inspired by Scandinavian ‘folkeshoskoles,’ developed in Denmark during the mid-1800’s; life-long skills and traditions shared in a non-competitive environment are the foundation of the folk school concept.” There are currently about 350 courses held at North House. During this two day class, there were also two different bread baking classes using the outside wood-fired ovens and the inside kitchen, a ukulele building class, and a crooked knife class (a type of drawknife) which included forging and woodworking.

I wrote about the history of Swedish traditional craft for the American Craft Council, for our Library Salon about Swedish Holiday Slöjd (handcrafts) in December 2012. Dr. Faith Clover, who taught art education at the University of Minnesota, spoke about the tradition of handcraft-based education in Sweden, and spoke of taking as many classes as possible at North House. Following her presentation, staff from the American Swedish Institute led the audience in creating wire and bead ornaments.

Taking classes beyond beading is a cross-pollination of sorts. My experience with needle and thread and tendency towards precision definitely shortened my learning curve. I do hope to make more baskets, especially sweetgrass. (I have some cattails in my workroom, something that you can find with the snow cover, that I’d like to try with the same style of basketry.) I also was excited to continue the intensity of making when I returned home, and spent hours beading. I’ve completed one project, put away (some) supplies, and have a selected reasonable list of projects I would like to bead next.

How to find classes? We all probably know the classes available in our town, through stores and perhaps art centers. There are bead retreats, often sponsored by bead teachers, bead stores, or bead societies. I would like to encourage you to occasionally think more broadly, try something new, and if you can, make your own retreat. Grand Marais, Minnesota was a wonderful place for this, even in the depth of winter. It’s a beautiful place, with many art venues beyond what its size suggests.

An ongoing project that I am doing for the American Craft Council is a listing of schools with craft workshops and classes. “This directory is a selective list of schools that offer workshops and/or courses in craft along with a broad sample of mediums for each program. Some of these schools may also offer degree and/or certificate programs in craft arts. Course catalogs for each of the programs listed below are available through the schools’ websites.”

Schools are described by the media they teach. Beading is a fiber art, making beads is glass. But please consider trying something new. Making something new may be just what you need.


David Chatt is going to be at Haystack next summer!

I know practically nothing else about this wonderful opportunity; I’m on Haystack Mountain School of Craft’s mailing list, and last week, they sent an email with their schedule. On the summer session section of their website, David Chatt is listed as teaching beading from June 22 to July 4. I enjoyed a week-long workshop with him many years ago, and Haystack looks to be a beautiful place. I predict it will fill fast!