edited to add: I think I've fixed all the links. Let me know if any are still not working. Typepad seems to have made some changes - one more reason that I'm moving the blog to Wordpress soon. Sorry about that!
I really enjoyed the Textile Society symposium at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln last week. First, some highlights:
- An excellent keynote by Sheila Kennedy, an MIT professor in the school of architecture and "a pioneer in integrating technology and design." This talk was a reminder that textiles are both art and science, and that we can use them to improve people's lives -- not just by preserving traditional craft but also by innovating and designing new textile technologies, by thinking big, by looking toward "new cloth" and the future. I especially liked Kennedy's description of the Portable Light project. And the moment where she talked about indigenous peoples wanting to create their own handwoven sacred carriers for these 21st-century light sources brought it all together. The message that we need to be skilled both in digital technologies and in making things by hand was timely.
- Another good keynote on natural dyes by Dominique Cardon, who is organizing next year's International Symposium and Exhibition on Natural Dyes, to be held in France. This talk, too, raised questions exploring the science of natural dyeing on a large scale, as well as its history and its appeal and challenges for the small-scale dyer. The event next year sounds pretty great.
- A fantastic session on "Slow Art and Textile Practice" by Rowland Ricketts, artist, teacher, and indigo farmer, Kyoung Ae Cho, who makes beautiful stitched pieces, and Janice Lessman-Moss, a weaver. Each artist brought a story and a sensibility to the presentation that gave a beautiful context to their work. I've written about Rowland Ricketts before but the other artists were new to me. And I got to meet and talk with Rowland, and he has a lot to say about indigo and about the textile art community. It was a great pleasure to talk with him and hear him speak. A few years ago I gave a lot of thought to putting together an exhibition on art and agriculture, integrating my experiences in the organic foods world and in art and textiles. Talking with him re-ignited that idea for me.
- Janice Arnold gave a very beautiful presentation on the nomadic life and her work in felt, some of which was included in the Cooper Union exhibition last year. She was lovely, and seemed to have put a lot of thought into her presentation. The work and the story of her process is astounding and she truly seems to be called to express the idea of being a nomad in modern times.
- There was a good presentation on Shipibo Indian textiles, which I've posted about a few times, and fascinating talks on other cultural and anthropological aspects of textiles. I know not everybody goes for this stuff, but I love it.
In general, I loved the high level of scholarship, cultural context, and international scope of this symposium. If these things appeal to you, I recommend joining The Textile Society and attending the next symposium, scheduled for Washington, D.C., in 2012. By relocating the symposium each time, different locales get to shine, and Lincoln did very well. My Colorado College classmate Wendy Weiss had a lot to do with organizing this symposium (she teaches at the University of Nebraska) and she did an excellent job. There were many exhibitions, from local galleries to the beautiful Sheldon Museum of Art and the International Quilt Study Center; good restaurants nearby; beautiful autumn weather and the friendliness of the Midwest. There was a small but excellent marketplace; I bought Laura Foster Nicholson's ribbons and had the pleasure of talking with her, and I also saw my friends from Goodweave there. I had a very interesting conversation with Leesa Hubbell, the digital news editor for the Surface Design Association. And a big bonus for me: while in Lincoln, I got to see my dear brother, my lovely sister-in-law, and my beloved niece and nephews.
There was some minor room for improvement at the conference, generally speakers who didn't seem well prepared or comfortable presenting to a group, and too many concurrent sessions, forcing difficult choices. Because there are such strong relationships between food and fiber, I'd love to see the presence of good local and organic food at events like this (I know this is a cost issue and a hotel contract issue, but it can be done). But all in all it was a terrific event, and for me there was more substance than at some other textile conferences and trade shows that I've been to.
I left there with a lot to think about for my work as well as my personal direction with textiles and the future of Slow Cloth as an entity and as an idea. One thing that always comes up for me is the lack of diversity -- in age and gender, in particular -- in the textile community. Young people are coming in, but too often as a marketing target, as consumers of craft products. And men are mostly there if they come from other countries, by and large, or in a celebrity role to audiences of women, so it often seems a little out of balance.
The question is, I suppose, do we want it to be different? I think we do, because diversity is a core concept of sustainability. And because any group with 99% one gender or age group all the time tends to magnify any flaws or weaknesses in communication style and interaction of that gender or age group. Anyway, that's a big topic for another time. I think the energy of the textile community would change if it were more diverse in any number of ways, but maybe I'm just projecting my own discomfort with groups of all kinds.
The image above is Torn Notebook, a Claes Oldenburg sculpture in the sculpture garden at the Sheldon Museum of Art in Lincoln.