What Gets Your Mojo Working?

For some people, it’s a swap. For others, it’s a gift occasion. Everybody has something that gets the wheels turning in their head and the creative energy flowing in their hands.

Catch by Donna Kallner

Some of my favorite pieces were the result of exhibition calls. Earlier this year, I did work for a looping show, and I made a vessel for a show in the Amana Colonies. But most of my time is spent developing ideas for classes — classes like the Mojo Vessels workshop I taught last fall in Columbia, Missouri. Just in the nick of time, I finished two pieces for Re:Interpretations ’10: More MOjo Magic. The show is up now in the Alcove at the Perlow-Stevens Gallery in Columbia.

This is the 14th year the Columbia Weavers & Spinners Guild has done Re:Interpretations. The series began after a workshop with Jane Sauer, where she challenged them to create artwork inspired by workshop activities, and gave them a year to complete the work and plan the exhibition. Last year when I taught for the guild, I saw their display of work from the previous year (a memory book/box workshop with Sandy Webster). This year, they’re learning some exciting new things in a workshop with Kim Eichler Messmer and they’ve reinterpreted what they learned in my workshop on surface design and constructed vessel techniques.

When they asked to include my work in the show, I kicked around a bunch of ideas and did some sampling. Here’s what I ended up doing.

Vocabulary and Dialect by Donna Kallner

In my workshops, I often suggest that students work on two or more pieces at a time, using different approaches to see how the story changes in the telling. So for Re:Interpretations, I made two vessels.

Dialect by Donna Kallner (open)

Both pieces are made from the winding-path shape you see in the image above. Both pieces are made from layers of fabric. Even layers that are hidden from view are marked with paint, dye and stitching. It’s a kind of shorthand that represents all the paths that intersect in a workshop, all the stories told, all the lives that become connected.

Vocabulary by Donna Kallner

Vocabulary celebrates the ways learning and language helps shape our views of the world. The more fluently we can combine elements, the more confident we are in choosing how we want them to fit together. In this piece, the winding path shape became mountain-like to represent the love of challenges shared by this group of artists.

Dialect celebrates the way a common language is transformed into distinct forms. On the flip side of the path-shaped piece pictured above, you might see the shape of a hand, a recurrent theme in my work. I’ve asked the other artists in this show to take turns using their own hands to change the form of this piece throughout the exhibition.

Dialect by Donna Kallner (the flip side, open)

Here are a few of the forms the piece took while it was still with me.

Dialect by Donna Kallner (View A)
Dialect by Donna Kallner (View B)
Dialect by Donna Kallner (View C)
Dialect by Donna Kallner (View D)

This winding path of silk and thread will become whatever this group of artists makes of it as each pair of hands translates a shape into a form. Each re-interpretation represents two voices, two stories, and many more possibilities.

It was a pleasure and a privilege to collaborate with such an inspiring group of artists. I hope to be able to share images of their work in the show soon.

In the meantime, what gets your mojo working?

Add your voice to the conversation at facebook.com/donnakallnerfiberart

Tying Up Loose Threads

On Thursday we put up the New Age Looping exhibit at The Dining Room at 209 Main in Monticello, Wisconsin. This should explain why you’ve heard nothing from me for so long. I taught the weekend of the 16th, which was wonderful, then spent the next few days scurrying to finish work for this show. Here’s a recap of recent events.

A few weeks back as I was working on pieces for this show, I blamed not sleeping on monsters under the bed. Then I remembered that I have tools for overcoming that kind of anxiety. I outlined a plan that would keep me on track for this deadline, and mostly it worked. I went back to using creativity warm-ups regularly, and that helped. I went to bed at a reasonable hour (although I was waking up at 4 am to get back to work). I think I was pretty reasonable in my critiques, even though it might not sound like it since I cut up one piece twice before I came up with something that worked.

I asked for help, and help came. My husband, bless his heart, took off on Tuesday to drive up to McNaughton and get a piece from Joan Molloy Slack from a collaboration we did last fall. I used that piece to replace one I had done for the show but just didn’t seem to fit. Bill came home with Standing Stone, plus Oreos, chocolate ice cream, Hershey’s Extra Dark chocolate and Gardetto’s (I’m all about balance, and you need salty and crunchy to go with sugar and fat). On Wednesday, I called my neighbor Barbara with a plea for help and she was there in five minutes. Despite my intention to do all the stitching by hand (mindfully, you know), we excavated the sewing machine and Barbara spent a helpful hour cutting, pressing and sewing a pillowcase backing for a piece that needed that to help anchor it. When she left to go back to work, I was all set for the hand stitching that melded that piece and the backing. I finished stitching at 9:30 that night.

Bright and early the next morning, Sue and I left for Monticello. It was through Sue that this exhibit came about, and we both have work in the show. Sue is a friend and neighbor who learned looping from me but has evolved a style that is uniquely her own. It was not an oversight that we left home without any of my artist statement or info for labels. I hadn’t written them yet. It’s embarrassing to admit that I went so unprepared, but that’s what I did. I promised to email the info on Saturday, which I did, and the world did not stop rotating on its axis. Go figure.

Sue and I made it to Monticello without any problems from the threatened freezing drizzle. Ruth Knight Sybers of Knitters Treat was there to welcome us, and Rhoda and David Braunschweig were all set to hang the show. We met Wave and Jane, the owners of The Dining Room, and had a lovely meal that evening. Chef Wave’s food was the perfect antidote to all the frozen pizza Bill and I ate while I was madly stitching. In the front of the house, Jane is lovely and gracious. I can’t imagine a more perfect setting for conversation among a group of fiber artists — or anyone else, for that matter.

We spent a peaceful night with Sue’s college friend Polly and her husband, Jim, in Madison. Polly took us to the Knitting Tree before we headed back north. Honestly, how can you not buy a silk yarn called Ruby Slippers?

For this show, I wanted to illustrate looping’s versatility. This collection contains five paired pieces. Each pairing explores a theme with one piece worked in two dimensions and a second piece worked in 3D. There’s one additional 2D piece — sort of a quilted journal page. I’ve posted the images on my Facebook page, with privacy settings that allow public viewing. If you’d like to see the pieces right now, they’re here. Last night I finally got the label info and artist statement sent the Ruth. As soon as she can get them on their web site, you can find them here. In the meantime, check out their past exhibits at the bottom of the Textile Displays page. There’s a wonderful piece by Mary Jo Scandin in the front window that makes you want to soar.

New Age Looping will be up at the Dining Room until mid-May. I’m pleased with the work, delighted to have met some wonderful people, and basking in the pleasure of having a big project completed. Now that I have these loose threads tied up, I just need to clean up the mess in my studio (there was sort of a thread explosion in there on Wednesday), and get ready for my next adventure.

Add your voice to the conversation at facebook.com/donnakallnerfiberart

Another Collaboration


When Joan Molloy Slack and I first met, it didn’t take long to discover that we’re both fascinated by the work of our ancient ancestors. For a recent show at Nicolet College, we honored that work with a collaboration that combined her pottery and my netting.

Most objects the ancients used in everyday life were made of perishable fibers that disintegrated long ago. But archaeologists have found 28,000-year-old clay fragments marked with the impression of netting. The skilled execution of the knots shown in those impressions suggests that netting wasn’t new to them, that people had been using the technique for some time to catch fish, snare game, and carry unwieldy objects. People still sometimes decorate pottery with the imprint of netting.

The ancestors who once pressed a net into wet clay left us an even greater legacy than physical evidence of ancient material culture. They left us a tradition of collaboration. In Niche, Joan and I celebrate the women who went before us and those will come after us, working together to make even everyday objects more beautiful.

If you have a chance, go here to read a 1998 article from Discover magazine by Heather Pringle called New Women of the Ice Age. Archaeologist Olga Soffer’s comments about net hunting are offer a wonderful example of the power of working together.

Add your voice to the conversation at facebook.com/donnakallnerfiberart

Standing Stones Collaboration


Joan Molloy Slack is a felter and a potter I got to know recently when we collaborated on two pieces for a show. One of the pieces Joan sent me a piece was from her series of Standing Stones. I loved the energy of the shape, and the subtle mystery of the markings on it.

For my part of the collaboration, I used an ancient fiber technique called looping to create a sheath that embraces the form. You can read more about looping here.

Some of the markings on the pottery are covered by the looping, but they’re still there, echoed in the shapes of the stitched motifs. Like mysterious artifacts of the ancient world, the power of the piece is not diminished because it’s no longer seen exactly the way it was by its creator.

Perhaps someday another artist will pick up this piece and add another layer of markings, another chapter to the story of this standing stone. And perhaps after many, many somedays, a scholar will study it layer by layer, trying to determine what it was we meant to say.

I hope so. I left a door open for them.

Add your voice to the conversation at facebook.com/donnakallnerfiberart