It’s All About The Base

Last week I made a trip to Iowa’s historic Amana Colonies to visit with basketmaker Joanna Schanz, who curates the Philip Dickel Basket Museum Gallery.  The looped white pine bark egg gathering basket I made last winter is now on exhibit there. And there’s nothing like a long drive to help me sort things out in my head. I spent some time thinking about bases, but also about making do, making things that are useful, and making friends.
Amana coiled bread rising basket repaired.

First, making do: This coiled bread rising basket is one of the samples of historic Amana baskets that complement the work of contemporary makers in American Baskets: Made To Be Used. Notice the different colors? Different materials were used when this basket was repaired.

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Point Of View — Shoal

It’s amazing how much changing the point of view changes your perspective on something.

Shoal by Donna Kallner.
Shoal by Donna Kallner

As an instructor at the 2015 National Basketry Organization biennial conference, I was invited to have work included in the exhibition. The plan in my head was for a hanging installation. But when a bundle of willow hoops in my studio came untied one day, the scattered pile reminded me of a shoal of fish.

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Going With The Flow

Sometimes you just have to let an idea evolve.

Shoal by Donna Kallner.

The exhibition piece I was working on in my last post was finished, but it was 20 below zero. About all we could do in those temperatures was drive around looking for suitable sites where it could be photographed.

Bridge in winter.

Deep snow, extreme cold and wind meant my original idea of hanging the elements from a bridge near my home was going to be more difficult than doable. Ditto Hanging Elements Plans B and C.

Work in progress by Donna Kallner.

So I played with the elements, and kept coming back to the idea that they looked like a shoal of fish. So we reassessed options and went with Plan D. But since that involved possibly standing in freezing water, it seemed prudent to wait until it got a bit warmer. Today, it was positively balmy with temperatures above 20 degrees. So Bill and I went to shoot the piece this afternoon after he got home.

Rural artist Donna Kallner positioning looping installation in water.

With air temperatures 30 degrees warmer than when we scouted, there was more open water and much more current. The water is only about a foot deep, but Bill’s felt-soled wading boots offered more secure footing than my tall rubber boot. So I went up on the bridge and my wonderful, generous, supportive husband stood in the water positioning the piece while I took photos standing on a ladder on the bridge.

Bill Kallner positioning artwork by Donna Kallner for photography.

It was a little late when we got started so we didn’t have quite enough daylight to get all the shots I wanted — especially since my battery got cold and I had to warm it up a couple of times. So we’ll probably shoot again in a couple of days. By the time we return, the ice will have changed and our plans may have to evolve a bit to suit the conditions we find then. We’ll go with the flow and see what happens then.

What You Can’t Fix, Feature

At least 20 years ago, I read something I remember as “the 4th rule of marketing — if you can’t fix it, feature it.” That advice has served me well. Instead of getting bogged down trying to make the impossible happen or playing that spirit-crushing game, “I can’t because I don’t have the money,” I try very hard to focus on what I can do.

Work in progress by Donna Kallner.

One of the things I’ve been unable to fix in my career as a fiber artist is the challenge of getting professional-quality images for exhibition juries. Other artists in rural areas manage, but I’m often too close to the deadline to send my work off for someone else to shoot. Or I just can’t scrape up the money for both the jury fee and professional photography. So I shoot my own images for my web site, class listings and most things I need. I get by, thanks to my friend Sarah McEneaney, who helped me jerry-rig my first in-house photo studio in the creepy, bat-infested basement of our old farmhouse.

Back then, juries and publishers all wanted slides. I really worked at improving my lighting and composition skills, and my photos got better. But my shots have always lacked the polish of a professional photographer. Finally, I just accepted that and gave myself permission to do the best I can with the skills and equipment I have and to pass on opportunities that require images I can’t produce myself.

Work in progress for NBO 2015 exhibition.

Mostly. This year, as an instructor at the 2015 National Basketry Organization biennial conference, I’ll have work included in the exhibition, for which there will be a full-color printed catalog. That’s not something I want to pass on.

The images are due February 1. As you might suspect, I’m still stitching, so there’s no chance I can send this out and have someone else shoot it. Every scheme I considered for photographing it myself as an indoor installation felt like something that would fall short. Since I can’t fix those circumstances, I came up with a “feature it” plan.

Ripple Effect for 20 for 20 exhibition at the Textile Center.

Last year I loved photographing Ripple Effect in the water before it went into the gallery at The Textile Center. All the water in my neighborhood is frozen right now, so I can’t float the elements and shoot them that way. But I can hang a temporary outdoor installation and photograph that.

Scouting sites for art installation photography.

I have a few locations in mind, including this bridge (photographed last October). I may have to enlist some helpers, including a few devoted to praying it’s not still 20 below zero when we shoot.

In the meantime, I’m stitching like a fiend, and dreaming of ways I’d like to shoot this. If only I could summon hoarfrost on my command.

Ripple Effect

Long drives to and from events are a good time for thinking through pieces for exhibitions. I was crossing the Mississippi River when my thoughts came together for 20 For 20.  The show is a 20th anniversary celebration at the Textile Center in Minneapolis.

Ripple Effect for 20 for 20 exhibition at the Textile Center.
Ripple Effect by Donna Kallner.

The Textile Center has had a huge impact on the fiber community, and that impact reaches far beyond the Twin Cities, far beyond even the people who’ve actually been there. Knowledge and enthusiasm and inspiration spread like ripples in water when you drop a stone into a river or lake. That ripple effect is what I wanted to celebrate in this exhibition.

Ripple Effect work in progress.

So when I got home, I collected 20 stones of varying sizes and got to work.

Ripple Effect work in progress.

For the past few weeks I’ve been looping sheaths for the stones.

Ripple Effect by Donna Kallner.

When the last stone was finished, I took them to the Wolf River near where I live. At least once, I wanted these stones to be dropped into water.

Ripple Effect by Donna Kallner.

I was also auditioning different ways the stones might be displayed during the exhibition.

Ripple Effect by Donna Kallner.

I’ll leave it up to the staff in the gallery, but I’m partial to the cairn shape.

Ripple Effect by Donna Kallner.

Cairns make me think of trail markers, and I think the Textile Center has helped a lot of fiber artists find their way over the past 20 years.

Package insert for Ripple Effect by Donna Kallner.

After their bath in the river, I washed the stones. They’re dry now, and on their way to the Textile Center. They won’t be coming back to me after the show. I’ve asked that the stones be given to the Textile Center’s staff and board members as small tokens of thanks for helping to create an inspiring community.

Spending a morning wading in the river taking pictures gave me a chance to reflect on all the wonderful people who’ve been part of the Textile Center. I’m especially grateful to Jacki Bedworth, who first offered me the opportunity to teach there as a visiting artist, to founder Margaret Miller and to Becka Rahn. I’m grateful to every single person who contributed to the astonishing textile library, and to those who created the amazing dye lab, and to all the students who’ve taken my classes there. Special thanks are in order to the students who made do without irons when we were without power after one storm, and to the student who calmly pulled the plug when one of my garage sale irons was shooting flames out the back end in another class. Thank you to all the people who worked with the Textile Center on the Surface Design Symposium and on the SDA conference when it was in Minneapolis. Thank you to all the donors and volunteers who make the annual Fiber Art Garage Sale a great success. Thank you to the Mondale family and all those who support the gallery and exhibition program. And thank you to all the guild members who contribute their energy to the place. Every time I visit, I see something that inspires me. And all that creates a ripple effect.

Happy Anniversary, Textile Center!

The 20 For 20 Show at the Textile Center.

Only An Apron Would Do

Just in the nick of time, today I finished a piece for an exhibition that will be held during the Wisconsin Women’s Studies and LGBTQ Conference in October. I don’t know if my piece will be included, because I exceeded the size restriction. But once I got it in my head to make an apron, nothing else “approximately 13 inches square” seemed it would do.

In many cultures, aprons are still much more than functional garments used to protect clothing. They play important symbolic roles, as well. However much power is imbued in these symbolic garments, though, I sincerely hope we do not return to a time when they are our best form of protection.

A preview of other work created for the show can be seen here.

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Common Threads

Halfway through writing this post, I stopped trying to map out all the connections. Suffice it to say, I think I’m about one degree of separation from Kevin Bacon.

After Math by Donna Kallner

On Tuesday, I took the day off to deliver work for an upcoming show at the Riverfront Arts Center in Stevens Point. Point is less than 100 miles each way, but I don’t get there very often and I’d never met the new director of the art center. Within five minutes, we had discussed our mothers’ wardrobe legacies (mine — formerly white wool trousers now in the piece pictured above, hers — a white wool wedding dress), and she had pulled out other work because I was dying to see it (Marilyn Annin had delivered her work already). By the time I left, I felt like part of the community and I was trying to think of ways to spend more time in Stevens Point. For now, though, only my work is there. I have 11 pieces in the Common Threads show that opens April 20 and runs through May 27.

When I got home from Point that afternoon, this was in the mail.

Evergreen Forest by John Malarky

John Malarky, a tablet weaver from Missouri, sent this for a project we’re working on together. He wove the band as part of a Weavers Guild of St. Louis study group project to convert boundweave designs into tablet weaving designs (the draft is here, if you’d like to weave it yourself). I’m still mulling what to do for my part in this collaboration, and excited to begin.

When I first met John several years ago at a Midwest Weavers Conference, it took exactly no time for the conversation to turn to esoteric interests (mine — looping, his — tablet weaving). That happens often in the fiber community, and not so often outside it. I’ve learned to take pity on my neighbors, who may be interested in what I do generally but look like deer caught in headlights when I use phrases like “Fuegian coiling.”

Speaking of neighbors, a neighbor came over on Saturday to help dig up some overgrown clumps of Siberian iris. Bill’s hops vines will benefit from the removal. She and a neighbor of hers will benefit from these pass-along plants. We talked about the plant’s hardiness, sunlight requirements, and bloom phase. She had other errands to run, though, so I didn’t delay her by mentioning the plant’s fiber qualities, when and how to harvest the leaves, or how nice the leaves smell when “mellowed” for weaving.

We did talk about her son’s countdown to graduation from the university at Stevens Point. Notice how these threads connect? One of the pieces I took to the show in Stevens Point was another collaboration, one I did a few years ago with Joan Molloy Slack for a show in Rhinelander. At another show in Rhinelander, I met Marilyn Annin, who owns a piece I made from Siberian iris leaves.

The common thread that weaves together this exhibition, collaboration and pass-along plants is community. I think the current buzzword is “tribes.” Whatever you call it, I never ceased to be amazed at all the ways we’re connected.

I’d still like to meet Kevin Bacon.

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Night Shifts

My late mother-in-law sometimes used to say she was tired because she had “worked the night shift.” On her restless nights she put in long hours of dreamtime serving food, pouring drinks and cleaning up after a full house.

Night Shift by Donna Kallner

This piece incorporates a picture of her behind the counter back in the days when her night shifts were worked awake instead of dreaming. Night Shift is part of the Night Vision collection showing through June 29 at the Ed Gray Gallery in Calumet, Michigan.

Night Shift detail by Donna Kallner

I work the dreamy kind of night shift sometimes, too. My fingers may feel stiff from holding an imaginary needle, but I usually have a clearer image of how to stitch the story I’ve been working over in my unconscious mind.

That seems to be what happened Saturday morning. After a week in Minneapolis at the Surface Design conference, I was surprised to wake up rested and raring to go at 4:30 a.m. I think my mind had finally finished tidying up a few loose ends.

My post-conference workshop with Lanny Bergner gave me a lot to think about. Going into the workshop, my intention was to learn to integrate wire mesh with the fabrics I use already, thinking the wire would provide greater support for larger mixed media constructed vessels and possibly also to support freeform looping.

On the first day of the three-day workshop, I made the piece below from the brass mesh pictured above.

Despite differences in “seaming” wire mesh versus layers of fabric, the construction concepts were comfortably familiar.

On Day 2 I made two more small vessels.

This one is stainless steel mesh patterned with a propane torch.

This one is brass mesh with a contrasting insert of anodized aluminum mesh.

At the end of Day 2, I asked Lanny for some advice on where to go next. Left to my own devices, I might have veered off to testing seaming alternatives or surface textures I could very well play with on my own. He suggested that on Day 3 I work on a larger vessel. That was a good plan. I also wanted to keep playing with ways to curve the seam lines. That’s where I ran into trouble.

I made one choice after another that kept drawing the form in more and more. Creating curved lines in the metal mesh is a great challenge, but doing so shifted my focus away from the form itself.

After I get back from teaching in Michigan, I want to model more of these vessels, working more simply and larger and with my focus on producing pieces that work from 360 degrees. I need to resist the seduction of the mesh’s transparency until I’ve done that. I suspect I’ll find more clarity in the making. I usually do.

This class was just what I needed when I needed it. Lanny was great to work with, as was everyone in the room. I have tons of ideas to mull.

It’s almost bedtime again, and before I lay my head on the pillow I have just one more thing to clarify for myself: Unless I follow through on the work that began in the the workshop, it was just three pleasant days where I played with different materials. It’s up to me, now, to work out if or how these ideas fit into my own work. And while some of that gets worked out on the night shift, most of it gets worked out in the studio.

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My husband knows when I’ve been lying awake, trying to spot a glimmer of inspiration in the half-light of early morning. He waits to speak until he sees the change in my expression that passes for “Eureka” at that hour of the day. It dawns on me that the best idea I ever had was to make a life with him.

Dawning by Donna Kallner

Dawning is showing through June 29 at the Ed Gray Gallery in Calumet, Michigan. Here’s a peek at what went into creating this piece.

First I foraged for recycled cardboard in my husband’s shipping department. 

I used plain old white glue to to turn a bunch of pieces into a slab.

After gluing, I let the slab dry under a weight overnight.

After hacking on the cardboard with a knife long enough to demonstrate my intention to do it myself, I asked my husband to shape the cardboard laminate on the band saw. He even smoothed it on the belt sander for me.

I covered the mold with Saran to protect it from damp. Sorry — forgot to take pictures of the process. In brief, I dampened buckram and pinned it to the plastic-wrapped cardboard mold and let it dry in place. The image above shows the trimmed buckram off the mold, and batting being fitted on the mold.

The fabric is silk I painted with Dye-na-Flow, recycled from a class demonstration for Designing Quilters in Fargo last March. The silk is underlined with a recycled dish towel. Some of the thread I painted with Dye-na-Flow, and some I colored with fabric markers. Judy, Ruth and Rhonda — yes, I basted.

The looping on the inside is anchored to buttonhole stitch embroidery. I love to work this kind of freeform looping. It gives me time to think and reflect, which is what all the work in the Night Vision collection is about, really.

You can read about other pieces in show here, here and here. Next time I’ll show the backstory on another of the pieces. In the meantime, I hope something wonderful dawns on you tomorrow. Leave a sketch pad by the bed tonight!

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