Summer Camp Revisited – Adult Style

The beautiful Mountain Lake Setting Of Camp Merrie- Woode

The beautiful Mountain Lake Setting Of Camp Merrie- Woode

Every year when summer arrives, and the smell in the air and the heat of the sun are just right, my mind is transported back in time to the most wonderful years of my childhood-those spent in summer camp in the mountains of upstate New York.

Camp was a wondrous change of pace, a far cry from the pressures of tests and getting good grades in school. Camp was transformative- totally different from regular life at home on Long Island, New York where I grew up with my parents and 2 siblings. Summers away were where I got to try things I haven’t experienced before, participate in exciting adventures, make new and lasting friendships, and sing silly songs.

It was the sound of the bugle waking us up, calling us to line up for the raising of the flag, and morning announcements, of having hot chocolate at breakfast on those early cold mornings then going off to clean your bunk, knowing full well, that what follows is a day promised to be filled with a smorgasbord of activities and new skills waiting to be shared  in a nurturing, tranquil environment .

Some of the Cabins the girls live in

Some of the Cabins the girls live in

Camp was probably the single most  influential experience of my life as a child. Skills that I would carry with me into adulthood were acquired here.  Not only the physical skills such as swimming, canoeing, water-skiing, sailing , photography,  camping out in the woods, but also  the opportunity to learn how to get along with others and work through problems that arise. Living with 8-10 unrelated girls can be quite a challenge-certainly nothing I could do at this point in my adult life.

Learning about different water craft was a blast

Learning about different water craft is a blast

I was in ecstasy when I learned I would get the opportunity to revisit summer camp this June, not as a camper, but as one who would be sharing  my felting skills with young girls who were also willing to experience something new.

So off I drove to Camp Merrie- Woode in the beautiful mountains of  Sapphire, North Carolina to teach a group of 10 teenagers how to felt  a three dimensional water bottle holder.

My hosts and camp directors, Denise and Jim Dunn were kind enough to allow me to arrive a day early to soak in the camp spirit and familiarize myself with camp routine. They have a lovely guest house for returning former campers whose children now go to Merrie -Woode,  teachers of special skills who live there for the summer and guests they regularly bring in to enrich their already great program . Everyone made me feel right at home and very comfortable, hellos and smiles abounded. And would you believe- BUG juice is still served in the dining room. (after 50 years and going strong).

I  even got to swim in a cold lake just like old times and hear the screams and sounds of hundreds of happy campers before I got down to the joy of sharing what I love to do which is felting.

I must say I was somewhat nervous about teaching this class, as I have not taught this particular project before, never had more than 8 in a group,  was in a new environment without easy access to hot water and no one in the class had felted before , plus we had  only 2 and a half hours to complete our mission.  But I was game to try- keeping true to the spirit of  Camp .

I broke the project into small steps that I demonstrated as we went along , eventually everyone found their own pace and found their own way of laying the wool. It NEVER ceases to amaze me how differently we all work and yet all the projects came out wonderfully and each project was unique to the maker.

The beginning of the Project , all kits laid out , ready to start

The beginning of the Project , all kits laid out , ready to start

All the girls  have their bubble wrap laid out

All the girls have their bubble wrap laid out

Busy laying their first layers of wool

Busy laying their first layers of wool

Having fun with it

Having fun with it

Some serious wool going down

Some serious wool going down

The girls all said they really loved the experience had fun and got to learn something new.

Finished projects and lovely smiles

Finished projects and lovely smiles

I am so grateful that I got to revisit summer camp and  join the long list of teachers and counselors that are privileged to instruct children in such wonderful nurturing environment .

Many thanks again to all the welcoming and helpful staff and to the directors Jim and Denise Dunn of Camp Merrie-Wood.

See you all next month for another exciting  felting project

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A Special Teaching Opportunity

Last week I had another really enjoyable and unusual teaching opportunity.  The Southern Highland Craft Guild  in Asheville, North Carolina of which I am a member, was hosting a group of international teachers for a morning of craft and relaxation on their day off from their studies. These teachers were studying  different teaching modalities in the USA on a grant from the U.S. State Department. The program provides funding for a small number of  highly accomplished international teachers to take part in an intensive professional development program, which includes a broad range of educational classes and faculty support while residing in the USA for 6 weeks.

I was one of  2 teachers who was privileged to teach a workshop to the  17 teachers at The Folk Art Center.  The workshop I taught was a 2 hour introduction to the art of felting.  The other instructor was Laura Simms, another fiber artist who was teaching an introduction to marbling on cloth. Laura took half the group and I took the other half.

I had several goals for this special workshop.  First in this brief introduction to felting I wanted to provide a hands on, fun experience where each participant would make and embellish a small piece of felted cloth. Second, I  provided some historical context about  felting through the centuries around the world. Thirdly, I wanted to show the various raw materials used to felt with and show several different types of finished felted products.

To do this I brought in several types of raw wool- some of which was from my own shetland sheep, some commercially prepared wool sheets, some hand dyed merino wool, and several of my Nuno felted garments and accessories. I gave a handout with a brief history of felting. Then we moved on to experience the actual felting process.

I had prepared individual felting kits which included  3 different colors of merino wool, an outline of a 10 x10 square to be filled in with the wool, sprinkling bottles, bubble wrap and plastic sheets to cover the wetted out wool. On the table was another pile of assorted wool bits, yarns pre felts and sparky fibers so everyone could embellish their piece as they wished.  It was so much fun to see men getting into felting for a change. Everyone seemed to be very into the process asking questions, and wanting additional information about felting. Some of the teachers even shared some thoughts on how they could incorporate felting into they own  classroom curriculums.

The tables set for felting

The tables set for felting

Some various types of raw wool and some embellishment fibers

Some various types of raw wool and some embellishment fibers

My felted items to show what you can make with wool

My felted items to show what you can make with wool

All is ready to start.

All is ready to start.

Designing his piece- the first layer of wool

Designing his piece- the first layer of wool

Laying her first layer of wool

Laying her first layer of wool

Adding the embellishments on the final layer

Adding the embellishments on the final layer

Stretching the piece into shape

Stretching the piece into shape

Rinsing out their pieces

Rinsing out their pieces

The Proud new Felters with their finished pieces

The Proud new Felters with their finished pieces

A beautiful piece by any standards

A beautiful piece by any standards

The day was a lovely one for me, the teachers all said how much they enjoyed learning about felting and I was thrilled they all were so involved in the process. They were so  enthusiastic and inquisitive. One woman couldn’t wait to do more of it when she got back home to her country, maybe another felter was born !

I am grateful I had the opportunity to teach this class.

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Why I do what I do .

Ever think about why you pursue a certain activity, pick a certain job or follow a certain career path? I have been thinking a lot about this lately. It might be because I have reached an age – 60 ( although I do not relate to this number at all) where I thought it was important to examine my chosen path and see if I was still content.

I needed to examine where I am now and see if anything I wanted or needed to do was glaringly absent-dreams I may have had, activities I always wanted to do, or trips that I wanted to plan. I am going to Antarctica on January 1,  a place I have always wanted to experience. I will report on the trip when I get back if I don’t get eaten by a penguin.

Let’s face it, in reality the clock keeps on ticking , and later, might be too late- physically and mentality.  Damn, I have friends that are already dying!

So I  examined my current life with the help of a therapist- and guess what? I decided for now- right now- for this year- I was  still content doing what I do.  Next year I will evaluate things again and see if anything needs to change. I was happy that I  had the courage to look more closely instead of wondering what if …

WHAT DO I DO?

I create. Daily.  I love creating beauty and making art and am fortunate to be able to do so. For me, the purpose of making art has always been about the process of discovery and exploration. Discovering not only the medium I may be working in, but to uncover and give voice to what is inside of me.  Blank canvases are never blank for me.  I welcome the endless possibilities. I need the journey it takes me on and the challenges that I must overcome to have a successful outcome. I love working on my own, immersing myself in the task at hand and producing work that looks unlike anyone else’s.

My creating takes many forms:  felting, painting, drawing, teaching , gardening and interior design. But my main focus right now is on making one of a kind Nuno Felted garments and accessories.

Clothing is one important way we demonstrate that we are unique beings. As an artist, I want to help people express their distinctiveness through their choice of apparel.

Nuno Felted Jacket

Nuno Felted Jacket

IMG_9588_edited-1_2

Fun Felted hat

In my paintings  or drawings which I describe as ‘Surreal Expressionism”, symbolism and color are important components.  My images emanate from my subconsciousness, and humor and playfulness are curiously employed to deliver statements of a more serious nature.

For Ida -an oil painting43x54"

For Ida -an oil painting
43×54″

pink and Blue abstract -oil50x 62"

pink and Blue abstract -oil
50x 62″

houses and hearts

Sister and brother -oil43x45"

Sister and brother -oil
43×45

When I created my gardens it was important to create little vignettes that made me smile and  plant perennial gardens that I would be able to enjoy all year long.

Little porcelain figure

Little porcelain figure

part of the garden

part of the garden

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When the  chickens needed a home, not just any home would do. We designed some fancy digs for them.

The Gypsy Caravan House

The Gypsy Caravan House

The Mad hatter Home

The Mad hatter Home

The barn was not left untouched either. If I was going to be in there everyday cleaning up after my  farm pets, I wanted to something nice in there as well. I painted the entry way to the barn in an  faux underwater motif, played with a Matisse collage  for the barn bathroom and added some murals in the main barn area.

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Mural in the Barn

Mural in the Barn

I know I need to make this journey full of surprises, and wonder. It keeps me going and makes me want to do another day.

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An Art Form Most People Just Don’t know about

Funny, I don’t even keep up with writing my own blog, because it takes me so long to organize my thoughts and formulate my words, but when a fellow textile artist asked me to be a guest writer for her blog, I rose to the task. I wrote a short blog on felting, which is what I do- on my days, nights and weekends. And since I took the time to write it for her I would like to share it with you as well.

A little background first.

I recently met Roxane Lessa, an extraordinary quilt artist, at the Piedmont Crafts show  in Winston Salem, North Carolina. I was a ‘wanna be’ so this was my ‘in person’ jury trial. She said she saw me walking around in the most intriguing felted creations, and had to check out my work. Turns out she bought one of my felted tops that was just too perfect for her in every way.  I was flattered she bought the top, and I was flattered that she asked me to guest write for her blog.

Nuno Felted Pink Top

The perfect top for Roxane

 Nuno Felting, What it is and the What it takes to do it.

Not many people know about Felt or the Art of Felt making. While some people have a vague childhood recollection of what felt is, the image they conjure up is one of a material that is stiff and non pliable. This is a far cry from the felt that is made today for fine art to wear garments.

I have been making felted art wear for 5 years now, and before that I was a painter for 25 years.

Felting is the oldest non woven material known. It dates back to 500 BC. Nuno felting is somewhat similar to traditional wet felting but can produce very different results. By manipulating a minimum amount of loose wool fiber through a loosely  woven base, a felted fabric with characteristics quite different than traditional felt occur. My nuno felt is very lightweight, with wonderful drape and flexibility. I often work with many different types of materials besides silk enabling me to get a wide variety of unique textural effects.

  A wide variety of textures in this Nuno Scarf

A wide variety of textures in this Nuno Scarf

I love the dyeing the wool and silks. Not only does it take advantage of my ability to use color but I get to create colors and patterns that are my own, just like when I painted.

Here are a few of the steps in the felting process.

Developing the color palette and making the dyes for the wool and silk

The painted silk- over 4 yards of it.

Laying the wool on the silk very lightly

The wool is laid out and wetted , ready to roll.

This table is 56 inches wide.

The finished piece after hours of rolling, rubbing, kneading, throwing, shrinking, and  shaping. The Reward is  a beautifully designed, ever so soft Nuno Felted shawl.

       Felting is an adventure. You just never know exactly how a piece is going to come out,  I guess if I did – it wouldn’t be the kind of art I would want to pursue.

Please visit my website to see more of my work .

I would like to say a few words about The Piedmont Craftsman Guild.

This guild does a very cool thing. They allow a perspective member, one who has passed the first jury hurdle ( photos of their work), the opportunity to set up their booth and sell their wares. The artist gets the chance to experience the show first hand, meet the clientele,  sense the atmosphere, and see the quality of the other artists in the show. On the flip side, it gives the jurying committee the chance to view the work the artists’ work in person.

I am pleased to report,  I did get into the Guild  and look forward to participating in future shows. This Guild has a sense of humor, and does things with style. They throw a wonderful catered opening night party with music,  gifts and awards. They have a sense of humor- evident, even in the guidelines they put forth for setting up your booth. They had me laughing when reading the absolutely dry material for complying with show rules- not an easy read.

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The Art of Taking an Art Workshop

There are so many wonderful Felting and Surface Design workshops available around the country as well as in Europe, that I never have a problem choosing one. This summer I might have overdone this luxury a little too much by choosing three in a 2 month period.

I chose two of these classes specifically for the teacher, the other class because of the subject matter. I was taking one five- day workshop in Surface Design with Jane Dunnewold, one three-day class in felting a garment with Charity Van der Meer, and another five-day class with Sachiko Kotaka, a co-inventor of the Nuno Felt process.

There is a lot of preparation and expense to participate in a workshop. There are travel plans to make, schedules to coordinate, supplies to buy and/or make, and packing it all up.

It can be a real hassle. Is it worth it? Well, that is a loaded question. There is the obvious answer, that I love learning new things, meeting fellow artists and crafters, seeing how others work and teach, and enjoying the camaraderie that follows by being in such a group.  However, the other side of the coin is I dislike taking workshops.

Why? I am embarrassed to say there are a lot of reasons, but the main one is the anxiety I experience while in these learning environments and pathetically, traveling to them.

I do not drive long distances, so making arrangements to get from the airport to the hotel and then to class everyday can be daunting. The last class I took, I forgot to follow up on making the arrangements to get from the airport to the hotel. I  had to call the host of the class at the last minute to find out what my options were- definitely embarrassing.

But the anxiety that I experience in the class is what really makes it hard for me . What’s it like for me?

STRESSFUL. I am always the one asking too many questions.  I usually need clarification, more than once. Instructions can be given so fast one can hardly write them down fast enough, let alone absorb what the teacher is saying. Taking good notes would help. But how do you  listen, absorb, and watch, all at the same time? It is a skill set with which I am not proficient.

I used to think it was just me who didn’t get it, but often it turns out 1/2 the people don’t understand what was said or demonstrated either. But they don’t ask questions, for one reason or another. Sometimes a few students go straight off to begin the task, but have to redo it because they actually misunderstood.  It’s like playing the game- telephone. By the time each person interprets what the teacher said, you have many permutations.  I figure it is best to ask again and again until I know what is trying to be communicated. I really want to understand.

I know how annoying I can be asking all these questions, so I often end up apologizing. But if I don’t understand what she is saying in the classroom,  I sure as hell won’t have a clue what to do at home. After all, my motivation for taking the class is to be able to repeat the project at home.

Now I realize there is an art to taking a workshop.  Merriam-Websters dictionary defines ‘art’ as a skill acquired by experience, study or observation.  We know that learning a new skill can be frustrating, challenging and often painful. This is what I am experiencing now, but hopefully with more practice I will find taking workshops easier.

Without seeking out new things to learn; my journey would not be as fulfilling.

I would love to hear about your workshop experiences.

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A wonderful first experience- Felting with children

I was so fortunate the other day to have had such a wonderful teaching experience.

I taught a How To Felt Class to a group of 14 of the most well behaved and wonderful home school children-ever. Their ages ranged from 4 -12. Even some their moms got down and wet.

The class was taught at  The Folk Art Center in Asheville NC. and is part of a new outreach program that The Southern Highland Guild is initiating in order to give Hands On Craft Workshops to school children and community groups.

The class started with showing the children a fleece from one of my own shetland sheep – Jordan.  I encouraged them to touch it and make observations about it. The words, oily,  soft and  fluffy were noted.  We moved around the tables to see some of my felted clothing and accessories again encouraging the kids to touch and feel the difference between the different  felts.  They noted there were differences in softness and hardness of the felt. A photo of a  felt covered nomadic dwelling was also included.

 

Next I showed them some options of what they could do with their finished piece, but this group will be coming up with their own great ideas, I am sure.

  

Now, on to the project. The tables were set up before the class with a bags of supplies for each student. They had 3 colors of merino wool in front of them . (They did get an opportunity to trade wool if they hated their colors.)

Next I demonstrated the first steps that we do. Everyone was so attentive, polite and eager to learn. We went step by step with demonstrations and tons of individual attention.

We dove right in and began to lay our first layer of wool, “wisp” (or so) by “wisp”. I wasn’t quite sure what the layers would look like, but it all worked just fine.

   

When most were finished with their first layer we moved onto our next layer of wool. I was very busy hopping from one child to the next helping them with their wool and pulls.

   

Everyone was thoroughly concentrating on the process and engrossed.

 

Next we moved on to wetting the wool.

   

Finally, the best was yet to come- adding our embellishments. I supplied many choices of yarns and some glitz, and we learned how to use “wool glue” to keep our decorations in place.  Now we were ready for the felting and fulling, but I seem not to have photos of that, sorry.

     

The class ran for about one and a half hours. We finished up with a great finale,  a bunch of Happy Campers and hopefully a new group of felters.

The class was fantastic! At the end, I admitted to the group it was my first time teaching kids to felt and thanked them for such a great experience. I told them they have given me the courage to do it again and LOOK FORWARD TO IT.

I want to thank Deb Schillo from the Guild for her invaluable assistance in the class in all ways, and thank the moms who participated and helped. I hoped everyone learned something. Who knows may be a new Felter has been born.

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Teaching and Being Taught – Art

As a young child I always created art -preferring to paint and draw rather than  join my friends at the mall. I loved copying Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Matisse.

As a college student I studied art, design and painting.  As an adult I found, not only did I have a desire to make art professionally but also to teach people,  young and old,  how to express and explore their own creativity through art making.  I strive to insure the students understand there are no mistakes in art. And to recognize that what they perceived to be a ‘mistake’ could actually be far better than what they intended.

I taught my first art classes to some of my neighbors’ children many years ago in my garage and have always wanted to do more of it. A couple years ago I made a proposal to a local preschool to teach a pilot art class once a week, and found that I still enjoyed teaching art, very much.

Preschool Artwork Exploring Textures

It was another 3 years before I got up the courage to teach adults.

I had studied felt making for a number of years by now and believed I had something worthwhile to share with others who wanted to learn the craft. I have taken many classes around the country with many teachers. Some much better than others. In my teaching,  I wanted to incorporate what worked for me and eliminate that which was not helpful.

What made a successful class for me was based on several different factors. Did I learn what I signed up to learn? Was the instructor organized and their instructions clear? Was the class well paced?  Did the teacher understand my questions and answer clearly? Were they patient and take the time to explain something in a different way if I wasn’t able to understand their explanation? Were there hand outs or reference materials I could take home? Were all the supplies there that were supposed to be ? Was the equipment in working order and were there enough supplies for everyone? Was the space pleasant to work in and did it function well?  Did the teacher have enough samples to show the class? These criteria are what I hold myself accountable to.

Surprisingly enough,  if I didn’t have ‘fun’ at the time,  I didn’t count that against the teacher.  I found that taking a week long workshop to learn a new skill can be quite stressful. Fun was a plus but not a requirement.

And this seems incongruent but, in the 5 hour class I teach at  Nice Threads Fiber Gallery and Studio in Black Mountain, North Carolina , called ‘Designing a Nuno Scarf”  I do  want people to have fun as well as learn new skills.

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So far,  the feedback I  have received has made me very happy. The comment made that I exceeded the students’ expectations really made my day.

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