Let me say immediately that “Journeys” was not made in an effort to come up with a piece that would sell for $20. But it is the most expensive piece I have ever made. It is in the collection of the Renwick Gallery of the American Art Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. It’s existence came about under an odd and wonderful set of circumstances.Here’s the story. I was talking with Ken Trapp, who was then the director of the Renwick Gallery in Washington D.C. We had met a few times and he was familiar with my work and had said that the Renwick would like to have a piece in their collection. As we were chatting, Doug Ring, a wonderful man and generous collector, joined us and asked Ken what was coming up at the Gallery. Ken said that it would be a textile show and Doug asked if I were to be in it. No, said Ken, but they very much wanted a piece of mine in the collection to which Ken said, “Well, have her make a piece and send me the bill.” Voilà. Definitely a number 9. I was in the right place at the right time.Actually, quite a few reasons on the list came into play.
- Materials, not so much. The materials for this piece probably topped out at $250 and had no apparent intrinsic value.
- Size, yes. The shelf is about 7′ long. I wanted to have a physical presence in the Gallery and size is a good way to address that.
- Number, yes. I suppose I could have made one big basket, but variety was important to the concept of the piece, as if each of these baskets was brought back from a separate journey.
- Medium. No options here, except those within my established vocabulary of textile techniques.
- Reputation. I was known to both the director of the Gallery and to the collector who owned my work. My reputation was important to both of them.
- Social currency. This happened before social media. But I had been written about and was in other museum collections and so had a certain social presence.
- Rarity. Time consuming construction techniques assure a certain rarity. That can be a curse or a blessing.
- Representation. In this case, both men were “representatives”. Each, in his own way, was advocating for my work to the other.
- Timing. Totally amazing.
- Magic. Not really a player in this case since the piece didn’t even exist yet. You can neither predict nor enforce magic.
Worth, value, price. They are really different concepts but they overlap in both the maker’s mind and the viewer’s mind. Of course, the bottom line, and perhaps number 11 on the list, is “Make the best work you possibly can.” Always.The absolute best right place/right time story? When my now husband and I walked through the door of a gallery at the same time and started chatting. Ten seconds earlier or later, and we probably wouldn’t have met. That was 36 years ago.
When the Haystack Board first discussed the addition of the fab lab on campus several years ago, I wasn’t sure it was such a good idea. I was committed to the the handling of materials to make objects in such a way that it did not allow for the intervention of a tool as abstract as a 3-D printer or a laser cutter. I wasn’t quite pulled along, kicking and screaming, but I grumbled mightily.
Well, I was wrong. The fab lab has been an extraordinary addition to the classes here. It is seen as an auxiliary service. There are no fab lab stand-alone classes. Any student is welcome to take a problem to the lab and work with the technicians to see if there is a solution possible. Kindle took a form she had created from two pieces of paper stitched together and Helga and Margaret interpreted it through software for the laser cutter to understand. The technicians love the challenge and the students are opened up to new possibilities for their work. It is an effective link to the future of craft and fits into the commitment Haystack has to being a research facility in craft as well as an educational institution. Very cool. The byword today was “persevere “. One of the most impressive qualities shown by every one of these students is her commitment to keep pushing, refining and reworking. They keep going. That’s something you can’t really teach because no one truly believes you. There is a tendency to think that there is a secret or a magic formula that makes an admired artwork look easy or inevitable. Every excellent artist I know has worked with discipline and commitment over time, sometimes kicking and screaming, but persevering nonetheless.
We had a heatwave today. Hottest and most humid day in a very warm session. We were all moving slowly. Even the lobster hood ornament on the campus truck was slow. But the studios hummed along nonetheless.
The byword for today is actually the byword for the entire session. “Trust the process.” If nothing else changes for the students when they leave, if they learn to trust what they are doing, there they will be transformed. If they begin and continue…it sounds so simple…they will succeed. Perhaps not immediately or even very soon, but the process will take them somewhere. One has to believe that. It is the natural thing to try to think our way through. We sit at the desk, looking at the materials in front of us, trying to decide which to use, using which techniques. Thinking tells us very little. But handling the materials, manipulating them into a form, adding and subtracting and selecting and continuing tells us much. It makes all the difference. Tomorrow is the last full day in the studios. I’m excited about what the students in the class are doing because they really do exhibit a commitment to beginning and continuing, to trusting the process. I’ll try to post some images.