Heads Up… Millstone Institute for Folk Arts is hosting my next Workshop – a wonderful, historical location for this fun technique. More below.
A little history: Millstone is where I got started, waaay back with my 1st two lambs, Bambi and Filene. Bambi was a real “character”, butting heads, trees, and finally, me. He didn’t last too long after that. Filene became “Head Ewe” of the flock she great-great-grand-mothered through several generations.
I joined the guild, meeting every Spring Farm Days at the “Jr. Museum” for the annual sheering and “Sheep To Shawl” demos. Jesse Conrad brought Millstone’s ambience, knowledge, and skills to show me how it was all done. The shearer “Otis” sheared not only the Museum’s sheep, but truckloads of local farmers’ sheep that were shipped in for the event. We, the spinners and weavers, would roll out the fleeces on a long table, “skirt” the dirty tags off, and roll them up from neck to end, exposing the inner side out with rich, textured crimp of the fiber, moist with lanolin. Each spinner spun yarns, which were transferred to the loom and woven into a full length shawl. We’d all take turns, completing the process in 2 days. The 100% handspun/handwoven shawl was auctioned off at the end of the day. A great way to learn the process– I continued with other festivals’ sheep-to-shawl activities, often as contests, awarding the spinner or weaver who did the most. It was fun!
Back to Millstone. Jesse’s studio has been preserved and the original old house is being restored. Not just any old plantation on a hill, there’s a special aura with its heritage oaks, flock of sheep and alpacas, bees, garden, all overlooking beautiful Lake McBride. Millstone is developing a series of folkart workshops in wood, clay, metal, and fiber. I’m looking forward to seeing you there.
February 23 & 24, 2019
Saturday: 10am – 4pm ~ Sunday: 1pm – 4pm
$ 150 includes frame kit (yours to keep) and lunch.
6500 Old Millstone Plantation Rd, Tallahassee, FL 32312
(from Hwy. 319/Thomasville Rd.)
Preparing for a show seems to take more time than actually being there. Most of what I carry with me are props. My fiber inventory can fit into two armsized bundles, but the rest is everything needed to hold them up. When I started, waaay back in the late ’70s, my first show was in St. Augustine. This was during the “craft explosion” when artists began exhibiting in the streets, not having to wait to get curated into a gallery. It was a colorful, lively, free-for-all and the movement spread across the country. At that first show, I had no booth. I spread out a tarp and laid everything on the ground. One of the judges came by and said, “well, you have some nice work, but you gotta get a booth.” Thinking back, it was nice of him to comment. Many judges today are here and gone without notice, signifying their visit only by a tiny colored dot on your sign. But that li’l exchange started me on my way.
In 1980, two of my “mainstays” gave me a base to build my craft, my display, and learn the business of taking my art on the road. The Florida Folklife Festival (White Springs) and the Great Gulf Coast Arts Festival (Pensacola) are good examples of how the nature of the show grew with the wide variety of artisans that populated them. Throughout the ’80’s, this “colorful, lively free-for-all” that was an art show reflected alot of styles, handmade booths with colorful tops, and paintings and craftwork spilling out into the aisles. There was no uniformity, and many shows reflected a particular theme.
One was the large Renaissance Festival held at the Ringling Museum grounds in Sarasota. At that show booths were expected to be of either “rustic” or maybe “rococo” design. The rustic ones, like mine, were often built from wood, bamboo poles, or maybe haybales. And at that show were outrageous costumes, sumptuous foods, energetic games, colorful banners on every post, and lots of animals. I took my dog, who parked himself in the aisle in front of my booth, stopping all the ladies who ooh’d and ahh’d over him, then came in to see my weavings. My paper-mache manikin, “Minerva”, was dressed in flowing wraps and scarves. I remember a parade of costumed “gentry”, walking their hounds, knights on horseback throwing spears or playing chess, and maybe a few geese and sheep for some of the demos. I included my spinning wheel and could spin up lots of yarn during that show. My handmade booth was a wooden one I shaped like a hexagon with an arched top. The arch was made of two crossing arcs cut from plywood, which attached to 6 sidewalls & held the whole thing up. It was a chore to set up (let alone carry on top of the car), and when the wind blew, with all my weavings fluttering from the sides- BoHo style, the whole thing creaked like an old boat. I liked that; it added sound to all the visuals. This show had much to attract festival goers and they formed long lines at the front gates, then paraded by, or through, the gigantic banyan trees, or pulled up in their boats at the back docks. All the museum/theater/circus/ and mansion buildings were open. Open for grand times, and grand art!
Back in the day, back before state parks dis-allowed open fires, my first heritage demos at the folk festival involved making dyes. I’d start a fire, string a clothesline between trees, gather lots of pots, natural dye plants, and buckets of water and spend the entire weekend dyeing skeins of yarns. They made a colorful display hanging from the trees and below the branches, I rested in my hammock. People were full of curiosity, questions, and some wanted to help. I’d also set up the spinning wheel, and with non-stop music from the nearby stage, I spun my wool, using my “instrument” to jam with the musicians. Visitors not only signed my guest book, but drew pictures across the pages, wrote me notes, or said “hi” to previous names they recognized. To add to this lively space, costumed story-tellers, wandering minstrels and jugglers, and hawkers of watermelon or ice cream would come share their own anecdotes. Those were fun shows!
Nowadays, shows are much more regulated and more focused, from large events with national producers to local shows by a small town art club. Northern shows may involve a different preparation than southern shows. But booths began to reflect more uniformity and eventually, the “norm” of a white tent changed to an obligation. The “booth shot” for a jury must reflect a compatible look for their event. Street shows and parks offer varied settings and may entail an interesting ground surface (bricks or moss?), or backdrop (fencing? pillars?), or a nice tree to frame the shot.
I once had a sprawly crepe myrtle tree within my booth space, which served as a good prop for some shawls. But generally, there’s no more spilling into the aisles, no more spreading from your 10 ft. space into your neighbor’s space, and definitely no fires. But before I got my tent, I built another booth. This one was white pvc. When I leaned on it, it still creaked like an old boat.
Even with a more refined and defined display, there’s much more to setting up than “ready, set, go”. Some artists may have their work laid out in pre-set displays with backdrops of only a poster and some curtains. Others – the ones with heavy art works or large paintings, must set up strong metal frames and high canopies. Some, like me, have a myriad of small parts that seem to fall into a different place at every show- adding confusion, time, and thoughts of “how-did-THAT-get-HERE!” The demos involve more equipment and supplies and the van is packed to the roof. Sometimes, parking near the booth site is not possible and every piece must be dollied, possibly over rough ground or even mud (once – through ankle-deep water). Setting up the whole thing usually takes me three hours. I stayed with those first two shows, the GGAF and the Folklife festival for 33 years, since both allowed me to continue to demonstrate. I’m still with the GGAF, (at this writing, 38 years) and still hauling all the props, equipment, fleeces, mannequin or stands, banners, easels, signs, baskets, floor mats, canopy braces, tent and booth weights … it’s been an interesting ride.
Ivy, the lamb, has found a place in my classroom demos. Since I’m a fiber artist, I often introduce myself by way of loading up all the weaving equipment and taking it to show students what I do. Starting with raw wool, it’s processed through carding, dyeing, spinning, and weaving. Often, the kids get hands-on experience by trying the loom and petting and feeding Ivy. Touching her wool, which is soft with natural lanolin, is a perfect way to present “texture”, one of my key concepts in many of the art activities.
Awhile back I started writing about the fiber process
from the sheep’s perspective. Do they wonder why their wool is taken and what happens to it? At the time, SnoBelle, a real lamb, inspired the first chapters of YarnTalk. SnoBelle got her name because she was born in a dark woods late in the night, and in the process of helping her mother, I could hardly see beyond black trees and thick black undergrowth . But the flashlight picked out the new lamb, which shown wet and bright in the darkness, white as snow. From the start, SnoBelle was an adventurer. She grew up to become Ivy’s grandmother.
Ivy is not fond of traveling, but once we arrive at our destination, she’s all for exploring and visiting with anyone who offers her a handout.I didn’t always have a lamb available that was small enough to fit in the car, or friendly or cooperative enough for visits. Ivy, actually two-yrs. old now, turned out to be a dwarf, and a bottlebaby. A neighbor helped feed her, familiarizing her with strangers and many dogs. At school, I give each student a small handful of grain, so that Ivy will go to each one as they sit in a circle and eat out of their hand. It tickles and the kids laugh. (It seems sheep will do anything for grain. Walking into one new classroom, she once made a beeline for the empty hamster cage, and devoured the leftover grain before I could pull her away. ) Hence the sheep’s #1 rule in the stories: “EAT food! ALOT.” Surprising even to me, Ivy follows on a leash and I found that while I’m talking to the class, she doesn’t need to be held and will just hang around and watch. See her in the photo, behind the spinning wheel. Most of our trips are an hour or two visiting a single class, but at one school, she was “on the job” the entire day, interacting with several classes while 200 kids waited in line to pet her. Ivy is a trooper and just as curious and independent as SnoBelle is in the stories.
For school visits, camps or private groups/birthdays, if you’re in the Tally area and would like a visit from Ivy, contact me for more info. You may also see more photos and art activities listed on my pages, “YarnTalk“, “School Presentations“, and “Dyed ‘N Wool Art Activities“.