from the TSA/ A Pluralistic Approach to Fiber by Neil Goss PDF  | Print |  E-mail

          The 12th Biennial Textile Society of America Symposium in Lincoln, NE offered a pluralistic approach to fiber, fulfilling the desires of any textile enthusiast.  The conference was a chance to see what our counterparts, established and upcoming, have been researching, producing, and sustaining.  The speakers, workshop teachers, exhibiting artists, textile vendors and conference attendees were all working for and seeking the common goals of textile enlightenment, progression, and conversation.  This was my first time attending a TSA conference and it was much like walking through the line of the highest quality and most culturally pluralistic buffet known to restaurant-goers…wholly satisfying.  On the contrary, the provided food for the conference was not the highest quality.  However, despite the poor caliber of food the TSA members were fueled by pure adrenaline and passion for the occurrences of the symposium.  

Dye Workshop

Dye Workshop Louise Mackie, Dominique Cardon (from left) photo by Elena Phipps for TSA

            I attended the workshop Investigation of Natural Dyes: Reds and Purples, led by Dominique Cardon and Elena Phipps.  Both ladies are premier figures in the natural dye world and specifically with historical dyes.  It was an opportunity of a lifetime to be involved in this workshop.  In addition to Cardon and Phipps leading the workshop, in attendance was Sachio Yoshioka, Japanese master dyer.  There was a true powerhouse of knowledge being offered.  Every person in the workshop was fully interested and passionate about natural dyes and learning more about the detailed process, which led to a successful and fulfilling day.  The dyes that were used included three types of madder, two varieties of cochineal, safflower, Chinese “lithospernum,” India ratanjot, and two kinds of orchil.  It was truly a delectable smorgasbord for any natural dyer.  So much was covered in this workshop it would take months for an individual to properly prepare this array of dyes and processes.  

            Beyond the workshop, my days at the conference were filled networking with other fiber artists, professors, natural dyers, anthropologists, textile conservators, historians, publishers, editors, crafters and straight addicts.  Some my most productive conversations from the past year occurred at the conference.  Whenever this many fervent like-minded people get together, great transactions of thoughts, ideas and points of view can offered and culminate into a serious discussion.  Many great discussions were held in the room of the textile marketplace.  There were over 20 vendors selling textiles of all sorts from around the world.  Included were historical carpets and rugs, handmade scarves, hats and bags, fiber for weaving and knitting, materials for natural dying and anything else one could image or desire from the fiber world.  It was very difficult to not spend all of your money in the marketplace as every vendor offered something you would “want” or “need to have.”

Session:  Seeing Time in Blue by Rowland Ricketts

Session: Slow Art & Textile Practice;Seeing Time in Blue
Roland Ricketts
(Photo by Marci Rae McDade, editor of Fiberarts magazine)

Daily, this conference crew of around 250 fiber heads, were given the opportunity to attend 12 out of 40 offered papers a day for three days straight.  Most people snuck in and out of sessions to hear particular papers.  It was information and inspiration overload.  I basically just smiled and chuckled for three days because of how satisfied I was by the offered knowledge and research.  My favorite papers from the conference included Mattress Ticking and Feed Sacks: Making Something Out of Nothing on Plains Indian Reservations in the Late 19th Century by Tina Koeppe, Abetting the Handmade by Rebecca Stevens, Conversation with Nature by Kyoung Ae Cho, Seeing Time in Blue by Rowland Ricketts, and Sacred Yellow by Bina RaoThere were also some film presentations from which I saw the documentary Don Evaristo Borboa Casas: Master Weaver by Virginia Davis and Hillary Steel.  What touched me most was Rowland Ricketts paper.  He is what contemporary art should be.  His placing himself as one with the land, living with it as opposed to against it, is touching.  He turned his artwork into that of exposing his process as an indigo grower, and glorifying it.  Ephemeral works are made from the plant he grows, refusing the production of another pointless object.  You can only do so much in a day and you have to make yourself, family, and friends happy in addition to artistic production.  For Rowland he had to regulate his extravagant ideas for woven pieces, dyed fiber and object-based works due to as how he so elegantly put, “you have to pick your battles,” words that translate into any area or moment of life. 

Energy Harvesting Textiles: From Flat to Form Sheila Kennedy,

Plenary Session: Keynote Address: nergy Harvesting Textiles: From Flat to Form
Sheila Kennedy ((Photo by Marci Rae McDade, editor, Fiberarts magazine)

            The standout moment of the conference was the talk Energy Harvesting Textiles: From Flat to Form by Sheila Kennedy. Some projects Kennedy & Violich Architecture Ltd. are involved with are the Portable Light Project and the New York City East Ferry Project.  They are pushing boundaries in architecture by using fiber to create structures, curtains and items that amasses, provides and sustains energy while also working with nature to do so, as opposed to being a static box.  She talked about moving away from “box culture,” that of metal, plastic and mass-produced molds.  It was a pleasure to be in the presence of Sheila Kennedy.  Kennedy and her team encompass the lives of indigenous peoples and their primitive technologies and ways of life as well as the contemporary urbanites and their digital technologies while moderately blending the two with fiber to create a more sustained future and energy harvesting textiles with an architectural mindset. It was thrilling to see architecture being reconsidered having ancestral, ephemeral and natural processes dictate the structure, purpose, and efficiency. 


            Considering everything that occurred at this conference, it is hard to believe it transpired in the course of three to four days. There was enough shared information surging through the conference that it will take years to fully digest it all. This conference is an opportunity of a lifetime for any textile artist/enthusiast.  Personally, it felt like the whole conference was catering to my desires and passions as a fiber artist by offering information on Native American culture, natural dyeing, backstrap weaving, and contemporary fiber artists.  Then I thought about how many people I didn’t meet, how many papers I didn’t hear, how many exhibitions I didn’t see and realized…the conference was simply for anyone who loves fiber and textile processes.  It catered to the likings of any textile person.  The heart of the fiber world waits there for you, at the Textile Society of America’s Biennial Symposium. 


[photos provided by TSA and used with permission of the photographers] 

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