Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Wonderful Week at a Wiawaka Workshop with Polly Stirling and Sylvia Watt.

This has been an outstanding year for felt workshop offerings. There were so many opportunities to learn from some of the top feltmakers from overseas; it was a major decision to pick one or two (or three!) since I have limited funds. To make it harder this is the year of the Felters' Fling. Before the teachers for the Fling were announced, the opportunity to take a workshop with Polly Stirling and Sylvia Watt came up. I really wanted to meet Polly since she is the last sister in the Blakney Clan that I had not met. (I love this family, especially Robin Blakney-Carlson.) Polly lives in Australia and I had heard that this might be her last trip to America to teach. Polly is one of the pioneers of nuno feltmaking. For me she is one of the legendary feltmakers that I hope to one day learn from. The offering was for a week long retreat in July at Wiawaka on Lake George learning natural and 'eco' dyeing from Polly and assemblage with Sylvia.
Wiawaka is a very special place. It was started in 1903 as a retreat for the female textile workers in Troy NY and has remained a retreat for women. Guests are encouraged to 'disconnect' from daily life, limit use of cell phones and computers, and to fully engage in their program and surroundings. And the surroundings are beautiful....
This was a nice spot to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee early in the morning.


The boat house, dock, and a swimming area.

 One of the passing ferries.

I loved the architecture of the Wakonda Lodge. 
I took quite a few 'artsy' photos as well.

I was going to say that the weather was fantastic but looking at the photos I remember that it was not always so...

we got a bit of rain...
and a bit of wind (that created some impressive waves).

But when you are with friends and having a wonderful time the weather does not seem to matter so much.

I spent the first half of the week in Polly's class doing eco printing and natural dyeing. I had taken a class in eco dyeing with India Flint back in 2010 and had done a lot of it on my own but each teacher brings new information and techniques and I learned a lot and really enjoyed it. I loved seeing the dye-work that Polly does and how she uses it in garments.

And the results from the class were surprisingly different from what was achieved in India's class.

My excitement for this type of dyeing was renewed enough that I did a bit more at home. This time I was experimenting more with using different mordants before and after the dyeing.

The second half of the week was spent in Sylvia's class. The subject of this class was also something that I had been doing on my own, in fact my work has been moving in the direction of being more abstract though the use of fabric collage with stitch and beading. But what I gained by taking this class is incredible and went way beyond just new ideas about felt. A few of us left with the feeling that having this time with Sylvia was like a though she came into our lives and said just what we needed to hear most at that moment. She gave me such a boost; a new confidence in myself and my art. As well as being a very talented artist she is a psychiatric nurse who runs an art therapy program (Australia seems to be very supportive of mental health) and her experience and her caring nature was a prominent part of what made this class so special. She also shared many philosophies and tips about nurturing the artist within each of us. Here are some examples of her work that she brought to show and of the class.

One thing that was totally new to me was cutting up old felts to create new pieces. I have to admit that I felt a bit of trepidation making my first cut into a 'not quite finished' landscape. Before I took this plunge I created a piece that was more like the fabric collage work I had been doing.

And here is the piece that incorporated some old felts. I am really pleased with it.

On our last night there we were treated to a beautiful sunset.

It was sad to have our time come to an end and to say goodbye to some very special friends. Here I am saying goodbye to my friend Tylar Merrill from Eugene Oregon,  who spent an extra day or two with me so we could have a chance to play.

For me feltmaking involves not only bonding fibers but hearts as well. The feltmaking community is the best!