SABRINA GSCHWANDTNER/MAD MUSEUM STUDIO EVENT
I first met Sabrina Gschwandtner at the Museum of Art & Design, where she acted as Artistic Consultant on the show “Radical Lace & Subversive Knitting”, (2007). She was sitting at a communal table, where she had created an interactive knitting circle that was a part of the exhibit. The focus was on the history of war-time knitting, but the peace at the table was palpable as visitors stopped, picked up needles and began to knit.
Prior to that day, I had become aware of her name via her magazine ” Knit/Knit” – a limited edition series of self-published periodicals that focused on unique fiber artists and their work. Profiled on the pages were men and women who used “traditional handcrafts”, often untraditionally, as a bridge to conceptual art, activism and social history. Their creative expressions helped me see my love of knitting in another light –- one that I could feel more than I could express. One that helped me understand, a bit better, my own obsession with yarn and needle craft and allowed me to feel included in another way. A book soon followed, “Knit/Knit: Profiles and Projects from Knitting’s New Wave” (Stewart Tabori & Chang, 2007), in which she presented an assortment of fiber artists and designs discovered through her years of involvement with the knit and art scene.
When she appeared at the store, in conjunction with the producer of Knitting Out Loud, (www.knittingoutloud.com), I asked her whether we could meet up, and she graciously agreed. Currently, she is appearing, every Thursday, as Artist in Residence at the Museum of Arts & Design (www.madmuseum.org). In their Open Studio Program, she is machine “quilting” l6 mm film strips – gleaned from F.I.T.’s textile department discard file. There she sits, sewing and answering questions from the public as she works, and it was there that I visited her and viewed her work in progress:
A BA in Film/Semiotics from Brown University and a MFA from Bard, along with work with accomplished artists, had given her strong educational credentials, but I was curious to know more about the atmosphere that had supported her explorations. So I asked. Sure enough, it started at home – in a creative haven in which her parents demonstrated the confidence and entrepreneurial stamina that encouraged their children to forge their own creative paths. Her mom taught her to knit as a young child, but it was while in college that knitting fever kicked in big time. A cozy atmosphere, the warmth of community and a break from serious academic study brought her to the comfort of knitting with friends and from that a small business grew. Her one of a kind crochet and knit garments began to sell, first to people, then to individual boutiques and, finally to large designer stores. Ultimately, however, her production work – as unique as it was – was not the road to creative satisfaction.
While riding her bike home one day, inspiration struck and she decided to combine her love of craft with her knowledge of art and artists – and “Knit/Knit” was the result. The first printing was done in a modest number and sold through unique book and retail stores, word of mouth and hand-out. That was enough to pique interest, however and by the 7th edition, a run of 25,000 sold out. Then came the book, in which 27 artists, all involved with fiber in some way, were profiled and, treasure beyond measure, provided patterns for a range of fascinating work and materials.
All along, she has continued to develop her own talent and curatorial skills. Her work has brought her attention and given rise to the best type of connections – those discovered through her passionate involvement as an artist and observer.. During our conversation last week, she spoke of “interactivity” as one of the watchwords of knitting. She talked, eloquently, about knitting as a conduit to reflection as well as an equalizing force between people – one that transcends borders and encourages individual expression in a particularly unique manner: “Knitting is one of the few artistic mediums in which the line between execution and design is quite thin.” In her view, this creates a path that is not easily found in other, less flexible, forms of art. The point rang true as I thought of my own tentative exploration into color and patterning, and the powerful effect I have seen on people’s confidence when they found their own unique “voice” in fiber.
I was curious to learn about some of the contemporary artists that she follows on a regular basis, and, along the way, I learned of her interest in Etsy, the online retailer. “Where you can buy and sell all things handmade”. (www.etsy.com). She recently served as on on-line guest curator for this site. You can check out her selections in the Storque section. I was also interested in her taste in blogs. Here are a few that she follows on a regular basis: http://stealthissweater.blogspot.com/, http://www.microrevolt.org/reblog/. Each of these blogs underscores a commitment to political expression through knitting – and each gave me, yet again, another lens through which to view Sabrina’s commitment to “craft” as a means of creative expression.
When speaking of the meeting a day or two later, with Pearl, I could still feel the effect of her quiet energy as I described my enjoyment of the meeting and my respect for her commitment to the work. After reading more of her profiles in the book, and viewing her recommended blogs, I found myself, once again, “reframing” my view of my own practical form of knitting. Ultimately, what more can any one ask of art and the artist?
Note: To keep up to date on Sabrina Gerschwandtner’s work and projects, you can find her via http://www.knitknit.net/sabrina and, currently, at www.madblog.org At the end of April, she will depart for Sweden where she will be appearing, in residency at the International Artists Studio Program during the months of May and June 2009 (http://www.iaspis.se/eng).
This summer she will be the featured speaker at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts (July, 2009) (http://www.haystack-mtn.org) and a teacher at the Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts, July, 2009 (www.arrowmont.org).