Surrounded by felters…

Seems like a year ago, but it was only a week ago that I was settling back in from my trip to MA, to Snow Farm where I taught garment construction to the felters.  I mentioned in a previous blog I felt like the only instructor not from the US? Milliner Jean Hicks was from Seattle, and Lisa Klakulak was from Asheville, NC, and Gail Crosman Moore was from MA, but many of the instructors came from great distances to bring an aesthetic to the conference that was fresh and inspired.  I left the conference at the mid-point, because I had finished my class, and I really needed to be home.  I longed to stay and play, but knew that after 5 conferences in a row, I had kids to get back in school, and a house to sort out, and business to attend to, and I needed to get on the road.  As fate would have it, the conference followed me, so to speak.

Liz Clay, renowned felter from the UK, chair of the IFA (International Feltmakers Association) needed a place to stay near NYC for a couple of days, so she could easily access public transport for some appointments she had, before returning to England Wednesday night.  After much logistical preparation, it was decided that Gail would drive Liz to my house late Sunday night after the conference concluded, since Gail lives another hour south of me.  A couple hours after I returned from Millbrook Village (yesterday’s post), I welcomed Liz to my home, where we had a cup of tea, and decided on a plan for the next three days.

I put Liz on a NJ Transit bus to NYC on Monday, where she poked around a number of shops in the garment district, some on my recommendation, like B&J fabrics, and NY Elegant, M&J trim, etc.  Others, like Paron Fabrics, Liz found from a recommendation from someone from the conference who sent a great link for a walking tour of the garment district. Paron apparently has an annex where you can get fabrics for half price.  And of course there is always a trip to Mood, of Project Runway fame.  Liz returned exhausted and loaded with bags of all kinds of silks to felt with.

On Tuesday, I decided to take advantage of Liz’s knowledge and connections, and accompany her to NYC.  resevoirI knew the routes, and the transit system, and she had a lot of ground to cover, even though I’ve seen many of the things that were on her list.  We left NJ early, and headed uptown to the west side of Central Park, on a subway, getting off at the 86th street entrance to the park.  I have only crossed at 81st street, in the past, because my destination is usually the MET.  The Cooper Hewitt Museum of Design is further north on the east side of the park, closer to 90th street, so it made sense to cross there.  We started on the road, and Liz said, let’s not walk on the road, lets go through the real park.  I had no park map, and fearful of getting lost in Central Park, I followed her.  She took a couple of instinctive turns and ended up on the pathway around the Jackie Onassis Reservoir, which was a spectacular body of water, full of joggers, walkers, baby carriages, and city life out for some R&R. We excited the park on the east side, right in front of the Cooper Hewitt.

We arrived at the Cooper Hewitt, way ahead of schedule, entering through the employee entrance,  we were to meet up with Susan Brown assistant curator of textiles for the Cooper Hewitt, who organized the Fashioning Felt exhibit, which I saw last spring.  Susan was gracious, and knowledgeable, and very excited about the show, the catalog, in its second printing should be available soon from  If I understood correctly, the catalog was one of the best sellers of any show at the Cooper Hewitt. She was also in negotiations  to have the exhibit travel to the west coast, she wouldn’t divulge the location!  Susan took time out of her day to give Liz and me a private tour of the exhibit, before it opened for the day.  It was great to view the exhibit again from the curator’s perspective, and I saw things I completely missed the first time around.  Janice Arnold’s yurt in the conservatory was of course, beautiful, but I got a better understanding of the installation complications with such a massive structure in a historical space.  As it turned out, Janice had just flown in on the Red-Eye from Seattle, to do something with a videographer, and we had tea with her as well.

Our next stop was a 10 block walk south to the MET.  The MET would take a month long vacation to see all of it, but there are a few grand spaces which are my favorites, where I take people who haven’t seen the museum at all, and the lunch in the basement cafeteria is one of my favorite places to eat in NYC.  So we grabbed lunch, and I took her up to the rooftop, spectacular views of Central Park, where there was a wonderful installation by American artist Roxy Paine. We left the roof, and wandered down to the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas.  This is one of my favorite departments, I love the primitive expressive quality of the work, and the simplicity of the forms.  I could spend hours in just this department bis-poles2alone.bispoles

Much to my complete surprise, an entire wing had been added onto the exhibition in the past year or two, that I had completely missed.  We spent a lot of time there and I learned about The Asmat Bis Poles, “The most spectacular sculptures of the Asmat people of southwest New Guinea, the ancestor poles known as bis.”  They were created as the vocal points of a memorial feast that honors individuals who have died recently and become ancestors.  Each figure on the poles represents and is named for a specific individual.  In the past, the poles also reminded  the living that the dead must be avenged.  In Asmat cosmology, death was always caused by an enemy, either directly in war or by malevolent magic.  Each death created an imbalance that had to be corrected through the death of an enemy.  So traditionally, a bis feast was held in conjunction with a headhunting raid.  Now a bis feast may be staged to alleviate a specific crisis or in connection with male initiation.” (Text summarized)

That would explain the very well endowed male figures!

We were allowed to take non flash photos, so Liz and I ran around with our little cameras, grabbing shots at whatever interested us.  I was totally taken with all the masks, the imagery, expressions, primitive interpretations of the human form, and in many cases, colorful sculptures, and playful characters.

oceania1oceania2oceania3oceania4oceania5oceania6oceania7oceania8oceania9I especially loved the woolly bear mask at the end.  The addition of stones, fur, ivory like materials, all added to the characters and their expressions.  I could see many of these masks as greeting cards with wicked sayings on the inside!  I’d love to know what the artist was thinking when they carved these creatures.  Especially the first photo of the male and female.

Liz and I ran through the Temple of Dendur, and the new Greek and Roman sculpture gardens, and then we set out for the 20 block trek to Julie Artisans Gallery.  Julie Dale has had this wearable art gallery on Madison Avenue for as long as I can remember.  Liz had some work there, and had an appointment to show Julie some of her new felted brooches, and scarves.  As we arrived, the gallery got very busy, so we waited for awhile before Julie could see us, which gave me lots of time to really study the work, the techniques, and watch a wearable art gallery in action.  I was blown away by how effortlessly someone spent a  thousand dollars on a  garment.  It has been many years since I did the craft fair circuit, and I have no reference point for fine American craft, especially in the textile world.  And I was really thrilled to see a venue like Julie’s survive in this very poor economic climate.  Julie selected a few of Liz’s floral brooches to try for the fall.

Liz and I hopped on an M-4 bus, and headed down 5th avenue, all the way to Penn Station.  We had an appointment to meet a boaclient of hers, or a potential client of hers, an absolutely charming woman, who, as she describes herself, works to feed her craft fair habit.  I instantly fell in love with her.  This woman had apparently traveled all the way to England to see a well known craft exhibition called “Origin” in London, the first two weekends in October, and had seen Liz’s work there.  We met up at the museum of FIT, a short walk from Penn Station, on 27th and 7th Avenue, where Liz got to see the Isabel Toledo exhibit, and the Fashion and Politics Exhibit.  We were quite exhausted at this point, so we were no longer absorbing anything we saw, but it was good to wander through the exhibits again, and share them with someone from the UK.

Afterward, the three of us went around the corner to a quiet pub, and had a beer.  It felt so good to just sit down, and relax, and Liz showed her client the work she had brought to show Julie Dale.  I haven’t done a craft fair since 1989, and it was fun to reminisce about the old days, the old shows like WBAI, and some of the key players in the textile arts.  And I was thrilled for Liz when her client purchased one of her ethereal felted scarves (pictured at the right, on Liz).  It was hard to see in a dark pub, but her client happily kept darting outside to see the colors in the sunlight.

Liz and I made the trek home, back to NJ,  just making the transit bus, and hitting virtually no traffic.  We were completely exhausted.  We raided the refrigerator for leftovers, had a feast, and fell happily in bed.

Tomorrow: felting with Liz!  (Can you see why I’m so exhausted?)


I love living near New York City.  I will admit, that for many years, I’m embarassed to say how many, I avoided going into the city, working myself into a state, finding all kinds of reasons why I was too busy, but in the last couple of years, I have discovered two very important things.

NYC is an amazing place and like anything in life, you just have to practice.

It is critical that I get out of my studio and see what’s happening in the world if I want to be a player in art or fashion.

So, my daughter and I boarded the bus this morning from the transit center which is 5 minutes from my house, and within 40 minutes, we were in Port Authority Bus Terminal in mid-town Manhattan.  $12. round trip, you can’t beat it. The trip is usually faster but there was a particularly large amount of traffic this morning, summer tourism I’m thinking…

First stop, Columbus Circle via the C train, uptown, express.  The new digs for the Museum of Art and Design (MAD Museum) are just gorgeous.  They have space, their exhibits are classy and interesting, and they have a fantastic permanent collection of fine craft.  The exhibit we wanted to catch is leaving July 5, so we made that a priority.  The exhibit was titled Elegant Armor: The Art of Jewelry, featuring innovative pieces from the permanent collection, dating from 1940’s to the present.  Fortunately the website has a great selection of images from the show.  And I was thrilled to see a couple of pieces from craftsmen I use to exhibit with when I did craft fairs in the 1980’s, like Tom Mann, and Bob and Loes Pfuelb and Arline Fisch, yep, that Arline Fisch who wrote the book Textile Techniques in Metal.  We really loved this exhibit, and there were drawers full of additional pieces we didn’t have time to open.  I would have loved to have gone back, spent the day with a sketch book, so I’ll do the next best thing, I already have my order ready to go on Amazon for the catalog.  The pictures are gorgeous.

We left Columbus Circle, continuing uptown on the C train local, and got out in front of the Museum of Natural History at 82nd Street.  My intent was to find the entrance to Central Park, and walk across the park to the MET, but there was a huge sign hanging outside the American Museum of Natural History that said Extreme Mammals and Bri turned to me and said, “Oh Mommy, I really want to see this…”  So in we went.  This is a real kids museum, they have all the great dinosaur skeletons, and the place was packed.  The exhibit cost extra, in addition to the entrance price, but it was a really terrific exhibit, Bri was so thrilled, she suprised me at how much she knew about living and extinct mammals and marsupials, and said, “You know, I’m thinking I really need to go into a career that involves animals.  I work in a kennel, I am fascinated by all aspects of animals, and I think I need to go to school and become a zoo vet.”  Bri is at that age (16) where she will need to come up with some kind of direction for college, within the next year, which is so ridiculous, but her skills are all over the place, and she is having so much trouble focusing on any one thing.  As it should be.  Last year it was Biomedical Engineering, and two years ago, it was Jet Propulsion Engines.  Meanwhile, she sat in my studio the other night making Temari balls…

So, we left the Natural History Museum, and walked across Central Park, the weather was perfect for a summer day, not too hot, and we came out the other side of the park, and into the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  My most metfavorite place in the world.  I could easily live in that museum.  Since it was well after lunch, we grabbed lunch in the basement cafeteria, one of my favorite places to eat in NYC, the food is great, and reasonable for NY, and then we went up to the second floor to see the Exhibit, The Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion.  “This exhibit focuses on iconic models of the 20th century and their roles in projecting, and sometimes inspiring, the fashion of their respective eras.”  The exhibit runs through August 9, so there is still time if you are planning a trip to NYC, and I will say it was a blast back in time, following fashion and those famous faces we all remember, through the 50’s, 60’s, (remember Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton), 70’s and the supermodels of today.  This photograph by Alex Hills is from the MET website, there are all kinds of images of the exhibit including ones “behind the scenes”.  It is so frustrating not to be able to take photos in any of these exhibits, but fortunately they are all just a click away!

Weather permitting, I always take a quick ride up to the roof of the MET whenever I’m visiting, there is always some wonderful installation, and the views of Central Park and Manhattan are the best around.  Roxy Paine, an American artist, created a 130 foot long stainless steel sculpture for the museum’s roof, called Maelstrom.  It is pretty amazing.  Here are a couple of shots, the first is one with my daughter Bri.

rooftop2rooftop1We left the MET and headed downtown on the M4 bus, which picks you up right in front of the MET.  It heads all the way down 5th Avenue, past all the grand windows of the best stores in the world, to Penn Station at 34th Street.  We got out there, and walked down to the Museum at FIT, I can’t say enough about this museum, which is totally free, they have the best fashion exhibits anywhere, and an unbelievable textile collection.  The latest exhibit, in their spacious basement gallery, is Isabel Toledo, Fashion from the Inside Out.  This exhibit runs until September 26.  Opening next week, in addition to this show, is one called Fashion and Politics.  I’ll just have to go back later in the summer to see that one as well.  But I wanted to see the Isabel Toledo exhibit, and I will say, I am on sensory overload.  OMG!  I felt like I did when I saw the Ralph Rucci exhibit there a couple of years ago.  Who knew anything about this designer?  Remember Michelle Obama’s lemon grass dress and coat toledocombination she wore at the inauguration?  It was designed by Isabel Toledo.  Mostly Isabel makes her garments from basic shapes that fall over the body in the most amazing ways.  There are a few of her garments pictured in the press release for the show.  The catalog for that show is already on pre-order through Amazon in my little shopping cart…  What I loved about this show, besides how close you could get to the garments and how well it was lit, was the little illustrations below many of the garments that showed the actual layout when the garment sections were flattened.  Origami is just the beginning. Like this apron dress from her 1997 collection in silk chiffon.

We left the museum at FIT, and headed for the long walk uptown to the Port Authority.  The skies were getting very dark, and the wind was picking up, blowing grit in our eyes, and it was definitely looking like a major summer thunderstorm was brewing.  We walked as fast as we could through the rush hour crowd, and made it to the door of the Port Authority just seconds before the skies opened up.  We boarded the bus the second we got to the platform, no waiting, and off we headed back to NJ.  When the bus exited the building, we were hit with torrential rains, all the way to NJ.  When we arrived back at the transit center to pick up the car, the rains stopped, miraculously!

woolRemember my wool cooking in the crock pot yesterday?  Before I left for the city this morning, I carefully rinsed it, a beautiful shade of burgundy, and laid it out in the sun to dry on the back balcony.  Silly me.  I forgot to check if there were any thunderstorms predicted…  So when I got home, there was my completely drenched wool, so I went to plan B, and I used the rack in my dryer to dry the wool out.  I have more wool cooking, this time a lovely navy blue.

Tomorrow, a trip to the Allentown Art Museum…