Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Weaving Community Through Collaborative Eco-Art

Typically, there are two kinds of craft books:  coffee table books with gorgeous photographs of objects and how-to books that focus on teaching process.  There is a rare third kind of craft book that is philosophical and has an enduring influence on the craft community's motivation and inspiration.  Soetsu Yanagi's The Unknown Craftsman springs to my mind as an example of this third variety.  A new book, released this month by New Society Publishers in British Columbia successfully straddles the how-to and philosophical.

Sharon Kallis, Common Threads, Weaving Community Through Collaborative Eco-Art, provides a satisfying portion of how-to information with black and white photographs with a generous dollop of why illustrated by colour images.  Look at that subtitle!  The community aspect of craft is more important than ever.  After all, stitching, knitting, weaving, etc have all been practiced for centuries.  So, why do we need another how-to book in this genre?  Craft has struggled for contemporary relevance ever since it outgrew the back to the land movement of the 1930s and the social efforts of William Morris (1834-1896) before that.  The DIY generation gave us new hope but, like the easy access of how-to information on the Internet, challenged the professionalism of elite, studio craft. Sharon Kallis shows us in practical terms why we still need craft and what is to be gained by situating craft within a politics of inclusion.

The remarkable Sharon Kallis.

The author's tone is never lecturing but she does pepper her text with facts that are persuasive – such as, it takes 713 gallons of water to produce a cotton t-shirt– and support her views on sustainability, seed saving, knowledge and skills banks.  I enjoyed the presence of other voices, too that are provided by highlighted quotes:

Everybody has to eat and everybody has to wear clothing, so it is a very common language. The language of food and the language of textiles…suddenly people realize it is culturally important, it is historically important…it connects you more deeply to those roots…you can bring it forward and become more community spirited.  (excerpted from a quote by Karen Barnaby on page 123)

I never get tired of looking at The Ivy Boat.

The actions of Sharon Kallis speak most loudly and that is how I first came to know her.  She was harvesting invasive species - English Ivy– in Vancouver's Stanley Park, with shears and a team of community volunteers.  With patience, they dried the ivy and eventually wove objects both humble and majestic, small and large. Hand held baskets, wreaths and even life-sized canoes.  These community made crafts became public sculpture that gently bio-degraded like echoes on the wind.  I would always remember Kallis and years later it is great to see this book come off the presses.  With the generosity of New Society Publishers, I have been able to gift a few copies strategically to art and craft schools and influential makers.  Long live eco-art. 

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