Guest series :: Fiber Art for Families and the Nomadic Studio Life

by contributor on May 5, 2012

in Art+Design, Fibre+Needlework, Guest series 2012

Guest series 2012: I asked fellow bloggers, makers and creators to write on their creativity and focus their essay on one of four topics: creativity and health, creativity and business, creativity and parenting or creativity and process. I am very excited to have a wonderful lot of fellow creative folk guest posting here at whipup.net over the next couple of months. Please welcome…

Environmental fiber artist and writer, Abigail Doan, divides her time between NYC, Eastern Europe, and rural Italy. Her work as a fiber artist offers a unique view into the materials, methods, and the life cycle of contemporary textiles, slow fashion garments, and related environmental issues. Abigail started her blog,Ecco*Eco as a forum for sharing ideas and projects related to ‘fashioning self and the environment’. She also keeps a visual journal at Lost in Fiber and recommends reading: BROODWORK Creative Practice and Family Life.

Fiber Flotsam 01 made out of recycled fiber and hand-dyed wool by Abigail Doan (2012)

As a mother of four year old twin boys and the next year mapped out for living in Eastern Europe, my studio practice is all about twining together materials and methods that make the most sense for my nomadic lifestyle and the complex textures of life on the road. As artists and makers we are often nostalgic for chapters in our lives when we might have had more time to create in silence and with total cohesiveness. Having children, particularly preschoolers, is both humbling and uplifting as one attempts to find a new path into studio practice and the focus required for crafting something meaningful and of genuine value.

I grew up on a small family farm in New York State’s Hudson River Valley, and I did not travel to Europe for the first time until after graduation from high school. I never would have guessed that I would marry a European, or rather an American with roots in a far off land like Bulgaria, but true love coupled with true adventure, was ultimately the destiny that was charted out for me. As an environmental fiber artist, all of these things make perfect sense to me now – particularly since my day-to-day life in Eastern Europe feels a lot more like my rural upbringing than life in bustling NYC does. I love that my children are currently immersed in a culture that celebrates local handcraft, village communities, as well as the foods and customs of a vibrant place. Even though we live in Bulgaria’s capital city of Sofia, it is very easy for us to be up on the mountain hiking within thirty minutes or driving to neighboring countries like Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Turkey, etc. within the span of just a few hours.

Photo of a color study drawn by my twin boys – based on regional textiles in my home studio

Several years ago I decided that I might be more effective (at peace) as an artist if I let go of the idea of working in a designated studio day in and day out, and instead set up an annual calendar of site-specific projects and outreach initiatives that allowed me to work organically with my surroundings. As part of this new strategy, I began working more with fiber, as it is a material that allows considerable flexibility in terms of transport and rather packable options for site-specific installations. Fiber, as a medium, also provides low-impact design solutions, particularly when paired with recycled materials and local landscape elements. I also love that my work, as someone who also writes about eco-textiles, artisan-based initiatives, and the slow fashion movement, allows me to create a home environment that is constantly evolving with the displayed objects that I am currently researching or interpreting.

‘Femme Maison’ collage with knotted wool, paper cut-out and pins by Abigail Doan (after Louise Bourgeois)

My home in Sofia, Bulgaria, is pretty much arranged in an open plan where constant interaction with my family and friends is encouraged. It is a common phenomenon for homes in Eastern Europe to have rooms that are multi-purpose, that is, a dining room, living room, or personal study easily and efficiently transforms into a bedroom for several people come nightfall.

My view in Sofia with fiber forms for Vogue Knitting Live in progress (January, 2012)

I also try to make good use of terrace space for growing small plants, herbs, and outdoor projects that overlap with evolving fiber projects that I need to “aerate” a bit before finalizing. Every day includes time spent gazing at Sofia’s Mount Vitosha while I hang clothes out to dry adjacent to neighboring porches draped with woven kilims basking in the sun and vines creeping over garden trellises.

Collaborative work space at the end of the day includes fiber forms in progress and drawings by the twins

My sculptural fiber forms and still life arrangements often migrate from room to room in a dialogue with my children’s play activities as they, too, draw and create objects with materials that we collectively recycle in the home or find on the streets. I generally make a point of documenting my work process and their creative expressions on a regular basis, as I feel that this informs my own work in dynamic and unexpected ways. Early mornings or late evenings are reserved for writing and more delicate assemblage projects – at least until my boys begin kindergarten full-time.

The beauty of all of this integrated home/art/parenting is the fact that my process has become so much more resourceful in the process. Life with children has taught me a lot about what it truly means to be fresh and creative with both materials and time management. Editing is now a big part of my day, my night, and my hands-on work. There is a certain clarity that comes from making things work in the time and space that one has available. Every parent feels as if they are perhaps re-inventing the wheel, but this a good thing when it comes to crafting a purposeful and believable genius of place.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Charlene May 5, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Very inspiring and gorgeous photos, Abigail! Thanks for sharing. It’s encouraging to see the different ways individuals can craft a creative life. Hope to meet up in NYC or Sofia or London before long.

2 Leslie Pontz October 10, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Dear Abigail, We have shown together in the United States and I was surfing around looking for fiber art blogs and found yours. It was fun to read and the photos are beautiful. Just thought I would say hello. Leslie

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