Five Questions American Craft Week Edition with Barbara Shapiro

Five Questions American Craft Week Edition with Barbara Shapiro

Wrapping Memory (2010) by Barbara Shapiro

Wrapping Memory (2010) by Barbara Shapiro; indigo dyed plaited cane indigo dyed gauze.

Yesterday we kicked off American Craft Week with an interview with woodturner Matt Moulthrop. Today we continue our Q & A series that features artists from across the country talking about the making and meaning of their craft with Barbara Shapiro, a textile artist from San Francisco, California.

Barbara is a weaver, dyer, and basket maker who works with and teaches indigo dyeing. She has devoted a great deal of time to the study of textile traditions, which in turn has informed her artistic approach to the creation of woven-silk textiles and plaited and coiled three-dimensional forms. She writes on contemporary textiles for national publications and exhibits widely. Her most recent book, a translation of Le Tissage Aux Cartons, can be found in the ACC Library. Le Tissage Aux Cartons, originally published in 1916, describes and categorizes many decorative motifs from Egyptian tombs, considers whether the patterns represent card woven bands and paintings, and provides instructions for creating many of the designs with card weaving.   

What do you make?
I am a weaver, dyer and basket maker. My work reflects a lifelong interest in traditional textiles and objects from many historic traditions and diverse cultures. As I have matured, I have learned to speak in a more personal voice about shared human emotions of loss and remembrance and also joy. Several threads link these series of objects, most notably the use of indigo dye across cultures and centuries. I have woven for more than 35 years and for the past 10 have made three dimensional textiles or art baskets. I dye paper, basketry materials, and also my woven cloth in this beautiful and universal color. I also teach indigo dyeing and elementary basketry.

What does craft mean to you?
Craft is a very rich word: a noun or a verb and part of a “well crafted” adjective. For me it is the hand made object fashioned with reverence, as my friend Claire Parks describes in Creating with Reverence. That special quality is shown in a respect for the materials and in the attention to technique which, when mastered, allows the artist to speak in a fluid and unique voice. I am drawn to objects where I can read the maker’s hand. It is interesting to me that in French the same word is used for loom as for profession, métier. The craft of weaving is linked to the work of a lifetime, and with that work comes some sense of purpose and of human continuity.

How did you first become engaged with craft?
I always made things, mostly textiles, although my academic pursuits led me to literature and especially French. My mother was an artist, a painter and later a sculptor, but I was drawn to threads. I started knitting so young that I cannot remember when, and made and taught puppetry in grammar school. I embroidered and knit my way into the 60s, but somehow I always knew I wanted to be a weaver like my mother’s dear friend Rose Tamler who still inspires me. The making of cloth remains magical to me. I built my first loom in the early 70s while my husband was in residency and I took weaving classes at the Brooklyn YWCA. Back in the Bay Area in 1976, and studying with Mary Black, I bought Alexander Calder’s sister’s handmade loom (terrible) and finally in 1980 got my Gilmore. I have never tired of studying, teaching and making textiles.

If you could master a new craft, what would it be?
I really enjoyed ceramics classes in the early 70s and love collecting them. Perhaps I would go that way again, but I think I have chosen my path and find that there are still so many things to explore and learn in textiles.

What craft events, organizations, or galleries in your region are you excited to share?
I am delighted to announce Four Weavers: Contemporary Expressions of an Ancient Craft, January 11 - March 10, 2013, featuring multi-dimensional, textiles by four contemporary artists: Candace Crockett, Ulla de Larios, Suki Russack, and Barbara Shapiro. This large exhibit [at the Petaluma Arts Center] will feature both my woven work and my baskets. On the other hand I regret the closing, after 30 years of great exhibits, of the San Francisco Museum of Craft and Folk Art where I have exhibited and served as a docent. A great loss. The Textile Arts Council of the Fine Arts Museums of SF has terrific events and outstanding and diverse monthly lectures. San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles is a dynamic and growing institution. Lacis Museum in Berkeley provides small rich exhibits and tools for the maker. Finally it’s not too soon to think about participating in the next Textile Society of America Symposium in Los Angeles in 2014.

American Craft Week takes place October 5-14, 2012. Read more American Craft Week interviews. Five Questions is a brief Q&A about books and craft, with people who love and use the American Craft Council Library