At this dark time of year I’ve been sorting and purging old files; as the paper documents, computer files and photographs pass through my hands, they trigger many reflections on the recent past. One of the things the came through my fingers was a transcript of my conversational interview with Paula Jardine for Common Threads. Paula is an artist friend for whom I have great admiration for her community arts practice; and in the interview, she likens being a community based artist to being a community service provider — someone who listens to the community, and has creative responses to what they witness the community needing.
I had forgotten Paula’s comment about artists as service providers, but I had been thinking lots about what classes EartHand needs to offer to our community in the coming year — what follows logically from what we have done, what skills seem the next steps on the various tangents we have collectively been traveling along. When I came across my notes from my conversation with Paula, I realized that nurturing a community of people from different backgrounds to grow together, learning new skills and tangible understandings, is the service that I provide to my community.
Finding engaging ways to get folks weaving and drop spindling… gateways to textile addictions!
My own development as a skill holder is directly linked back to those that have shared with me their skills, or have been a part of awakening the knowledge in the ‘processing epiphanies’ that occur when we gather together to experiment and learn. I am honoured to work closely with others in all of this; Rebecca Graham and I have grown to work so easily together that I now understand the old expression of someone being the right hand of another. Relationships are at the core of what we do; and for me personally, many strong friendships have grown from working with our board of directors, co-lead artists, community volunteers and workshop registrants. I have also observed several strong friendships emerge from the EartHand groups that gather with regularity.
What an amazing community we have formed!
This time 5 years ago, 5 volunteer board members and I started meeting to organize EartHand Gleaners and legally register it as a non profit society by the spring of 2013. Since then we have had radical growth each year; and before re-reading Paula’s interview, I had been mulling over this most recent year — which has been our biggest growth spurt yet — and thinking about my role in the organization as a founder, and about my own independent — yet integrated — art practice based on studio work and personal skill development in a mostly textile based discipline.
Not surprising that the personal work still so closely relates back to EartHand’s roots and current projects
first woven linen grown by Rebecca, spun and woven by me… and help warping from weaver friends!
A key moment of pride for me in 2017 was being able to hire several individuals who have been coming to our workshops and classes to come and represent EartHand at the Reconciliation Walk. A wonderful circle is emerging that keeps the momentum growing and community learning.
Pounding and spinning nettle fibre for fishing nets at the Reconciliation Walk
A huge shift in thinking for me has been realizing that I don’t have to know everything before teaching a class on that subject — I just need to know enough — and can plan and build a research group from that base. All that needs to happen is to have the desire to reach in a certain direction, frame it accordingly, and fantastic people out there will come forward, willing and able to financially support and participate in the collective learning. I am calling these groups of fantastic people our guilds and research groups; and thanks to them, I am able to devote the time and energy to staying one or two steps ahead on our learning journey. It gives me a focus and an accountability to both the process and the group.
Spinning fibres like dog hair, milkweed fluff and weaving factory waste Abeego strips into new food storage containers.
The most wonderful development in all this is how these research groups that are delving into fibre blending and spinning and alternative weaving materials all feed back into the greater research projects we are doing, and continue to increase skills, raising everyone up in the process.
When I look through the enormous number of photos taken over 2017, I am struck by how much time we spend outside together in public parks and gardens — rain, sun and snow. I see tending, harvesting and celebrating the plants that we use in our primary textile and weaving work. And overwhelmingly, I see so much beauty in what we do when we get together!
In planning what comes next, I am walking a line between envisioning what I personally am excited to learn about – teasing out a thread that reveals itself in the cloth of our current community project- and watching keenly where collective interest jumps in the groups that come together, making sure there are classes that seem like a good logical next step in how, or what, participants can each learn and develop. I am constantly reminded that beyond the hand-work, skill-holder part of myself, my skills in administration, project coordination and managing a team need to keep pace as a part of my ‘community artist tool kit’. And days are full as I am pushed to keep up in moving forward on the calendar timelines of garden work and multiple projects.
The goal is to have a balanced offering of free, low-barrier programs, paid research guilds, and community focused longer term growing clubs and co-ops, representing a mix of paid registrant supported to grant- and publicly funded opportunities.
EartHand is certainly running at full speed at this point, and I can only imagine what looking back in another five years might reveal — a strong community of skill holders building personal and collective resilience made up of the amazing people I see around me today seems a certainty.
It is a good life when your work is also your pleasure, and your co-workers your friends. I feel lucky indeed.