exerpt from full plenary presentation March 18, 2022 at the 45th Appalachian Studies Association conference, WVU in Morgantown, WV. Theme of the event was Making, Creating, and Encoding: Crafting Possibilities in Appalachia. Delivered by Convenor and panelist Susan Feller, fiber artist, craftivist,
“Our thanks to Natalie Sypolt for the topic, Emily Hilliard who suggested the panelists, and Beth Nardella lining up the tech. The panelists besides myself are Dr. Dolores Johnson, fiber artist and advocate from Huntington; WV, Shaun Slifer, JustSeeds.org, author, printmaker; and Kay Ferguson from ARTivisim Virginia talking about the Water Quilts community activist project.
Craftivisim was coined in the 21st Century.* It combines craft – using one’s hands and simple tools to create useful objects, usually done at home ALONE and activism – policy or action of vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change. This relies on MANY TOGETHER.
Today we will present examples where artists working in their studios and at home contribute to change in the societal issues of the time. (Included in this posting)
How a craft brings makers together in a community adding independent work to become a louder voice.
And how an organization can be formed around an issue encouraging arts and activists from the start. (panelists described the theme’s work in their community, cooperative and organization. Reports from each panelist was submitted separately to be archived at Appalachian Studies Association, 2022 Conference).
It is important to find a project within an organization for people willing to create messages using domestic crafts. Many are unable to publicly resist but eager to contribute. They become part of the broader grass roots network necessary for an issue to take hold. Remember the simple knitted rectangle sewn up the sides into a pink hat just five years ago. They were contributed by thousands who watched from home during the Women’s Marches.
Carving, drawing, stitching, pulling loops EMPOWERS the maker. One line or stitch becomes two, over time thousands and a visual message for researchers decades later.
I represent those makers. My practice is solitary combining the slow traditional handicrafts of rug hooking, embroidery and applique’ to depict human interaction with nature and document my observations on social issues. The tools I use are simple. Needle, threads, hook and strips of fabric. I am drawn to sewing and rug hooking because of the comforting feel of fabric and seeing each loop or stitch adding to my message. Repetition becomes meditative, even cathartic. I approach a design with an idea, an image I photographed or sketched, phrases, the subject or even the view as I travel West Virginia.
2020 Journal took two months to complete. The process was and is therapeutic. Spending time with issues and thinking through color, techniques and materials begins to separate me from my thoughts and emotions. I know my work will be seen by others today and decades later inspiring awareness and conversations.
How human impact affects the natural beauty of Appalachia is a thread throughout my work. There are series about the pipelines cutting straight through forests and fields trying to cross waterways. The protests every step of the way are holding the companies back hopefully blocking this extraction of a limited resource being exported again out of state.
Mountaintop removal has blasted the peaks of over 500 mountains in West Virginia alone to extract what is left of the coal in our state. The process destroys habitats, poisons and reroutes waters, pollutes the air and produces sludge ponds filled with heavy metals all while people live, work and go to school in the valleys. Please consider where the energy is coming from in your daily life.
Iconic triptych spans a century of women’s rights leading to 2016 issue of voting rights for all. The neutral coloring representing 1920 and the ratification of the 19th Amendment adds to the history. By 1973 and the ERA passing from Congress for the states to ratify (still not 50 years later) I used my own Girl Scout badges and a rainbow of colors to portray my youthful outlook on the future. The VOTE palette proudly signals the USA. Names of women I voted for are embroidered around the red, white and blue crocheted doily.
I began a series titled Pussycat Pillow Talk with hooked images on the front and embroidered messages on the reverse. Themes have been #metoo movement, persistence, gender equality, climate change, Love, and whatever other social issue can be summed up in a few words. The collection is growing.
By taking hooked rugs off the floor and presenting them as art my work has been accepted in exhibitions and become ambassadors for traditional handicrafts speaking about society in the 21st century. Developing a strong social media presence brings awareness, uniting others.
I can join in the worldwide protests from the solitude of my studio in rural West Virginia.”
I serve on the board of Tamarack Foundation for the ARTS whose mission is to empower artists with business skills and marketing opportunities. We believe their art and economic contributions will help grow the local communities. The organization and several artists exhibited during the conference.
Domenica Zara Queen believes plastic is the 21st Century’s heritage fabric embracing the waste product in her traditional handicraft collection of rugs, mats, plates and vessels.
Robby Moore lives in Beckley, WV and is “inspired by the abstraction of shape, ephemera, tradition and mores; especially those steeped in Appalachia. He tries to express, through his figures, the sadness and confidence that comes from deep thoughtfulness.”
Suzan Ann Morgan is from Buckhannon, WV. She says “my artworks are the result of the examination of my own, often tentative, beliefs. During their creation I am afforded the time to reflect upon my beliefs, note their contradictions, and make manifest their essence. In the end, each piece presents one facet of my truth extending a hand to the viewer hoping to find common ground and a starting place for future conversations.”
We are makers working in our studios but responding to life as we observe it, fitting the definition of CRAFTIVISM.
delivered by Susan L Feller.
*further research Crafting Dissent, Handicraft as protest from the American Revolution to the Pussyhats, edited by Hinda Mandell, publisher Rowman & Littlefield.