How to Foster Intimacy with the Land

Slow Fashion artist and writer Katrina Rodabaugh, was Instar Lodge's September artist-in-residence.  Below is her open letter describing her experience and beautiful experiments undertaken during the month. 

Katrina hanging samples of natural dyed fibers in the studio, from her Medicinal Dye Workshop

Katrina hanging samples of natural dyed fibers in the studio, from her Medicinal Dye Workshop

I was honored to be an artist-in-residence for the month of September at InstarLodge in Germantown, NY. As a local artist who just moved to the area two years ago, after more than a decade in Oakland, CA, I was eager to engage with a local arts space that might foster a deeper inquiry into my own creative practice in this local environment while simultaneously creating opportunities to connect with the local arts community.

When I met with the director, Dawn Breeze, to discuss my ideas for the residency I mentioned that I really just wanted time to explore the connection between artists and the environment; to collaborate; to experiment; to delver deeper. Dawn suggested I simply frame the month as an artist’s laboratory or a creative experiment without any pressure to produce results. This suggestion felt like liberation. The permission to focus on the process of the work and not just the end product was a huge gift but also a huge relief.

Several years ago I shifted my fiber arts work from mixed media installations into social practice projects—oftentimes resulting in workshops, public events, or ongoing collaborations and not consistently creating objects that might be easily exhibited or shared. With a background in environmental studies and nearly two decades of work in urban nonprofit arts organizations the potential for social practice to focus on community engagement, “art as action”, process as important as product, and particularly embracing creativity through an activist’s lens was a very welcome shift in my fiber work.

But sometimes sharing this work with the public can seem like the greatest challenge. Particularly when curators, galleries, event spaces, and artists all need to consider how best to cover their financial needs and that can be unclear with social practice. Not impossible, of course, just less obvious than a finished object that can ultimately be sold through exhibition.

Dawn’s enthusiasm for inquiry and experimentation was a gift. It allowed me to organize my month around a Medicinal Dye Workshop, a few days of collaborating with local artists, and a closing celebration with an open studio and public talk. My question led the residency: How best to create intimacy with the land that might result in stewardship, protection, or ultimately love?

The amazing colors and hues of the Hopi sunflower dye

The amazing colors and hues of the Hopi sunflower dye

As my work currently focuses in sustainable fashion primarily through the actions of mending, growing and foraging natural dye plants, and redesigning or rejuvenating existing garments this question is always at the forefront of my time in the studio. How do I articulate this intersection between land and fiber? How do I create opportunities to engage with creative practice, slow fashion, and connection with the environment? How do I foster stewardship that might result in protection or love? How do I allow deeper intersections between my studio, my classes, and my dye garden?

While the objects weren’t the focus of this residency, of course, there were objects that resulted from a month of working in the space. Each day upon entering the studio I’d chart the phase of the moon, the date, and make a quick moon sketch to pin to the wall. This became a study for a larger fiber piece of moon phases stitched to indigo dyed fabric. As it was a month-long residency it was also gratifying to see the phases move from full moon through waning gibbous, last quarter, waning crescent, new moon, waxing crescent, first quarter, waxing gibbous and back to full—making one full rotation in my time in the studio.

A stitchwork in progress, using small pieces of natural dyed fabrics

A stitchwork in progress, using small pieces of natural dyed fabrics

I collected various dye plants from my landscape—both grown in my garden and collected from the nearby fields, woods, and parks—and these plants were pinned to the wall as specimens and samples great for plant identification with visitors. I created a community altar and invited workshop participants and collaborators to add to the altar when they visited. I co-taught a class with Good Fight Herb Co community herbalist, Lauren Giambrone, where we considered the intersection of medicinal plants and dye plants—resulting in an afternoon of making remedies and fiber samples with goldenrod, black walnut, peppermint, and Hopi Black Dye Sunflowers alongside other locally harvested herbs.

From this collaboration with Lauren I went on to two more days of testing seasonal dye plants that ultimately resulted in dyeing a secondhand silk top with sunflower seeds and a secondhand wool sweater with goldenrod—both finished projects present at the final open studio. I also had time to dive into a fiber art commission; spend a few days with local artists as we walked, dyed, stitched, shared resources, considered our own entrance into sustainable art and our priorities going forward; and shared an evening discussion with the public at the closing celebration.

The marvelous layers of color found in our Upstate NY landscape

The marvelous layers of color found in our Upstate NY landscape

But aside from the physical time in the space, the time to teach, to collaborate, to share work—the thing I valued most about my time at Instar was the opportunity to focus on one question and let that question lead my work for the entire month. At every step of this month-long inquiry I felt supported by the folks at Instar Lodge and the folks I’d welcomed into my studio as local collaborators.

As a working mother with limited childcare most of my work hours are diligently organized around deadlines, workshops, and upcoming events. But having this time to return to the bigger questions at the core of my work; the space to explore these questions with other artists and the public; and the creative support to prioritize time to consider the direction I want my work to grow—that was the greatest gift.  Thank you, Instar Lodge!

Bio:

I’m an artist, writer, and crafter working across disciplines to explore environmental and social issues through traditional craft techniques. My artwork, writing, and designs have appeared in various galleries, magazines, theaters, juried craft fairs, and alternative arts venues. I published my first book, The Paper Playhouse: Awesome Art Projects for Kids Using Paper, Boxes, and Books in January 2015. I’ve received artist awards, grants, and residencies from the Vermont Studio Center, Zellerbach Family Foundation, Puffin Foundation, and Creative Capacity Fund among others. My blog, Made by Katrina, won the Country Living Blue Ribbon Blogger Award.

I received my BA in Environmental Studies from Ithaca College and my MFA in Creative Writing/ Poetry from Mills College where I trained and taught in the Book Arts Studio. My work fuses sustainability and creativity sometimes in surprising ways like my current focus on sustainable fashion and mending. My work ranges from large-scale mixed media installations, to social practice projects, to cross-disciplinary collaborations, to textile and fiber objects, to small-batch handmade crafts sold in my online shop.

I teach workshops online and in-person including visible mending, natural dyes, sustainable fashion, fiber arts, and also through social practice projects that engage the public in experimental and hands-on approaches. For over 15 years I’ve worked with nonprofit arts galleries and theaters managing programs, special events, fundraising, and mentoring artists to create successful projects and strengthen professional practices. Ultimately, I believe collaboration fosters meaningful communication that can lead to social action–so I often collaborate with artists and organizations to engage in this practice.

Originally from the small town of Horseheads, NY, I spent the majority of the last two decades in major cities of San Francisco, CA; Brooklyn, NY; and Oakland, CA. In fall 2015, my husband and I bought a 200-year-old farmhouse in the Hudson Valley and we’re currently DIY renovating the house, re-establishing the gardens, and converting an existing carriage barn into art studios. When I’m not in the studio or preparing for upcoming workshops I’m usually busy with my two young sons. For inquiries regarding teaching, collaborations, or commissions please use contact me by email through the contact form on this site. IG @katrinarodabaugh