2017 National Mature Media Award WINNER

2017 National Mature Media Award WINNER
The Creative Landscape of Aging Wins a NMMA Award!


Monday, June 24, 2013

An Interview with KAFFE FASSETT: The Passionate Art of Coloring our World

Courtesy of STC Craft | A Melanie Falick Book
Photograph by Debbie Patterson

Kaffe Fassett is a world renowned artist and designer who uses color to change the ordinary to the extraordinary. Born in California, he has lived in London for more than 40 years.

At what point did you realize that art was your passion? What did you do before you became successful?

At the age of 4 years old I was given a set of oil paints and an easel, so I guess I must have shown promise - I was always attracted to the visual in life. Before I became successful as a textile artist I concentrated on fine art painting.

Your parents have utilized their creative skills in the restaurant business in California. Were you encouraged creatively at a young age?

My mother was the creative one in our family and she encouraged me always – sending me off to any visiting theatre, or dance group or classic films like The Red Shoes and Olivier’s Henry the 5th.and supplying me with art books.

What prompted your decision at 19 years old to leave Boston Fine Arts where you had a scholarship? At what point in time after that did you choose to live in England and why?

I didn’t get to England until I was 27 but left art school because I felt I could educate myself by drawing and painting everyday and going to exhibitions. I came to England because of a chance meeting with the British author Christopher Isherwood and was encouraged by some worldly friends.

While returning from visiting a Scottish wool mill, you learned to knit on a train from another passenger. Do you sometimes reflect on this serendipitous encounter?

Absolutely - especially since that woman turned out to be the mother of my 4th sister - of course I do!

Now with over 36 books in print, are there still more in development?

Always! I design printed fabric to put into quilts, then included in books to show my fans how I use them. Books explain my elaborate visual thinking so will always be part of my life unless, film can do the same job and I have access to a good film-maker.

With your projects spanning Fabric, Knitting, Needlepoint, Patchwork, Painting, Rugs, Mosaics and recently Ribbons, you have traversed categories that are used daily by design sensitive consumers and creative individuals.  Do you manage a library of your own work?

It is difficult to keep track but I do try to keep scrapbooks of my design work and of course, my printed books are a record. I also have a huge collection of source books for inspiration in design.

You have had tremendous international acclaim by being the first living textile artist to having a one person show at the Victoria and Albert Museum to your recent award of the Turner Medal given by the Colour Group in Great Britain. Do you consider that your success is in large part due to your extraordinary sense of color or your design elements that carry colorways so well?

A sharpened colour sense and ways of showing that through design go hand in hand – I am lucky that I get a free hand to develop my books and designs to be able to showcase my ideas. Some people with great ideas and colour sense don’t get that unimpeded chance to prove themselves.

Through your books, workshops, lectures, exhibitions as well as television and radio appearances and your new film on Creative Bug, you have explored media effectively to reach people all over the world. Do you prefer being in the front line with people or being creative in your studio?

I love the stage and audiences, but the energy it takes to present myself is huge and is gathered through many hours of creative work in my studio, or when travelling on tours, in my hotel room quietly working on projects to inspire me. So I love both – but the creative hours are essential.

Given the enormity of your work, even the samples must take a great deal of time. Do you contract people who can follow your prototypes to completion?

Occasionally I hire some help, but my urge to see work develop in my own hands usually wins – designing as I go and years of experience gives me a speed that enables me to do most of my own sampling.

Now in your 70s, are there textile/fiber/art concepts or techniques that you still want to explore?

I am sure there are but I’d like to keep refining what I already do – producing better colours, more exciting forms and patterns etc in knitting, needlepoint, surface pattern and quilts. There is so much more to explore and develop. Perhaps larger scale is where I’d like to go next.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

An Interview with BETSY HERSHBERG: Creative Explorations in Bead Knitting

Photo by Alexis Xenakis, XRX Books, 2012
Betsy’s art is the product of meticulously and artfully combining fibers and beads. A self-declared “left brainer”, she masterfully demonstrates the technical marriage between these elements with knitting and creativity.

I understand that your mother taught you to knit when you were 8 years old. Then fast forward to 2002 when your knitting world changed and you learned to bead knit. What were you doing professionally in those in between adult years?

I’m not sure your blog is long enough for all of my adventures! Just kidding, but I like to say that I reincarnate every ten years or so given how varied my interests are. In chronological order I have worked as the following: a mime, a scuba diving instructor, an actress/singer, a healthcare consultant, a stay-at-home mother (my absolute FAVORITE!), a voiceover artist and now a knitting designer, teacher and author. How’s that for varied?

You have had the wonderful benefit of studying with the upper echelon of famous knitters. Now you are considered to be in the cadre of talented designers. How do you use that knowledge, teaching methodology and your innate visual talent to teach your students?

Although I have never formally studied the art of teaching, I’ve taken note of what seems to work in the classes I’ve most enjoyed. I think good teaching comprises several critical components, including but not limited to the following:
- Strong technical knowledge of your subject matter
- Preparation, preparation, preparation (including the provision of organized written and visual materials for your students)
- A firm belief that everyone in a classroom has something to learn AND something to teach and the commitment to remain open to what students have to teach me.
- An understanding that different people learn in different ways. It’s always important to be prepared to offer students a variety of ways to learn the same lesson until we find the one that best aligns with the way they learn.

You describe yourself as “left brained” which would imply that your thinking emphasis is logical, detail oriented and analytical. Yet you clearly have the capabilities of right brainers who are imaginative, artistic and creative. Can you talk about that?

I could talk about this for days! The simplest explanation I can give you is that most people are right- or left-brained dominant. It’s rarely all one side or the other. Second, I wrote my book, Betsy Beads: Confessions of a Left-brained Knitter because I wanted to explore this. How did I transition from thinking of myself as an excellent knitting technician with no creative potential for the craft to having so many ideas for new work that I now describe my brain as being like an airport runway with new ideas lined up for miles, just waiting for an opportunity to take off?

What I now believe is that left-brained dominant folks like me are often no less creative than those right-brained folks who accept their creativity as a given. What works for me, and I believe can work for others, is simply engaging in a more concrete, organized creative process. The book contains seven short essays that describe the discovery and essence of that process. The projects in the book then illustrate it and offer what I call “what if…?’s, suggestions for taking the original designs in new and exciting directions. I truly believe that anyone who truly wants to be creative and is willing to do the work, can be. Giving yourself permission to BELIEVE that you CAN be creative is often half the battle.

Your beaded knit work is extraordinary and basically singular in availability. Are they all singular pieces or do you ever produce, contract production or consider alternatives for demand of multiple pieces?

I make every single piece I sell so the idea of doing production for large scale retail sale is not possible, nor do I have any interest in doing that. Perhaps selfishly, I want to make only what I want to make, when I want to make it. But in addition to my more costly, one-of-a-kind work, I do have a line of Limited Edition pieces: what I call Slider Bracelets and Bead Ball Necklaces. These are still made to order but simpler and quite affordable, ranging in price from $75 per bead ball to $125 for a bracelet. In the past, I have only sold my work at shows or from my studio showroom by appointment but that is about to change. Sometime in the next few months I will be adding an e-commerce component to my website where people will be able to directly order my Limited Edition work and buy an occasional sale piece of one-of-a-kind work as well as a new line of original pattern designs and accompanying material kits. When the new Studio B Shop site launches, I‘ll announce it on my website and on Ravelry.

You manage many avenues of generating Betsy Hershberg excitement: teaching, pattern making, book writing, kit making and of course your own knit projects. Do you enjoy working with all of these entities?

While I really do enjoy teaching and writing the book was an incredible experience (made possible by the extraordinary publishing team at XRX Books with whom I had the privilege of working), there is no question that imagining and creating new, one-of-a-kind work is my absolute favorite endeavor. The process I use often involves the iterative creation of small, ever-evolving swatches as I shepherd an idea from whatever inspiration is at play to a finished piece. The work is challenging, exciting and yet because it happens in small steps, it never feels scary or overwhelming. Perfect for a somewhat risk-averse, left-brainer like me.

At 63, you have achieved tremendous success with your work and your teaching both in person and through your book. Do you have a further vision for yourself? An area yet untapped?

Not really. I much prefer to remain open to whatever life will offer up next. I am never bored! The word does not exist in my vocabulary. Given my past, I have every reason to expect that the next adventure will be as much fun and rewarding as those that I’ve already experienced. I am an eternal optimist, another gift I have “inherited” from my remarkable mother - now a healthy, actively engaged, 87 year old. Whatever awaits, I am confident I’ll find a way to deal with the challenges and celebrate the joys.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

An Interview with BARBARA HANSELMAN: Claysmith Extraordinaire

                                                    photography by Linda Ann Miller

Barbara creates distinctly beautiful rattles with a keen awareness of its spiritual path in history. She teaches workshops that focus on hand building techniques to build both small and large design elements.

You are immersed in the world of clay now yet you had a previous life about 20 years before which was client driven in interior design. How does it feel to be in your passion mode and also be autonomous? Do you enjoy creating as well as teaching?

I have always been self-employed and somewhat autonomous but it wasn’t until my hands went into clay that I was able to overcome my fear of not having design clients to generate an income.  I soon realized that I could bring much of my interior and graphic design experience to clay but the opportunity to share my new found passion for clay with anyone interested was truly a bonus.  Looking back now it seems that teaching was simply the next logical step.

You have finely honed your hand building techniques to produce exceptional pieces. Do you ever work on the wheel to pursue a structural value that eludes hand building?

I never was drawn to the wheel; the potters I knew who worked on one were more production oriented, churning out mugs, bowls and covered casseroles.  It was never a dream of mine to produce functional pots.   When I became confident as a “Claysmith” (a name of my own invention since I didn’t consider myself a potter) my last thought was to enter the Strictly Functional Pottery National Show in Lancaster.  But when I finally realized the difference between production and function and did enter national venues like SFPN, my clay work was accepted and awarded.  As a result, I don’t feel that forming clay vessels on the wheel has a structural value which eludes hand building. 

Working with clay (whether hand building or throwing) is akin to learning to ride a bike – learn it, forget it, then just do it.  I collected the basic techniques of hand building in a relatively short period of time and had at least ten years worth of clay methodology in books, on tapes and in notebooks before beginning to master any of them and make them my own.  Practice is essential; learning to see and listening to the clay is an art unto itself.   I am reminded of a story about ceramics in college where the assignment was to make ‘the perfect pot’.  Half the class was told to make as many pots as they could, the other half was told to concentrate on just making one ‘perfect’ pot in a six week period.  You know which group ended up making the ‘perfect pots?’ – The group who made as many pots as they could.

Your clay rattles are very special and hold a spiritual presence. Can you talk about that?

Many cultures believe in Healing RATTLES and their capacity to dispel illness & dis¬-ease.  These Rattles are credited with being able to awaken the human spirit, drive out negative energies and center personal focus.  My versions of these Rattles are hand formed and adorned with symbols of wellness; they are shaped to be grasped.  During times of despair, medical treatments or loneliness, the Rattle should be gently shaken to the beat of one’s heart. RATTLES do help us to ground; their sound is powerful & magical, producing an incomparable energy all their own.
All of my Rattles are “birthed” in the same way.  Once the basic shape is formed, I tenderly blow my own CHI (breath of life) inside, sealing the opening quickly closed with pursed lips. 

In developing beads or creating jewelry, the intellectual and artistic process would appear to be different than when you create a pot. For example, beads are individual elements that may be left as a singular piece of art or grouped thoughtfully and artistically as jewelry with/without other components. Do you approach this differently? Do you always plan the outcome?

Answering your last question first, I never plan the outcome of anything when it comes to clay.  I am just along for the ride and although I may suggest a direction or a turn, the clay always has the final say.

I love making Rattles and Beads in Clay because, individually, they have the capacity to become future artifacts from the era in which I live.  They are small and durable; able to remain perfect while much larger icons like clay pots are ravaged by time.  Yet in the present, my clay beads can have the same intrinsic value as a finely cut gemstone, cabochon or pearl which permits each one to ‘cross over’ into the artistic discipline of self adornment.   I just LOVE that!

How has your explorations of post firing surface design (glazes, textures, colors) changed your vision for your work?

Early on in my clay venture, I discovered I could go past the simple rolled out clay slab and make Clay Fabrics from these slabs.  This process allows me to focus on how my pieces will LOOK before I even know what they will be.  Making clay fabrics forced me to consider how different glazes would enhance the various engobes & stains I was applying, whether my engobes or terra sigillata even needed the addition of a glaze to look ‘finished’ and how  combining different clay bodies, textures and engobes at this beginning stage would make dealing with my future bisque-fired pieces a breeze.

Now at 66, what do you still want to achieve with your work in clay?

First I wanted to hand build with clay, eat off its river rock surface and drink from the empty spaces it defines.  I then wanted to hear the sound of clay as it moves to and fro within itself - so I make rattles.  Now I want a total “Clay Shibumi” where I am the adaptable turtle or the Bodhi leaf impressed in the beads’ surface; where I know the power of each single hand-formed bead touching my skin and absorbing my essence.  I want to be what the clay is saying as I wear it and fondle it (the way old Greek men stroke their worry beads).
So I strive to compose with the language of clay… Whether the clay becomes a pot, a rattle or a bead, it is its final ‘function’ which determines the process I use to seal its fate.  I value these processes far more than the physical manifestations I make in clay.  Embracing these processes makes it possible for me to ask “What if” and to build on the awareness of where my venture with clay has taken me.


Sunday, June 2, 2013


An esteemed collector of Southeast Asian Art, Jim lives" half the year in Thailand. He is the author of the beautiful  book  “Thai & Southeast Asian Painting: 18th through 20th Centuries" .  He recently donated a large portion of his collection to a museum in the United States and continues to collect art.

What triggered your interest in Asian art? Were you interested in the arts before being in Thailand?

I first became exposed to Asian art when in Bangkok in 1958 to undertake a city plan for Bangkok and Thonburi with a team of professionals. The art history education I received at the School of Fine Arts, University of Pennsylvania  was solely focused on occidental art; what I saw in Thailand in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s captured me!

I began collecting Southeast Asian paintings and art in 1958.  I enjoyed the spirited portrayals of the Jatakas, the Phra Malai stories and the images of the Lord Buddha which hung on my walls. There was very little English language literature at that time, and while I wasn’t sure what the subject of the paintings were, I was very sure of the pleasure they gave me.
The first paintings I acquired verged on the best of  western abstractness; paintings of vivid color, paintings without the confining  dictates of perspective, shades and shadows; paintings which valued strong composition, and paintings whose main driving force was the story to be told. I was enchanted.

Later assignments in a number of other Asian countries also contributed to my growing interest in Asian art. I collected and became interested in religious Indian and Tibetan art, as well as artifacts. In Saudi Arabia and Egypt I focused on carpets. And then I expanded my collection to include Indian miniatures paintings, and Tibetan Thongas paintings.
Around the late 1990’s I began to acquire Southeast Asian paintings as a priority. A number of these later acquisitions were found in the U.S.A. and Europe; well outside the confines of Southeast Asia.

Were your parents in the arts or collecting?

Not really! They were supportive and Dad probably strained himself carrying packages from the local, nearby post office. These were old items. antiques and miscellaneous junk sent  back from Germany purchased by the use of cigarettes when stationed there in the Army,1945-46. (I never smoke when I became aware how additive they were)

You continue to spend much of your time in Thailand. Are you still collecting?

No/Yes! At 86 years old I am in a liquidating mode and over the last few years have sold or disposed of most of what I collected. Occasionally I weaken and buy some items but nothing major. If I find an old, good Thai or Southeast Asian painting I will try and buy it, if the cost is reasonable. The problem is the dealers who know me and my book, think I may know more than I do and suddenly the piece I am interested in is not for sale or the asking price becomes unreasonable.

Your book, Thai and Southeast Asian Painting: 18th Through 20th Century is beautiful and an excellent guide to Asian art.  Is there an area of Thai art or depiction that you find particularly compelling?

I always find the older Asian paintings most compelling. 

Recently you donated a large portion of your collection to the Walters Art Museum
. Can you talk about that decision? 
In 2011 I gave 50 pieces of Southeast paintings to the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.
In 2009 I gave an illustrated talk on Thai Paintings to the ‘Informal Northern Thai Group’. During the question and answer segment at the end of the talk, an older man asked ‘What is going to happen to the paintings?’ I was taken aback by his question. My first reaction was one of slight annoyance and then later I realized it was something that I really hadn’t thought about, but the subject was real and given my age, somewhat pressing.

After my book on Thai paintings was published in 2010. I started to think about the paintings. Then I learned that the collection I had was probably the largest one in private hands in the USA so I decided to try and keep it together by donating the group to a museum.

Dr. Leedom Lefferts helped me with a concern of one of my paintings. He had just finished a consultancy at the Walters Art Museum and told me about the museum. It has a wide ranging, eclectic collection from Greek sarcophagus to Asian art in a relatively small space but all the art is well displayed. The museum also has a large collection of Thai paintings thanks to donors Doris Duke and Alexander Griswold and so I decided to join them.

You continue to write. What are the projects that you are working on now?

I just sent the final draft of my new book to Schiffer Publishing. The working title is Theravāda Buddhist Cosmology and a Cosmology Manuscript.
This book was initiated by the acquisition of a folding Burmese manuscript (parabaik ) from the 19th century, which describes and illustrates the Buddhist Theravāda cosmology.

In working on this effort, I realized that while the Buddhist cosmos has been described in literature, it has not been the subject of much discussion.  While there are great numbers of books on the Buddha, Buddhism and the various aspects of Buddhist practice and thought, there are less than a handful of books in English that focus on the cosmos only a few mention the Hinayana or Mahayana Buddhist cosmos and they do so only peripherally. 

I hope this new book will make understanding of the Hinayana cosmos easier to comprehend.