Dispatch from Iceland: A Month at The Icelandic Textile Center.
I spent the month of November as an artist-in-residence at The Icelandic Textile Center / Textilsetur Islands in Blönduós Iceland. The residency is housed within Kvennaskólinn, (women’s school) formerly a school for young women that taught cooking, handicrafts, language, math, history and other subjects. Kvennaskólinn was one of four women's colleges in Iceland that prepared women for daily life and was open from 1912 to 1978. Kvennaskólinn was built in 1879, the looms in the current textile studio are original and were used by Kvennaskólinn students. They are hand made countermarch looms, a type I had never worked on before. Over the many decades the looms had not been well maintained, the wood is very dried out and chips and cracks easily. The loom I chose to weave on for the month was a 4 harness countermarch. Minus the many splinters it gave my hands and feet, and a few treadling tie up headaches, it was good to me. Out of all the looms in the room, all of equal age and ware, this one in particular called to me right away and I could feel the energy of all the women who had worked on it before me. I think they even guided me through moments of frustration on this special old piece of equipment. Over the course of the month I completed two new handwoven rugs (2 of 10 for an exhibition in Spring 2017), 9 miniature weavings on a frame loom, that I have dubbed my sketchbook series. The sketchbook series was a fun, freeing way to explore materials by weaving on a lap loom. It was the product of not being able to latch onto a regular sleep schedule and I found myself still wide awake, most nights, at 4am. I also sketched out new designs for pillows and blankets for a special collection next year and made sketches for a potential new commission.
It’s humbling to visit another country for an extended period of time. The most exciting thing in my days in this small hamlet town was visiting the local grocery store, trying strange-to-me foods and deciphering labels in Icelandic. Choosing fruits and vegetables that looked somewhat fresh was a challenge. As a near life-long vegetarian, I found a deeply renewed sense of gratitude for the always abundant fresh produce available back home. Blönduós is the last stop on the delivery schedule to receive fresh vegetables and fruits I was told. In Iceland fruits and veggies are largely grown in Greenhouses. My frequent weekly trips to the grocery were accompanied by long free-form thoughts on the luxury and accessibility of any kind of ripe, fresh vegetable or fruit at any time of year back home in Chicago. The realization of how accustomed I am to a lifestyle where anything I want is pretty much possible at anytime made me feel a little embarrassed and over-privileged. I thought about this as I read the news and watched my social media feeds regarding the presidential election and current state of our political landscape in the U.S. It was strange to be in a foreign land while something so monumental was happening in my native country. I felt as though I were watching it all from a birds-eye-view.
I tend not to voice a political stance through Herron, and that is a very deliberate choice. I want the work I create to give people comfort, joy and a sense of home and safety despite individual background and beliefs. I struggle with when to voice my feelings through my work and when to hold back. My feelings around this election hit a place too personal to discuss here, though from the standpoint of a self-employed female trying to trailblaze an original path in business, in textiles, in art, I’ve worried about how our newly elected political climate will effect small business and the economy at large. Walking through the produce aisle at the grocery in Blönduós put some things in perspective on a macro level in regards to my American privilege and my burden as a woman. I had some lofty thoughts about the country I live in, the land of plenty, and a home where I do as I damn well please, when I please, yet still feel the weight of my womanhood as a largely pejorative factor. On an almost nightly basis, alone in my dormitory I considered how to open up these feelings and thoughts in a constructive way through the work I do.
My idealism from time-to-time runs away with me. I think it comes from a place of real fiery passion and a moral compass that values honesty, transparency and genuineness. There is no free lunch and nothing is achieved without hard work, this I have learned from a very young age. Transparency, quality, beauty, are things I value and require hard work, diligence, vision and perseverance. I’d like to create a gentler more honest world through Herron. I’m into realness. I’m into making a living honestly. I put my business on hold during what is largely the most profitable month of the year in order to carve out a physical and mental space to work on new important things. While working on those new important things, as I mentioned, other thoughts and ideas came and I wrote them down. A seedling started to grow, an idea to facilitate a community based weaving project that encourages people to express their feelings about our current state of affairs through craft, while also creating an opportunity for discourse, camaraderie and understanding among people of different backgrounds and beliefs. I'm developing the idea and applying for grant funding, it's not quite ripe for announcement yet, though my hope is that people all over the country will get involved. I'll be sending out a newsletter in early 2017 with more information-- if you are curious about my cryptic hints here and want to know how you might get involved, sign up for the studio herron newsletter at the bottom of the website.
I'm back home in Chicago, back in my own studio, back to my day-to-day life and work. It's good to be back! Iceland was remote and beautiful with wide open sky, lunar mountains and mossy plains, northern lights and geothermic hot water that all brought me home refreshed, invigorated creatively and ready for a new year.