Monday, September 3, 2012

Threads and Skulls at the Arrowmont School of Art and Craft

Early Saturday morning on August 11th, I boarded a Greyhound bus to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

I was lucky enough to receive a 50% scholarship from Arrowmont School of Art and Craft to take a week-long workshop in embroidery with Rebecca Ringquist called "Automatic Drawing: From Paper to Cloth." The class description promised a unique approach of combining gestural ways of drawing and embroidering to create layered images. And that we did!

I have taken a few sewing classes before, so I know some basics of sewing clothes from patterns and I have always hand-mended my clothes. However, I have only dabbled a little in embroidery. Textiles fascinate me, but are a whole new world to dive into. I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to get my feet wet with this class.

Set back from the touristy thoroughfares of Gatlinburg, away from the Ripley's Museums and candy shops, Arrowmont is a peaceful and inspiring little world. I felt sad when I had to leave. The school is similar to other artist retreats like Penland, Haystack, and Anderson Ranch (to name a few). You pay for room, board, and workshop tuition and spend a week or longer focusing on one medium of artwork taught by a talented artist-instructor. I felt fortunate to receive a scholarship, but there are other options such as applying for Work-Study (ie. tiring kitchen-duty) or being a Teacher's Assistant which help to alleviate costs.

 I stayed in a dorm-style room which was simple and comfortable.

Three times a day, I and other students shuffled down to the Dining Hall to eat yummy, home-cooked meals. The convenience of this routine and not having to cook made it easy to come back to work in the studios. Our classes were from 9 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday, with an hour and a half lunch break in between. Most students returned to the studios after dinner and sometimes late into the night to continue working. I loved the feeling of having a great studio space and interesting people who were creating things in the same room. It reminded me of my days at Pratt Institute where I was surrounded by other art students.

The building our class was held also had a beautiful gallery display of artwork from all the instructors who had taught during the summer. The building also contained a great library and an art supply store.

Our instructor was Rebecca Ringquist. Her work is inspiring to us all. Through her textiles, she "tell[s] love stories and create[s] veiled fractured narratives full of double entendre." Her work is brimming with stitches and layers of color and text. Here are some of her embroidery samples:


In our class, we created blind contour drawings and patterns.


We embroidered using found objects as inspiration. The fiber studio had lovely large tables that were padded so you could stick needles into them and iron right on top of them. Here is some of my embroidery:

A cow skull embroidered on a big quilting hoop.

My work space got rather messy.


More skull-inspired embroidery by fellow student Hannah.

Hand and machine-stitched piece by Victoria.

Our work on display for the critique on the last day of class. You can see the evolution of my skull piece on the right. I plan to layer and add a lot to this piece, but I don't expect it will be finished for many months! Sadly, I do not have the same amount of time and focus to work on my embroidery right now, but I plan to set aside some regular time to work on it.

Arrowmont offered other opportunities to get inspired. Every night there were slide lectures from resident artists and instructors. We also had a chance to tour studios and see what other people were making.

From the studio of resident artist and jeweler Ashley Gilreath. She made beautiful pieces based around the concept of family histories and the importance of honoring genealogy and memory.

Fascinating experiments in the papermaking studio.

I plan to make a zine about my full experience at Arrowmont. For now, I'll sum it up by saying it was eye-opening, inspiring, challenging, and invigorating. I am now in love with textile art and I can't wait to explore all that it has to offer. Arrowmont was a refuge of creativity that was invaluable for my growth as an artist. If you are an artist, I highly recommend an experience like this to get away, make art, and be part of an energetic creative community. I am already excited for next year. I don't know where I'll go or what class I'll take, but I know I have to include this as a regular part of my life and artist's practice!


  1. Sounds very interesting - how about doing a class like that sometime (for those of us who can't go so far :-)

    1. Hi Kiran! I thought about teaching a class like this, but I think I need to practice my embroidery more first. but i'll keep it in mind!