Fifty Years in the Making: Peters Valley School of Craft
During the summer of 2020, I planned to be in Layton, New Jersey on Friday, July 17 to teach a weaving workshop at Peters Valley. But instead, I joined others virtually on Zoom. This summer, the Peters Valley campus is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So we adapted and I joined the other workshop instructors that were scheduled to teach during this week to share our art and inspiration with this creative community.
Below you can read my presentation and view the slides I shared; not word for word, because as the timer was ticking, I made some edits omissions as I was reading. Click on the images for links to more information.
Brittany Wittman McLaughlin approaches weaving through the lens of materiality. It is her medium for artistic expression. She teaches weaving as an art form and a way of healing and empowers artists to cultivate their ideas with an openness to a new creative process and sense of self-discovery through art making. In 1997, she earned a B.S. in Textile Design from Philadelphia University, and she earned her MFA in Sculpture from The University of the Arts in 2004. She also gained experience teaching at her alma mater and in 2016 she created The Weaving Workshop, an online community and art journal, where weavers share inspiration and motivation around their artistic process. www.theweavingworkshop.com
25 years in the making: Brittany Wittman McLaughlin
When I was preparing to talk to you tonight, I found my archive of notes, letters, and photographs from my summer at Peters Valley in 1996. It was the summer between my junior and senior year of college. I was 22 years old. In these documents, I found my letter of application that stated my primary goal as, “to surround myself in a place with people I can continue to learn from in the areas of weaving, artistic expression, and living life through art.” I even went on to make a weaving metaphor about how my experiences there would weave into the structure of my life making its overall structure stronger.” I loved my summer there. And it helped me accomplish to becoming a professional artist.
Viewing my work over the past 25 years in the making, I can recognize the importance of 3 elements. Spirit, History, and using materials steeped with symbolic meaning. The first of which is spirit.
In my archive, I also found a quote that I had handwritten on a piece of bright yellow paper, as if to say as to say Note to self, in 24 years, you will be asked to talk about your work. Tell them this.
The quote is from a book titled Sacred Architecture, written by AT Mann, and it reads:
“The spiritual is the active, dynamic aspect of the psyche, which is independent in forms, and yet is an essence which seeks expression in and through the world, always invested in forms. Those forms into which spiritual energy flow reflect a sense of the divine, and a science of such forms has developed throughout history; a science based on symbolism.”
My work in its forms and symbols reflects a sense of the divine.
Pieced Together is currently On View at the online exhibit at Peters Valley Gallery,
Pieced Together shows my affinity for natural materials (linen), the delicate process of handwork, and small, minimal gestures controlled at the loom.
Each of the seven scrolls is tea stained, and pieced together to form the whole.
Pulse is also currently on view at the online exhibit at Peters Valley Gallery,
This recent artwork captures the spirit of an expressive weaving practice. The background (warp) is screenprinted with my thumbprint in order to leave my mark as an integral part of the art; making the touch of the hand visible.
The inlaid abstracted imagery captures my pulse.
the importance of history
The second element of importance is history. The book has special significance in my work as well. Text and textiles are formed at the same root;
This is my silhouette in 1980. I’m six. I can tell her a thousand stories about her next 40 years.
This piece using the Theo Moorman inlay technique of weaving with two warp systems. A Black sharpee marker outline the childs’s silhouette, while black sewing thread fills in the shadow. Her throat is stained, and her mind is golden. She looks like my daughter. She could be anyone’s daughter. I use the Victorian silhouette to acknowledge the history of women’s rights.
Educate, Organize, Empower
Along the lines of historical documentation, the book as an art object, a way to capture knowledge, archiving, documenting art history.
In this work called Subtext, I created edited versions of a book written and published in 1966 by Henrietta Buckminster titled, Women Who Shaped History.
The intention was to find a text that could be mediated: to express the ideas of a diary using the words in a historical account of notable women in the United States of America. It is an approach to gain wisdom and knowledge. The book tells the story of six 19th and 20th-century women who were instrumental in attaining women’s rights. Borrowing language from this previously published text neutralizes it for a contemporary interpretation. The women illustrated in the text contributed to the education of women, the suffragist movement, the civil rights movement, and the advancement of women in the medical profession.
This page reads, “ She found her voice then. All her heart and spirit went into her words.”
materials with symbolic meaning
The third element of importance in my art is using materials steeped with meaning, with both universal and individual themes of feminism are explored, the materials used are selected by conscious choice to illustrate or evoke sensibility and emotion. This is the approach I teach in my weaving workshops.
Tactile Sensibility, The Weaving Workbook
Recently I have started to create and publish books and workbooks. My first, Tactile Sensibility: A Weaving Workbook, was based on my own art process that learned from a variety of gifted teachers and mentors over the years.
It takes you step-by-step through basic weaving structures and provides inspiration to transform your woven swatches into creative compositions. As you work through the pages of this tactile notebook, you will be introduced to the Buddhist philosophy of Ground. Path. Fruition. as a foundation for your artistic pursuits. As you complete the exercises, the process of creating beautiful weavings using your own creative muse is demystified and your approach to the loom will be transformed. I have offered this process over the years at in person and online workshops.
Birch Bark, 2016
Using a photograph as a starting point, it is interpreted into a woven composition using both natural and synthetic materials. Using the tactile language of textiles, this artistic pursuit is a purely creative exercise – to engage in weaving as a practice of meditation and explore a variety of materials, textures, and colors.
Brittany Wittman McLaughlin’s “Birch Bark” (2016) square is an acute tactile snapshot, an impression of one remarkable surface invoked via another.
Thank you @leahollman for these words about my work in the LA Times article, ‘Long live Anni Albers: L.A. show pays homage to overshadowed Bauhaus artist.”
The birch tree is a symbol of new beginnings, regeneration, hope, new dawns and the promise of what is to come. The tree carries ancient wisdom and yet appears forever young.
Material Meaning: A Living Legacy of Anni Albers was on exhibit during July, 2019 at the Craft in America Canter. It explored the ongoing legacy of Anni Albers through the artistry of ten contemporary American artists and designers working with weaving as their art form – curated by Cameron Taylor-Brown. An exhibit catalog based on the exhibit shown in LA was published during the centennial year of the founding of the Bauhaus. It pays homage to the spirit and methods of Anni Albers and the Bauhaus weaving workshop.
web of life
It has been said that my weavings represent nutrient cycles of ecosystems. My art is clean and contemporary, with references to minimalism and feminism interlaced.
Weaving as Canvas
My work continues to evolve off the loom. Now I am using handwoven cloth as canvas. Making the canvas creates new opportunities for me to make art at my loom.
Art always tells a story. Thank you for listening to mine.