Healing Through Textile Art

We will be sharing our blog on a regular basis with people who have been strengthened, nurtured, encouraged and brought to a new level through the textile arts.  I hope you will be uplifted by their stories.

I introduce you to – Ms. Whitney P. Lopez……
Her Blog “Almost an Ethnographer” covers her journey into Anthropology as a graduate student at Bryn Mawr collage.

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Until 5 years ago, strangers would look at me and ask, “Are you an artist?” and to this my answer would always be, “No, but both of my parents are trained visual artists.” If they had asked if I was a performer, I would’ve gladly told them that I’d been acting since 2, singing since 4, playing flute since 9, and taking dance lessons since 10, but when most people ask if you’re an artist, they aren’t asking if you’re an actor, a vocalist, a singer, or a dancer. To my knowledge, I could not draw, paint, sculpt, or even collage well. I was the only performer in my immediate family and the only one who wasn’t an “artist.” No one had ever said to me that art was art ad I didn’t know that performers were artists also. For me, those worlds had never collided, especially not within.

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At this point, I also had no idea that textile or fiber art existed. My mother had taught me and my sister to crochet, knit, and sew by hand, and my father had taught me how to embroider, yet no one said it was art and so, to me, it was a skill of utility. With all of these technical skills, it was painting, collaging, and sculpting that I coveted. I wanted to be able to sketch with a pencil with the accuracy of my parents. I wanted to understand shades and tints. I took an art class once in high school and did horribly. I was convinced that I was not an artist, so I stuck to stage.

Six years ago, when I was three years removed from high school and my parent’s house, I spent my unemployed time creating things. Hats, scarves, sweaters, blankets, skirts: I cranked them out in no time. All of them crocheted. I spent so much time with yarns and patterns that I grew a deep intimate knowledge of the craft. I began creating things off of the top of my head and writing down my own patterns in needlecraft lingo. Without actual employment, I found myself cleaning houses or watching children or the elderly just to get enough to buy food. If there was any money left over, I was spending it on yarn. To save money, I wouldn’t always pay for transportation and found myself walking over 4 miles, one way, to scrub someone’s floor or cook meals for an elder. I could not continue to live like this; it was tiring, often degrading, and I wanted a college education.150100_336246396471291_1750448345_n
I began looking for schools with fashion programs or textiles because I enjoyed making clothing and I was hoping to improve my sewing by machine. My mother owns about ten sewing machines, from untouchable, still working antiques to factory grade powerhouses, and never let anyone else use them. My sister and I were experts at sewing by hand, even to the point of creating entire outfits overnight with our ten nimble digits. I loved fashion, not wearing other people’s ideas, but establishing my own. My search for college programs brought me to the Textile Design and even Textile Engineering programs at Philadelphia University. I decided I would save up my pennies to apply to textile engineering with a minor in textile design, then I received a call from a friend about an administrative assistant opening at her job. I sent in my thin resumé and landed an interview.

When asked by my interviewers what I had been doing since leaving high school, I told them that I had been making clothing and household items with the hopes of applying to a textile engineering program. A few days later, I had the job. When I asked what set me apart from the other candidates, I was told that it was obvious drive and my interest in engineering. They said that they hoped I would use the company’s tuition reimbursement to go back to school and earn my bachelor’s, especially in a branch of engineering.545070_300161113413153_506676590_n

The story doesn’t end there, although it probably should. I was the assistant to the Diversity department, which had formerly been the Affirmative Action department. I began to see social injustice and discrimination in a new light, and I began to speak out against it. My academic interests shifted to something where I could actively effect change and away from engineering. One lunch break, as I wandered away from the stress of my job, I discovered the nearby Fabric Workshop and Museum. It was then and only then, that I realized textile arts could be used as a means of speaking out against injustice. I was sold! I spent small portions of my paycheck on fibers, yarns, fabrics, and other art supplies and started experimenting.

Not only did I realize that if I worked at it, I could now (and probably always could) draw, paint, and sculpt, in addition to make my fiber arts count as activism. Since 2008, I’ve been creating clothing, visual art, and clothing as art with social change in mind. I have not exhibited my artwork yet, but I’m hoping that will change in 2013.

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