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Talking Textiles: Patricia Vivod

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 29, 2011 - Over the next several weeks, some of the people who are participating in "Innovations: A Biennial Textile Event" will share their thoughts about the medium and their life in art. Patricia Vivod, curator of and artist in the "Collaboration: Reaping and Sewing" exhibit at Jacoby Arts Center, shares how she works with rust and how her art as evolved.

I have always been enthralled with process -- perhaps a byproduct of growing up on a dairy farm (and with a mother who sewed and crafted) -- which is why I found printmaking so appealing when I began taking summer workshops at SIUE as a teacher years ago. The first experience in monotypes was transformative for me when I discovered an affinity for aerial views. After that, many aspects of farming, landscape and map ideas made their way into my art, both in terms of subject matter and approach to working, which continues today.

In grad school, after taking an elective in surface design, I found myself working more spontaneously. In 2002, I began experimenting with organic printing outdoors through composting silk yardage with walnuts and wild berries and other vegetable matter. I found I loved the natural process and the resulting colors.

Composting is a decomposition process -- sort of reverse farming -- and requires weeks or months to get results, which take its toll on the fibers. Yardage that survived whole cloth became wall hangings and fabric fragments were used in a series of large-scale collages on paper combining organically printed silk, found papers and fabrics, overprinted with traditional woodcuts and etchings. The yardage and collages became an integral part of my thesis exhibition and hung alongside traditional woodcuts and etchings. You can see some of that work on my blog.

Nowadays I do organic printing with rust. Like composting (and farming), rusting is seasonal work best accomplished when it is warm and humid, but is a much faster process. In less than 24 hours, I can create a print that offers a wider range of permanent color and contrast than I could achieve with composting. What's more, when they are available, I can incorporate berries into the designs that retain the full color.

My studio is outdoors in an open air space behind my garden shed. Worktables, sink and hose are handy. My tools hang on the lattice wall. The shed houses my collection of rust objects collected over more than a decade. Many are vintage house and farm tools and bits of farm equipment -- handed down, found, given to me by friends or purchased at flea markets and antique stores. I use pipes for shibori rust work.

My other material needs are few -- outside of the silk (which I buy from Dharma Trading Co., I can purchase my other supplies at the grocery store. I need only vinegar and black tea. Tea contains tannins that react with the iron to form black and gray. I learned this nifty trick from Lois Jarvis, http://rust-tex.com. Friends now save tea bags for me, and I brew loose tea every day at home saving the leaves. I also ferment tannin rich walnuts and sumac leaves and berries to use the juice in the printing process. I grow elderberries on my property and collect them in the wild. I have walnut, sassafras, oak and sweet gum trees in abundance. I often use leaves as a resist in shibori rusting.

With the rusting process, I continue to make yardage, most of which is destined for wall art. Some of it is considered for making wearables. I do shibori rust a good number of silk scarves each year to sell through boutiques. I purchase readymade scarves with hand rolled hems for that purpose.

Materials and Response

When I first began in printmaking I fell in love with the possibilities for color and transparency through CMYK inks. I reveled in color, too, when I began surface design with procion dyes. That love of bright artificial color waned when I began experiments with discharge dyeing and with composting. Now I am almost always drawn to natural fibers and naturally derived colors. The exception would be the vibrantly colored silk tie quilts by Marjorie Hoeltzel and vintage crazy quilts.

I am attracted to things made with silk, linen, hemp. I love the texture of hand stitching -- even though it is not something I do (yet -- perhaps someday...). I am intrigued by any design that reminds me of aerial views and maps. Gees Bend quilts and Japanese Boro textiles do that for me. I am attracted to art that involves the use of vintage fabrics, paper and objects such as collages by Lance Letscher .

I am intrigued by text and transparency such as early work I've seen by Leslie Dill although none of what I remember is on her website. I love the layers of wax found in encaustic work especially that of Lorraine Glessner who also rusts and composts fabric. I am blown away by the "lace" made by Cal Lane I am most intrigued by eco prints on silk and wool and colors derived from plants that are the hallmark of India Flint's work.

What's Next?

In June I met and worked with India Flint in a four-day workshop at Craft Alliance. After spending the last eight months on this collaboration show for Innovations I am looking forward to beginning my first experiments in my own studio with eco printing adopting India's methods as a starting point. I want to explore ways to use plant based dyes and printing with my rusting techniques for large-scale pieces and to find my own way to work with natural color.

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