I have been waiting for years to teach at Arrowmont and that time is finally here! I had heard rave reviews about the experience from professors, friends, and students who have taught or taken workshops. So, here I am, on my way to Arrowmont, to teach an exploratory class that features Fosshape, a revolutionary low-melt polyester fabric that hardens with the application of heat in the form of steam, heat embossing guns, boiling, heat guns, heat press, and more.
Used primarily in the theatre industry, this material has exciting, creative, and very untapped applications for art. Every day I find a new way to manipulate this material! This class is intended to be extremely process-oriented and is an exploratory introduction to the many applications for Fosshape I have come across, and to open it up to new possibilities.
I brought along with me second year, undergrad, Baylor University art student Miriam Hayes, who has been working as my art assistant this summer. Miriam and I clicked immediately and is a joy to work with! She and I will give you our individual perspectives here: L is me and M is Miriam in the observations below!
M- Hi everyone! This week Leisa and I are going to be instructing students, at Arrowmont school of arts and crafts, in working with the material fosshape. Okay scratch that and reverse, Leisa is teaching and I am assisting her in whatever she needs help with while she has given me the privilege to learn from her instruction during class time. Fosshape has been used by many communities but has never made a prominent stand in fine art. It's a new frontier for many artists to explore. I am going to give half of the perspective of this instructional period by talking from both an assistant and a student's view. Today we drove through North Georgia, North Carolina, and for the last stretch of thirty miles we drove through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There we saw elk, beautiful tree-covered mountains with huge bare rocky sides, and a dog standing on the front of a moving motorcycle (all very common sightings in parks). We arrived and were able to walk down the diverse, colorful, Gatlinburg main street. Then, we got a good nights' rest, woke up, set up, met the students, had orientation, and slept again, preparing for our first day.
L- Miriam offered to drive the whole way from Atlanta to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, which immediately put her in my "bestie" books! I hate to drive, so I sat back and enjoyed her excellent driving. We talked and got to know one another better during the journey. It was a gorgeous drive, and seeing elk in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was a highlight! We arrived at Arrowmont after a LOOOOONG and slow drive through gaudy downtown Gatlinburg. What a surreal experience it was turning off of the tacky tourist strip to encounter warm, inviting, and welcoming Arrowmont! We settled in to our excellent accommodations, met another of the instructors, and the three of us walked downtown and found a place for dinner. Ahhhh. SO glad to finally be here!
M- The morning of our first full day of Arrowmont started with setting up. I was able to pull right up to our building and then unpack the car. The studio was HUGE! It was the stuff of my dreams! It was filled with pots, dyes, tables, steamers, sewing machines, spray paint, and of course our fosshape. The first job to tackle was cutting a yard of both the 300 and the 600 fosshape for each student. We were given ten tables and we had ten students, it worked out perfectly and everyone has benefited from it greatly so far. Leisa and I finished right before lunch and were able to enjoy some of the day before we started greeting students. We had an amazing dinner and orientation to lead us into our first "class time." Leisa gave a wonderful introduction and over view for everyone so then we spent the rest of the class having conversation and brainstorming. When it was all over, Leisa and I headed back to our rooms and hung out in the instructors lounge with the other teachers until very late.
L- We spent several hours setting the room up in the morning. The room was huge, well-lit, appointed with everything we needed, and all of our supplies were stocked and ready to go. A sudden torrential shower briefly dampened the day, but the sun broke through in time to welcome the arriving students. A walking tour for newbies of the campus was really informative. What a great place this is; there is a special vibe here! Everyone was extremely helpful, kind and pleasant, making settling in a breeze, and making getting acclimated very easy. The meals are incredible...Arrowmont staff bent over backward to ensure that my vegan dietary needs were met with tasty food! We met up with the students and kicked off class with an intro and overview, and then hung around and talked.
M- The artists in this classroom are insanely creative! I have been given a wonderful corner of the room to work but I am constantly wandering through the room watching and learning. Everyone is constantly discovering dye methods, free motion stitching, and even more pending questions in need of answers. It is as if the day never ends because discoveries lead the class into the next day. The morning was filled with demos and little experiments but by the afternoon people were nailing down their long term idea(s) and began their trek to Friday. Throughout the day, I was able to experiment with all the materials and methods given to me (because even though I maybe the assistant my art career is only in its foundational period and so discovering what my art is is pivotal). The other students have been so kind teaching me and answering any questions that I have about their art. At dinner, the instructors and assistants surprised Leisa with candles, funny party hats and a doughnut for her birthday! In the evening, Arrowmont has the instructors and resident artists give a presentation of their work to other students, instructors, and work study students. It is absolutely ingenious because mediums feel so segregated from one another but these presentations take that and smash it. The day filled up with so much energy by the time it got dark I was ready to pass out but still stayed awake as long as I could to talk with the other instructors over life and art.
L- It is my birthday today, and I am a little kid about my birthday! I was afraid no one would say Happy Birthday, so it really meant a great deal to me that Miriam let them know it was my birthday, and to have the staff and students sing Happy Birthday to me, and all of the instructors to wear party hats with me! Miriam and Myka walked to a donut store, bought me a donut with sprinkles, put candles on it, and lit it in lieu of a birthday cake! It was amazing. The day was exhausting, but in an inspiring, extraordinary way. The 10 students are really enthusiastic, and the ideas were flowing! We covered the capabilities of Fosshape, and I demo'd steaming, boiling, heat press, heat gun, heat embossing gun, heat incising tool, sewing, needle-felting into it, dyeing and painting techniques....PHEW! It was a LOT...but the students were keen and really sank their creative teeth fearlessly into it and dove in! New discoveries were made throughout the day, brand new applications that I believe haven't been done before! It was a great way to celebrate my birthday.
M- The mornings are beautiful at Arrowmont, so far they've started off sunny and warm then drifted into afternoon storms. Everyone gets to the studio right after breakfast and begins the day. Since we have gone over most of our demos, students work until there seems to be a question a group of people have and then that group will gather, learn, and then begin work again. We went over free motion stitching and what it can create and then went to the auditorium to hear Leisa talk about installations and their impact on the world. Oh, and this has nothing to do with art, but if you go to Arrowmont try their butterscotch cake because I about lifted to cloud nine today after eating it! The afternoon included more studio time and searching for an original mug made by Arrowmont residents. I believe this atmosphere is so important for emerging artists and those still learning their craft because the anxiety of critiques and grades have been lifted and the artist is allowed to just create. Our day ended with Leisa's presentation along with two other instructors and they lit up the room. The instructors have such a good vibe together that the students are given a huge advantage by learning from all, no matter the medium.
L- What a wonderful and absolutely exhausting day today! I gave two powerpoint lectures- one about installations, and one about my own art work and art practice, and the creative activities in the studio were on-going and dizzying! These students are really talented, diverse, and each one is making something extremely specific and personal. Lots of the staff and other students have heard about our experimental workshop and are intrigued by the material, so we have had a steady stream of visitors asking about what we are doing. I have lost my voice a little, so I am hiding out in my room to rest my voice and am writing this blog post.