Mirage by Katharine Cobey
If you’ve ever organized an event, you know that we don’t do it for the money. Hidden expenses are everywhere and the hours required to make things run smoothly can’t possibly be counted. So why do we do it? Because the people we meet and come to call friends as time goes by is priceless. One of the proudest moments I’ve had in Fiber College’s 8 year history is first when Katharine Cobey agreed to teach (after I spent MONTHS trying to engage the courage to call her). When she had taught several classes and agreed to come back because she was impressed by both the caliber of our students and the interest they had about the subjects at hand…I walked on the moon.
Since then we haven’t had as many conversations as I’d like but the ones we’ve had are precious. Her thoughtful observations and long views of the fiber arts often re-direct my naive opinions and I’m ever grateful to see the world through the experience of her eyes. If all is perfect in my 2013 winter world, I’m hoping that Katharine will have time to have soup and sandwiches with me again…I have so many things I’d like to listen about. This year Ms. Cobey will be teaching three classes: Culling the Greats on Friday afternoon, Diagonal Knitting on Saturday morning and 12 Seamless Squares on Sunday afternoon.
In response to our interview questions Katharine writes:
If I had ever thought I might become a visual artist, I might have studied art. Instead I wrote poetry. Interestingly, much of what I learned from writing has stood me in good stead trying to knit sculpturally. A poet arranges words; a knitter, stitches. In both cases, it is not enough to care about what you are saying. What matters is finding the actual means in that discipline, the telling words or knitted shapes and surfaces that will communicate to others.
When I started to knit at eleven, I wanted to learn “how to knit”. The idea that yarn could become a piece of clothing seemed almost magic. Since then, still in awe, I have spent years experimenting with the technical possibilities of this medium that makes, shapes and embellishes fabric all at the same time. Knitting in the United States was, as recently as my childhood, something that women did. It was at best considered a domestic craft – at worst, a hobby.
I came to knitting at an auspicious hour. As I learned more, I realized I could how appropriate it would be to use knitting as a revolutionary tool. Instead of following patterns or “just knitting”, I would knit to record and celebrate women’s changing lives. Refusing belittlement of myself or my craft, I would knit to express what women have been, and what we could become. Now, experimenting with the expressive and sculptural possibilities of knitting, it has become my life’s work.
I don’t think about developing my own style. By not making multiples, I make myself experiment. Trying to make things so they will sell or be in fashion may meet those ends, but will not help me discover the best of what I can do myself.
Magdalena Abakanowicz’ work changed my attitude toward working with fiber. Her work proves that it is not the medium, but the work itself that matters. She taught me that if we belittle our craft, we will make inferior pieces, but that if we honor our techniques, materials, and purposes, we might do great work.
Currently I have a quote from the painter Edward Hopper on my wall: “My aim in painting is always, using nature as the medium, to try and project upon canvas my most intimate reaction to the subject as it appears when I like it most: when the facts are given unity by my interests and prejudices. Why I select certain subjects rather than others, I do not exactly know, unless it is that I believe them to be the best medium for a synthesis of my inner experience.”
I try to work on one major piece at a time, with sketches or smaller pieces running like smaller pilot fish alongside the larger one. Now, older, I find I have not kept up with my own schedule. The project of 13-15 pillars is not progressing as I wanted it to – perhaps 2 is it. But as Darwin said, “It is the flexible that survive”.
I am fortunate that my studio is next to, but not in, my home. This means that I have privacy and quiet, away from housework. And I have enough room to exhibit some of my larger installations, and to teach. What is store for the future? I’m considering offering knitting classes for TV or on YouTube clips.