Fiber artist Kathleen Gerdes knows all about how to “Do It Your Way!” She has to pinch herself when she thinks about all of the changes in her life in recent years — GOOD changes and they’re all related to fiber. We’re thrilled to have her join us as an artist and teacher this year. Let’s meet Kathleen.
Fiber College’s 2014 theme is “Do It Your Way!” What does “Do It Your Way!” mean to you from your perspective as a fiber artist and teacher?
After many years of working in the corporate world and while always looking out the window and dreaming of being an artist, I finally made the break several years ago. One day, I suddenly realized that I no longer cared to be climbing the corporate ladder, needlessly stressing day after day and dreading my every waking hour in my office. I woke up one day and said “OK, that’s enough. I need to LOVE my life.”
I made my first call to Casey Ryder at Portfiber in Portland, Maine and asked her if she would teach me to spin, having been given (almost for free) a beautiful Ashford Traditional Wheel. With joyful noises, we embarked on a 3-week class in which I not only (somewhat) mastered the art of spinning, but I also became enamored with all of the delicious wool that surrounded me during each class. At the time, I was a part time knitter, crocheter, and seamstress, but that all changed when I realized that I could make beautiful landscapes and whimsical 3D creatures from wool, in a process called Needle Felting. It was love at first sight. And ever since, I have spent endless (stress free) hours developing my passion. I will always be grateful to Casey and also to Gloria at Nezinscot Farm in Turner for the teaching opportunities that they have given me these last few years. And now I am humbled to be joining the Fiber College roster of teachers. I’ve “done it my way” and I’ve never been happier.
What kind of creative patterns, routines, or rituals do you have?
I’ve always dabbled in photography and I have found that some of my favorite subjects are images of women, whether they be captured in good light, walking or dancing. And to me, there is a certain air about seeing a woman dance that makes my heart sing. Because I have done it, I can feel her exhilaration and the freedom she feels with such simple movements. Thus, it seemed natural for me to create a dancing lady made out of fiber. I enjoy making each dancing lady in her own unique style and colors. No two ladies are alike. And when I teach a class, the dancing ladies that my students create are as unique and beautiful as their makers. With the ongoing creation of many dancing ladies, and with the increased number of classes that I am now teaching, the dancing lady has become a ritual in my life. I love each and every one of them, because they are like we are…..each of us is unique and beautiful. And as my life continues, I know that I will meet not only “real” dancing ladies but there will also be many more fiber ladies to meet, too.
What project has given you the most satisfaction and why?
Without a doubt, my “dancing lady” is the nearest and dearest to me. Each one that I make has a different personality and name and they all make my heart sing with joy! When I am creating them, they become an extension of myself……happy, dancing, a lover of music and free-spirited. Their mass of gray/brown/white curls is what I hope my hair looks like someday!
Tell us about a proud moment you’ve had as a result of your students’ efforts.
I’ve always been some type of a teacher. In my “past life”, I did a fair amount of training (as the corporate world calls it) both one on one and in classroom situations. But none compare to the joy that I feel now when I am teaching fiber classes. More than once, I was particularly proud when my students began the class saying that they’d never be able to create anything as beautiful as mine. But by the end of the class, they were beaming ear to ear because indeed they had created something that they didn’t think possible. The thank you’s that I hear after class add continual joy to my life. And then there’s those quiet moments when my students say to me what a wonderful teacher I am…..they value my patience, my insight into the doubt they have about creating the project and the confidence that I instill in each and every one of them. I can hardly believe they are talking about ME! Humbly, I will go forward and love each and every moment that I have with them.
You’ve just run into an old friend from high school. How do you answer the question, “What do YOU do?”
“Well, here’s the short version of a long story”, I’d say. I would tell them that I raised two sons, worked hard in very difficult jobs, worked for people who never thought twice about stepping on toes to get what they wanted, until I couldn’t do it anymore and then I would tell them about how my world has changed because of fiber. I would be eager to tell them about being able to create beautiful things every single day of my life, being with like-minded people who LOVE what they do too, and about how my world has opened up like a new bloom on a flower. I would tell them how very lucky I am that I can now design and create even before my first cup of coffee is gone each morning!
How do you imagine your work might change in the next five years?
When I look back to the last few years and the passions that I have developed in this fiber world, I had no idea where my path would take me. I could never have imagined that little ole me (yes me) would be THE “featured artist” at a local café, not just once but twice in the last year. Not only have I received kudos from my fiber friends but this display has been also been viewed by the community around me and they too are amazed and excited about my work. I imagine myself, in the next five years, becoming even more creative and vibrant with my fiber work. I so enjoy meeting other needle felters and I’ve realized that we are a sharing group who gets excited about each other’s accomplishments. I can picture that I will be spending more time learning the art of wet felting and as we all know, the possibilities for that are endless. I always tell my friends that I don’t have enough life left to do what I want to do in the fiber world. What a wonderful feeling to be so well-nourished and fulfilled with art!
Who has had the greatest influence on your work as an artist?
Without hesitation, I can say that Casey Ryder has been the one person who has not only encouraged me, but she also has been there for me every step of the way. Casey has a tremendous depth of knowledge when it comes to fiber and as the old saying goes, she’s taught me everything I know. I am forever indebted to her for extending that very first invitation to teach in her studio and for introducing me to all of the wonderful fiber folks that we know. Casey is also the one who encouraged me to attend my first fiber camp at The New England Fiber Arts Retreat at Medomak Camps. That is, without a doubt, my favorite week of the year. I will be attending the camp for the 3rd time in 2014 and just can’t wait to get back to the infamous “sitting and knitting” porch rockers, fiber classes with the incredible instructors, and the leisure time spent with over 30 other fiber enthusiasts from across the country.
How do you ensure plenty of time to be an artist?
Once you “become” an artist, the time is always there for you. Even though I now own my own small business, I make sure that I work only part time so that planning my “fiber time” is just as important as planning time for my “clients”. And I have no doubt that because my priorities are where they should be now, I have happier and more grateful clients when I am with them.
What’s the greatest thing you’ve learned as a fiber artist?
I’ve learned that there are many, many good and loving people here in Maine, who will support the arts not only spiritually but also financially. Having not been associated with this sector previously, I’ve come to know so many people who have the same passion and love of fiber that I do. And I am an avid supporter of those fiber people that I encounter as well. I love to explore new sheep farms, new alpaca farms and independent shop owners who are trying to make a living doing what they love. I support them wholeheartedly and financially, and encourage others to do the same. Back to the land has never had much meaning for me…..until now.
What’s the most important thing that you want potential students to know about you?
I begin all of my classes by telling my students that 1.) we are here to relax and enjoy each moment, 2.) the artwork that we will be doing is fulfilling and it will warm your heart and 3.) I love what I am doing and being an instructor in the fiber world is the best thing that has ever happened to me.