Summer in Maine? Yummy blueberries. The smell of saltwater. The cadence of the incoming tide. Building sandcastles. Delicious lobster and steamed mussels dipped in drawn butter. And . . . Santa Steve at Fiber College!
For those of us who are lucky enough to know Steve Schreurs, we just can’t imagine the tenth anniversary of Fiber College without Steve and his chainmail classes. This year he’s offering a two-day intensive on Wednesday and Thursday as well as rolling sessions (for artists of all levels — yes, beginners, too!) through the rest of the weekend. Steve knows how to make something new accessible to everyone, no matter your age. He also knows how to encourage his students which becomes evident in their creations throughout the weekend of Fiber College and beyond. Aside from that, you’ll be hard put to find a nicer or more generous man. Please read about Steve here and then go sign up for his two-day intensive here. Tokens for rolling sessions can be purchased throughout the weekend so you can enroll for an hour or more at a time that works for you and Steve.
As we celebrate the tenth year of our Fiber College community, tell us about how community plays a part in your life as a fiber artist.
Chainmail is as much about teaching and sharing as it is about creating. Most armorers have students and a community of interest where ideas and techniques are shared and discussed. We also have mailing meets, similar to quilting bees, which provide an opportunity to socialize and share ideas. For me personally, I love teaching and I use the unique look and feel of chainmail to capture the interest of observers and to inspire my students.
What keeps you coming back to Fiber College? How is FC different from other teaching venues? What’s your favorite thing about Fiber College?
I keep returning to Fiber College for a number of reasons. First and foremost, Astrig and Steve Tanguay are wonderful hosts for the event and add a special touch to Fiber College. Secondly, I enjoy the outdoor setting as a teaching venue rather than being tucked away in a room. The fresh air and ocean breezes are wonderful. Although, on a rainy, windy day my Armorer’s tent can present its challenges. Last and certainly not least, I keep coming back to Fiber College for the people, both students and instructors.
How do you keep your creativity fresh and new? What have you experimented with in the fiber arts in the past year?
Keeping my creativity fresh and overcoming roadblocks have a similar solution for me. Depending on the situation, I might be “burned out” and need to take a break and do something different for a while. I use nature, resource books, other fiber arts, and the internet for ideas or allowing my mind to mull over concepts and techniques. For experimentation, I have been exploring ways and designs to expand chainmail from a two-dimensional form to a three-dimensional form.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever given to a student or another fiber friend?
Since I have several fields of art, my advice to the students does not address any specific art form. Much of this advice is good for sports, work, art or any endeavor you pursue. Whether you pick the field of art or the art picks you, make sure that you are pursuing something you love. To enjoy the activity and perform the best you are capable of in an activity, you must like what you are doing. Here is the advice I gave a young man as he was deciding what college major he would pursue. His father was pushing him to become a physics teacher because it was a safe bet and a steady job. The young man was not particularly interested in being a teacher but he loved cartography. The questions I posed to him were “Would you like to be taught by someone who was not enthusiastic about the subject? Will you enjoy going to work every day and feel that you have given your best?” I am happy to say that he is very successfully working in the field he loves, Geographic Information Systems.
What does your studio space look like now? What change would you make if you could?
The whole house is my studio. For my cooking, the kitchen is my studio. For cartooning, the kitchen table and the deck table are my usual studios. For my macrame, the deck, kitchen, living room, and basement are used as studios.
My chainmail studio is a combination of a work area in the basement, the kitchen table, and any place that I am comfortable cutting and weaving rings. The work space in the basement is for wire storage and ring winding. I have a jig setup with clamps that allow me to change spindles and make rings of various sizes. In this area, the wire is wound into coils of rings. The coil of rings looks like a door spring. The next step is to cut across the top of the coil of rings resulting in individual rings. For most projects, the cutting is done with a pair of aviation snips. This activity is usually performed on the kitchen table where I can easily catch stray rings. Although, I sometimes watch TV or a movie while I am cutting rings if I have a large number of rings to cut. Each coil of rings produces approximately 300 rings. Once the rings are cut, I start the weaving of the chainmail. I will have created the pattern for the project prior to starting the weaving. Sometimes, I design as I go if I am in a creative mood. While weaving the chainmail, I setup for a portion of the work and then weave that portion. The setup usually entails preparing open and closed rings that are used for the weaving. That is about all there is to it.
I even have a mobile studio for macrame, cartooning, and chainmail. I use a large backpack to transport my materials and tools (sometimes for more than one art) to a different location where I setup for work. Sometimes it is my sister’s or parents’ house and sometimes it is a quiet place in a park or campground. When I am running at Disney World or visiting Searsport Shores, I am camping and many of the other campers want to learn about what I am doing.
Tell us about a proud moment you’ve had as a result of your students’ efforts.
The proud moments I have with my students are when they make a breakthrough with a new skill or creating a design that they can bring into reality. Although the basic tool skills for making chainmail can be learned in a few hours, they are not easy to learn. The triumph on a student’s face when they master the skills is always a proud moment for both the student and me.
How do you imagine your work might change in the next three to five years?
I have spent a major portion of my time creating articles of clothing (shirts, jackets, pouches, dresses, and coifs) and simple jewelry (bracelets, necklaces, and rings) using the standard chainmail weaves. I expect to expand my work into more textures and into sculpture.
Who has had the greatest impact on your work as an artist?
For chainmail, there is not so much as a who as a what that has influenced my art. I love the different textures of the three basic chainmail weaves, European, Asian, and Persian. These are all fabric weaves and can be combined to make beautiful products. There also some jewelry-only weaves like kings braid and spiral that I use for accent.
How do you ensure plenty of time to be an artist?
Time is my biggest nemesis. My “day job” is 10-12 hours per day; my endurance training is many hours per week; and my charity fundraising and volunteer activities also require a significant amount of time. And then of course I have multiple artistic interests. I have to prioritize my artistic activities according to what has to be completed by when. For me, there is no such thing as “plenty of time to be an artist.” I have to achieve sufficient time to fulfill my commitments and have a little free form time. Mostly I get the free form time during my vacations or when I am traveling for an endurance event. I have been asked many times how I fit it all in. The answer is 6 hours of sleep, planning, and perseverance. With all of that being said, my creative self is evident in everything I do. My “work self” needs as much creativity as my “artist self.”
What’s the most important thing that you want potential students to know about you?
I love to teach and I am patient with my students. Learning chainmail comes in fits and starts. It is my job to help my students through the discouraging times as well as to guide them during the inspiring and highly productive time.