Experimental Fiber Art Workshops
By Jennifer Nelson, WTP Feature Writer
A native of Massachusetts, Jodi Colella creates provocative, tactile artwork that often includes public participation and uses a broad range of materials. She has exhibited widely and has been featured in Huffpost Art & Culture, Artscope, The Boston Globe, Harvard Crimson, 500 Felt Objects, Boston University’s Arts & Science Magazine, and The Worcester Telegram. She has taught at Society for Craft in Pittsburgh, Surface Design Association’s Confluence conference in Minneapolis, and the Eliot School in Boston. She earned a BA from Boston University. She studied at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston, as well as Tuft University’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts.
See Jodi Colella’s work in WTP Vol. VI #2.
Jodi Colella had been teaching fiber-art workshops for over a decade when students approached her about getting involved in the more experimental—they liked her approach to art materials, and wanted something more than a workshop on technique. It would take several years and the commitment of former students, but Colella was able to launch FiberLAB in her studio in Somerville in 2015.
In contrast to workshops that do emphasize primarily fiber techniques such as needle-felting, sculptural crochet, and embroidery, FiberLAB allows participants to focus on individual projects utilizing these techniques, but also alternative processes and materials. Early on, students started calling their place of instruction “FiberLAB” because it advocated this approach as if experimenting in a laboratory. “I’m filling a bit of a void for people who don’t need to take technique classes over and over, but want to belong to something bigger,” said Colella. “They get to use my studio space and supplies, and they can borrow my books and tools. I mentor them. Everyone in the group works individually, but they are very supportive of each other.”
Colella facilitates the three-hour sessions and provides individualized instruction. “It can be a very fluid three hours where we follow particular interests that arise while we’re talking, or it can be an activity we plan for in advance of the class, or both.” Each class begins by sharing what everybody has been trying out, and whether they’re satisfied or not. Artists are encouraged to ask questions to tap into each other’s experiences. Feedback and the exchange of information is key to FiberLAB.
At these bi-weekly workshops, Colella always has something happening in the background, like weaving, dyeing, or wire wrapping. Participants are welcome to join in these activities, but aren’t required to do so. And they can try out materials without the stress and expense of buying supplies: “Working in materials and different mediums can be very expensive and intimidating, especially if you decide that it isn’t working for you,” says Colella. “This way, there is nothing stopping you from experimenting, letting go and being spontaneous…and that’s usually where and when the magic happens when you’re creating art…letting go of that fear and allowing things to evolve.”
Needless to say, the class atmosphere can be very chaotic with several different activities happening at once. Sometimes artists trip over each while dyeing, stamping, or sewing. In a “Borrow Book,” they sign out materials, tools, or a book. The range of mediums students can explore include wire, pinecones, paper pulp, paints, and wool.
There are various processes to explore as well, such as improvisational weaving, sculpting with organza and thread, and eco-dyeing with natural pigments and materials:
They can push the boundaries of basket weaving into the abstract, using found materials and spontaneous weavings with dyed fabrics and embroidery to create award-winning vessels:
They can even build their own armatures with natural reed.
Participants range from the professional artist to the novice fiber enthusiast seeking to enhance their repertoire of skills, as well as the lapsed artist who may view FiberLAB as a way of re-energizing their commitment to creating art regularly. For instance, artist and FiberLAB student Rebekah Lord Gardiner’s woven works were installed in an exhibition alongside her printmaking and painting artworks, above.
All are in search of community and art-making; most are women. And while the students may inspire each other, they also in turn, inspire their teacher: “Sometimes they’re interested in something I don’t have experience with, and may not have explored on my own if it wasn’t for them,” said Colella. “This requires research, materials procurement, and experimentation. I also use the time to learn about topics and techniques that I’ve always wanted to but couldn’t find the opportunity to do so.”
FiberLAB students are excited about their work and comfortable with the environment of fun experimentation. Their enthusiasm is contagious, and their time experimenting invaluable to all, students and teacher alike: “Teaching FiberLAB every other week gives me focus and structure, reminding me not to forget to ask ‘what if…,’” Colella says. “I share my discoveries with them and they share theirs with me…we all gain from the openness of our practices.”
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