Jane Dunnewold Part 1: Making Time
Jane Dunnewold is an accomplished artist, teacher and author based in Texas.
When “surface design” was becoming popular as a field, she founded the Surface Design Studio at the Southwest School of Craft in San Antonio, Texas, and grew the department from 3 classes the first semester to 16 classes ten years later. During that time (1996) her notes were picked up and published as Complex Cloth by Fiber Studio Press (Bothell, WA.).
Jane has also written and/or co-authored five additional books, including Creativity Strength Training: Prompts, Exercises and Stories to Inspire Artistic Genius– to be published by North Light Books in May 2016.
Her work has been included in exhibitions all over the world, including one person exhibitions in the UK, Australia, and at the Schweinfurth Art Center (NY) and University of Louisville (KY) In 2016, New Work: Inspired by the Masters will open at the Visions Quilt Museum in San Diego, CA, and Global Inspirations will be shown at Fibreworks, north of Vancouver, Canada.
In the first edition of this in-depth 3-part interview with Jane, she recalls her early life and the initial influences that would shape her future career.
Grandmother’s button collection
TextileArtist.org: What initially attracted you to textiles as a medium?
Jane Dunnewold: There was never a time when I wasn’t enthralled by textiles. As a tiny child my favorite activity was playing with my grandmother’s button collection. My sisters and I played Barbie House on a large quilt with vivid colors (the blocks were the rooms) made by my grandmother. Each Barbie doll had elaborate cardboard and cloth furniture in her “room” and improvised outfits from scraps of cloth. My mother sewed all our clothes, including fancy dresses for holidays. I had a fur “muff” and coat with a velvet collar. I learned to sew at the age of 10, learned to embroider in high school, and to upholster furniture in my twenties.
What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?
My father was a pastor of a country church and the quilt group met every Thursday, sharing lunch and quilting the entire afternoon. I couldn’t wait to ride my bicycle to the church after school so I could sit under the quilt frame and listen to them talk – watching the needles poke gently through the fabric in a regular, even rhythm. When we moved from that church to another in a larger town, those women gave me a large quilt with a “tree of life” appliquéd on it. (A kit I later discovered, when I saw the same quilt at the Houston Quilt Show!) I still have the quilt although it is quite tattered from use.
My female relatives were knitters and sewers and quilters. My parents were hugely influential – when they needed something – furniture, painting in a room, wall papering, etc – they did it themselves. If they didn’t know how, they learned. They instilled self-reliance in us; which has carried me through my entire life.
They also took us to museums on a regular basis, and I adored the paintings and sculptures we saw. My father was condescending toward Claes Oldenburg’s giant stuffed sculptures – soft sculptures of real life objects – and scoffed at them, but I loved the fact that they were made from fabric. His work was one of the first influences that led me to textiles as an art form, although I was fortunate to grow up when textiles were becoming a major presence as ART – so in my 20’s I was able to see work from all the important artists in the field – Katherine Westphal, Jack Lenor Larson, Sheila Hicks – and then later, artists who were transforming the quilt into the art quilt – Nancy Crow, Michael James, and others.
Life according to my own rules and desires
What was your route to becoming an artist?
I did not set out to become an artist, although I was always creative and had my hands in various craft projects. In university I majored in psychology and religion, intending to enter either the ministry, or pursue an advanced psychology degree.
As it turned out, I fell in love with a musician. Instead of graduate school, I decided to go with him to Boston, Massachusetts for a year. I picked up a waitressing job in a restored train depot. The money was great but the hours were even better. I had plenty of time to pursue my interests. I enrolled in classes at the Massachusetts College of Art, and took the first quilting class Michael James ever taught there! My technique totally sucked. I didn’t have the patience to make corners match, so my quilts were misshapen and poorly constructed. It didn’t help that I tried to make a Rob Peter to Pay Paul pattern (elaborate curves and corners) with satin polyester. I was definitely/defiantly green, and am sure Michael thought I was a disaster.
That year I also saved enough money to spend a week on Nantucket Island studying with Erica Wilson, who was my idol because of her fantastic embroidery books. I was out of my league – the class was populated with wealthy middle-aged mothers and members of the Embroidery Guild of America, but I was smitten. I adored everything about stitching.
Fast forward: I married the musician, he won a job with the Symphony in San Antonio, we packed up everything and drove across the country to Texas, which may as well have been another country, it was so foreign to us. The very first thing I did, upon arriving, was to call Wilanna Bristow – an embroiderer whose work was included in Erica Wilson’s books. She agreed to meet me, and suggested studying at the Southwest Craft Center, where I took every class she offered.
This association with the Craft Center was valuable, because in 1990, after two failed marriages – the second of which led to a painful bankruptcy and divorce – I hit a personal wall – and hit it hard. I realized I’d been living my life according to other people’s expectations – my father, my husbands…I was divorced and broke, with a 2 year old daughter. Maybe it was a gamble, but it was time to begin living life according to my own rules and desires. So I set out to determine them.
I went to the Craft Center and began a three month campaign to convince the director to establish a Surface Design Studio. I bugged him relentlessly – calling and dropping by – every week. When he finally hired me, I know he wasn’t fond of me. I’d just worn him down. He gave me two large, cluttered rooms, a pittance of a salary, and told me I’d better have classes ready to offer at the start of the Summer term. I was ecstatic. And I did.
Thus began my career as an artist educator. I left the Craft Centre (now the Southwest School of Art) ten years later. My book was doing well, offers to teach and exhibit were promising. I left the school without a steady income, but never looked back.
Does anything in Jane’s story resonate with you? How did your journey start? Let us know in the comments below. And remember to look out for the next part of our interview with Jane.
7 comments on “Jane Dunnewold Part 1: Making Time”
Buttons and Barbies were part of my artistic development as well. In fact, Buttons was my toddler nickname (not because I played with them–which I did–but because I swallowed one that my mother had to keep hunting for). I never much liked Barbies, and didnt collect anything for them, but I did sew clothing, and made a huge house out of scraps (before we even heard the word recycling). Fortunately for me, Jane has also been part of my creative process, with encouragement and inspiration. And part of that is her no-holds-barred honesty about her life journey.
I took classes from Jane at the craft center and learned so many different ways to create beautiful fabrics using many mediums. Her classes were excellent and so glad I lived close enough at the time to learn from her and the great artists she brought in to teach fiber art classes! Thanks Jane!
Definitely, my grandmother’s button jar was an inspiration for me. I even bought myself a button jar filled with antique buttons when I became an adult. Both my grandmothers were seamstress, and one made beautiful crazy quilts out of the left over dress material of her’s and her daughter’s dresses she sewed them. I loved snuggling up and hearing about the history of each piece of fabric. I also loved my grandmother’s embroidery she did on napkins and linen table cloths. My older sister was a wonderful seamstress and also made her own patterns for silk screen. As a tween and teenager, I sewed my own dresses and made Raggedy Anne dolls, as well as needle point, and latch hook projects. When I went to college, I sewed my own quilt to take to the college dorm and later quilted a quilt for my older brother for Christmas. A few years ago, I became interested in weaving and took a couple weaving classes at the contemporary art center near where I lived. I loved weaving. My husband purchased a 4-shaft counter balance floor loom for me. Also, at the public library, I learned how to make my own simple weaving loom and weave a picture from a local artist and I also took a beginner’s knitting class at the library. Currently, I’ve started making my own paper and see a lot of possibilities to incorporate handmade paper in a mixed media art piece. Fiber Arts really is a big part of my own family history-mostly done out of necessity early on by my grandmothers. I’m honored to continue the tradition and to create interesting pieces of fiber art.
So many of Jane’s experiences reflect my own. My parents both grew up on farms and farmers are known for their ability to ‘make do’ which means you do it yourself or don’t do it all all. You made the tools, you hung the wallpaper, you figured out how to do it.
I was a huge fan of Erica Wilson as a young girl, who knew anyone else was. I have been a ‘maker’ all my life. I started sewing in the fourth grade, my mother made all the girls’ clothing in the family, I was embroidering as a young child and doing crewel work as a teenager and young wife.
Although I haven’t been educated in art at the university level, I have taken advantage of every opportunity to extend my art education.
I recall spending many hours under the quilts my grandmother hand quilted picking up the pins she dropped on the floor. Her quilts were not fancy but very utilitarian. She showed her love by making things with her hands. Imstill have a stuffed clown doll she made for me. It was one of probably more than 100 dolls, sock monkeys and clowns she made for her many grandchildren.
The only missing link between Jane’s growing up and mine is that my mother was a tomboy who did not like anything related to fiber in any shape or form and my grandmother was the same. My creativeness came from one of my aunts who never used a pattern for anything whether it was sewing, crewel, embroidery tatting. Each Christmas I anxiously awaited her hand made card of her own design. It always had her artwork and beds, fabric of some sort. I feel so fortunate that later in her life she gave me her sample from each year, around twenty. Erica Wilson was also my idol and needlepoint, oh how I loved needlepoint. I designed some of my own needlepoint and was fortunate to work and teach needlepoint classes in an actual needlepoint store in Hawaii.
I grew up on a Texas ranch with no one else to play with but with the button tin. Being an only child had lots of rewards whichI believe that is why and how I was able to nurture my creativeness. This creativeness has helped me get though a few traumatic periods in my life.
Thank you Jane for all of your wonderful inspiration and instruction. I was fortunate to take your class in Anchorage and then visit your studio. I learned knitting, crocheting, tatting and stitching from a grandmother and still have tons of old buttons. I’ve been beading in the centers of them and using them as buttons or brooches. But I still play with fiber as well. Looking forward to your new book. Thank you again.
Reminded me of my grandmother’s love for flowers, which she took seed from 1956 MI and her mother and father’s fruit farm/flower garden/ and grew the seeds in AZ. Her home was always filled with color, home made items of sewing/crocheting,lace making, rug work, tatting, and outside a lovely painting. Much like this artist/s work. Thank you. atk