Nadine Spier: A glorious journey
Nadine Spier is an award-winning fiber artist and instructor. Her elaborately woven vessels and sculptures are displayed internationally in solo, invitational and juried shows.
Nadine is committed to preserving this endangered art form through her teaching and breaking new ground in contemporary basketry. She has an impressive record of exhibitions, commissions and awards including the Handweavers Guild of America Award of Excellence, many First Places, and Juror’s Choice.
She lectures and teaches basketry throughout the U.S. and Canada. Her work has been published in over 20 periodicals and books and featured on the Discovery Channel. She has produced 3 instructional basketry DVD’s which have received high acclaim and sell internationally.
In this interview, Nadine talks about her passion for basketry and what led her to become a self-employed basket weaver and tutor. We learn about the art of coiling and the moment spontaneity took over, focussing Nadine’s energies into physical form.
Savouring the fragrance
TextileArtist.org: How was your imagination captured by basketry?
Nadine Spier: In the mid-1980’s I signed up for several night classes in a variety of topics including bread baking, calligraphy, American Sign Language. Then one semester I signed up for a pine needle basket weaving class. When I walked in the classroom and saw a big mound of dried pine needles, raffia, and several samples of baskets woven with these materials, I was immediately captivated. I cradled the baskets in my hands and marveled that such things could be created from pine needles discarded by nature.
Since I had been concerned about the environment for as long as I can remember, the idea of creating art from recycled plant materials instantly resonated with me. Plus many happy memories of family vacations to Yosemite where my siblings and I would compete for who caught the first aromatic whiff of pine as we approached the area. As we would hike on the trails, I would savor the fragrance of the soft bed of needles underfoot releasing their fresh pine fragrance.
Then, miraculously, years later I discovered an art form that allowed me to use these marvelously scented needles that I had loved for so many years.
What or who were your early influences and how has your upbringing influenced your work?
There was no one in my immediate family who dabbled in art of any kind. They were mostly mathematicians which my brain could never grasp. I was the odd one out in my family who couldn’t wait to get in her room to work on craft projects. I would frequently be found at my little desk stitching, gluing, painting, drawing.
There weren’t any influencing people in my life when it came to art, I just craved it yet didn’t understand where my driving need came from. My craft time was my oasis. My favourite stocking stuffers at Christmas were glue, tape, sequins, beads, maybe a new pair of scissors. How many children get excited over a package of tape or a bottle of glue? I sure did!
Expanding knowledge and skills
What was your route to becoming an artist?
When I took that first basket weaving class years ago, I was working full time at an insurance company. I was not working in a creative field. It was all about colossal loads of paperwork, underwriting, claims and office politics. But I took my weaving to work every day and eagerly awaited my breaks so I could hold my basket and feel it grow with each stitch. Holding and stitching my basket was soothing and nurturing.
I was so obsessed I would keep it on the car passenger seat and sneak in a few stitches at red lights on my commute. My hands couldn’t bear to not be working on my baskets.
There were no basket suppliers near me, so I purchased books through catalogues, devouring each one eagerly upon its arrival, trying to expand my knowledge and skills. I also didn’t know of any other basket weavers in the area, so it was a solitary activity with no one else share to share in the process and creativity.
Then in 1994 my father passed away unexpectedly. During the lengthy healing process my heart ached that he never got to fulfill his dreams of taking a train across Canada, building his own miniature railroad, and other things. It became clear to me that one’s desires should not be put off until retirement because you may not reach retirement and you will have lost that opportunity forever.
In the meantime I discovered the book Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow. This little book influenced me greatly and gave me the courage to consider leaving my drudgery of a job.
I started by teaching basketry at night school to see if I could teach, found that it was wonderful to share this skill with others and eventually quit my job in 1996 to be a fulltime basketweaver. That has been my livelihood ever since and it’s been a glorious journey. Sure I miss the paid vacation time and medical benefits, but that’s nothing compared to being happy, fulfilled and loving what you do for a living.
Tell us a bit about your chosen techniques.
I have taken several basketry classes to explore other techniques, but I always return to my true passion which is coiling. My favorite plant materials are pine needles and sweetgrass. The thread I use is waxed linen from Ireland.
Discovering the unexpected
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
After coiling for about 10 years and focusing on mastering shaping and a variety of stitches, I realised my work lacked creative expression. All my vessels were very symmetrical which satisfied me for quite a long time. But something started to stir inside. I wanted more. I wanted to explore and discover the unexpected.
At that point, I finally found another basketweaver in my area. We discovered that she envied my work for its fastidious detail. I envied her work for her lack of rules, the free-flowing amorphic shapes. I asked her how she did that type of work. Her response was “I stay up really late and drink a lot of wine!”
After laughing, I realised what she was doing was achieving a very relaxed state so she was not controlling the basket, but allowed the basket to unfold naturally without letting her head get in her way. Her other very wise advice was “when you’re getting ready to place a stitch, place it somewhere else!”
So one evening I stayed up really late, which makes my head woozy anyway!, played classical music, lit incense and candles, opened a bottle of wine and went to work. I wove into the early morning hours. I experienced for the first time spontaneous creating where the mind is put aside and the hands effortlessly channel energies into physical form. I called that piece Wandering Spirit.
I saw a prospectus from Art Calendar Magazine requesting entries for an all-media exhibit to be juried by a director from the Smithsonian. I took some slides and sent them off not expecting anything. Later I received a phone call from the editor of the magazine telling me not only was that piece selected for the show but it was to receive a $500 cash bonus award! That felt like the Universe was saying “YOU GO GIRL!” I shortly thereafter gave notice at the insurance company and started my career as a self-employed basketweaver.
Most of my work the past few years has been freeform sculptural pieces that don’t really resemble baskets. But intermittently I crave a return to cradling a simple basket in my hands. Both styles are satisfying on a deep soul level.
To effectively weave a freeform piece I need to be relaxed and spontaneous. So my mood dictates which type of vessel I want to work on. I usually have about 3 pieces under construction so I can grab what appeals to me at that time.
Since most of my work is now sculptural, I consider myself a contemporary fiber artist.
Do you use a sketchbook? If not, what preparatory work do you do?
I keep a sketchbook handy to jot down thoughts, solutions to structural dilemmas, ideas for future projects. But I do not weave specifically from those sketches. They are more for processing and recording thoughts and images.
Tell us about your process from conception to conclusion.
Most often I have no preplanned outcome for my piece. I select the colour palette and beads before I start, but rarely have a mental image of how I want the piece to evolve. When I started to let go of controlling the basket and started weaving intuitively, greater things started to happen in my work and it became freeing and a lot more fun. When the piece nears completion, I really slow down weaving because I don’t want the journey to end.
What environment do you like to work in?
My favorite place to weave is in a camping chair at a campground surrounded by the sights, sounds and smells of nature. Since pine needle coiling is completely portable and does not require soaking, I am able to weave just about anyplace that allows sewing needles and scissors. Airplanes – Yes. Jury duty – No.
What currently inspires you?
I collect contemporary basketry books to occasionally peruse. I ensconce myself in my art studio and luxuriate over the amazing creativity that abounds. Many of the baskets use techniques I don’t know, but I find inspiration in shapes, colours, texture and artist statements.
I also find inspiration in art books on other mediums such as surface design, quilting, book-making, pottery, tapestry and other forms of weaving.
Tell us about a piece of your work that holds particularly fond memories and why?
After I had been weaving for a few years my little dauschund became paralysed and had to undergo very serious spinal surgery. During the decision-making, the surgery and subsequent recovery I worked fervently on one piece to keep myself from being overwhelmed by fear and grief.
When I wasn’t comforting little Scooter, I was stitching, stitching, stitching obsessively. He made a full recovery and actually went hiking in Mammoth Mountains soon after. I called the piece Journey Home since my little fellow came back home to us. This is a piece I hold dear and will never sell.
Since I weave while traveling, many of my pieces hold special memories. This piece was woven using pine needles collected from our campsite at Lake Siskiyou, California.
On a recent trip to the Eastern Sierras, California, I noticed an abundance of sagebrush and decided I wanted to make a basket from the fragrant plants as a memento of the trip. I harvested many soft sprigs and couldn’t wait to plop in my camping chair to get started. The fragrance was amazing!
I later did some research and learned the plant is 40% camphor and 20% pine resin. I also harvested flowers from the surrounding Rabbitbrush for splashes of colour and went to work. Two hours later I had this little basket.
I had planned on making it larger, but the basket decided it wanted to be small. I had harvested too much sage so dried the extra for smudge bundles.
One of my DVD’s teaches how to weave baskets like this, and also how to make wreaths using fresh plants which is entitled Creating with Fresh Lavender.
The unknown potential
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
Sometimes I have fallow periods but I no longer experience fear from them. I know they are part of the creative process that ebbs and flows and allows feelings/memories/inspiration to percolate so it can ultimately find artistic expression.
Remaining relaxed and flowing during these periods allows me to return to my work joyfully. I don’t have a plan or vision of how my work will evolve in the future and am excited about the unknown potential.
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
I would like to quote from a book, Point Zero – Creativity without Limits:
When you create from intuition, your heart is being used. Creation passes through it like a mountain river in the spring, melting ice, washing out debris, opening new passageways, clearing up the most precious place of your being. To allow the clear water’s current to pass through your heart, you must stop trying to manipulate the art by forcing meaning into it.
Can you recommend 3 or 4 books for textile artists?
I don’t have any books specifically relating to textiles. However three books I would recommend are:
What other resources do you use? Blogs, websites, magazines etc.
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
A darning needle!
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
I travel to teach at weaving conferences, national art schools, guilds and for private groups. I also teach locally and provide workshops monthly in my home in the Encinitas area of Southern California. My teaching schedule is available on my website.
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
For many years I belonged to several national professional fiberart groups and we exhibited extensively across the U.S. But unfortunately each of these groups has since folded which has reduced my exhibitions.
However I still keep my eyes open for fiber or mixed media exhibits that will be held in museums or other venues where the work is protected. My work is fragile and cannot be located where it will be freely handled by the public.
Where can readers see your work this year?
Nadine’s 3 instructional basketry DVD’s are:
For more information visit: www.nadinespier.com
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