Q&A: Crochet Artist Lisa Anderson Shaffer
From Crochetscene 2017
(Header Image by Alice Wu)
Vic’s Picks | things you’ll love
By Vickie Howell
Lisa Anderson Shaffer is a fellow CreativeLive instructor and fiber artist. She and I recently chatted on my podcast, CRAFT*ish, about her life as a working artist, her business Zelma Rose, and her crochet installation collection, Aerial. Here’s a bit of that conversation.
VH: You have a wonderful mind-set of allowing the fluidity of the creative process to happen—to let the materials shine through in your work. Where does that “permission slip” come from to just let the process be what it will be?
LAS: I think it’s partly due to growing up in a creative household. My mom is an artist— she started out as a visual merchandiser for windows in Bloomingdale’s in Manhattan, then was an arts educator, so we just always had stuff around. We had bolts of fabric, trimming, anything you can imagine that would be discarded from window displays during the pre-recycling days. My mom said that the stuff was there for me to use—to do whatever I wanted with it—and there was no right and wrong with art supplies. I was being encouraged to experiment from a very early age.
VH: You don’t sketch designs, but rather write down the ideas for your fiber art and jewelry pieces in words. Talk about that choice.
LAS: For me as an artist, there’s so much frustration and competition in the idea in my mind and what is actually possible when you’re fabricating something physically. I feel like I want to allow the space and conversation between the physical materials and the idea, instead of having this very exact image that I’ve put onto paper about what [a design] is supposed to look like. I can actually listen to the materials and have more flexibility in the design, which ultimately makes me happier and, I think, makes for a better design.
VH: You’ve explored many artistic mediums and are currently a fiber artist. Can you share how that came about?
LAS: My business, Zelma Rose, is named after both of my grandmothers. One of them, Rosemarie, is still alive at ninety-three years old and crochets for an hour every day. She taught me how to knit. And Zelma always had a needlepoint easel up and invited me to watch while I handed her whatever color thread she needed. Needlework as a crafting element was always very alive [in my family]. I was always playing with it when I was very young. Then when I was in art school, my body of work was essentially fiber art. I was a fiber artist in the late nineties when that wasn’t necessarily a thing that was recognized. Now when you say “fiber artist,” the general population goes, “Okay, that means knit, crochet, quilting, weaving, or something within that realm.”
The body of work I was doing for the culmination of my degree was a quilt—cross-stitch on cheesecloth, drawing and sewing things onto tea bags. It was a multitude of things that today would no doubt be categorized as fiber arts and definitely involved needlework, but was then considered “mixed media.” So, I feel like I’ve been doing it for a very long time. It initially had an undercurrent for me as being very “craft,” then it turned into a design element for my jewelry, then very recently into a fine art for me.
VH: You use a range of knotting techniques, embroidery, and other needle arts in your products and artwork. Why was crochet the right form of fiber expression for your Aerial installation, and what was the inspiration behind the collection?
LAS: My fascination with the ever-changing flux of nature began when we moved to West Marin [California] nearly three years ago. Surrounded by sweeping views of the nearby mountains while confronted with intimate details of a single leaf raised a curiosity and heightened my sensitivity to viewing both perspectives simultaneously. Aerial is an invitation to experience both the faraway and the intimate details of nature all at once: to see not only the coastline, but also each grain of sand, all at the same time—all the while confronted by the fact that the same location at the same time on the next day will be completely different. Forever temporary.
The current manifestation of Aerial was about a year in the making. It started out as cross-stitch on various-sized hoops. While beautiful and satisfying to work on, the whole process just didn’t feel right. Like it hadn’t reached where it was supposed to go. I had two choices: either set it aside or just keep working and have faith that something would shift. I had a deep-seated feeling that the work itself, the process of creating these pieces, needed to be more physical.
I needed to be moving more, working with heavier materials, something a little less delicate. When I first picked up the cord I use now, and imagined the works more like sculptures, I knew crochet would be perfect. The physical act of working the cord with the hook, the lifting of the weight of the cord once crocheted, and the texture and pattern of finished chains met all the needs of the piece, both artistic and functional. I was moving more, engaged both physically and artistically with the piece, and crochet provided a sturdy and textured supportive structure to lay the foundation for the more detailed work of the knots and embroidery.
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