Welcome to the Pine to Prairie Fiber Arts Trail!
I was introduced to this area through knotting artists Dawn Standera and Karen-lisa Forbes. Two years ago, I sought outstanding fiber artists from the Midwest to include in the 2014 Fiber Art Almanac. By a stroke of good fortune, I came Knotmore, Inc. which is a knotting cord supplier, on Facebook. I laughed out loud when I read the tagline, “string theory you can grasp.” Then I discovered they were from Bemidji, Minnesota. Since then, Dawn has become sole proprietor of Knotmore. Both artists have continued to flourish and develop their art through Regional 2 Arts Council study and residency grants, commission work and getting out there and talking with people. Dawn referred me to Lori and Bonnie who had just put together their first Creative Spirit Fiber Festival. The festival happens in February; why not–what’s winter up north got to do with it?
After some initial stops, starts and waiting for timing (mostly on my part), we got going on this project in the last couple of months. The area is alive with entrepreneurial endeavors. Stephanie Anderson started Northern Woolen Mill in Fosston, Watermark Art Center recently hosted an exhibit of large silk panels by local textile artist Mary Therese, and Keila McCracken is looking at fiber as a full cycle renewable resource with Northern Minnesota Fibershed. The timing is ripe to talk about what’s happening in this rural Minnesota community.
The purpose of the Trail is to bring awareness of this community as a group and as individual members to the larger fiber arts audience. I know you’ll be inspired by their escapades, events and how they approach their work. Over the next six months, I’ll tell their stories and how their stories tell the colorful, independent and diverse story of life where the pines meet the prairie.
Making the trip to Bemidji
Coming up from the south, the drive is pretty and green with rolling hills and water just below the surface. Lake places and places where people want to let go of the hustle are tucked into the hills and deep green woods at the end of dirt and gravel roads. The winding road does feel a little remote, more like it’s best to be there by invitation, not breezing through, yet as with most rural places, everyone is known. There’s no doubt the diverse ecosystems, of which there are three in the Bemidji area, connect the land to the people. Bemidji rides the Laurentian Divide up on the northern tier in northwest Minnesota; known for its iconic black and red lumberjack shirts and legendary Minnesota lore. The word ‘headwaters’ is used a lot around here. Heading north and west out of Itasca before curling around in an easterly fashion, the Mississippi River flows through Lake Bemidji, giving Bemidjians an honest right to call their home the ‘First City’ on the river. The ancient hills give way to vistas that just fifty miles to the east, wouldn’t have seemed possible.
A bit about who is involved, so far
The diverse culture in this area has a long history of Native peoples, voyageurs, settlers and pioneers. Commonalities include a sacred connection to the land and a strong sense of self-reliance. The textile consciousness in this region shares those values, too. More than once the phrase, “repurposing into an art form” came up in conversation around the table. Intentional sustainability restores and keeps people grounded while it also inspires innovation in northern Minnesota fiber traditions.
Keila McCracken started the Northern Minnesota Fibershed project to focus on sustainability and replenishment. Keila, who is from Bemidji, went to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and upon graduation, came back with a clear dream of making her mark. The guiding principle behind the Fibershed is to use the resources that are native to this area. The options are plentiful. Fiber from the animals who live here, dye from local flora, and design and construction by local tailors and seamstresses.
Stephanie Anderson’s Northern Woolen Mill is in Fosston, where the land has smoothed out to high prairie. Starting operations in 2013, her mill is one of the top yarn producing mills in the United States. Northern prioritizes processing a variety of fiber from local and regional farmers. Alethea Kenney works with producers to help them keep the health of their herd in balance using natural products and minerals. Jane Carlstrom sews wool veggies, among many other things (she let me make veggie-cairns out of her tomatoes) and sells both the edible and fabric varieties at Bemidji’s Natural Choice Farmer’s Market. Jane is also a felt maker and seamstress. Jeana Johnson is a food and fiber artisan who with her husband have a total combined 79 years making bread and 74 years of canning. You don’t have to call me twice to dinner!
Carrie Jessen is a part of the Voyageur reenactment community and weaves huge woolen blankets using weave structures from colonial times. At her quilt shop south of Bemidji, Bonnie Lundorff designs her own quilt applique patterns using various types of wool, both hand and commercially dyed. She loves quilts and also loves hosting large parties (aka the Fall Harvest Festival that welcomes 1000s each September). Kristin Majkrzak weaves tapestries depicting the magnificent Northern Lights and also her observations from daily walks. Bruce Engebretson is a craftsman, an artisan who learned to weave, spin and dye in the ethnic tradition of northern Minnesota. His focus is on technique, those skills which not too many generations ago were relied upon to make household textiles that provided warmth, comfort and basic needs.
On the subject of repurposing, knotter Dawn Standera recently worked on a 12’ tall plant hanger made entirely out of recycled tires. She’s making patterns to teach kids from urban areas how to make things with their hands. Dawn also does commission work and happily runs Knotmore, a knotting cord supplier to the fiber arts community. Karen-lisa Forbes just moved her knotting studio to a new studio space at Freehand Studio in downtown Bemidji. Karen works on commission pieces, exhibits and sells her work throughout the region.
Watermark Art Center is a trail supporter, offering a place to hold events, artists and marketing support. They’ll be moving to a remodeled, much larger location in the next year or so and we can’t wait! We look forward to working with Lori, not only because she’s a knitter, but because the non-profit is a landmark supporter of arts in Bemidji. Headwaters School of Music and Arts has just jumped in and offered to host our Grand Opening Weekend Artist’s Reception and the Weekend’s Keynote Speaker–who shall remain a mystery until we’re signed.
As much as this group of textile artists value self-reliance, they are also very collaborative. If they want to get something moving, they pick up the phone and make the call. The supportive arts community in the northern tier has a low barrier for putting good ideas in motion, so it’s no wonder the region is a dynamic fabric of talent. If you are interested in learning more about membership of Pine to Prairie Fiber Arts Trail, please contact a Trail Member or email Jenny Wilder. We welcome you to come to where the pines meet the prairie and find your own creative spirit!
Our Grand Opening Weekend is April 8 – 10, 2016! Watch for more details and info regarding the inspiring artists and event!