Friday, June 20, 2008

Greetings From Sheboygan, Wisconsin

I'm here in Sheboygan, which is a picture perfect small city on the shore of Lake Michigan. The John Michael Kohler Arts Center, which is hosting me, is an absolute gem of a gallery. The collection of folk/ousider/vernacular art is as impressive, magical and heart-breaking as I imagined it would be. A gorgeous building, friendly smart people, great art, awesome programming - really, everyone, you have to visit here one day.

And the washrooms have to be experienced! Check this out:
http://www.jmkac.org/TheWashrooms
(I'm sorry, I'm not on my home computer so there will be a shortage of links. Just Google.)

The show Vested Interests blew my mind. Basically, fiber art with political intent, featuring some of my most favourite hero artists, like Lisa Anne Auerbach and Mark Newport. And there were some people I hadn't known before but was really impressed by, like Anne Lemanski, Frau Fiber and Natalie Chanin. The famous Ms. Homeland Security: Illegal Entry Dress Tent was there, too, along with some of the Japanese kimonos from the recent book Wearing Propaganda.

And I will give a full report on the Swap-O-Rama-Rama to be held on Sunday once I'm back home. But I have to tell you about my visit to the Kohler factory today, especially in light of my recent posts on DIY. Kohler is a bathroom fixture manufacturer. Just like the kids who get to visit a farm for the first time and find out that milk doesn't come from the dairy shelf in the supermarket, I was somewhat astonished to find out the artistry and brute human strength that go into making our sinks, tubs, and toilets.

Kohler gives guided tours, led by glowingly proud long time employees of the company. Our guide, Elmer, took us through the porcelein plant, the cast iron foundry and the brass foundry, filling us in on all kinds of fascinating information about the processes involved. I was amazed to see the amount of human labour that goes into making the fixtures that we take for granted - the skillful finishing, polishing and glazing. And I was overwhelmed by the intensity of sounds and smells, the glow of molten metal, the darkness, the rows upon rows upon rows of toilets, sinks tubs, urinals, bidets, water fountains, you name it. Burly men wrestling cast iron sinks around, sparks flying, it felt like something primeval.

And it is. This kind of work is what built our countries, is part of our heritage, yet we are increasingly disconnected from it. Kohler is a very unique facility in that it hosts artists from all over the world to come and work using the facilities of the plant to create art. The connection between industrial skills and creative processes is kept alive. The work is amazingly varied and uniformly powerful. The results of the artists' efforts line the streets and parks of the town of Kohler.

So I think I must add a bit to my posts on DIY. I was too narrowly focussed on my own area of sewing and textiles - it is all still true, but possibly a bit romantic and girly. The physical, muscular, masculine energy of making objects from the raw materials of the earth has much to respect and learn from.

There's an iron pour on Sunday at the Arts Center. I'll try to steal time away from the Swap to try my hand at pouring a tile. Ahhh, the thrill of DIY!

3 comments:

  1. I found your post through Google Alert for Sheboygan + Art. I get to Sheboygan several times/year for family reasons. I'm going to make an effort to stop at the art museum again.

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  2. Hello, Heather. I have just "found" you, thanks to Jude at Spirit Cloth. I love what she does, but who wouldn't? I am also loving your beautiful work and your thoughts about reusing, and DIY, and community. I am also into recycling, especially textiles, more especially wool, and vey especially old sweater which I turn into thick wool felt and then make things. I hope you will visit my website and take a look and then write back to me. I feel like we are soul mates. Thanks for your great blog. My website is www.mornacrites-moore.com. I hope you'll visit my blog, too, but it doesn't have as much of my work on it. I started out to show my work, but then I got caught up in sharing all the great things I find on the web. Now I think I am going to try to calm down and get to where I was headed in the first place - to share the fibers and the stitches and the, if at all possible, the soul. Well, this comment is turning into a novel, but your blog really got me going! :)

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  3. sounds great! I head out there in Sept for my gig. hope the SORR went well and I can't wait to see pics!
    Betz

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