There is something distinctly invitational about Studio 9 at the Foundry Art Centre. It could be the vibrant light streaming in from the windows and reflecting off the clean, bright surfaces of the work tables. One of the tables has plenty of open seating, suggesting the potential for a communal gathering. It could also be the natural warmth that Lisa Hinrichs' media exudes; the mixtures of bright and muted hues within the woolen fibers tempt the viewer to reach out and experience her artwork through their fingertips. Lisa is intimately familiar with the comfort that fiber art can bestow not only on the viewer, but on the maker.
"My love for fiber art really cemented during a time when I was struggling with anxiety, about 15 years ago," Lisa explains. A friend suggested she try knitting to combat her anxiety and insomnia and, soon after that, she started felting and stitching. "I felt a sense of comfort and transformation. The materials are gentle and the repetitive motions involved in creating with fiber became a central part of my life. I found a center around using those techniques."
"This medium gives me roots - both my own and to humanity," she continues. "I work mostly with wool felt, which is the oldest fabric made by humans. The first time someone stuffed some animal fleece into their shoes for warmth, and went walking and sweating, the fiber turned into felt fabric. This discovery was most likely when humans learned how to produce fabric other than animal skins." Lisa is rhythmically turning over a piece of wool in her hands, tearing small sections of the piece and returning it back to its shape. "When I hand-make wool felt, I feel very aware that I working in an ancient traditional craft."
Her connection to fibers is reinforced by the generations of women in her family who crocheted, tatted, and embroidered. "I have boxes of beautiful tablecloths, doilies, and quilts made by my great-great aunts Maude and Lizzie, and also by my grandmother Emily. My grandmother spent many patient hours with me in my childhood, teaching me to crochet; those are some of my best memories of her," Lisa remembers.
Fibers were not Lisa's first introduction to art, though. After earning her undergraduate degree in Architectural and Housing Design from University of Missouri - Columbia, she worked for an architectural firm for ten years. While raising her family, she returned to school to study graphic design and worked for another fifteen years doing branding and publication layouts as a graphic designer. "My time in architecture and graphic design definitely influences my style," she admits. "I work in grids and there's an order to my process. If I hadn't taken a felting class twelve years ago at Craft Alliance, I would still be doing graphic design. It was the medium of felt that drew me in and holds me there now. I haven't wanted to do anything else since."
Lisa is partly self-taught through study and experimentation but does not fail to recognize and laud the fiber artists and teachers she has encountered along the way. "I am so grateful for the time and techniques that my teachers have shared with me," she says with reverence, listing off artists such as Sharon Kilfoyle, Chad Alice Hagen, Karoliina Arvilommi, Roderick Welch, Pam MacGregor, Anita Larkin, Fiona Duthie, and Pam de Groot. "They are truly masters of their craft," says Lisa.
She lifts out a piece of damp, gauzy silk from her bowl of dye and spreads it out on the table to dry. It resists her motions to flatten it out but concedes with some persuasion. "Fiber has its own way," she chortles, "and I have to connect with it. I negotiate with it to reach my goal. That's what is so attractive about felt and fibers; it can be thick to make a vessel or thin to make clothing - it's so versatile. It's like magic as it changes."
Inspired by nature and its interaction with mankind, Lisa is creating work that reflects the colors and textures of the earth. "What gets me really excited is the alchemy of the human world and the natural world - what happens when they interact." Consistently soft-spoken and calm, in uptick in her cadence and her excitement are noticeable as she discusses what inspires her. "For instance, nature will take back what humans have constructed, and sometimes in such subtle ways: moss growing through a crack in the concrete, rust deteriorating and changing the color of structures, the way a tree root buckles a sidewalk."
"I'm equally inspired by the way humans distill and extract what is amazing about nature into forms of art and architecture," she goes on, placing out square samples of her felting experiments which evoke the textures found in nature: mossy forest floors, algae on a pond, cracked dirt thirsty for rain. Lisa admires the mid-century organic forms found in the sculpture and furniture design of Isamu Noguchi, and the nature paintings of Charley Harper. "He was able to distill such essential qualities of an animal or plant subject to simple shapes in such a vibrant way," she exudes. "And the way that Frank Lloyd Wright's homes are a conversation with the landscape surrounding it. The intersection of man and nature - that's what gets me most excited."
Once Lisa has a texture, plan, or shape that has inspired her - she gets to work. "I start with a plan," Lisa explains, "but I become more spontaneous as I work." Her artwork generally consists of many layers of fabric and fibers, allowing the texture of one layer to influence the shape and color of the one above it. Her years of experience with the medium gives her a good idea of how to form a piece but the personality of the fibers often is still surprising. Lisa uses cut paper shapes to guide her composition and will incorporate methods like hand-stitching to introduce more texture and shape.
"I have been feeling very drawn to issues of fragility and brokenness, especially involving nature and our environment," she discloses. She gestures to a woolen cap displayed near the front of her studio, explaining that years of disuse and damage sustained from moths has left it riddled with tiny holes. "There is a Japanese practical art form called Boro stitching which involves the repair of textiles. It was mostly practiced in the 18th and 19th centuries when new cloth wasn't widely available in the rural areas of Japan. The pieces of cloth from those times are no widely collected and highly valuable because of the beauty of the stitching and repairs. I love this concept; things that aren't useful can be mended and be beautiful. I'm still in the sample-making stage but I am planning several wall pieces and vessels that reflect both the fragility of the world and my deep hope that the wounds we cause can be repaired."
Lisa plans to introduce this concept and teach her techniques through workshops held in her studio. "Art Expressed As Felt" is a workshop series Lisa is conducting in her studio beginning Saturday, April 15th with The Felted Landscape. She is looking forward to opening her studio each Thursday evening, starting May 15th, for "Mindful Stitching." For a small fee, Lisa will provide something to learn, something to munch on, and - most importantly - a space to be creative and pick up some new skills.
Lisa is grateful for the space to grow and evolve her artwork at the Foundry Art Centre. "A couple of years ago I had completely outgrown the room in my house where I was working. Actually, my studio was the laundry room," she admits with a laugh. "I had three feet of room on each side of the table. My artwork was becoming larger and my equipment and materials were taking up all the available space." She looked into studio space in Saint Louis and was reminded by her father to stop by the Foundry Art Centre. As fate would have it, a studio jury was taking place within weeks of her inquiry and, two months later, Lisa was moving into a studio.
"I love so many things about being here. The building is beautiful and filled with light any the view of the Missouri River is amazing. The other studio artists here are a constant source of inspiration and friendship. I worked independently for twenty years. Now, there are so many possibilities for collaboration." In spring of 2016, Lisa teamed up with FAC Studio Artist Laura Hohn for a dual exhibit of their work in the atrium of the Foundry Art Centre.
"It may be hard to get started, but it's so worth it to persevere for your art," encourages Lisa. "Carve out time for your art practice and guard it from the busyness of life. It's so easy to waste time with things that don't really matter.
"I'm giving this advice," she adds with a smile, "as someone who constantly needs to remind herself to focus on the big picture and not get distracted by the little things."