Sometime in the eighties I came across the work of Kaffe Fasset and like most of the people who see it I was stunned. Over the years I ran into it again and again and always I was inspired when I saw it. Mostly , like an artist I wanted to deconstruct it. I looked at the layers of colours , the materials used and tried to see how he did what he did. That is how artists often look at other artists work.
After reading his biography, A Life in Colour, in 2012, when Megan Ingman asked me if we could bring anyone to town, without hesitation I said Kaffe Fasset. His biography told the story of his life and his art and I was interested in meeting him. I liked the way he created so much and there was so much abundance in his work. I knew he had to work fast and instinctually and that is the kind of artist I am most interested in. I was not dissapointed.
I think that if anyone has any questions about craft being art Kaffe Fasset has already answered them in his work. He is an artist with a vivid imagination. He makes knitting art. It was great to have him in town for five days. He did a talk on Friday night with a slideshow at the Baptist Church. Because of the stained glass windows and the evening light filtering in we could not see the colour as well but that was no fault of theirs. Still people had a good time. He talked mainly about his inspiration for colour and how he found it .
The bonus of having Kaffe is that Brandon Mabley his studio partner joined him on this tour. Brandon is as astute and sensitive an artist as I have ever met. He sees and he does, it is as simple as that. Together they create art quilts, needle point, rugs, paintings, drawings, knitting, the list goes on. They have been partners in the studio for nearly twenty five years and they work together daily with immense respect for each other.
The following four days were workshops. Three on Colour with Kaffe and Brandon and one on knitting with Brandon. Before they came to town I had no assumptions about how it might go. I just assumed they were artists who when not teaching would want to do their own thing. My job was to get them here so they could do the workshops. It turned out that my job was also to feed them, and in doing so I got to enjoy their company every night. We’d eat a good home made supper at my house then sit and do handwork for an hour or two. It was lovely.
The workshops themselves used rag rugging as they refer to it to help you understand colour. What they wanted was to help people identify colour and use it in their mats freely and easily. They were not the typical workshops we are used to where it is a bit of a free for all. One woman said, “You just have to be ready for it, this is a workshop with a true artist, not someone from your local guild.” Those were her words not mine!
I knew what she meant. You were working in the presence of a master, some who had devoted his whole life to colour and textiles. It wasn’t just a hobby for him it was the meaning of his life. He used textiles art to express himself, to create meaning in his life, to show himself to the world. Together they played a good cop , bad cop role with Kaffe being the task master and Brandon softening the blows. They wanted people to get right down to work. They played lively music through out the day and they discouraged talking. As Brandon said in his knitting workshop, “Don’t ask the woman next to you, ask me, that’s why I am here.” He explained to me that he wanted people to get into their projects and he did not want their rhythm to be interrupted. They worked hard all day. It was the same in the colour workshops, they discouraged chatting, no time was wasted with introductions and where you are from, they just got right down to business. It was a workshop about being an artist because that is what being an artist is really like. You put your head down and go at it, diligently and sometimes with fervour. You work alone mostly and you let the rhythm of your work and the colours lead you.
This was a shock for some who have attended. As rug hookers we are used to a gab fest. Kafffe and Brandon really promoted a quiet environment where you worked diligently along. The harder and faster you hooked the happier they were. Everyone agreed it was an experience, and the majority loved it. A few were taken aback or imagined that it would be different. Most people who came had been planning it for almost a year. It was an event in our community and I am proud that I got to host it. Just spending the day with someone who has contributed so much to creativity in textiles was the experience. As one participant Sally Austin said, “Really, it is just about hanging out with Kaffe.” If you read his books you would quickly learn that the way the workshop was presented was how he works himself. He looks outside of himself for colour and pattern inspiration and that is what he was trying to inspire the participants to do.
For me I can tell you it was a beautiful week because I got to spend time with two great artists who know so much about the textile industry. They were generous and sharing of their thoughts and ideas. They were easy to please and to feed. On the third night I said, “Tomorrow I can get you lobster.” They said , ” Sure.” but as the conversations continued it came out that they’d be just as happy with chicken. They did not want to put me out and did not need a fuss. Chicken it was. I liked that very much. Simplicity and ease.
The week was an definitive experience for everyone who particpated , including me. I learned stuff. On the last night when Brandon and Kaffe took Megan and Denny out to dinner we were talking about knitting and I said something about my yarn getting tangled, Kaffe, the tall man that he is was standing over the table and in a very firm and clear voice he pointed at me and said , “You need to read my book.” Then he held out his strong arms about two feet apart, and admonished me, “manageable lengths…it’s in the book, manageable lengths.” I heard him, it made practical sense, and I smiled. There I was being bossed around by Kaffe Fasset.
Brandon is leaning in about to offer some advice. One woman said she got up from her chair. When she cam back she found Brandon hooking on her piece.
Erin Mckenna and Susan Morin working away.
Charlene was lost in her work. That is what they were aiming for, trying to get people to that “flow”
Celia Charlton finished her piece in record time…Kaffe and Brandon kept chanting hook faster. They were not worried about the loop but the whole. Kaffe is looking on at a someone else’s work.
The Cape Breton Contingent are hearing what he has to say. They were ready for it. What a marvellous group they were.
Brandon jumps in after Kaffe has his two cents worth. We laughed because Brandon would say one thing, then Kaffe another. It was part of their charm and honesty, confusing but the truth is you ultimately have to decide for yourself what goes here in your piece.