Updated: Nov 5, 2021
Meet Sandra Barrett, our new member coordinator. We are thrilled to have her on the felt :: feutre canada team. We know she’s going to do an amazing job. Sandra is also a talented fibre artist and blacksmith. We recently interviewed her about her felt artwork and where she finds inspiration. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Sandra. We are certain our members will love learning about you and your exciting work.
Music or no music while you work?
No music. Silence speaks to me. While I’m felting I loose myself in the process, so time stands still for a while. My studio is in a former church and it still feels like a sacred space sometimes. It has to be my own thoughts and intentions connecting with the wool, so outside noise disturbs me.
However, Fiona Duthie once set an online task to listen to a piece of favourite music and complete a sample influenced by the music itself. The dull, muted tones of my piece reflected the somber mood of the song. I worked to Seth Lakeman’s “Blacksmith’s Prayer” from his album Tales of the Barrel House; which is a melancholy slow dirge really – but just what I felt like listening to on that day.
The repetitive percussion is represented by soybean over merino. The four crosses refer to the beat, prayer, decayed forge…brittle hands gathering dust. It speeds up at the end so I referenced the extinguished fire with curls of smoke. It was an exercise in unity and rhythm and totally changed my perception about the value of music in the creative process.
Where do you find inspiration?
From other people. For example Angela Morgan (a professional Fernie artist who paints in oils) recently sent me an Instagram image from the Saatchi Gallery in New York of Matt Willey’s the good of the hive initiative. He paints bees on walls and I immediately wanted to create a felt mural with giant 3D steel and copper bees flying into the outside wall of my gallery. I’ve made giant insects before as I work as a blacksmith three days a week and Angela knows this. So one day, when I’m not working on commissions for other people, I will do this for myself… inspired by the memory of the photo that Angela sent.
Here are giant ants that I forged with my husband for an art installation outside City Hall.
Do you teach? If so what do you enjoy about that?
I like the intimacy of talking, rather than addressing a group, so I rarely have more than one person at a time visit my studio by arrangement, on a day the gallery is closed. I really enjoy the preparation best – researching and thinking about the wishes and ability of the person who is coming to learn from me for a day. It is intensive, but rewarding to get to know someone who goes home thrilled with what they’ve accomplished. Kath, for instance, really wanted to make a Viking Longship. By drawing a sketch before she arrived, discussing and agreeing what we could achieve in a day, then sitting beside her to share my knowledge, we both felted a picture based on my design. Kath took hers home, I forged a hanger, called it “Viking Lament” and put mine out for sale.
Who is your favourite artist?
I’ve already mentioned two. Fiona Duthie as a fibre artist and Angela Morgan, whose paintings and business sense I admire tremendously. I love to collaborate with artists whose work I sell in my gallery, Eye of the Needle. Robin Wiltse is a talented fibre artist from Kaslo, BC who agreed to let me reference her work. I’d never made sad faces before and was so impressed with Robin’s “Reunion” that I longed to try it for myself. Here is the result, with my piece “Reunion revisited” including steel tree trunks, standing in front of Robin’s…which incidentally I bought.
As to an Internationally famous favourite artist – it has to be Edvard Munch. His “Scream” greatly influenced my “Curse of Fernie” forged and felted picture below. Can you tell? It hangs in the kitchen of the studio and I’m delighted when people recognize the origin and style of my forged, androgynous face.
Do you have your early work?
Yes, I still have the first felt picture I ever made 25 years ago, although I’ve been working with textiles for over 40 years. It’s easy to cringe now, but it was the best I could do at the time and I remember being so pleased with my vase of flowers, below. We all grow in our work and it is great to keep a record and occasionally remind ourselves of our personal development.
What would you say to fibre artists just starting out?
Take photos of your work. Once pieces are sold, they’re gone forever, unless you keep a pictorial diary. It could be your original sketch, a sample or a photo, but do keep a record. Also be aware that not everyone shares your view of what you think is good work. “Cawcophony” was rejected by a jury panel recently, despite my best efforts to fulfill their criteria. I thought the metal frame and backlighting was an imaginative touch, but maybe not? Get over it and move on – although it does help to ask for feedback to obtain closure if possible. Otherwise you’ll always have niggling doubts about why it didn’t get into that exhibition…
Are you a perfectionist?
By nature, yes – but in both felting and blacksmithing I look at my mistakes and try and turn them into gifts – an unexpected outcome can also be a joyous experience. Probably no one is 100% completely happy with their finished work. Use that slight dissatisfaction as motivation to make your next piece even better.
Below, is a nuno and cobweb shawl I painted with dye. I was accepted on a three month targeted initiative for older workers course earlier this year and was given funding to attend Laurie Steffler’s class at Olds College Fibre Week, near Calgary. I’ll always see the flaws, but most other people won’t. Learn to forgive yourself.
What is the best workshop you’ve ever taken?
It’s always the one I’ve done last! I’m a lifelong learner and will always love absorbing new ideas and methods. The cube below was made in Charlotte Sehmisch’s class at the felt :: feutre canada symposium in September 2016. More photos of my work will be published soon in the International Feltmakers Association magazine “Felt Matters”. I’ll be featured on the “Who am I?” page, which is exciting. If you’re not a member, you’re missing a treat. Go to www.feltmakers.com for more information. They also offer an online certificate in felting techniques, which may be the best workshop I’ve never taken!
Describe the space you create in…
A historic mellow yellow and rose brick building in the heart of downtown Fernie, British Columbia. My studio is on the main floor, flooded with light from six high windows of the former Salvation Army Church, built in 1909. The gallery is downstairs. I sell roving and felting supplies and have just been accepted as a reseller of DHG (Dyeing House Gallery) dyed wools and silk from Italy. I continue to buy from Chaotic Fibres in Victoria, so my work space is completely surrounded by fabulous fibres in beautiful colours. Take a 360° virtual tour by clicking on “Eye of the Needle Tour” on our website at www.fernieforge.ca
Do you have an upcoming exhibition?
Yes, I was fortunate to be awarded a Columbia Basin Trust grant, administered by the Columbia Kootenay Cultural Alliance. This enabled me to attend the felt :: feutre canada symposium in Penticton (2016) and join in workshops by Charlotte Sehmisch of Germany and our own Fiona Duthie. The grant is to develop personal, technical and artistic skills and expression in three dimensional forms. To acquire a new approach to working with metal and felt and exhibit the results.
My first solo show will be at Eye of the Needle Gallery, 260 5th Street, as part of Fernie’s Winter Carnival “Griz Days”, organized by the Chamber of Commerce. The opening reception of “Winter Light” is on Thursday March 2, 2017 at 6:00 pm and the exhibition continues throughout March.
Please come and visit if you can – I’d love to see you.