Cynthia Houston | September Artist of the Month | Kentucky Fiber Artist

Were you always creative and what was your earliest creation?

Definitely! I was always creative. When I was very young I converted my playhouse into a studio with a sign that said “genius at work” just like in the Peanuts cartoon. However, I don’t think I ever created anything there. I originally thought of myself as a writer, sitting at the typewriter just like Snoopy, but I spent a day trying to do that once and realized I didn’t have it in me to be a truly creative writer.

I worked as a media specialist for most of my career which is an area in the Library that involves photography, video, websites, and digital imagery. So, even though technically, I worked in the library, I was always on the creative side of the building.

The earliest fiber creation I remember making was embroidering a pair of cutoff jeans. It was the late 60s and the first year girls were allowed to wear jeans to school; embroidered jeans were all the rage. I also embroidered my friends’ jeans as my reputation began to spread. I thought everyone knew how to embroider, but I was wrong.

At what point did you say, “I’m an artist”?

Not for a long time. I really considered myself more of a crafter. I actually never professed to be an artist until just recently, and I credit my friend Shanna Paul for dragging me out of the closet into the light.

What inspired you to become a fiber artist? (Is this the correct term to use?)

Fiber arts was a family tradition. My grandmother and great grandmother did all forms of fiber art including rug hooking, quilting, needlepoint, and embroidery. Our family dining room table was covered with sewing projects in the summer. Fiber art surrounded my childhood and I just absorbed it. As a graduate student I studied the rag rug weaving tradition and dabbled in weaving myself. Being a fiber artists was never a conscious decision, because it was such a part of my life.

What is your favorite piece (of your own) and why?

Actually my favorite piece is a very personal one — a digital photograph printed on fabric of my Husband Jim and daughter Ruth at the DuQuoin state fair; I embellished the photo with gold paint to resemble a “Madonna and child” portrait. I love their expressions and the smiles of the people in the crowd.

Do you harvest your own subject matter or how do you go about selecting the perfect fibers and other subject matter?

Right now I am doing mostly surface design using rust, leaves and plant dyes on materials. I do a lot of foraging for materials in my neighborhood and grow most of my dyes. Recently, Debbie Apple of River Cottage Farm gave me some indigo plants which I have just started to use to make my own Indigo dyes. The techniques I use to compose the plants on the fabric and activate the plant dyes create patterns on the fabric that have a very organic look and feel.

What inspires you, in general?

I am inspired by other fiber artists, especially those in the slow fashion and fibershed movements who use local textiles and natural dyes to create beautiful and functional wearable art. We seem to be birds of a feather in that we all love to study the colors in nature and gain so much satisfaction when we can transform nature into works of art.

If you could be an artist anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

Because my work is so locally based, my art will always reflect wherever I am. I love this approach to art because it connects me to other people in the local fibershed who are committed to sustainable practices.

What is your dream for future endeavors?

I would like to use the basketmakers willow I am currently growing to create environmental art on a larger scale. I recently attended the National Basketry Association Conference in Bowling Green to learn how to weave dimensional structures. The basket exhibit at the Kentucky Museum is truly inspiring.

Who is your favorite artist? So many….Fiber/Environmental artist India Flint, Spanish painter, Francisco Goya (the Dog), environmental artist Patrick Dougherty, surface designer, Diane Erickson…the palettes of Shanna Paul, willow benders Beth Hester and Lynne Ferguson…I could go on and on.

What piece are you currently working on?

Right now, the dye plants are ready for harvest and the leaves are ready for printing so I am frantically dyeing fabric for pieces of wearable art that will be for sale at shows and galleries this fall and winter.

And…where can people find your work? Do you exhibit? Trade shows? Galleries?

My work is currently on exhibit the Downing Museum as part of the Interconnected Exhibit and the Ellis Walker Gallery. Both these shows close early September. I am a member of the Pushin Building Artists’ Studio and have work for sale on the Gallery Hops and Studio Tour. The Copper Fox Gallery in Leiper’s Fork, TN and the Crafts Gallery in Louisville have my work for sale. I also show at Tennessee Craft fairs and the American Handcrafted Market in Philadelphia.