"Art is soul, but the body needs a consistent income" – this could be the summary of 40 years of working and crafting, while wishing to be able to combine both, or at least to meet a millionaire. Morgan from Morgansilk started painting in 1969, and in 2009 she is dealing only with fiber-reactive dyes on silk, but the road was quite long until she could dedicate all of her time to painting on silk.
When did you start painting silk? Why did you choose this medium?
I was in undergraduate school, and took a required course in Fabric Design taught by Nancy Belfer. Dyeing was not on the syllabus: we did loom weaving, "stitchery" or surface design, and related 3D work. I later took an advanced weaving class from her, and then an independant study, and we became friendly. Nancy was experimenting with resists and dyes during her off-hours for research into a book she was writing, and I sneaked in and caught her working on very large rayon satin handings (electric!). She was very secretive at the time, because she was on the cusp of a trend and didn't want anyone to see what she was doing until she published. (You can still buy her books.)
I considered myself a painter, and although I loved fabric I didn't really take it seriously– and my painting instructors didn't want me to, either. I got a lot of flack from those guys for even experimenting with fabric. It was a big political thing with those factions in the Art Dept at the time, and Nancy Belfer won.
Your "then" piece is from 1969: you came a long way. What do you think the most important stages were in your craft and career?
Experimentation, and I never stopped and always had a place to do it. I was teaching school for decades to pay the bills, and spent the summer vacations playing with dye out in the back yard. It had to be outside, because I was not interested in being careful! For a number of years, I would weave rag rugs in new white cotton, then save them up for the summer when I would paint them. I still have some of those rugs, but keep them on the walls. I learned a lot from all that work, but it was a labor of love. I had no thought of selling any of it. I did have a few showings at colleges and even had a few dyed hangings in a dress shop on Worth Avenue, Palm Beach, but I am no businesswoman. I just do what I interests me….
How do you evaluate the change between your first piece and the works you do now? In what way did your style change, and why?
Oh, God! When I started out, I was using Cushing's hot water rug dyes. If you had seen me, you would have thought I was a witch out of Macbeth. I was using cotton batiste, because it was all I could afford, and folded and clamped exclusively. I was manipulating the fabric and dyes, not painting with them; the typical hippie making mandellas. At that time, I didn't take my experiments all that seriously– I was still oil and watercolor painting the other half of the time.
I didn't start painting with thickened dye until I discovered fiber-reactive dyes, and I didn't want to do paintings because they weren't practical. I spent a lot of time working on my art over the decades, and went through a lot of stages with it. I felt pretty much frustrated that I couldn't do it ALL the time. If I had married a millionaire, I would have, but I have never met a millionaire.
Which area do you think you evolved a lot?
Color. Design. Control of my medium– I don't make the mistakes I used to. And I can now focus on one small area: fiber-reactive dyes on silk. I think it is important to experiment, but at some point that experimentation has to lead an artist to a specific area of expertise. That's a natural progression that cannot be forced. If I had ever been concerned about "the market", I never would have done anything.
You must have seen a lot of how the market of handcrafted items changed throughout the years. What do you consider the most important milestone(s) in the past decades?
I have no idea. I never tried to sell my work– I had a few pieces stolen out of galleries, and did sell a few but never really wanted to. I have to admit that I never paid any attention to the marketing side of craft. Perhaps the old Art vs Craft thing has become less controversial and the lines blurred, but I still see people arguing that tired old issue. There is no difference; just good and bad work.
I am the prototypical Baby Boomer: remember, everyone was doing without and making their own everything in the late 1960's and early 1970's. A lot of my friends were artists and craftspeople, but nobody was making a living at it. Many have since, though, and it's a very difficult way to make a living. You have to be the BEST at what you do and be able to live through lean times. I can't live with that sort of financial cliff-walking, and am glad that I had another career to pay the bills and give me this crummy little pension so that I can continue to do what I like. Art is soul, but the body needs a consistent income. I spent years wishing I knew how to combine both, but I also detest the marketing aspect to this day so doubt it would have worked for me.
What kind of evolution do you see for yourself necessary in the future? What are your plans (if any)?
I would love to sell every single piece I put up for sale, but my pragmatism keeps me from expecting that. I just want to create the designs that creep into my brain and keep myself from going nuts as I age. When a piece goes to someone who really appreciates it, I get a creative boost that lasts for days.I am working on a line of outrageous silk slips, but need a live model. Perhaps by summer, or the end of summer, I will have a good selection of those up for sale.I figure I have another twenty good years left, and I do not intend to waste that time doing anything that I do not enjoy. If I can continue to create with color and shape, I can continue to spend a good portion of my days intellectually vibrant– which means I will continue to experiment with new ideas every single day.
Morgan – http://morgansilk.etsy.com
More evolutions: http://craftsthenandnow.blogspot.com/