I am so happy to start off this new series on creative collectors with an interview with wonderful artist and jewellery maker, Kathleen Craig of ALTaeR.
I was drawn to her beautiful etsy shop by an image of one of her textile cuffs, I just love the way she reworks antique textiles, found objects, antique notions & jewellery elements to make something utterly unique and contemporary.
I yearned to ask Kathleen about her craft, her inspirations, to take a peak into her cherished collection and understand what made her choose to work with found treasures over new materials – so dive in with me to her creative world!
“As a child, I always loved the beautifully colored and intricate religious pictures that were in Sunday School books and projects- and we were given a cross when we “graduated”…there was something very special to me about wearing this symbol of love and protection. I also had a very early passion for velvet and all things “shiny” and lush!
My passion for collecting religious pieces and icons took a different turn when I purchased a huge collection from a nun’s estate in the Midwest about 14 years ago. I had boxes and boxes of -what was to me- a hauntingly physical representation of the spiritual world of a woman who had given her life to helping others. I was drawn to making these items into something that would continue her essence and history.
Combined with that, I have always adored and collected vintage and antique textiles; this has early roots for me in that for as long as I can remember, I had an almost physical reaction to beautiful fabrics and textiles…..for example, as a child, we had the most beautiful couch in our living room (the one only for formal events!) that was teal blue and olive green in a sort of complex almost paisley pattern. I loved that material! Probably why teal blue is my favorite color and paisley one of my most revered patterns.
I guess you could say I was always collecting!”
“When I was in school, I took many years of French – and we had a family friend who was from France. When he found out I was learning his language and the history of his country, he gave me several souvenirs and items from France- at the time I was overjoyed by the gifts and his generosity!”
Q. Is there anything that you can not imagine parting with, a piece of jewellery, a painting, a photograph?:
“Tough Question! I think most of us who love antique and vintage items have some special pieces that we cannot imagine being without! I would say all of the above and too many to detail!”
On what she looks for while treasure hunting:
“I am always looking for materials and found objects to work with and have an antique hardware store cabinet to put these in until they find their place in one of my pieces. Some materials I have had for decades! I look for complex textures, a feeling of history; sometimes a connectedness to something I have that needs a complementary element …..once the heart of a piece begins to be created it seems to have it’s own color scheme or theme and I am just the tool to it’s completion.”
On her creative process:
“For the majority of my pieces, I create the base of it long before it is physically put together…..when I go to sleep at night I think about what I am making or want to make, and I actually see myself putting it together – and when I do, there is always a sense that it has been made already. Other pieces begin with a special piece from my “stash” and it stays on my work table while I work around it….and somehow- with the magic of creation that all artists know- it begins to draw elements to it and finds it’s place as a necklace, a bracelet, a ring – or even in other art projects I do in furniture.”
Where Kathleen does her creating…
“I have an antique partners desk that has a huge workspace for me – and I am surrounded by relics and fabrics that give me a peaceful place to create. I have a project wall that I have hung several pieces in progress- but many times pieces are created from newly found objects that just have to come first! While I am working on layering necklaces right now, I also have a particular love for creating antique textile cuffs, and am working on a new mourning piece. I absolutely treasure the antique mourning textiles and the history (and quality) of the handwork.”
A delicious glimpse into her process …
“Inspiration at the moment is from music – I love instrumentals and my husband loaded a Chopin collection of Nocturnes that I really love in the background……inspiration in the past is hugely attributed to my mother – she is one of the most creative women I know, and has always re-purposed items and made them grander and more colorful!”
Her tips for dealing with creative block…
“I think balance is key to most of the issues we face as artists; too much of one element, one design, one place, one media can be stifling and unsettling….so I move on to something else and I am fortunate that I have been doing this long enough to know the fulcrum point will return. I will paint instead of work with jewelry, I will plant or work outside; anything that brings me into a different place or activity for awhile.”
“I am happiest when my husband and I are both creating – he is a writer and we are so content when we are both in that creative space – together.”
If you weren’t creating jewellery what might you be doing?
“I actually have another life I live in working with hospitals and helping them financially – but if I wasn’t doing that, I would probably focus on my furniture art.”
What is your favourite corner in your house?
“My workspace of course!”
Do you have any other collections you would like to share?
“I may offer my furniture art at some point – here are two examples of pieces I’ve created!”
Tips for other creatives:
“I have several favourite places for sourcing materials that I am sure everyone is familiar with – Etsy (of course), Ebay, Ruby Lane – all the regulars….but I also peruse garage sales, thrift shops, consignment stores.”
Selling your work:
“I have tried several other venues; physical displays in other stores and galleries, but e-commerce (hands down) is the best way to get visibility to the entire world in sharing your art. I have had over 1,000 views in one day and that just isn’t possible in the standard brick and mortar retail world. Certainly there are the challenges of selling via photographs and words, but that makes us work harder at the display element of our craft.”
“My drive and motivation can best be back-dropped with the words of Lucille Clifton on my art cabinet:
“It Was a Dream”
in which my greater self
rose up before me
accusing me of my life
with her extra finger
whirling in a gyre of rage
at what my days had come to.
i pleaded with her, could i do,
oh what could i have done?
and she twisted her wild hair
and sparked her wild eyes
and screamed as long as
i could hear her
This. This. This.
Please visit Kathleens etsy shop, ALTaeR to discover her wonderful creations