Fiber Art Fuels Her Creativity
The old saying about one person’s trash being another person’s treasure fits Sherri Baker to a T. “The problem that I have as an artist is that I see a use for everything and become a collector. Nothing is trash,” she says. “I save wool, silk, and cotton garments with the intent of cutting them up for weaving or rug hooking.”
Sherri, who has worked at the Panola College M.P. Baker Library for the past 17 years, was inspired by a master artist: her paternal grandmother. “My grandmother taught me to knit and do needlepoint. She was very creative, and it wasn’t until shortly before her passing that I learned that she had made batik scarves and sold them to Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s in New York City,” she says.
Needlepoint and fiber art are classic traditions passed down from generation to generation. Much of the work that exists now is considered “folk art,” and remnants of early needlepoint and weaving techniques are highly valued at auction and art exhibits.
A woman’s talent in weaving goes back to the Old Testament. In Exodus, Chapter 28, the Bible reads, “You shall weave the tunic of checkered work of fine linen, and shall make a turban of fine linen, and you shall make a sash, the work of a weaver.” Fiber crafts, which began in ancient times, continue today to provide a creative and artistic outlet for people who enjoy working with fiber. “Macramé was a popular method of knot-tying to create wall hangings and garments that I learned while in high school, and where my interest in weaving began,” Sherri explains.
While majoring in engineering at Miami Dade Junior College, she took a course in creative textiles, and her artistic focus kicked in. “I learned how to weave with or without a loom. The first loom I used was a basic backstrap loom that has been around since ancient civilization,” she says.
Sherri pursued her art and continued to research its history while she worked for Eastern Airlines in the late ’70s, living in Washington D.C. “I spent mornings exploring the Smithsonian Museums, Mount Vernon, Woodlawn, and many other cultural and historical places. My favorites were the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian, the Textile Museum (now part of George Washington University), and the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Old Towne Alexandria, Viginia. I was always working with fiber, whether it was yarn, thread, jute, or other materials,” she says.
While living in Washington, Sherri met her husband and soon moved with him to Henderson. She said her creativity went into creating a home on an East Texas ranch, which was totally different from the urban life in Washington. Over the years, she developed an interest in learning how to weave on a loom. Luckily, the Henderson area was the perfect training ground. “Through the Depot Museum, I met several women and became part of a small Weaving Guild, a network of women in East Texas who weave, spin, and produce varied fibers,” she says.
She was inspired to take the late Dr. Dionne Ford’s weaving classes at Stephen F. Austin State University as the best way to learn and research looms before making an expensive purchasing decision. Her interest in learning how to weave led her to complete a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from SFA in 1993. “SFA was a wonderful learning experience. I was able to explore printmaking with Charlie Jones and art education with Jo Carlson,” she recalls.
While researching looms, she contacted Gilmore Looms, and the owner, the late E. Gilmore replied to her. “I eventually became the proud owner of a Gilmore Floor Loom. I now have three floor looms and one table loom. Fiber artists sometimes become collectors,” she laughs.
Her interest in weaving led her to attend the Handweavers Guild of America conference in Atlanta, Georgia, and several conferences with Contemporary Handweavers of Texas.
“These conferences are always interesting and inspiring, and allow for idea exchanges and opportunities to meet with leaders in the fiber art world,” she notes.
Her travels have led her to Scotland, where she visited weaving mills and learned about Norman Kennedy, a weaver from Aberdeen, Scotland. He came to the U.S. and served as the master weaver at Colonial Williamsburg from 1967-1972, before founding the Marshfield School of Weaving in Vermont. “The Depot Museum in Henderson periodically offered workshops with Norman Kennedy. He is very interesting and inspiring; while singing a ballad or sharing a tale, he could take a rock and a piece of roving (a long, narrow bundle of fiber used for spinning yarn) and make it into yarn,” she says.
Sherri shares her love of fiber art with the community in various ways. She has demonstrated how to weave on a loom at the Syrup Festival in Henderson and participated on a Flax Team at the Institute of Texan Cultures Texas Folk Life Festival in San Antonio. “We demonstrated how to take flax and spin linen yarn from it to weave into linen fabric,” she says.
Flax weavings have been discovered in Egypt that date back to around 5000 BC. The American Colonies began using cotton and wool, locally produced fibers, but these were more labor intensive. The invention of the cotton gin revolutionized the production of cloth in the 1700s. Keeping the homespun tradition alive as homage to folk arts is important to Sherri and others in the weaving guilds.
Her creative talents also inspired her to begin making paper by hand and marbling, also known as “Ebru. “To me, marbling is one of the most beautiful art forms,” she says. “The technique has been around since the early twelfth century in Japan. Most people are familiar with marbling used in making endpapers in bookbinding or stationery.”
One of the best workshops she attended on marbling was at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. “I can’t help but think about this special time,” she says, “as the fires that just went through Tennessee burned down three buildings on the Arrowmont campus.”
One of Sherri’s responsibilities at the M.P. Baker Library is to find exhibits for the Fay Allison Gallery. She has exhibited her own works in the gallery on occasion. She enjoys creating the fiber art and sharing the history and techniques that have such a long and interesting tradition. “I love weaving; I love the rhythm as I throw the shuttle back and forth and lose myself in creating a piece of fabric,” she says. “And I love marbling and the challenge to make the colors form a pattern. I just love creating something with my hands, and I am grateful for this God-given gift!”