Margaret Smith

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Margaret Smith – Artist Statement

Given a quest by a tarot reader to walk Seattle in search of something I loved, I encountered in the art museum an exhibition of baskets woven by people of the Northwest nations that lived and worked in the Puget Sound region for millennia. I was stirred. The deep connection I felt on the spot to this art and this process has become an essential part of my life and my work.

I had the great fortune in my youth of an opportunity to live with a family and work in the community in Quito, Ecuador, for two years. Upon my return to Seattle, I took up embroidery and quickly became passionate and prolific. I had spent the Summer of Love high in the Andes, but the burgeoning West Coast scene with its embrace of vibrant color and its back-to-the-earth, do-it-yourself spirit proved a perfect cauldron to immerse myself: my expanded and growing understanding of culture, the bigger dreams it gave me, the drive to create that was being born in me. I cut and sewed several yoked and slit-collared shirts and personalized each of them with embroidery for a close friend with pictures and designs and colors of their choosing or of mine. Without forethought, I had undertaken and completed a thorough, personal, cohesive fiber arts project rooted in tradition and sparked by originality.

Inspired by my artist friends who were working in clay, my next art project was countless clay beads. I joined the generous community of island potters in giving away my beads.

One of those potters taught me how to knit and to build pictures. I made sweaters from whatever leftover yarn I could scrounge. With these multicolor scraps, I developed my vivid, multi-patterned style and made over 100 sweaters. Happily living with little income, I couldn’t afford to buy yarn, but I could spin it myself, first on a drop spindle and eventually on a spinning wheel. My handspun yarn was limited to the colors of the local sheep’s fleece, and I wanted color. There were several spinners I was friends with, and we formed a group that met weekly to dye with natural materials.

A friend asked me to teach her how to spin, offering to teach me some midwifery in exchange. After a couple years assisting at births, I enrolled in Seattle Midwifery School and took a three-year course requiring my attendance at 100 births, which made me too busy to continue my yarn arts.

Some time after I set up my midwifery practice, I became interested in basketry. I asked a friend to become my teacher. She told me to gather cattail leaves before my first lesson: a mat. At the end of that lesson, I took my unfinished mat home. I didn’t know how to finish the edges, but I wanted to keep weaving, and I surprised my teacher the next week with a large woven piece that looked like a figure.

While learning new weaving techniques, I gathered many more plant materials, in the woods around me and my garden. Once, we took advantage of a nearby downed cedar tree and harvested its bark, even though the sap wasn’t running as it was winter and we had to get it off with hammer and chisel.

Fibers behave differently, and they inspire me as I weave. I enter into a partnership with my materials, and we each get a say in what the basket looks like. I like to mix plant materials, and therefore textures and colors. Each time I sit and weave, it’s fresh.