New Ways With an Old Craft: The Fiber Art of Flóra Carlile-Kovács

In recent years as I’ve practiced the art of writing, I’ve found it significant to hear from other artists—not only writers, but musicians and visual artists as well—about the creative process.  All of us are affected by our own experiences, by the places we’ve lived, by flora--flower flora--scarfpeople we’ve known, and by the traditions of our own homeland.  But an artist draws on these influences imaginatively and creates something new.  I recently talked with a talented fiber artist who does that.  Flóra Carlile-Kovács, who is Hungarian, works with the old craft of felting.  Her artwork is a new take on an old beauty.

I met Flóra a few months ago through the Hungarian American Association of Washington. Not much more than a year ago Flóra moved to Seattle from Hungary with her husband Christopher, who is American, and their daughter Virág and son Vince.  She moved her artistic practice here as well.  It was a brave step. To be a practicing artist in a place where you know gallery owners and art vendors is challenging enough; to do it in a place where you don’t can be overwhelming.  But Flóra has persevered in the work she loves, and she is finding a niche here.

Flóra describes her creations as wearable art.  Using an amazing integration of color and texture, she creates hats, scarves, dresses, blouses, vests, handbags, slippers, coin purses, and ornaments such as flowers for the hair.  The felting process begins with unspun wool fibers.  Usually Flóra dyes the wool herself in pots outside her studio.  Using an ancient textile process combining wool fibers, water, soap and vigorous kneading, she creates a durable, unwoven material called felt.  In her West Seattle studio I watched her make a scarf by massaging wet, soapy woolen strands into silk fabric.  The woolen lines will stay there, bound to the silk through the

Felting: Flora massages wool into a silk scarf

Felting: Flora massages wool into a silk scarf

felting process.  Flóra showed me some dresses, blouses and vests that she had made, all without seams; the joints are made by felting.  Hats are made by shaping the felt over a form.  Flóra adds ornamentation not by sewing or pinning, but by working other colors and other pieces into the fabric and by manipulating and stretching it.  The process reminds me of sculpting clay.

 Flóra learned felting in Hungary, first through classes and then by experimenting on her own.  A gallery noticed the quality of her work and began selling it, and her success spread.  She participated in exhibitions in Hungary, Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic and was featured in a Hungarian magazine.  She also appeared on Hungarian TV when one of her dresses won an award in a huge competition at Buda Castle. (See video.) 

Her work is part of a tradition that in Hungary is called applied arts: the individual production of beautiful, useful objects.  There were several artisans in Flóra’s family, and she has a deep appreciation for the craftsmanship and patience involved in the applied arts.  The rhythm of her work involves dyeing, design, layout, rolling, kneading, finishing/shaping, and ironing.  She has to think long-term for a project, and she enjoys every stage.flora--boy in felted robe

The applied arts emphasis on usefulness is part of what inspires Flóra’s designs.  For example, some of her hats have a spiral pattern stretched into the fabric.  The idea for this came from her own need to put up her thick hair: the spiral suggests the swirl of a hair bun, and the stretched addition provides a little more room for tucking upswept hair.  But in addition to ideas coming from the use of the object, very often the inspiration for a design comes from the lines, shades, patterns and textures of the material itself. flora--hat

 Flóra’s transition to the Northwest, starting anew in a completely different corner of the world, has certainly had its challenges.  But she has been encouraged by people’s interest in her work, and her clientele is growing.  She has been selling her work at art fairs and festivals and will also be participating in Christmas shows.  Her studio is part of the West Seattle Art Walk on the second Thursday of every month, 6-9 p.m.  She has also begun teaching felting workshops titled Felted Art in Everyday Use in her studio and has been asked to teach in Portland and on Whidbey Island.

It’s inspiring to see how she has brought her art across the globe.  She has carried on with it even when the pathway hasn’t been very clear, and she’s done it beautifully.  That’s dedication.  That’s art.

To see Flóra Carlile-Kovács’s work or make purchases, please visit her website: http://www.Floranemez.eu/ or Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/Floranemez

 

 

 

 

 

 

Art For The Soul

A few posts back I wrote about my brother, Walt Hampton, who makes wonderful music, teaches it and shares it with others.  The giving of music is an act of joy and generosity.  In that same spirit, today I’m writing about my friends Chuck and Janis Lindley, who teach and share visual art in a uniquely generous way.  Their art outreach, called Made to Create, operates on the principle that creativity is essential to the human spirit.  The thirst for beauty runs deep in people–so deep, the Lindleys believe, that when we help people develop their own artistry we help strengthen their ability to respond to what is good.  For Chuck and Janis, teaching art is a way of caring for people.

Janis painted this picture of a woman in India who was wearing a lot of jewelry and wielding a sledge hammer.

Janis painted this picture of a woman in India who was wearing a lot of jewelry and wielding a sledge hammer.

I first got to know Janis when she taught my sons’ high school art classes.  Janis and I were both teachers, and in our own ways we were both artists, and this commonality made us friends.  Chuck and Janis later moved to India, and our home was one of the places they would stay on trips back to the U.S. By the time the Lindleys were making these trips and lodging in our upstairs bedroom, I had committed myself deeply to the work of writing–and that meant joy, but it also meant a lot of frustration.  I vented about this to Janis, bluntly and sometimes almost rudely, and didn’t hide my visceral doubts about whether art actually does the artist much good.  Knowing that frustration is part of the artistic process, Janis encouraged me to keep writing and told me what she liked about my work.  This–encouraging others–is her persistent habit, and it is one of the reasons people feel safe when they try out art with Janis and Chuck.

My granddaughter Edie showing the artwork she made in the Lindleys' toddler class.

My granddaughter Edie showing the artwork she made in the Lindleys’ toddler class.

Made to Create is the Lindleys’ outreach of fine arts classes, creativity workshops, and open studio.  These are offered in their Tacoma home and other places.  The Lindleys also plan to open their home as an art ashram, a place where people can enjoy art as a spiritual retreat.  Some of the students the Lindleys have taught are fairly well-to-do, others marginalized.  Chuck and Janis first developed Made to Create about six years ago while living in India.  There they worked with art galleries, neighborhoods and NGOs to teach art to middle-class students, to poor children and to girls scarred by sexual trafficking.  Janis told me about one of these girls holding an oil pastel for the first time and joyfully discovering the color and beauty she could produce with it. Experiences like this have convinced Chuck and Janis that when people find that they are capable of creating something good, they are more able to respond to life in a hopeful way.

Two years ago the Lindleys returned to the U.S. and are now living in Tacoma.  They teach art to toddlers, children, teens and adults, with lessons that include technique, experimentation, and art history.  The Lindleys also offer art experiences through the YMCA and use art for mentoring foster children.  Through the support of donors, Chuck and Janis are able to offer these experiences at affordable rates, and they stress that cost should not prevent anyone from attending.  They love and enjoy their students.

When I asked them what message they would like to communicate to people about Made to Create, they laughed a little.  Their reply?  ”Get in here!”

Janis Lindley at Diversion House in India, a safe place for girls previously abused by sex trafficking.  Janis and the girls created the mural together.

Janis Lindley at Diversion House in India, a safe place for girls previously abused by sex trafficking. Janis and the girls created the mural together.