Picking Up Historical Threads and Weaving Community with Amanda Wood

Portrait of Amanda Wood by Peter Bodnarus

There’s more than just thread woven into the textile creations of local craftswoman Amanda Wood. Through a combination of physical labour and thought process, the artist, educator and humanitarian hopes to fabricate reflections on how we communicate with each other while generating genuine human connections. You can experience her work for yourself at Crafted Vancouver (May 6 – 30th).

The month-long celebration of all things hand-crafted includes a full schedule of ticketed and public events at various venues around Vancouver. Besides being on the curatorial committee, Wood is also a participating artist in the Crafted Interiors exhibition (May 12 – 16th) at the Pipeshop in North Van and the Three Card Draw show (May 23rd) at Granville Island’s Silk Weaving Studio.

First of all, who are you? My name is Amanda Wood and I am an interdisciplinary artist living in the Kensington Cedar Cottage neighbourhood. I work primarily in fibre with a practice rooted in weaving installations and sculptural pieces. I also teach inquiry based materials focused workshops to children and adults that explore weaving, contemporary art and the interests of the students.

What is your textile background? I come from a family of makers and grew up making all kinds of things. The sharing culture of my family centred on making and giving handmade things. As a result, I learned a lot of traditional textile techniques from the women in my family. If there was something that I wanted to make, there was usually someone who could help me do it.

While I have been making clothing and other stitch based objects since I was a kid, I started weaving have when I was at Capilano University. I love planning and building cloth. Weaving good strong cloth is hard work and so absolutely worth every minute. I constantly try to improve my techniques and push myself in new directions. I’m a planner and love research, so it works well with the process of weaving.

Photo by Byron Dauncey

How did you get involved in Crafted and what appealed to you about this particular project? I met Carrie Ross, the founder and executive director, through a friend. She was so energetic and so passionate about promoting handmade objects that she convinced me to join the curatorial committee. Her vision is to create a celebration of a community that is often seen as secondary to fine art and I am so grateful she is able to do just that. It’s been great to have an advocate for Craft and she connects so many amazing artists, craftspeople and collectors. I love having someone to send ideas for exhibitions or themes or people that we could involve in future and to build the presence of Craft in our city. It’s also been a great way to connect with other makers, artists and lovers of hand made. A lot of artists and craftspeople work alone in their studios so having an event that gets everyone out and about is amazing.

Without giving too much away, can you tell me a bit about the overall concept (in your own words) and your contribution in particular? Crafted Interiors is a collection of room vignettes curated by interior designer, Suzanne Ward. Everything is made by craftspeople and the idea is to see how these pieces work together and to interact with them in an intimate way. There are opportunities to meet the artists and to commission work so it is a great way to make connections and learn more about how things are made.

Suzanne has chosen a number of my wall-mounted pieces that have previously been seen in a gallery setting. I’m excited to re-contextualize the work for the home and introduce it to a potentially new audience.

What is your personal interior design theory or approach? Someone recently described my style as object and field. Maybe because we live in an older home I like the walls to recede and the contents to pop out. So a lot of white walls with functional objects made from simple materials like wood, textiles, ceramics, steel and concrete.

Tell me a bit about your own space. What makes a place “home” for you? I have lived in a typical East Van bungalow with my family for fifteen years. We’ve updated a few things like the kitchen and bathroom but we’ve left the floor plan pretty much the same. It’s not a fancy space and doesn’t have a lot of original architectural details but I love the layout, which separates public and private areas, and it works well for having friends over.

Now that my sons are growing into teenagers our home is a lot simpler and tidier but it definitely shows its wear which I kind of love. For me, the patina of memories and the layers of improvements and additions need to fit together. It’s definitely a work in progress.

I love things to be uncluttered which is a struggle in a family but we do pretty well. We tend to furnish with a mix of vintage, handmade and new things. We love handmade ceramics and use them everyday. We also have a growing collection of art and functional pieces made by friends and local artists. I love meeting artists and craftspeople and thinking of them when I use things they have made.

Wood in her home studio by Julie Larsen

What is your favourite piece of furniture that you own? How about your favourite decoration? A few years ago we found a pair of Canadian made mid century cabinets. They have great closed storage and open shelving for our collection of ceramics.

I don’t really think about objects as decorative. That’s a tricky word for me. We use a lot of pieces. And I think if something is truly beautiful it can feed you in a very tangible supportive way. I love my kid-made objects. I have a collection of ceramics and wood objects that the boys have made with their ever growing hands over the years. They are unpretentious, mark a period of time and the simple forms are so honest.

What draws you to the materials you work with? I am drawn to natural materials and I love texture. I have been working intimately with the structure of weaving. Trying the same structure repeatedly but changing the scale and materials can be very interesting. The same process can create incredibly different results just by using a different weight of yarn, a different fibre type or a different texture. I love mixing them all together to see what happens. I start with a detailed plan and then as I work on the loom the plan evolves and I respond to what’s happening in the moment. This will often mean a change in texture or material so I like to have lots of options in the studio.

What materials have you not yet used that you would like to in the future? I love working with cotton and silk and I’m just starting to use linen a bit more. It’s a tricky fibre but I love how durable it is.

Handicraft and textiles have experienced a resurgence of popularity in recent years. For a while it seemed like the adoption by artists – especially in weaving and ceramics – was never-ending. What are your thoughts on this “movement”? Have you experienced any surge of appreciation, validity and/or any other change in reception as a result? My work is constantly jumping back and forth between craft and art and I find it lands somewhere in the space between them. I make functional work and installations. I rely on traditional skills in combination with material explorations and the ideas that I want to communicate. I think if we go back into art history there have always been artists who work this way. The Bauhaus school were all about merging fine and applied arts and breaking down the barriers between creativity and fabrication. They saw no differences between applied arts or “crafts” like architecture, interior design, textiles and woodwork and fine arts such as sculpture and painting. In post-war Brazil, the Concrete movement picked up where the Bauhaus left off and artists like Lygia Pape brought more sensorial experiences into the mix but kept the connection with traditional techniques as a way to relate to their history. Today it feels like we are once again picking up this historical thread and making connections between materiality and process based art making.

I think that there is something incredibly evocative about tactile objects made by hand. Personally, I use my collection of handmade ceramics every day. So there is the functional aspect of craft that is comforting. Taking that into the realm of fine art seems to create a space or a pause or a breath. I wouldn’t say that my work has been judged differently as a result but I have had opportunities to share it in a commercial gallery setting, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it’s received in an interior design show in a few weeks at Crafted Interiors. I think that blurring these definitions and inviting people from different areas of art, design, craft to share in the work is something that I will likely continue to do.

Photo by Byron Dauncey

What does the term “Craft” mean to you? Last year I created work for a group exhibition at the Elissa Cristall gallery that explored the idea of materiality, technique and labour in art. The show was curated by Lesley Finlayson, a local painter, and my textile installation was nestled among work by Aurora Landin, a printmaker, Rachael Ashe, a papercut artist, and Alwyn O’Brian, a sculptor who works with ceramics. It was super interesting to chat with all of these brilliant artists who worked in a physical way with such different media. We discovered that what we all had in common was an interest in technique. So often for craftspeople and artists, it is the dedication to physical labour and the striving to improve and learn, and even the emotional aspect of connecting to each other and to ourselves through this physical labour, that makes it meaningful. This is what I think of as capital “C” Craft.

Personally, I also definitely draw on the vast history of craftspeople and artists who focused on technique. I am influenced by a number of post war artists like Anni Albers, Eva Hesse, and Ruth Asawa. Each of these women were working with non-traditional art materials and relied on their skills, inquisitive nature and risk taking. They were both artists and true craftspeople.

You seem to have a very scientific and/or mathematical approach to your art work and thought process. Where does this influence come from? What, if any background, do you have in these areas of interest? I have a bit of a research background if not a purely scientific or mathematical one. I had a very eclectic undergrad. I did a lot of analytical research like content studies, and survey work along with theoretical research. But I also loved diving into feminist history, art movements, and media theory. So I’ve always felt a strong affinity to both analytical thinking processes and the process of making because in a way I grew up with them side by side. I’m very interested in figuring out how to quantify the effects of making things by hand. There is something intangible there that I really want to understand.

Also, the process of weaving is very mathematical. Every millimeter is planned out in advance to a certain degree. There is an inherent grid structure that underlies everything. Every design decision is dependent on that grid. I am constantly in conversation with the technique, trying to decide when to let the grid soften and bend and when to make it very strong and stable.

“There is so much self-knowledge and growth available through the humbling process of learning a craft. It’s hard to describe, you just have to try it.”

Does the viewer need to grasp the concepts you reference in order to fully appreciate your creations? I’ve had people tell me that my work moves them in a very visceral way. They didn’t need to understand my thought process to have this experience. I think there are a number of access points. Sometimes just the sense of scale is enough to draw people in. There is something very strong and powerful about great swathes of cloth and fibre. It’s not something we see in our everyday lives. You can spend time with the work and notice how it makes you feel or what ideas come up for you.

I try to make evocative titles so that it draws you in to ask more. I am sharing the tactile experience of making as well as a particular concept. You can take what you need from it and dig deeper if you’d like to. What I would like people to experience is a shift in how they navigate a space or a concept through dwelling with the installations. Weaving is not an immediate gratification kind of process and the outcome is a bit of a slow burn. There is often a conversation between my installations and social constructs and physical spaces. I would like to invite people to join that conversation.

What other sorts of conversations do you hope to spark with your artwork? I hope that the work creates a quiet space where people can reflect, slow down and just be as they are in the moment. I would love for all kinds of conversations to crop up in a way that is not mediated by influencers or advertisers. Honest, vulnerable conversations would be amazing. I’ve experienced this a few times and it’s been such a great way to connect with people in a very real way.

You reference human relationships in your recent work. Why does this topic interest you? I’m interested in the way we connect or what happens to people when there is an absence of connection. Again, going back to my early research days I was interested in the effects of media on different groups of people. As a parent and someone who works with children in the public school system, I am concerned with how all of this will affect future emotional and social health. In my classes, I often (more that I would like) see symptoms of media over use like shorter attention spans, and addictive behaviours in students and it worries me. I’ve spoken with a number of teachers about this and I’m not alone in noticing this shift.

I have also noticed that students that I’ve worked with in the Montessori system – and, in the case of the school I worked at, also very community minded with a strong emphasis on developing social and emotional skills – seem to show more resilience. I wish all schools could work this way.

With my installation work and with the work I do in my classes I try to connect people with their hands as a respite from technology and a way to finding emotional resilience.

Besides your participation in Crafted Interiors, what is next for Amanda Wood? I am currently working on new pieces for a few upcoming exhibitions this fall. I’m going back to a project I started in University where I explored three-dimensional weave structures. I’ve woven two layers that interchange to create structures and now I’m playing with weaving four interchanging layers while also trying new materials.

In June I start another session of Weaving 101 at The Silk Weaving Studio. I love teaching this class! We get to work with silk first of all and we play with all kinds of materials and techniques. I love the beginner mind and the questions and interests of the students are always inspiring and interesting.

I’m also super excited to go to Duncan in November for a residency at the Ou gallery. I’ll be working in some new ways with the structures I have created while also seeing how I can incorporate sound, photography and printmaking. It’s an ambitious goal!

How important is it for future generations to embrace hands-on crafting? It’s essential. I really don’t think the human race can survive without a connection to traditional craft processes and techniques. There is so much self-knowledge and growth available through the humbling process of learning a craft. It’s hard to describe, you just have to try it.

Where do you see Craft in the next decade? I’m hoping that we continue to see more and more people making things. There are so many “craft” movements. From beer to bee-keeping. If this continues I think we’ll be seeing more individual, regional movements and that would be very exciting to experience.

What do you hope to leave as your legacy? I really hope that people get how important it is to connect with themselves and each other in real life. I would like people who engage with the work or attend a workshop to understand their capabilities through making. There are multiple ways of connecting with hand made objects and the more we do the more we can develop emotional resilience and community at the same time.

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