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dogwood dance, 2011, 12" x12", eco printed silk organza, appliquéd on vintage linen, hand stitched, framed, photo: peter aaslestad

 

dogwood book, 2011, 5" x 10", 12 pages, eco printed paper and silk, inkjet printed vellum and recycled paper, bound with dogwood stick, photo: lotta helleberg

 

 

 

Artist: Lotta Helleberg, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA

Interview 61: Lotta exhibited in the 2012 World of Threads Festival at  De rerum natura (On The Nature of Things) the Joshua Creek Heritage Art Centre in Oakville.

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Interviews published by Gareth Bate & Dawne Rudman.

 

Biography

Lotta Helleberg is a Swedish born textile artist and surface designer. She graduated in journalism and graphic design from the University of Gothenburg in 1983 and continued her career as a graphic artist after moving to the United States in 1988. She began experimenting with textile printing in 2002 and has developed her fibre art skills through projects, workshops and classes.

Lotta's current work focuses on documenting nature in her immediate surroundings. She uses local plants for fabric dyes and also incorporates them into natural printing techniques such as leaf printing and eco-printing. The resulting impressions are incorporated into art quilts, textile collages, artist books and other objects.

Lotta lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with her husband and two sons. She is a resident artist at Chroma Projects and exhibits her work in several regional galleries. Lotta's Website

 

Artist: Lotta Helleberg

 

Tell us about your work?

I create quilts, collages, artist books and other objects using hand-printed and natural dyed fabrics and papers. The imagery originates from eco-prints, where the plants themselves release colour pigments that bond with the cloth or the paper; or leaf prints, where the leaf is coated with paint and pressed onto the surface. I also use screen prints created from photographs and illustrations. My motifs come from familiar sources. I collect leaves, seedpods, flowers and other plant materials from my garden, or my neighbourhood and use them in the dye and printing process.

My love for nature extends to the use of natural materials like linen, wool, silk, vintage cloth and handmade papers, which represents both tradition and durability. Most of my work is hand-stitched and created in a slow mindful way.

 

forest floor, 2010, 21” x 33”, leaf printed, plant dyed vintage linen, hand stitched with wool thread, photo: peter aaslestad

 

From where do you get your inspiration?

Almost daily I run across something delightful – a moss clad surface, the shape of a rock, or the colour of a coat worn by someone passing by. I am fascinated by the intricacy of leaves, fronds and flowers, but I am also inspired by the surrounding landscape. I love the mountains where we live and the rolling fields of southern Sweden were I grew up.

Traditional patchwork, quilting and needlework are other sources of inspiration. Many older quilts were created out of a need to keep warm and as a way to use resources on hand. Yet, they were made with great care and enormous beauty.

My Swedish heritage has inspired my work in many ways, such as my fabric choices (mainly linen) and my affinity for subtle colours. I also love modern Scandinavian design with its simple, clean, elegant lines.

 

dogwood book, 2011, 5" x 10", 12 pages, eco printed paper and silk, inkjet printed vellum and recycled paper, bound with dogwood stick, photo: lotta helleberg

dogwood book, detail, 2011, 5" x 10", 12 pages, eco printed paper and silk, inkjet printed vellum and recycled paper, bound with dogwood stick, photo: lotta helleberg

 

How did you decide on this medium?

I was sewing and making clothes growing up, my professional background is in graphic design, and I am a passionate gardener. When I started to experiment with my first leaf prints on fabric, it was as if all my experiences as a seamstress, designer and gardener fell into place.

 

pecan book, detail, 2011, 5" x 10", 12 pages, eco printed paper and linen, inkjet printed vellum and recycled paper, bound with stick, photo: lotta helleberg

pecan book, detail, 2011, 5" x 10", 12 pages, eco printed paper and linen, inkjet printed vellum and recycled paper, bound with stick, photo: lotta helleberg

 

What other mediums do you work in, and how does this inform your work?

I photograph my surroundings and my work. The photos are used on my website and blog and I am convinced that seeing things through a camera lens, gives you a different perspective. I am also learning printmaking and book binding, which are intriguing art forms on their own and which I think will complement my textile work in many ways.

 

 

fallow fields no. 1, 2010, 15" x 15" leaf printed, plant dyed linen, machine stitched, reclaimed oak frame, photo: lotta helleberg

 

What specific historic artists have influenced your work? 

I have always loved Georgia O'Keefe and her work. Not only was she a pioneer for women artists in this country, but also her paintings still feel modern and fresh. I especially like her botanical work, for its boldness and sensual undertones.

The quilters from Gee's Bend have created stunning quilts for many generations. I love how the quilt top often was designed and patched by one person, giving her total artistic freedom. And how the actual quilting often was done in collaboration among the women. In my view these quilts are examples of modern art in its best form.

Karin Larsson, wife of the renowned Swedish painter Carl Larsson, was a schooled artist and painter living at the turn of the last century, who gave up her career to support her husband and raise their children. She used their home in Sundborn as her creative outlet, decorating it with tapestries, printed textiles, handmade furniture, and murals. I admire her ability to enjoy an artistic life on her own terms.

 

dogwood dance, 2011, 12" x12", eco printed silk organza, appliquéd on vintage linen, hand stitched, framed, photo: peter aaslestad

 

 

What specific contemporary artists have influenced your work? 

Photographer Sally Mann lives in rural Virginia. She bases her work in the things she finds around her, ranging from her children, farm animals and rural landscapes. She also uses traditional photography techniques rather than digital, which I think is analogous to the intricate hand sewing and old dye techniques used in my work.

Sean Scully is an Irish born painter and photographer whose work often depicts blocks and fields of colour juxtaposed with other fields of colour. Even his photographic compositions remind me of quilt patterns.

Austin-based printmaker Kelly Tankersley transfers plants and photographic images into solar plate etchings, which she then prints onto her own handmade papers. The balance between the textured papers and her sometimes-stark images is alluring.

 

gone to seed, 2010, 9" x 9". leaf printed linen, hand stitched, reclaimed wood frame, photo: lotta helleberg

 

What other fibre artists are you interested in and why?

Australian textile artist India Flint's inspirational work and teachings have been a catalyst for my own progress as an artist. India is exploring and developing techniques for natural dyeing and printing, and she is a true pioneer in the field. I admire her beautiful work, her curiosity and her conscious effort to keep environmental awareness first and foremost in her work and life.

Rowland Ricketts also uses natural dyes exclusively in his work. He is mostly known for his work with indigo, but he also creates fantastic weavings using yarns dyed in many other colour ranges. Rowland's minimalist work, comprised of simple circles and colour fields, is breathtaking.

Kathryn Clark's most recent work, the series foreclosure quilts, illustrates the ongoing foreclosure crisis in our country. She maps foreclosed homes in specific cities and translates the maps into hand-stitched quilts using remnants and vintage fabrics. I appreciate her conviction and her ability to tell a story in a unique and compelling way.

There are many more amazing fibre artists whom I love: Yoshiko Jinzenji is the master of simple and elegant quilt designs; Judy Martin's conceptual quilts are wonderfully tactile and awe inspiring; Barbara Wisnoski, whose work with cloth remnants brings pointillism into the textile world; Claudy Jongstra who creates stunning natural dyed installations made from fleece from her own flock of sheep, and many more…

 

leaf collection, 2010, 20" x 20", leaf printed vintage linen, hand stitched, reclaimed wood frame, photo: peter aaslestad

 

What is your philosophy about Fibre Art and what role do you think fibre art plays in contemporary art?

I think that fibre is just another medium with its own characteristics. What you create with the fibre will determine if it is art or not. My studio is located in a vibrant contemporary art gallery and it is wonderful to be surrounded by a variety of artists and their work. I think they, in turn, appreciate how my work contributes to our community. Fibre art's strength is when it creates warmth in an environment. Even the starkest modernist setting becomes softer with a quilt or a tapestry on the wall. Fibre does this better than any other medium.

 

odd ball, 2009, 29" x 41", block printed and leaf printed linen and vintage linen, hand stitched, photo: lotta helleberg

odd ball, detail, 2009, 29" x 41", block printed and leaf printed linen and vintage linen, hand stitched, photo: lotta helleberg

 

Can you talk a bit about the commercial viability of fibre art and do you find it more difficult to show and sell your work than non-fibre artists?

I still consider myself an emerging artist and I don't have vast experiences with the commercial art market, but I have found a good fit for my work in contemporary art galleries, where my textile compositions can co-exist with art in other mediums. My best sales have been through mixed art venues, which do not specialize in crafts.

 

 

shades of geranium, 2009, 34" x 34", leaf printed vintage handkerchief linen, appliquéd on natural linen, hand and machine stitched, photo: peter aaslestad

shades of geranium, detail, 2009, 34" x 34", leaf printed vintage handkerchief linen, appliquéd on natural linen, hand and machine stitched, photo: peter aaslestad

 

When did you first discover your creative talents?

My grandmother was an amazing homemaker, keeping an impeccable linen closet. She expertly cared for the textile treasures she made and accumulated over the years. My mother is a masterful seamstress, who always made clothes for my sisters and me when we were young. These artistic women passed on their love of handcraft and textiles to me. I too, sewed my own clothes as a teenager and young adult. I think I won my husbands heart over when I made him a button down dress shirt when we were still dating. I have always wanted to make things, starting with paper dolls as a child, embroidered messenger bags as a teenager, and poster and magazine designs as a professional adult. But it is not until now, when I am in my middle age years, that I feel compelled to create. I truly love what I do.

 

 

spotted, 2009, 16" x 16", leaf printed and mono printed linen, machine stitched, framed, photo: lotta helleberg

 

Please explain how you developed your own style.

The honest answer to this question is that I don't know if I have found my own voice yet. I am drawn to patterns and repetitions, but only to show the variations that lay within. Each print I make is distinctly unique and I want to highlight the subtle differences by comparing them side-by-side. Nature is a wild place, but at the same time it is very orderly. A specific plant produces the same kind of leaf year after year. The witch hazel's blooms arrive like clockwork in early February. Somehow I want to emphasize nature's beauty by bringing it into focus over and over again. I am eager to depict the natural world, because sometimes I worry that it will not be there forever, at least not in its current form. But I don't have a cause or a conviction that propels my creations, which is something I often admire in other artists.

 

sumac study, 2011, 23" x 30", eco printed wool and silk, appliquéd on natural linen, hand stitched, photo: peter aaslestad

sumac study, detail, 2011, 23" x 30", eco printed wool and silk, appliquéd on natural linen, hand stitched, photo: peter aaslestad

 

How does your early work differ from what you are doing now?

I am a self-taught artist and early on I stressed over the technical quality of my work. I would do things over, rip up seams, and discard things if there was the slightest imperfection. But ever since I started working with natural dyes and eco prints, I have come to love imperfection and cherish the unexpected. You never know exactly what a dye pot or a bundle will bring. I am still a perfectionist in many respects, but the art form that I have chosen, has taught me to relax and let things be, in their own beautiful way.

 

leaf printing by the artist, photo: sarah cramer shields

lotta helleberg stitching in the studio, photo: sarah cramer shields

lotta helleberg by the sewing machine, photo: sarah cramer shields

 

Have you experienced fluctuations in your productivity through the years?

Balancing family life and work is always a challenge. As my boys have grown I was able to devote longer stretches of time to work, instead of shoehorning it in between school deliveries and soccer practices. My work process is slow, so I never feel really productive, but the eagerness to work and to make something new is always present.

 

 

structure, 2009, 9" x 32", block printed linen, linen and cotton string, hand stitched and wrapped over salvaged fencing wood, photo: lotta helleberg

structure, detail, 2009, 9" x 32", block printed linen, linen and cotton string, hand stitched and wrapped over salvaged fencing wood, photo: lotta helleberg

 

What project has given you the most satisfaction and why?

I am currently working on a commission piece that came to be by chance. It is a simple design, but through the connection with the buyer it has become almost magical. We are so in tune with how this quilt will develop, and the whole process makes me feel reassured and happy. I have also made a couple of small books recently, where I combined my textile prints, with eco-printed paper, photography, writing, and stitching. I loved the result and I am eager to do something similar soon.

 

 

view from the studio at chroma projects, print samples on the design board, photo: lotta helleberg

 

 

 

Tell us about your studio and how you work:

I have two studios. All the mess is happening in the basement of my house, where I have a sink and an old washing machine to aid in my dyeing and printing pursuits, and there is plenty of room for preparing and drying fabrics. My second studio is located a few blocks away at Chroma Projects, a contemporary art gallery in the center of Charlottesville. This is where I work on compositions, construction and sewing. It is also where I can think and be most productive, without the distraction of barking dogs, computers, and dirty dishes. The studio is a great place for me to display my work and to interact with other resident artists and gallery visitors. My hand stitching is done in both places, preferable at home in front of the fire in the wintertime, listening to music.

 

tree lines no. 2, 2010, 35" x 40", screen printed linen and vintage linen, silk and linen thread, hand stitched, photo: peter aaslestad

tree lines no. 2, detail, 2010, 35" x 40", screen printed linen and vintage linen, silk and linen thread, hand stitched, photo: peter aaslestad

 

How did you initially start showing your work in galleries?

My first shows have been in small art and craft galleries in the area. I am also a member of a wonderful fibre group called Fiber Transformed and we exhibit our work as a group once or twice every year in regional venues. Starting this year I am looking forward to submitting my work to a few larger juried and curated shows and exhibitions.

 

eco-print bundles waiting to be opened, photo: lotta helleberg

 

Where do you imagine your work in five years? 

I will definitely be on the same path. I am hoping to reach a wider national and international audience and to embark on larger pieces suitable for public installation. I am launching a new series this year portraying specific trees in my neighbourhood, which I hope will lead to other exciting experiences.

 

What interests you about the World of Threads festival?

I am impressed with the scope of the World of Threads Festival, both in terms of the many different locations where work will be featured, but also in the variety of fibre arts represented. Judging from images from the last festival in 2009, it was a great event with many beautiful art works on display.

 

branching out, 2009, 26" x 39", leaf printed vintage linen, hand and machine stitched, photo: lotta helleberg

 

 

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Interviews published by Gareth Bate & Dawne Rudman.