CELEBRATE THE SLOW | JOURNAL

CELEBRATE THE SLOW: <br> CARRIE CRAWFORD

CELEBRATE THE SLOW:
CARRIE CRAWFORD

Q: Tell us about yourself? What do you do, where are you from, and where do you live? All that good stuff...

A: ​​I am a mother, a lover, a motherlover, an artist, and a friend with a 9yr old's sense of humor deep down.

Q: Tell us about your childhood and what brought you to the Bay Area.

A: I am a painter with dye and no brushes but really I am more like a textile devotee in service of the cloth. I currently live in Petaluma CA with my partner of 21 years and our teenage son.

celebrate the slowQ: Have you always been into creating art? How did you get started in your craft?

A: I grew up in Southern California on several acres of avocado trees, which I thought tasted yucky, ha! Now I eat at least one a day. We had horses and a cow, a big tall goat named Bigelow, chickens, and many dogs. I spent most of my youth laying on the back of my horse as she grazed. I dwelled in farm chores and daydreams and my best friend was a pet chicken named Edith Anne. I was an only child until 11 years old, my father died and my mom remarried. We left our tiny farm and moved into the suburban tract home of my new stepdad’s freshly grieving family, as they had just lost their mom. It was messy.

My mom was a working artist and a real homesteader at heart, she made everything from scratch. She shifted mediums as space and time permitted. On the farm, she was an oil painter and ceramicist with an outdoor studio and kiln...I made so many coil-pot towers and the smell of turpentine still comforts me. I can trace my creative spirit to these early days and my thoroughly process-driven mother, but never considered art or artist as something for me, I had this idea that because I couldn’t draw representationally, I was kinda locked out, so I did other things, like dramatic roller skating shows, costumes for the dogs and later in life, handmade clothes, fanzines, and punk bands.

I somehow made it through high school and college, blah. I didn’t really come to life until I moved to San Francisco in my 20s. I didn’t know a single person, I just got a room in a household of folks I met at the 1989 anarchist gathering. I was so lonely, I used to ride the 24 bus to the end of the line and back again just to be out and about. I took 2 art classes at SF City College, sculpture and printmaking which lit a fire in me. But I didn’t really get started living into any formal art ideas until I moved to Montana many years later. I finished a liberal arts degree in SF and in the early days of graduate school for history, I realized I couldn’t do academia and be happy, so I left that world and for the next 10 years had many dumb jobs, lived in group houses, played in bands, put on shows and hosted many vegan potlucks. Most formative time of my life. Steeped in politics and music, everyone around me was responding to the world with creativity and heart, it was a magical time that I hope to continue to honor as my life and practice evolve.

Around age 30 I met my current partner and we moved far away from the Bay, first to rural Montana then to Bozeman. We lived a very simple outdoorsy life. After losing our first son Oscar to a birth defect, I tried to go back to school to become an art teacher, but it really wasn't resonating. I worked at the co-op, the thrift store and I ended up working in the office of the art department at the university.

I got pretty inspired as I lived with the loss of that baby and did some big projects in Montana. Looking back all the work was pretty literal, but nonetheless, very significant to me finding my voice. Not going to art school has often been a sensitivity for me. I have been engaged in expressing myself for decades now, yet still wonder if I am doing it “right.” Now I look at these projects with some mirth and joy. How do we find ourselves? How do we cope with life? How do we make community? For me, it continues to be art.

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Evidenced in these highlights from the Montana years, I see I have been making the same few comments forever, for instance: I made a 15-foot high teepee out of found, wood-framed windows, to explore my dead father’s Native American identity. He was born on Pine Ridge reservation and grew up with an indigenous mother, though when she died, he was sent to a residential school and no one in the family would talk about anything, so I'd always wondered what his early life was like and what he brought into adulthood, into our family life. A teepee made of windows seemed like the right way to ask personal and symbolic questions. I collaborated on a super-human scale magpie nest (12 feet across) in the college gallery: what is home?

I went on to make a 5 foot tall elaborately frosted layer made out of wood and plaster that opened with hinges to reveal a painted and constructed tall-ship diorama epically aflame and sinking, another on-the-nose comment on interiority. This cake was on wheels and lived on my front porch. I rolled it out to Main Street on ArtWalk nights for fun. For another project, I secured the graduate student gallery and covered every surface with found crocheted afghan blankets. I saw these beauties discarded everywhere and thought of them as the ugly, unloved stepchild compared to the celebrated kin, the quilt. I created an immersive environment to honor these relics of devotion. I thought about all the time it takes to crochet one, the loops imbued with so much intention and well wishes for the recipient. To see them tossed aside, donated, and abandoned felt like a call to honor them. Once installed en masse, the smell was outrageous, oh! I created a tall wooden labyrinth spiral to walk, covered seamlessly floor to ceiling with blankets, once at the center, at the heart, played a friend's video of a crocheted landscape pulsing to a heartbeat soundtrack.

I was really digging into 3D representations after my 2nd son was born when I rented a Uhaul truck and fashioned a gallery inside of it, parked it in an alley, and threw a party. Guests walked up the ramp and climbed through a sewn curtain opening into what I imagined as a body complete with stuffed pantyhose “guts” hung from the ceiling and piled on the floor, each wall crowded with watercolor paintings of inner selves, simplistic stick figures with masks on in scenarios symbolic of survival, actual monsters and some gentle ghost angels watching over things... I wanted folks to tour the inside of a body and all the complex identities within.

Long long story short, there was a lot of earnest storytelling going on at this time and many ideas for new pieces when I found out my mom was dying of cancer and we moved to California to be closer to her. All that art hit the brakes. Oh, such hard days laid ahead.

With my son now at preschool age, I began a surface design trade school program in Los Angeles coupled with caring for my mom. It was a lot, lot, lot. I think now, what was I doing taking on a school commitment amidst so much chaos, and I can only answer that creative expression has always been the way I make sense of my life. Plus I thought at 40, it might be time to be a “grown-up” and make some kind of professional life for myself and it would be a lie if I didn't mention that trying to outrun pain by maxing out wasn't mixed in there too.

I completed the one-year program, my mom died and I hit the job world, and guess what, it all felt awful. I didn’t like making computer art, I didn’t like the industry, I felt adrift not making anything with my hands, etc. It was during this very upside-down time that I took an indigo workshop. The alchemy and thoughtful process of making and tending the dye vat really captured me. I think I really needed a care-filled and loving element to my art practice at the time. Apparently, I still do, as I have not stopped working with indigo. I eventually exited the surface design world and after a few house moves and more life, moved back to the Bay Area, where I remain today.

Q: As you know, we are huge fans of your pieces and talents. Tell us about your work and what inspires you. Does sustainability play a role?

A: Nature. Humans. Problems. Imagination. Silliness. Courage. Grace.
Over and over again, I find myself drawn to Kinship and Connection. Laying on the ground. Smelling the plants. Talking and listening. I am forever replicating practices from my youth, amongst the trees, muddy knees, immersed in the wind and bird songs, I am most comfortable in the company of animals and sweet humans.

After my first son died, I removed all the grass from our yard by hand and planted the most elaborate garden. I was held so gently and healed so much with my hands in the soil. Years later, I had another big consciousness swell when I happened upon some aerial photography where human-made disasters were shot from the sky. I looked at the organic shapes and borders and phenomena, edge conditions that make me question how destruction can also be profoundly beautiful and by extension, if broken earth could be beautiful, broken people could too...like me. It was around this time that I rented my current studio and started experimenting with large-scale indigo vats and dip dying. What I am making today is an iteration of that topographical fascination. Healing. Earth Magic. Heart Magic.

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Q: Why natural dyes? Why indigo? 

A: Natural dyes are so awesome. They are literal earth magic. They smell good, they are literal pieces of time and place. They carry the energy of the hands that forage, grow and process them. I believe the colors resonate so deeply because they are connected to us cellularly. I am the earth and the earth is me, kind of thing. To work with natural dyes is to connect with the flora and fauna, the whole giant web of connection, and to ourselves. They are infinite. Indigo is its own unique plant and process. I have learned from many artisans, artists, and traditions around the world what this plant and color can mean and symbolize. It has such a rich tradition, I am really honored to work with it every day. I consider the vats my family and each piece I create is like a part of a collective inner world moving out into the visible and tangible. It’s ongoing grief work, it’s life work. It’s living work to me.

Q: What does your typical day in the studio look like?

A: I drop my son at school and drive 45 minutes to my studio. I eat, I tend to my plants, I make lists, I sit quietly, I look at art being made around the world (thank you internet), I chit-chat with friends with endless emojis, I worry, I doubt, I listen to podcasts, I read, I care for the various vats, I scour and prep fabric, I dye, rinse and hang dry different pieces. I pin-up works in progress and live with them a bit, waiting to hear from them what they need; more indigo, more love.

Q: Don’t overthink this...If we asked you to play one song while you work what would it be and why? 

A: Anything by the Buzzcocks, the jam, gang of four, wire...really any song and it’s instant happiness for me. Though a good part of my day is in silence, the right song brings me to life!

Q: Do you have a favorite piece or pieces that you’ve created?

A: I love working on a large scale and I truly love multiples. Diptychs and triptychs are challenging in the best way. I don’t cut a big piece into sections to make these pairings, they are discrete pieces that find a way to converse with each other. It's really satisfying when a conversation emerges unplanned, kinda puts me in the background while the colors and shapes live their own lives; I love that.

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Q: Tell us about where you create? What helps to get your creative juices flowing? Is there any secret recipe for your creative process?

A: Once upon a time when I was in trade school for surface design, I won a cash award from a contest. I saved this money despite my student loan debt and promised to use it for something special for myself art-wise... When the “For Rent” sign on my current studio kept catching my eye, I finally called and used this saved prize money to cover a chunk of rent on the space. The studio felt huge at first, with a simple table, a camping stove, and 25-gallon fructose indigo vat. Today it is full of vats and pots of dye, ideas and experiments, books, and so many plants. I try to keep the clean areas separate from the messy ones, but honestly, it’s all a bit of a jumble, the happiest place on earth.

Q: Tell us how COVID has affected your life and work… both in hard and inspiring ways.

A: I am still thinking about this and feeling the contours of this massive moment we are in. My studio became a true sanctuary and my gratitude for the space deepened tremendously. I have been slowly interpreting the times with my work, but honestly, I still feel like I am just surviving and my creativity is coasting. I appreciate what I have read about Languishing and not rushing back to or forcing some kind of “normalcy.” Though dang, I am emotionally fatigued and have fears that I may never feel fired up again. I look around and see so many peers surviving in their own way and that brings me some ease but most inspiring has been our garden, coming to life season after season and supporting so many pollinators, doing its complex and simple work in beauty.

Q: Is there any driving philosophy that you have that gets you through the day or during challenging times?

A: I like the notion of “showing up.” I aspire to show up for the things that matter to me, like the real-time impulses toward justice and equity. I hope to show up for friends, for my family, for my practice, and for myself. Sometimes showing up looks like a lot of action and sometimes it looks like a nap. I know in my heart it's what helps with my own depression and living in a complex world, it often feels like the only thing I have any control over, just showing up as best as I can.

Q: What can we all look forward to in terms of your art in the next year?

A: More blue (Ha ha, of course). I am playing around with sewing panels together looking for the right balance of graphic and painterly elements and maybe, hopefully adding texture. I am always working from a theme, something I have read or felt, something that resonates, excites me. I am always scanning the horizon for bridges to the natural world.

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Q: What community do you gravitate towards? Local, hobby-related, philanthropy-based, family, professional, etc.

A: I love community and am exhausted by it. I had an elderly neighbor for many years (RIP Harriette) who was an active zen Buddhism student. I drove her to her sangha meetings for years and the teachings/community really changed me and continues to hold a very warm spot in my heart. I love artists and contemplatives, activists, and lovers of beauty. I love wingnuts and serious folk. I love forests and chaparral, beaches and the sea. I have been in one Waldorf community or another for a decade or more and appreciate that world deeply. I mostly gravitate to being alone though and struggle to find just the right balance with it all. 

Q: Is there anything you feel vulnerable about as a woman or individual? If so, would you mind sharing?

A: I am a big, soft woman. Big, soft body and a big, soft heart in a world that can be unwelcoming to both. I really try to live with grace as I walk with grief: personal grief and human/world/earth grief, so I think I can be somewhat serious, I can seem sort of aloof, I am admittedly kinda weird and at times I wish I could just blend into the forest. So I guess I feel vulnerable about being human?! Ha...

Q: How do you practice self-care or treat yourself?

A: I am really embracing that I am an early-to-bed nightgown person. I really delight in a fresh cotton nightgown after an evening shower. It may sound so basic but the gift of giving myself a clean body and deliberate bedtime ritual feels like a radical act.

Q: What is your go-to outfit? Does what you are wearing in terms of style or comfort affect your daily life/work?

A: I tend to wear the same thing for a week at a time, as my studio practice is messy and I need to be unrestricted and comfortable. I love a homemade linen top, black jeans, and clogs.

The dress that Carrie is wearing in these photos is her personal washed black Long-sleeve Ginny Dress. She cut the arms to her preferred length for working and sewed in her soul and own personal brand of blue - of course. Each blue thread peaking through is insight into who she is as a human and her love for all things art and blue. We are literally in awe of how she transformed this piece and made it more beautiful than we could have ever imagined.

See her work here.

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celebrate the slow