Caryn Friedlander was born in New York City in 1955. She lived on the east coast until, on a whim, she travelled to the Pacific Northwest in her early twenties. She lived in Seattle, the Aleutian Islands, and in Japan as a Monbusho Fellow while working on her Master’s thesis, before settling in Bellingham, Washington, where she lives with her husband, two cats, a (big) dog, and a dozen chickens. She travels extensively, particularly in Asia and Europe.
Friedlander has an MA in Japanese art history (University of Washington, 1987), and an MFA in painting and drawing (University of Washington, 1991). She exhibited at Francine Seders Gallery from 1996 until the gallery closed in 2014, when gallery owner Seders retired. She is still represented by Seders, and shows regularly at Smith & Vallee Gallery in Edison, Washington. Along with her studio work, Friedlander taught drawing and painting at Whatcom Community College from 1992 – 2015 (Bellingham, WA), when she retired from teaching to focus solely on her studio work.
Lately, instead of a box of pastels, a box of embroidery floss sits open on my work table. In place of gessoed linen, my ground is silk that has been dyed with the tannin-rich leaves of plants. Stitching into colorfully dyed cloth is satisfying, contemplative, and temporal. My process is considerably slower these days – instead of the few seconds it takes to paint or draw a line, a single stitched line might take several minutes. I no longer dive headlong into the unknown, but instead move quietly through it. I have opened up a treasure chest, finding endless possibilities within.
Unlike many artists who work with textiles, it was not fond memories from childhood that led me to work with cloth. There is no recollection of a childhood spent listening to the comforting sound of a matriarch’s sewing machine. I only came recently to textiles and stitching, after multiple decades of painting and drawing.
The move to cloth and thread was born out of an obsession with knitting and spinning (also taken up in the recent past), and a question of “what if..” about the parallel interest that fiber holds for me, in color and texture and the tactile manipulation of materials it offers. My growing stash of yarn was beginning to look a little like my sizable stash of pastels and paint tubes.
So I took a workshop in stitching. I didn’t even think such a thing existed, but it does, and during that class I discovered that a stitched line could evoke expression and memory and beauty, and that everyone’s stitched line could look quite different. Stitching into cloth is an absorbing experience with an unknown outcome, much using paint and charcoal. In that class I also learned about eco-printing (using plants to make contact prints on paper and cloth). Because I like a visual substrate of marks to work into, dyeing the cloth prior to stitching into it appeals to me.
Serendipitously, the current work encompasses many of my preoccupations; I am a gardener, and I quickly discovered that new art materials lay a few feet from my studio door. Plant nurseries are my art supply store and my garden is expanding, in accordance with plants that have potential in the dye pot. I love the woods, and now hikes with my dog are hunting adventures. I return home with my pockets lined with windfall leaves and bits of bark to use in the studio. My world has come full circle in new and meaningful ways.
Eco-printing is a process of using the natural tannins and dyes from plants to create contact prints on paper or textiles; when you see the imprints on a sidewalk left by fallen leaves, what you are seeing are the natural tannins in the leaves staining the concrete.
To dye fabric, I arrange plant matter (leaves, seeds, flower petals, etc.,) on fabric. The material and plants are rolled tightly together around a dowel (a sturdy branch pruned from my fig tree serves this purpose), and the resulting bundle is tied firmly so there is direct contact between leaves and material. The rolls are immersed in boiling water. Unraveling bundles is an activity full of anticipation, akin to opening a long-awaited letter. The results can be unpredictable and often astonishing.
One day I unraveled a long, narrow piece of silk I had just taken from the dye bath. I laughed, because the resulting image of maple and smoke bush leaves resembled a Japanese painting, reminding me of the deep ties to, and love I have for, Asian art. At that moment, the question of presentation was solved – I had to “mount” them like a kakejiku, or hanging scroll. This has become an integral part of the image, and I am currently working on ideas for hand scrolls and sewn accordion books as well to expand the series.