CNCHnet . . . The Textile Arts Webzine of the Conference of Northern California Handweavers

To Dye For: Barbara Shapiro

Involved in textiles from an early age, Barbara Shapiro has developed a style that incorporates her many perspectives of textile history and technical expertise.  Her art tells a story.  One can sense the personal message, as well as its place in the time continuum.  A frequent comment that accurately describes the feeling of one of Barbara’s indigo wall pieces is “I just want to fall into it.”  I personally know that feeling well, having had the honor of being in one of Barbara’s indigo dyeing classes, and having listened to her presentations about her work.  Her thoughtful and intuitive approach holds in any medium she chooses. Her current focus includes three dimensional textile forms.  Flotsam, 2007, Barbara’s piece in the exhibit, is from her Indigo Landscape series exploring an ikat horizon line with gold leaf shibori imagery. A resisted silk warp is dyed in indigo and then hand woven. Two panels are stitched together; a GOLD leaf motif is rendered and then finished with pigment.

For over 25 years, Barbara volunteered as a teaching assistant at San Francisco State University. She is a Board member of the Textile Society of America and also serves on the Textile Arts Council of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. She is a docent at the Museum of Craft and Folkart.  Barbara and I spoke about her piece, Flotsam, on display in the de Young exhibit, and her thoughts on inspiration and creativity.

CC: What was your inspiration for creating Flotsam?

"Flotsam"- picture courtesy of Barbara Shapiro

BS: Flotsam is from my Indigo Landscape series, and was inspired by the view of the San Francisco Bay near my home.  I made this in 2007 while my brother (who has since died) was ill, so it has both a physical and emotional reference for me. Flotsam speaks of the pier in front of my home that is slowly disintegrating into the Bay, very much like the emotional detritus we leave behind as we navigate this journey called life.

CC: When I looked at Flotsam from across the exhibit room, I could feel the ebb and flow as the flotsam moves toward the horizon – a real sense of it moving away from me.  How did you create that mood?
BS: I find I am drawn towards being able to fall into the feeling of the piece, and indigo is a good medium for that kind of place.

CC: Do you find that technique or content drives inspiration?
BS: I have always been drawn to the history of textiles, which I find fascinating.  I look at techniques, and then am inspired to create works in my own language.

Technique drives a certain way of working (such as in basketry, weaving, etc.) but it works both ways.  If I am not practiced in the medium, I won’t be able to speak in that language. I can work in various techniques and then after a while, when I am inspired, they have become part of my vocabulary. It’s a continuum moving from the weaving to the basketry, and other techniques.  I find myself content with the whole body working together.
CC: What are your sources for inspiration?
BS: I often get inspiration from many different sources.  For instance, in my upcoming exhibit at the Museum of Craft & Folkart, I will have a series of indigo dyed cane baskets wrapped in sheer cloth.  When working on the baskets, it was the action of wrapping them and letting go that made me think of memory and recent painful loss.  While I make objects I listen to what they are saying while I am making them.  If I discover that I am saying something, I create a series.

CC: What would you advise people to do for their inspiration sources?

BS: Inspiration often comes from a deeper source. I would like to emphasize that, without pretenses of divinity, it is the “still, small voice” that is inside us that sparks inspiration.  We all have the clutter of life, family, work and other obligations that distract our thoughts.  But to be inspired, you need to let the voice come out – clear the clutter so you can listen to something quieter.

You can find out more about Barbara at:

To see the work of other artists in the show, Click Angelina