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March 2004

Goodbye from Rob Pulleyn

I never intended to make a career of publishing a magazine celebrating fiber art. I never intended to have a career at all.

It started with a naive interest in creating a vehicle for fiber artists and craftspeople to talk to each other. It was 1974. I was weaving tapestries that were traditional in technique but aesthetically contemporary. I looked around and didn’t see any magazine that blended a respect for the traditional with an enthusiasm for the new. Sensing that there were others who were working with yarn and fabric who were experiencing this same “disconnect,” I decided that, what the hell, I would do something about it. No money, no experience, and? I had nothing to lose.

It was a time of excess. I sensed that there was frequently more energy than discipline in much of what was being done in fiber: cramming more colors, more yarn, and more techniques into a piece elevated it to “art,” and that bothered me. I thought that exuberant excess rarely qualified as art (except, perhaps, in the case of Gaudí or Dolly Parton). The fiber world was like a puppy: inexhaustible energy with a total lack of focus. It was an exhilarating time. But there didn’t seem to be any center to the maelstrom, no place to stop, look at, and think about what was going on. Enter FIBERARTS.

But, hey, that’s my perspective on the founding of FIBERARTS 30 years later.

At the time the magazine started, it was just a lark. Its origin was an informal, typewritten newsletter titled Fibercrafts Newsletter that was sent out to customers of a yarn shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I got a few distressed letters from folks who were offended by the word “craft,” so I figured I’d avoid controversy by changing the name to FIBERARTS. I also realized that I couldn’t afford to send it out for free, so I asked readers to each send me six dollars, and I promised to expand the coverage of the newsletter. In August 1975, I published the first FIBERARTS in a tabloid newsprint format.

After several issues and more and more readers discovering the magazine, I hired an editor, Linda Vozar, to help me out. She was an aspiring potter but had editorial experience, which I didn’t. I told her that I didn’t care that she wasn’t familiar with fiber. I wanted her to represent the reader by being excited about work she saw. Find good writers, find interesting work, listen to the readers, and have fun, I told her—and every subsequent editor.

With each issue, there were enough new subscribers to pay for the next issue. It was hand-to-mouth from the beginning, and the process of each issue paying for the next has existed for 30 years. It’s never changed.

This is the last issue I will publish. With the next issue, Interweave of Loveland, Colorado, will be producing the magazine. The new publisher, Marilyn Murphy, brings years of editorial experience at Interweave to FIBERARTS, but, more importantly, she brings a love of fiber in all its forms. Shortly after I started FIBERARTS, Marilyn purchased the Weaving Workshop in Chicago, and then in 1986 she founded The Textile Arts Centre, a nonprofit educational and exhibition center in Chicago. We’ve known each other for all these years, and I’ve been deeply impressed with everything she’s done. And she’s been a loyal subscriber as well.

Interweave, as most of you know, publishes many fiber-related magazines and books. They started the same month as FIBERARTS, and we’ve been friends ever since. They are totally reader focused, and I have absolute faith in their vision for the magazine. They are dedicated to the proposition that FIBERARTS should stay true to itself.

I should explain the underlying reason for this transfer. When FIBERARTS and Lark Books were purchased by Sterling Publishing Company five years ago, FIBERARTS became part of a company that understood and supported the magazine. With Sterling’s surprise sale to Barnes & Noble last year, the magazine obviously was out of place in the context of the world’s largest bookstore chain. With no prodding from them, it became obvious to me that, to maintain its focus and mission, FIBERARTS needed a home that was simpatico with the readers and that understood the magazine.

I am very happy with the transition. It will mean that there will be changes to the magazine, of course, but that’s good. It will also mean that I don’t help lay out the magazine, don’t get a preview of what artists the editor has discovered, and don’t get to share in disagreements about what image should be on the cover. Now I get to go to the mailbox, retrieve the new issue of FIBERARTS, pour a glass of wine, settle down in my chair, and share the joy of discovery with all the other readers.

It’s comforting, too, to know that FIBERARTS has never been in better shape. I think we’re beginning to see a resurgence in interest in our chosen medium. As evidence, there are more readers of the magazine today than in the last 15 years, more advertisers, more galleries showing our work, and more energy than I can remember. We may have been the forgotten craft medium for the last generation, but I really think the next decade will see us moving from the wings to center stage. I’m looking forward to it.

This is the appropriate time to give my thanks to those who really did the heavy lifting. FIBERARTS has been published all this time because there have been extraordinary people who have believed in the magazine and its readers.

First, the editors. I mentioned Linda Vozar above. She was followed by a number of talented and inspired editors, writers, and artists who managed the magazine. Jane Luddecke, Joanne Mattera, Chris Timmons, Kate Mathews, and Carol Lawrence stewarded the magazine as editors from the time we moved to Asheville in 1979 through the late eighties. (Kate, my wife then, was deeply involved in the starting of FIBERARTS; she is now owner of Folkwear Patterns.) Then, for ten years, Ann Batchelder edited FIBERARTS; encouraging a new genration of fiber artists. Ann passed on the editorship to Nancy Orban, her assistant of many years, as she started a new career as an independent museum curator. In 2000, the current editor, Sunita Patterson, took over from Nancy. I’m happy to report that Sunita will continue to be the editor of the magazine.

But a magazine is more than its publisher and its editor. It’s the editorial assistants, the ad salespeople, circulation directors, telephone receptionists, customer service people, production directors, computer gurus, shipping clerks, and art directors who help define and create a magazine. They are the folks who have believed in the magazine and have made it happen. Some have stayed only a few years before moving on to other careers; others have been here a long time (Dawn Cusick and Pat Wald have been here 16 and 21 years, respectively).

FIBERARTS has been blessed, too, with the support of advertisers who have had faith in the magazine and have helped pay the bills. Many of them have been with us from the beginning.

But I hope you know who gets the most credit. It’s you, the readers. You’re the ones who have had faith in the magazine and renewed year after year, even when we produced issues with work you personally detested. You have shared your enthusiasm, your opinions, and your love for fiber. And let me take this last opportunity to thank the four anonymous readers who voluntarily sent us donations when we were on the edge of extinction 15 years ago. Because of them—and you—we’re still here.

It’s been 25 years since my last tapestry. I still have the yarn and the loom. I can’t say that you’ll be seeing my work on the pages of the magazine anytime soon, but I do yearn to get back to making stuff, whatever the medium. And I’m really looking forward to the changes that will inevitably come to FIBERARTS.

Thank you for 30 years of support. Thank you for giving me a chance to make a difference with something. It’s a rare opportunity in life, and you gave it to me. I’ll be forever grateful.

This editorial first appeared in:

March 2004

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