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Fiberarts - January / Febuary 2008
January/February 2008

Fall Textile-Art Events
Scottsdale Wearable ArtWalk
More News & Notes
Scott Schuldt: A Closer Look
Sampling: Sculptural Wearables
Carter Smith on Creativity
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Carter Smith on Creativity

by Sunita Patterson

Shibori silk georgette banner
Shibori silk georgette banner, 2005; 54" x 96". Photo: Gordon Berstein.

In our January/February 2008 issue, we include an interview with Carter Smith about his forty-year creative evolution. Smith’s shibori-dyed textiles grace both the body (they’re available in dozens of galleries and boutiques around the country) and the wall (see our Summer 2007 issue for a review of his recent Fuller Craft Museum exhibition). He’s developed hundreds of garment designs using bias sewing. But he also has a lot to say about creativity and inspiration.

In our magazine article, he talks about some of the turning points in his artistic path, and he answers some of our readers’ questions about creativity. Here, some audio and additional content from our conversation, and a peek at some of his newest work.

Listen to Carter Smith
Clutter and Creativity
Carter Smith’s Newest Work
Quotes for Your Studio Wall
For More Information

Listen to Carter Smith

-Looking for a teacher: In the article, Smith talks about how in the early ’80s he took a break from dyeing to do carpentry, which became an outlet for his creativity. In this audio excerpt from our October phone interview, Smith talks about an influential teacher that he had, about seeing yourself as your own best teacher, and about how carpentry relates to his garment construction.

Donwload: Looking_for_a_teacher.mp3

-Allow yourself to get lost: Here Smith talks about how giving up some control in the creative process can open up new vistas and ideas.

Donwload: Allow_yourself_to_get_lost.mp3

-Creating while you sleep: Smith addresses people who say to him, “I’m not creative.”

Donwload: Creating_while_you_sleep.mp3

-Why he’s glad he didn’t go to fashion school: Smith talks about how his dreams at night inspired him to create clothing and how he taught himself to sew.

Donwload: Didnt_go_fashion_school.mp3

-Which is more creative, business or art? Smith talks about how posing questions and finding solutions are key to creativity.

Donwload: Business_or_art.mp3

Embroidered shibori Kayt Coat
Embroidered shibori Kayt Coat, 2006. Photo: Gordon Berstein.

Clutter and Creativity
In 1980, Carter Smith started fixing up a 10,000-square-foot house in Nahant, Massachusetts. His approach to cleaning out and fixing up this house, and his reaction to its destruction in a fire a few years ago, reflect his creative philosophy.

“When I bought it in 1980, it was about ninety-five years old, and for about forty years of its existence, it had been a rooming house,” he relates. “Hundreds of people had lived in the house, and everybody had left something. The closets were packed full of stuff. I started putting all the stuff out on the street. The more stuff I put out on the street and the more empty closets I had, the greater the potential of the house seemed to me. . . . Having extra space: it gives you extra space within yourself to create. It gives you freedom, it gives you inspiration.”

Smith has a real flair for metaphor, and his thoughts about cleaning out closets can be interpreted at many levels. “I equate that experience to the child who plays hide and seek in a closet,” he continues. “You start throwing things in the closet as you get older—they are metaphors for stuff you don’t deal with. It gets to the point where you don’t dare open the closet because all the hockey sticks, brooms, and balls come flying out, so what you end up doing is you open it a little bit to jam something more in, and you shut it real fast. What you have to do is clean out the closet to get to the spirit and the energy of this little kid who’s in the back. One day he went to hide there, and all this stuff got buried over him during the next twenty or thirty years.”

Smith found that once he emptied the house of other people’s stuff, over the years he started filling it with his own. “The house started as very open, without very much furniture, and then it started to represent things and relationships from my life,” he says. “All of a sudden, instead of being this place where you could rollerblade all around and around without any encumbrance, you couldn’t rollerblade over the Persian carpet or around the sculptures.” One day, he was out in the front yard and looked at the house and thought, “Could I ever have a simple life? Do I possess these things, or do they possess me? Could I do without these things? I don’t know.”

He didn’t have to decide. About a week later, Smith found himself standing in his yard watching a wall of fire 60 feet wide and 100 feet tall. His reaction to this loss perhaps surprised even himself. “It was very freeing,” he says. “It’s not something I would have ever chosen, but I was consoling other people: it’s only a house. I got the dogs out and no one died, no one was injured—that’s what’s important. As much as I feel it is too bad that all these beautiful things—antiques from my parents, paintings and drawings that I’d collected, things that I’d made—are gone, I’ve never really lamented it. You either hold on to the past, or you embrace the future. It sure put me in touch with the words I’d said about forgiveness and letting go. It was the ultimate test: everything that I’d collected and saved for more than forty years was gone in a couple of hours.”

Once again, space had been cleared. “When the house burned down, I started connecting with people differently,” he says. “I could remember people’s names when I couldn’t remember them before. I could remember details about them. It was like there were things in my mind that held on to those objects. When those objects were gone, it was like clearing all this space and I could register other things that were more important.”

Smith rebuilt: he now lives in a smaller, modular house that he designed partially for teaching workshops, for people to come and stay and share in a common space. Is the experience reflected in his work? “My work comes from a different light space now,” he says. “My workspace before was dark; now I create in the light, and it couldn’t be more different.”

Carter Smith’s Newest Work
What’s Smith working on now? He shared some images straight from the studio. He said in October, “I did a piece the other day and I have no idea how the piece happened. It looks like rocks under the earth, it looks like subterranean things, it looks like agate. Each section is different. I have no idea how I did it, and I don’t want to know. But that piece will inspire me, not to recreate those steps, but to say, okay, where was I when I did that, and what can I add to that, what can I subtract? I can try different strengths of dye, or different strengths of discharge, or I can slow down the process, and things will come out completely differently.”

Brown Geometric Geode
Brown Geometric Geode

Stained Glass
Stained Glass

Brown Meandering River
Brown Meandering River

Quotes for Your Studio Wall
Smith sprinkles his conversation with aphorisms he’s coined to sum up his philosophy. Here are some of the thoughts he shared with me.

Sometimes in order to move forward, you have to back up. Sometimes to move forward, you have to start over again.

When your past is in front of you, your future is behind you.

Everything I know is not important. Everything I don’t know is important.

Your best questions get your best answers.

The only way you are going to find yourself is to be willing to let yourself be lost. For it is in risking to lose your way that you find your way. If we always know where we are, we will never know where we can be.

For More Information
In the article in our January/February 2008 issue, Smith talks in more depth about his creative evolution, his approach to teaching, and how forgiveness and dreams tie into his creative process. He also addresses some of the obstacles to creative progress that readers identified in our survey last summer.

You can see more images of Carter Smith’s work on his website. He’s now offering weekend workshops on production methods of discharge dyeing and overdyeing at his studio in Nahant, Massachusetts. He also recently finished an instructional DVD that will help fabric artists turn their yardage into seven types of garments.



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