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Artist Brooks Harris Stevens

Brooks Harris Stevens is an artist and Professor living in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. She received her BFA in Fibers from Savannah College of Art and Design and an MFA in Textiles/Fibers from East Carolina University, School of Art and Design.

Brooks is an interdisciplinary artist who focuses on creating work that reflects our human experiences deeply rooted in textiles. Her creative practice finds solace in the mending of cloth, land and the built environment as well as using her voice to highlight societal issues using textiles as a form of activism reflective of cultural and political complexities in the United States. She has lectured on textiles practices in Europe, Asia and the U.S. while exhibiting work in solo, group, and juried exhibitions nationally and internationally.

Currently, Brooks has work included in a small group exhibition, Mining Mending, at the Textile Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In addition, she recently had a solo exhibition, Mending Gold: Weight of Change, at the Robert Hillestad Textile Gallery at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln and work included in Volcano Lovers at Frontviews Gallery in Berlin, Germany. Brooks has had work included in Excellence in Quilts at the Textile Quilt Museum in Iowa, and in the invitational Biennial Fiberart Fair at the Hangaram Museum in Seoul, South Korea, as well as Guns: Loaded Conversations, a traveling exhibition featured at the San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles, and the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts. Harris Stevens maintains a dedicated artistic career working to expand her studio practice as she approaches making work that intertwines her personal history and challenges we face in the United States.

"Working as an interdisciplinary artist, I escape in the creation of work that is deeply rooted in the construction and use of textiles. The understanding and love of cloth is one that continually drives my artistic interpretation as my concepts evolve from mending textiles, but also mending land, the built environment and re-creating forms of textiles based on objects that are reflective of my personal histories. These meditative and ritualistic acts allow me to find solace through expressive handwork creating new work highlighting issues of cultural and political complexities. Responding to and crafting the domestic and subverting the political allows for a transformation of material and meaning achieved through stitching, weaving, tufting, beading as well as performance, photography and video. Manual and digital transformations express a distinct voice linked to personal experiences and concepts that connects to the collective use, understanding, and appreciation of how objects and materials serve significant roles in society. Taking non-traditional routes in my creative practice is the impetus in finding new ways of making and pushing social boundaries while using the familiar. The intersection of materials and techniques connect me to the history of textiles and an understanding of what a simple needle and thread can achieve. These simple bits and pieces lead me to find answers and determine new questions in a rapidly changing world."

Tell us a little about yourself (where you are from) and your background in the arts.

I grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina and was always interested in art. One of my most vivid memories was asking my mom to teach me how to sew when I was four years old. Ever since then, I was interested and intrigued with cloth and fashion.

In high school, I was highly encouraged to pursue art as a career by Bob Rankin, the most fantastic art teacher, and my Fashion Design teacher, Linda Richardson. I graduated from Savannah College of Art & Design with a BFA in Fibers and then received my MFA from East Carolina University, College of Art & Design. After grad school, I burned out, had two children, as if that is restful! And pursued a career as a Professor, which landed me at Eastern Michigan University as the Fibers area coordinator for nearly 15 years.

In 2020, my husband and I were ready to change things up and moved to teach at Clemson University, in Clemson, South Carolina and work full-time in my studio.

What kind of work are you currently making?

After our move to South Carolina, I have found myself re-examining my life and how both my maternal and paternal grandmothers have influenced my life as they were both drastically different from each other. Responding to their influences through textiles, I find myself working with quite a bit of color, which is a newer thing to me as I have mostly taken a more subtle and minimal approaches in the past as they were conceptually needed.

Using vintage swim caps and vintage carpet bag purses both from the 1960's-70's as a prime source of inspiration, I am making two different kinds of work that find creative intersections with hand and machine tufting. Tufting is a technique used to create carpets and can be laborious. As with most things, I am inspired by specific objects and purchased a few vintage swim caps and carpet bag purses to give me physical objects for inspiration and to observe and sit with the physical as my memories of the objects and the grandmothers they belonged too needed some space for ideations.

In addition, the tufted pieces I have been collecting specific cast porcelain objects from a company called Holland Mold Inc., which were popular in the 1960's-70's for middle class women to glaze the ceramic figurine at parties. These porcelain objects, specifically a cherub riding a dolphin soap dish, were in both grandmother's homes as well as my childhood home and represent the feminine in a French Rococo opulence sort of way. Completely ridiculous, I am aware, but I love them and have some special plans for one of the Holland Mold Inc.'s cherub and dolphin molds I purchased on Etsy not long ago.

I have talked about these objects in the video of my studio space, because they are something everyone needs to see! These two sources of inspiration (grandmothers) have filled my creative space with many ideas for a few more years of creating. Some smaller works are being made as well as some plans for larger works and installation(s) for the future!

What is a day like in the studio for you?

A typical day in the studio for me begins around 10am where I like to spend a little time looking at what I have in store for the day as I drink my beloved Sweetwaters Mid-night blend coffee. I always have at least 2-3 different types of work going on that require a different toolset, ie., tufting, sewing, beading, etc.

Since I have had a few hand surgeries in the last 2 years and I am still healing, I have to consider what my body is able to do on any given day, which is why some works can take me longer to create. While I work, I love to listen to music, podcasts and audio books to keep me energized. I take frequent breaks during the day and that usually consists of checking on the 3 dogs we currently have and throwing the ball for them to get their crazies out. Sometimes I will set goals for myself to complete a certain amount of a work for a day depending on deadlines, but some days I go with the flow more.

I try not to overthink things too much once an idea is in motion as that can lead down a useless path and keep with more positive thoughts as this is way more productive in any aspect of life. Finishing up around 6pm is my ideal time to set the tools aside and return to my home. Like most artists, my thoughts are always in the studio, a blissful place.

What are you looking at right now and/or reading?

I have been re-reading the Subversive Stitch by Rozsika Parker and looking at installations by Portia Munson. I most recently was able to see the Magdalena Abakanowicz exhibition at the Tate Modern. Absolutely inspiring.

Where can we find more of your work?

Mining Mending exhibition at the Textile Center in Minneapolis, MN now through July 15, 2023.

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