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Ellen would be delighted to have a class with you or your group! You can check out her classes at www.ellenanneeddy.com. She also offers independent studio time in her studio in Indiana. Talk to Ellen about classes at 219-921-0885, or contact her scheduler Sarah at 616-485-5646 to set a date

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Ellen Anne Eddy
Author of Thread Magic: The Enchanted World of Ellen Anne Eddy Fiber artist, author and teacher
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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Musings: Art out of the Box: The Mentor Waltz

Years ago I learned to contra dance. My friends, Donna and Roy Hinman dragged me out to play guitar for their band. It was loving-hands-at-home music. They insisted that all dancing should be to live music and they didn't care exactly how live the musicians were. They took everyone who was willing to practice, even me.

I was an unlikely candidate. My high school years were a cycle that ran between hide and seek and Lord of the Flies. Ugly things happened at dance class. I'm pretty good at taking a pratt fall, but I missed the humor. I'd learned to never go near a dance. Some humiliations are enough.

But Donna and Roy were relentless. Kind, but relentless. Not only would I play waltzes and reels, I would dance. Donna would take away my guitar I was hiding behind and Roy would take my hand, keep me safe, and sweep me into the movement and the music.

For those of you who have never done contra, it's the antithesis of couple dancing. It's really a lovely version of ring-around-the-rosie for adults. And everyone is included. Couples dance with everyone, sometimes holding their babes. Everyone is part of it. 

But there is a skill set. You need to know which is your right hand. It really does help.

Now, what do they do if you don't know which is which? Someone kindly grabs your right hand and says"The other right hand." I love contra dancers.

Time passed and I finally began to learn. Before my knees gave out, I could stand on a floor, swing, hand out my hand, and find myself beaming like a pumpkin. It's genuinely fun.

It strikes me that this is exactly like mentoring. It's not a formal thing usually. It's just someone in front of you, a little unsure, a bit confused.The answers are simple enough. It's just like contra dancing. You grab the right right hand and give them  gentle push in the right direction.

I've had wonderful mentors over the years. As a child, my neighbor Mary Annis taught me to sew, quilt, be late and not answer the telephone, all things my mother knew nothing about. She got me art lessons, cats, and confidence, but not in that order. She's a marvel.

Caryl Bryer Fallert was perhaps the kindest quilt mentor I had. I'd had a long worship session with the porcelain goddess before my first FACET meeting. It was Caryl who greeted me, talked about a quilt of mine she'd juried into a show, and then, over the years opened doors, answered questions, and purchased The Problem with Princes when I was trying to pay for medical bills. Caryl is the best quilter in America. No one has more talent and works harder. And no one is more gracious. Her work is legend in the quilt community. Study with her if you get the chance.She's an astonishment.

Over the years I've passed it on as best I could. I've mentored people, mostly not in a formal sense. Just in the sense that you grabbed the right right hand and put them on their way. Classroom is built for it. The end of class is never the end of anything. I hear from students years after as they go on to create amazing things. Often I see them later across from me at a teacher's table in a conference. I'm always proud for them.

But independent studio time is a more intense way to set up that. People come to my studio when they want, stay with me, sew as long as they want on what they want. And we focus on the direction they want to take. Lately I've had the privilege of having Genny Frazer from Australia. Her energy,sense of fun, and enthusiasm was contagious.

Lauren Strach is one of my favorite mentes. She came originally to the studio around 4-5 years ago, and continues to visit as a friend and fellow dyer. Her work is fearless and brilliant. She's shown nationally at Paducah among other venues.

  If you'd like to come to my studio for independent studies, contact Melida to schedule it.

So I hope you get the chance to do both. To be a mente and and mentor. To grab the right right hand, to have gentle direction when needed, and to pass it on in the same gracious light. Come and join the dance!

Donna and Roy now run a Morris Team in Grand Rapids, MI. Morris dancing is a hoot and they are the best teachers you could find. They work both with children and adults.Their group is The Bells of River City, and if you're near you can see them there, or better still, join them in the dance.


Robbie said...

What a great post! So interesting and meaningful!!

Lyn Wolf Jackson said...

Love your writings and love your soul. Had the privilege of visiting with you and hearing your lecture in Powell Wy years ago. Rock on!

Genny Frazer said...

Ellen, you are the very best mentor there is. My week with you was the most inspiring, fulfiling week of my life. I had never really met an artist before and certainly would never have considered myself an artist but that has changed since I have returned home. Now when I look at things I see colours and shades, shapes and light. My week with you has put a whole new light on my art quilt world which consumes me 16 hours per day. I learned to dye the most wonderful fabric which would be the envy of any professionals stash and I have been able to do it myself at home on my own. Why, just this morning at 4am I couldn't take it any longer and I had to get out of bed and start washing out my fabric dye batch because I couldn't stand to wait any more!

Today I made the most wonderful tree out of hand dyed cheesecloth. Its totally gorgeous with hand dyed threads and using bumps of cheesecloth to create the bark on the tree. Driving to school to collect my children I marvelled to myself how far I have come with my work since I spent that week with you. Before I was an amatuer, enjoying experimentation with the craft, now I actually know what I am doing and the work I am creating is of a professional standard (if I do say so myself!) I would never have thought that I would have learned so much in one week and it was truly the best value and time investment I have probably made in a lifetime. Not only that, I plan to enter one of my works in the local show and I plan on taking out first prize - wouldn't that be "ace"! There's no reason why I won't win, I have been taught by the best.

My time with Ellen has opened up so many doors and the ideas are coming thick and fast. If you love fabric, thread and creativity you simply MUST spend time with Ellen, she is inspirational and supportive, she is very encouraging and is the most wonderful well of information and ideas. She is also very deep, understanding and intuitive. For Ellen, nothing is possible and can't is not even in her vocabulary. She taught me to draw when I said that "I can't". She also has the most gorgeous boy called Finnigan who is the most darling lad you will find and absolutely well worth the journey to Ellen's for tuition (a definate bonus that one).

Since leaving Indiana and returning to Australia I have been incontact constantly with Ellen and the learning support is continuing, the internet is such a wonderful thing.

Finally, if you are thinking of building on your skills in the art quilt world you should book yourself in for some one on one time with Ellen, it will be the best thing you can do for yourself and more importantly you will enjoy every minute!

Thank you so much my lovely Ellen, you are a wonderful artist and mentor, simply the best as Tina Turner says!

Genny Frazer

Lauren said...

I totally 'Ditto' Genny's experience. Ellen is an artist who lives and exemplifies the artist life. She is also an intellectual, articulate, abstract thinker who is gifted at explaining not only the technical aspects to her processes, but the theories behind why certain designs and colors work, and others don't. That is so rare to find. Ellen is also a lover of people, sharing anything she is asked. Her role in my life as mentor and friend changed the direction of my art, and lifted me up to quantum leaps of artistic growth.

Lauren Strach

Uniquely Yours Creations said...

Beautiful! I enjoyed reading your post Ellen.

Anonymous said...

After spending Mother's Day without Mary for only the second time in 66 years, I enjoyed reading this post again and seeing the photo of the two of you together. She loved you and she is watching over you now. She is proud of you.
Love and hugs,
Barbara Gail Simons, Mary's daughter

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