BY: ALIZA NOVACEK-OLSON, HISTORY & POLITICAL SCIENCE INSTRUCTOR
Northland Community & Technical College appreciates the significance and impact that art has upon our communities. NCTC Faculty member, Aliza Novacek- Olson, has found a connection that blends history and art together and will share about it on PBS on January 25th at 9pm. Novacek-Olson shares more about her passion for art and history in this edition of Northland Currents.
I have been involved in a number of the fine arts since I was young but never considered myself an “artist” until the last several years when my passion for history fused with my love of working with natural fibers to create textiles. My primary occupation is a teacher of history and political science at Northland Community and Technical College so it’s no surprise to those who know me that my expression in the fiber arts focuses on traditional and folk arts.
Traditional folk art is an art form produced by an indigenous culture that are of common origins such as laborers, crofters, and working-class people. The art pieces are utilitarian as well as decorative. One could say that the style is uniquely raw or unrefined and is a reflection of the cultural life of a community. In folk or traditional art, we can see evidence of ethnic heritage, cultural mores, language, religion, occupation, or geographical region. It is highly diverse across place and time. These artistic traditions are shaped by values and standards of excellence that are passed from generation to generation, within the constructs of family and community and taught through demonstration, dialogue, and practice.
The more I learn and create pieces of textiles using primitive techniques or the machines/tools used by our ancestors, the more I am intrigued and aspire to learn. I find it fascinating to discover the origins of a technique as well as when or how it changed through time. The articles I create have more meaning for me when I think about the social history surrounding the women who created similar textiles using the same techniques. In the past, women’s work textiles were not intended to be “art” for the sake of aesthetics. Their homespun activities were vital to survival, to provide warmth and protection, and at times, made strong political statements or affected a community’s economy.
I believe it is important to preserve the history of women’s work with creating textiles using the materials, tools and methods of the past. It provides perspective of the time and skill involved. It also helps me to experience a sliver of what life might have been like for my ancestors.
The PBS program, “Prairie Mosaic” airing on January 25th at 9:00 p.m. will include a segment that introduces early homespun activities using natural fibers. Some of these activities include harvesting and preparing animal fibers, creating threads with a spindle and spinning wheels, the primitive needle binding technique known as Nålbinding, simple weaving techniques, knitting, crocheting, and early knitting machines from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Watch “Prairie Mosaic” segment from January 25th