In the Studio: Marina Contro
We talk with weaver Marina Contro in her San Francisco studio.
We first met Marina Contro through our friend Evan Kinori in San Francisco. Marina shares a studio with Evan where she produces beatiful handwoven textile objects under the canopy of this incredible 19th century wooden loom. Marina is both artist and artisan and we're lucky to be working with her. In this edition of 'In the Studio' we speak with Marina about old technology, how objects can create experiences, and the process of making blankets and lampshades for Commune Shop.
Hi Marina, Why don’t we start by telling us who you are and what you do…
I am a weaver and educator based in San Francisco. I'm deeply interested in material, technique, and the relationship between art and craft
You come from a fine art background, how do you see the difference between art and design?
This is a tough one, but I hope my work pulls these closer together rather than pulling them apart.
I do have a fine arts education and I am professor in Fine Arts at California College of the Arts, so, I just know more about art than design. I feel the approach to making the work is different between the two. The functional requirements and the methods with which problems are addressed/solved in design are different from how I think in regard to my students' or my work. As an artist, I value keeping a beginner’s mind and embracing failure in a way that a design process can sometimes work against (in my opinion).
In the end, though, both pursuits can encourage people to live more thoughtfully in their everyday lives, something my work is very much focused on. My art plays with function, ideally challenging the way in which we interact with the objects around us. I think any moment can feel precious, even using a dish towel can be a special experience if we stay open to certain beauties.
You studied religious studies in college, does this have any direct or indirect influence on your work?
I did study religious studies! It definitely has an indirect influence on all my work. It has had more of a direct influence especially in artworks where I am playing with light and material. The gold and linen fabric I wove for one of the lampshades, actually. With that fabric I was thinking about linen’s ceremonial functions, specifically in burial, and ways to capture light.
How does technology play into your work, in terms of both the primitive and the modern?
I don’t make use of much modern technology, I’m a little resistant to it. I use an antique loom that is from Vermont from the late 19th century, which is technology, it's just old tech. It only has four shafts and I find that to be enough. I use a loom from the 70s if I need more pattern options. The history that is just embedded in my main loom, it means a lot to me. I am part of that, a really small part. I feel small in weaving all the time. The history is very long and there is so much to learn, I will never know all of it. Maybe when I’m 80 or 90 I will feel less small.
So walk us through the production process of these amazing blankets you’re making for us… How long does it take from start to finish?
The blankets take two weeks to make. First, I wind the warp and dress my loom. Then, I weave for about a week. I weave one long warp, cut it into two panels, and hand stitch each end. Then, I stitch the panels together by hand at their selvedges to the double wide blanket. Next, they move into wet finishing. I wash the blankets and felt them just the right amount before they lay flat to dry. Finally, I press them with a warm iron.
What can you tell us about the sourcing of the fibers themselves?
Over the past decade, I’ve forged some amazing relationships with producers across the US. I love to understand their different methods, the treatment of the animals, and the land that produces these products.
For Commune, I am using some beautiful wool yarn from a producer in Northern California that is similar to Merino. It’s called Rambouillet. It’s super soft and I love the results of hand felting it.
Where can people follow or find your work outside of our collaborative efforts?
The best place is my Instagram @marinacon — there, you can see commissions I’m working on and products for sale on my website(marinacontro.com)and with other retailers that I work with like Evan Kinori in San Francisco.
Thank you, Marina!