September 2011: Dizzy City, by Daniel Roache
Header image: Dizzy City, by Daniel Roache

Featured Artist: Janet Smith, Fiber Artist

Last updated: September 1, 2011

Janet Smith, to put it bluntly, is a fabric and fiber junkie, the key elements in her lust being texture and color. And having amassed a great variety of fabrics and fibers and being a practical sort with a work ethic, it was imperative to put them to use, although not necessarily in a purely practical way. Her acquisitions include twigs, grasses and cotton, as well as fiber from rabbits, goats, sheep and worms. If it can be twisted, braided, woven, knit, spun, poked, combed, or sewn, Janet has probably used it and done that. After all, she wouldn’t be a fabric junkie if she didn’t love the colors and textures, so it is only reasonable to expect that her acquisitions would be used and combined in a way that would enhance their best qualities.

Janet is a retired elementary school teacher who taught in both Connecticut and Michigan for twenty-five years, working with fibers in her spare time and in summers. She was taught to use her hands in a practical way at an early age, having been raised on the maxim, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”. She has tried crocheting, needle felting, rug hooking, latch hook rug making, Australian locker hooking, silk painting, silk ribbon embroidery, embroidery, needlepoint, and counted cross stitch. She learned to weave from Gladys Wonnacott after moving to the Sault in 1971.

Today she is an active spinner, a weaver, a quilter, a knitter, a basket maker and more. Asked about a “never again” project, she said she tried making her own dyes, collecting stamen from all her poppies and “following all the directions” only to have all the color wash out when she rinsed the yarn. After throwing the whole batch out, she decided to stick with fiber work and let someone else do the chemistry.

Janet turns out yarns; rugs; placemats, mug rugs and table runners; baskets; wall hangings and ring weavings; quilts and lap robes; Christmas angels, tree ornaments and snowmen; scarves, sweaters, caps and mittens; mobiles; and more. Asked about her most satisfying project, she says “any one that gets finished”, adding that she enjoys the process more than the finished product. This statement echoes what so many of the rug hookers told us a couple of months ago.

Another echo of the rug hookers is her comment about her favorite finished pieces—her wall hangings. She says what makes them intriguing is watching them evolve into something that is often different than what was originally planned. She delights in the fact that they seem to acquire a life of their own as work progresses.

Current projects include weaving, knitting and quilting, with an emphasis on art quilts because they allow her to indulge in her love of fabrics, yarns and beads all at once “without having to match all the corners”. She also is currently making scarves which are knit lengthwise, using about ten different yarns in each scarf.

What Janet’s many activities have in common is an emphasis on color and texture and an attention to details—those special touches which define shapes and contours and emphasize the colors and textures. A casual observer usually doesn't worry about how an effect is achieved. He just appreciates the whole. The artist’s job is to achieve the effect by emphasizing contrasts and bringing out nuances to create a composition out of the various parts.

Discerning how this is done requires a close examination. The coneflower below (a needle felted work) stands out from its soft, airy background. A closer examination reveals the sparkling threads woven around the center that make it stand out. The turtle wall hanging below is a piece of printed fabric, brightly colored and attractive in itself, but what makes it into a standout composition is the fact that it’s been outlined in embroidery and placed on a contrasting quilted background that is bordered by a colorful, coordinating print. The quilted area has been embellished with an iridescent scribble in complementary colors to further frame the central figure and the final touch is many small turtle figures—3-D solid figures—attached to the whole. Janet’s special knack for combining colors and patterns is also applied to her quilts and woven items, which makes them pleasing, interesting and satisfying.

Janet and her husband, Bryce divide their time between their home on the river, a home in Maine and, more recently, another in North Carolina. She is a member of the EUP Craftsmen and the American Quilters Society. She has exhibited in Michigan (including, of course, in Alberta House and at the Sault Summer Arts Festival), Maine, and North Carolina. You’ll see her work in the joint EUP Craftsmen/Le Sault Artists Guild Exhibit in October and she will be in the Pickford Craft Show November 11 and 12. You’ll also find her work in the Alberta House Shop and in the annual Christmas at Alberta House Exhibition in December.

Works by Janet Smith
Click on a thumbnail to see a larger version.

Needle-felted coneflower by Janet Smith

Needle-felted coneflower

Detail of needle-felted coneflower, by Janet Smith

Coneflower detail

Sock rug, by Janet Smith

Sock rug

Basket by Janet Smith


Turtle wall hanging, by Janet Smith

Turtle wall hanging

Detail of turtle wall hanging by Janet Smith

Detail of turtle wall hanging

Hand-woven mat  by Janet Smith

Hand-woven mat

Sault Area Arts Council Home Page 217 Ferris Street, Sault Ste. Marie, MI 49783
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