Carrie Crawford

Where are you from and where do you reside?
I am born and raised in Southern California. After high school, I crept my way north to San Francisco where my life truly began. Somehow, a decade in the state of Montana happened, a time of decompression and reset and beauty. I now live north of San Francisco in West Marin with my family.
What’s your favorite part of Marin?
Moving away from Montana, I thought I’d said goodbye to wide open skies and the feeling of spaciousness that I’d grown to rely on. Gratefully, I have found a new version of this in NorCal: layers of green foliage and magical pockets of redwood trees, wild ocean stretches where the currents collide with such energy, mighty oak trees, and bay forests, as well as easy access to San Francisco and Oakland. I am humbled by the diverse topography of this place all the time and appreciate my place here.
How did you choose the name Mineral Workshop for your studio?
Mineral Workshop came from both literal homage to my materials, earth elements, and a nod toward the central practice of experimentation that is working with dye and fiber.
How do you choose your materials?
I am drawn to process. Earth elements and plant dyes all take a good deal of work and care to coax the color to emerge. I love the texture of linen, visible weave construction, and the way dye sinks into the fiber and becomes part of the cloth. Working with indigo has been transformative–it’s a true partnership. The vats have different compositions and require daily attention. They are beings in my life and I love them like family. Indigo is notorious for being difficult. Unlike other plants that yield dye, there are several specific steps to creating a functional indigo vat. I am not a chemist or very precise person, so the trial and error has been a huge journey. Many folks love the science that makes the dye come alive–I appreciate that and consult their books and methods, but truly prefer the magic. I don’t feel a need to totally understand or become any sort of master, I am just glad we are together and I truly appreciate the luminous blue.
Can you talk a little bit more about the technical aspects of working with indigo?
Unlike other natural dyes that produce color via simmering and decanting and various mordants and pH-shifting additives and after baths, Indigo has a rather specific method of bringing about blue from its leaves. The big difference is indigo is not water soluble, so it needs to be reduced for the color to transfer and adhere to the fiber. Reduction occurs in a variety of ways. I primarily use ground limestone in combination with fructose, iron, or henna to reduce my vats, hence the studio name Mineral Workshop. There are indigo traditions all over the globe, many cultures have unique motifs and histories, and from what I have learned, share a few basic recipes. I have just barely scratched the surface of this vast tradition. I use a ferrous and fructose and henna recipes mainly. These big 30-gallon vats need daily attention, they need to rest after being used–it’s an ongoing relationship! Deep, blue hues are achieved by numerous trips into the dye and time to oxidize, sometimes 10-12 dips to get into the blue/black realm. So much patience and surrender is called for, its a practice unto itself.
I am not a chemist or very precise person, so the trial and error has been a huge journey. Many folks love the science that makes the dye come alive–I appreciate that and consult their books and methods, but truly prefer the magic. — Carrie Crawford
How do you incorporate chance in your creative process?
Chance and spontaneity are my intimate partners. In just using my hands to dip the cloth, I am really at the mercy of the interaction of dye and fabric.

When I first began working with cloth and dye in this way, I was imposing a lot of techniques on the cloth, very unskilled and imprecise shibori techniques were driving the work. I was loving how I could evoke a tension where graphic motifs meets painterly elements. I was having a lot of fun responding to what came out of each dye session.

Around this time, I was looking at some aerial photography for inspiration and was very drawn to how beautiful natural phenomena were from high in the sky, so many confluences creating boundaries and edge-conditions that seemed to be thriving. Ideas about adaptation and change and survival started to emerge. I was ready to deepen my practice and in reaching toward that I had to let the shibori go. It felt so specific, and I was feeling sensitive about appropriating a serious cultural tradition that I respected deeply and was not treating with care.

So, as my head and heart got more thoughtful and serious, my hands relaxed a lot and I began to really allow the dye and cloth to merge and do the magic they do together. I found I was still responding to what appeared, now it was feeling more articulate and that graphic/painterly tension was happening in a new way.

Further, when those aerial images included man-made disasters and modern civilizations’ impacts on the landscape–oil spills, factory effluent, and pollution–it is profoundly beautiful to me as well. Sitting with this dichotomy of trauma being beautiful and complex brought me right into a wordless space of land and body connection, where recognition that bodies and land are traumatized, so to speak, and remain ineffable, immutable, and beautiful. The way the dye and the fiber interact and create topographical suggestions feels like a contribution to this mystery and affirmation of this land/body connection and hopefully an act of bearing witness to survival, like a deeply silent celebration.

What is the most difficult part of the artistic process for you?
Beginning a new body of work is a hurdle to jump every time. It typically starts with a couple days of procrastination where lists and piles get made and remade, lots of sweeping the studio, and eventually the chatter subsides and I either drop into the zone or I don’t. There is a familiar place of vulnerability in making these pieces and I always seem to resist it. It feels like the prickly feeling before you break a sweat or the monkey mind wild chatter in the first bit of meditation. Once I am in, its like being in a dream: the pieces are alive and I work on several at a time. Having several rotating daily practices help me immensely with getting grounded enough to surrender. These include reading poetry, especially haiku, certain songs played loud, walking, painting, quiet sitting, preparing dyes and fabric, and various household/motherhood chores that help me transition.
Are you formally trained?
I am informally trained, I suppose. I did not go to art school per se, though I did attend a fashion/trade school for a one year surface design program and have taken various community college classes over the years. I am the daughter of a ceramicist and painter. My mother was an artist in every sense of the word and I think she was my education. When she passed away, grief led me to honor my hands and art making in a new way. My work has been animated by this appreciation since.
Sitting with this dichotomy of trauma being beautiful and complex brought me right into a wordless space of land and body connection, where recognition that bodies and land are traumatized, so to speak, and remain ineffable, immutable, and beautiful. — Carrie Crawford
Do you admire or draw inspiration from any of your peers who are also working now?
Kenya Miles and Graham Keegan are artists that work with natural dye in ways that really thrill me. I feel all kinds of feelings when I look at Iva Gueorguieva paintings and 3D work. Clare Rojas, Alexander Kori Girard, Erin M. Riley, as well as Erin O’Keefe really resonate with me. I look at art everyday, particularly sculpture. I have a deep fondness for mid-century artists. I get an overwhelming feeling of ease when I encounter beautiful negative space. I really get inspiration when I can feel an artist’s passion, the form kinda fades to the background.
Who’s one of your favorite sculptors?
I really admire Barbara Hepworth, Louise Nevelson, Peter Voulkos, Lee Bontecou, and Magdalena Abakanowicz, Ruth Duckworth, Jun Kaneko–so many, actually.
Where do you find your day-to-day inspiration?
Nature and poetry and humans; kids and love and grief; stories of resistance, sunshine and stormy skies; bread and coffee. Up until very recently, I had a very robust friendship with a most extraordinary elder. She was a true student of life and our conversations often dwelled in astonishment and reverence, especially birds and plants and sky. She often recited poems to me and we shared many sweet silent spaces. Time with her felt the way art making does: spacious and challenging and grounding. She recently passed away and I am certain I will be drawing from this friendship for many years.
What’s next for you?
I have been experimenting with cutting and sewing dyed pieces. I am really enjoying this step beyond dye and getting close to that delicious, vulnerable feeling by imposing upon the compositions. I have been sitting with our current political and social climate and feeling compelled to imagine something that tells the story of healing and what’s possible.

Photo by Andrea Posadas

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