Publishers Note: This week’s Featured Artist is from my home state of Maryland. Karen Schlossberg of Avalon Springs Farm is a lively lady farmer, who raises an array of live stock all supplying her with lots of fantastic fiber! Karen is a amazing spinner, with a deep connection to her fiber. It was quite a thrill to get to know her.
Spin Artiste (SA):Your farm and business seem very successful. Tell us about how you get into this trade?
Karen Schlossberg (KS): Thank you. I got into fiber art as an extension of lifelong interests. It was always a dream to have a little old fashioned house and farm. And, since I was a child, I’ve always been interested in art. I have a BA in History from Hood College and a M.Ed. from the University of Maryland. Through youth and college I was a painter and potter. As an adult I became a public school art teacher. At this point I was unmarried, but was determined to go ahead with the dream of a little farm. I explored Maryland Sheep and Wool festival and fell instantly in love with Angora Goats. Eventually, my best friend Larry, who always helped me around the farm while I was teaching full time, became my husband. We now have two daughters, Robin and Jenny. As the girls came along, I knew I wanted more time to be a mom. It also gave me the opportunity to re-new personal pursuits in art that kind of become dreams delayed when you are focused on teaching. It was painfully obvious that I needed to do something with the enormous stock pile of mohair that was accruing while working. So, I experimented with fiber art. I soon realized that it was the fully gratifying combination of the color pleasure of painting and the texture pleasure of ceramics. And, here I am.
SA: It sounds like you’ve really come a long way on your fiber journey. You raise an array of beautiful fiber animals. Can you share with us how you selected which animals to raise and which do you prefer?
KS: As I mentioned, I got started with the Angora Goats. I began with four wethered males. I figured if I could manage to keep them happy and healthy for at least a year, going through all the seasons, then I would work on breeding and girls. Fortunately, I thought it was great. After that, I tried my hand at Cashmere goats. They were fun. They have very different personalities from Angoras, which is –both good and bad. I eventually realized it was the Angoras that had my heart. I had discovered Colored Angora Goats; a bonanza to a color enthusiast. I was hooked. I then realized my goats needed protecting — my farm had been attacked by feral dogs, that event led to buying the llamas. I have had a family succession here. Our wonderful guard llama now is Luna. The alpacas were the last to arrive; they have been fun too. They have been worth the experiment because of their famously soft fiber. I really enjoy blending the alpaca into my projects.
SA: I love to work with mohair — what are your thoughts on this fiber? In your opinion, what are the positive and unique traits of mohair?
KS: I did some research on this topic for EAGMA (Eastern Angora Goat & Mohair Association). I ended up doing a re-write of some information out there in different places on the internet. I posted it to my blog
But the crux of it is, dag gone it, I love color, and mohair is just “the cat’s meow”” when it comes to color! I feel so lucky about that as I really didn’t appreciate it when I fell head over heels for the sweet little goats I bought in the beginning. Serendipity!
SA: Speaking of serendipity, it was exciting to see that your farm is located in Mount Airy, Maryland, as I am a Marylander myself! Why did you decide on Maryland for your farm location?
KS: I was born in MI, but my folks moved to Maryland when I was young. We had a house not far from Washington, DC and it was in the woods. I suppose as an adult I have discovered I love the convenience of driving a short distance to such a great center of culture and activities, but in my heart I need to see green and trees; that means Maryland to me.
SA: Since you are a farmer and raise your animals yourself, how has being a part of the fiber process from start to finish influenced your work?
KS: In two ways: spiritually and in a practical sense too. If you are out there putting the hay in the racks every day, you feel very connected to each aspect of the eventual craft. And I use the word “spiritually,” because there is a definite “Mother Earth” presence that goes from goat to yarn. But, on the practical side, I am worried about vegetable material getting in the fiber at those hay racks, on down to what the dye looks like on Smokey’s fiber, Savannah’s fiber, and Georgia’s fiber.
SA: I’m sure you have developed a close relationship with your goats, llama, and alpacas. Do the animals have unique personalities?
KS: Oh yes they do!! Of course over the years some animals fade and others are unforgettable, but here on the farm today each one of them is celebrated and enjoyed. Our llama, Luna, is Queen, school marm, and loving grandmother all in one. We have a very big tall buck this year named Ellwood; he is incredibly gentle and laid back, but a little shy. My husband has a special connection to a Texas white Angora named Daphney, she always comes to him for a pet. My oldest daughter loves a peachy colored angora named Kamin, and my youngest daughter named the first goat born here this year, Sunbeam. Sunbeam seems to know that. All the mommas have certain voices/pitches and after a while you can kind of guess who is talking; they talk a lot back and forth to their babies each year. As the babies get more confidence and independence, they talk more only when looking for each other. I have a certain goat, Mytrle, who is the voice of the herd to tell us that it is feeding time. She’ll always let you know. And different goats lean more towards the herd and other goats and other goats are very people oriented – seems it’s just the personality of each one, and both versions are good. I love them all.
SA: It’s wonderful that you can get to know your animals so well. I hear two of your goats are TV celebrities! What an exciting opportunity to have them appear with congressmen about the mohair subsidy. What is your opinion on the subsidy and what are some ways you have gotten involved?
KS: Let me give you a “bi-partisan”” answer.
When I went to that interview, I went with a dear friend; interestingly we are members of different political parties. We went because the Eastern Angora Goat and Mohair Association was contacted by the pages of the two congressmen. They asked EAGMA if they would bring two goats down to the Capitol for a press event that was bi-partisan. And, that was all we were told ahead of time! We had a fabulously good time: we got there and the goats had to be “passed”” by the Secret Service to be on the Capitol grounds. Too funny! We really didn’t know what kind of press it was until we got there, so television was a blast. We had one event in the morning and one in the afternoon. When we were all done, we couldn’t help doing a little sightseeing with the goats; so, we took snapshots of Arthur and Lancelot in front of the Capitol, Washington Monument, the Smithsonian and, of course, Department of Agriculture. The event made a lot of press. Unfortunately, I have not really researched the mohair subsidy, mohair product import tariffs, or the economics & politics surrounding mohair. But, I have some very patriotic goats that did their civic/caprine duty!
SA: Now that we all know your animals a little better, what can you tell us about your studio space?
KS: That it is evolving- Currently my art takes up a good bit of our house and farm. My husband and I are working to make a more up-to-date space in one of our out-buildings, “the summer kitchen”.” Keep your fingers crossed.
SA: I’m sure that new project will turn out just as well as all of your fiber projects. What equipment do you use to create your masterpieces?
KS: Well, for fiber art I suppose it is just what you would expect: spinning wheels, swifts and skein winders, lots of pots and pans, buckets and sinks, drying racks and clotheslines, spoons and measuring cups, jars of salts and acids and dyes… Goodness.
As for the goats, big things like: fencing, feed & water troughs, hay feeders and wheel barrows, and little things too like: salt licks, medicines, hoof trimmers, rakes, buckets again, and feed bags…. Goodness more!
SA: It sounds like you really have your hands full. You have been involved in so many fiber festivals and events. Which has been your favorite event and why?
KS: I think my feeling changes and evolves- When starting I felt very loyal to those who gave me a chance, then I was of course “wow-ed”” when I got into Maryland Sheep and Wool. I have found it fun to travel away from Maryland sometimes, and exhausting to travel sometimes. I think a consistent thread has been the fiber consuming public – this is really a lovely demographic! People that buy yarn are generally warm, friendly, and happy in their pursuit.
SA: Who would you say has been your biggest cheerleader in your pursuit of fiber art?
KS: Through most of life it has been my mother. She had a philosophy of a ground breaking woman executive in the work force – always be able to support yourself, but follow and embrace your talents and your dreams. Currently, I would also include my husband. He really encourages me to be who I am.
SA: It’s so great to hear about the previous generation being an inspiration to their children. Why do you think the art of hand spun yarn is so important to continue and pass on to the next generation?
KS: As an old art teacher, because I think intrinsic to spinning are visual and kinetic skills, as well as application for both art as something beautiful and craft as something with function.
Big picture, because I think art and craft are invaluable aspects of what it is to be human
KS: A “Hello Dolly”!”
SA: What a great choice!!! Thank you so much, Karen for letting us get to know you better. You are such a lovely person and I know from working with your fibers that the colors and fiber prep are amazing! Readers, you cannot go wrong with Karen’s products!
In other news…the Leather and Lace yarns are coming in and the Secret Stash IV kits went out this week. As soon as I have all the Leather and Lace yarns in and before they make their way to Portland for their first stop, I’m going to publish all the pictures. You won’t want to miss this!
Also, the Spin Artiste Ravelry Group is up and active. If you have not already done so, please join us over there. There are a number of threads over there that may be of interest to you: a wish list for artists you want to see featured, discussion on how to find your voice as an artist, updates on the Spin Artiste studio construction project, and sneak peeks into things that are coming up. It’s lots of fun! Best, Arlene