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Featured Artist: Melissa Yoder Ricks of Wild Hare Fiber Studio

by The SpinArtiste on June 22, 2011

Publisher’s Notes:  Tonight I have the pleasure of featuring the words and works of Melissa Yoder Ricks of Wild Hare Fiber Studio and I believe you will see why Melissa strikes me as an MVP Fiber Artist!  Melissa can do it all and does it well.  Enjoy!

Spin Artiste (SA):  Hi Melissa!  Nice to have you here so that we can learn more about you and what you do…let’s start with how you approach your work.

Melissa Yoder Ricks (MYR):  What if…

Those two words pretty much sum it up.

SA:  That is probably the best short answer to that question possible!  How did you get to where you are as an artist?

MYR:  From the time I was a small child I’ve been passionate about creating.  My great grandmother taught me to crochet and do basic sewing before I started kindergarten, and my great aunt shared with me what she knew about drawing and painting. I taught myself to knit from a book in 7th grade.  The same great-grandmother had her grandmother’s old flax wheel, and I played with it as a small child and determined that I would spin my own yarn some day too.

In college I studied fine art/design as a second major, and learned to spin at a workshop shortly after graduation.  But as the child of very practical and conservative parents, I had absorbed their fears about pursuing artistic endeavors as more than a hobby.  As I worked in marketing and public relations, I dreamed of the sweaters and paintings I would work on that evening, wishing I could pour myself into art full time.

I married and my life became a whirlwind of family-focused activities – I homeschooled for a number of years, squeezing what time I could for creative pursuits by knitting and sewing for my family, painting murals on the walls and going all out with birthday cakes and Halloween costumes. During this time I also did occasional free-lance graphic design, created a business selling t-shirts featuring my artwork, sold clothing for nursing mothers on ebay, and with my husband renovated and resold distressed properties. (Not all this every day of course)

My youngest child (who is now six and doing well) was born with a severe congenital heart defect, hypoplastic left heart syndrome, and had to undergo a series of open heart surgeries and other medical interventions beginning when he was a newborn.  During this same time period, my marriage failed. My life became filled with stress and emotional anguish. The familiarity and meditative qualities of knitting and spinning helped me maintain emotional balance, calming my fears and allowing me to focus and keep functioning.  As I was reinventing my life, more and more I realized that it was time to push through my fears and take a chance on the creative life.  My passion for fiber arts was too strong to ignore – it became not just want I wanted to do, but what I had to do.

There is a saying I heard growing up, that someone who does something risky and unexpected has ‘a wild hare.’  As I was building up my courage to open a fiber business and registering for an etsy account, ‘wild hare’ popped into my head and was available – thus the origination of my business name, Wild Hare Fiber Studio.  The logo design is my own art work.  And to the many people at festivals who ask the question, no, I don’t raise angora rabbits.

SA:  Wow…thank you for being so honest about some of the challenges you have faced along your journey.  I think there are a lot of us who can relate to hearing the call of one’s artistic nature but have to put it on the back burner until the time is right.  Tell us about being called to focus on the fiber arts — What draws you in?

MYR:  Any given bit of fiber or length of yarn is so full of potential!  And I really enjoy the process – the journey.  I think one of the reasons I’ve thus far focused mainly on selling hand dyed yarns and fibers and hand spun yarn is because I create products that still hold on to that potential.  When the yarn or fiber passes to someone else, they carry it further on the journey to its destination, creating their own finished product from the work that I began with dyeing or spinning.

SA:  Let’s dig into that further…What specific materials do you like to work with and why?

MYR:  I love working with natural fibers, yarns and fabric as well as paints and dyes.  I really feel that the appeal these materials have for me is inborn.  Even as a small child I remember the excitement of visiting a yarn or fabric store, or being given a box of scraps or paints to play with.  Fiber is warm, forgiving and full of possibilities.  Paints and dyes transform and bring imagination to life.  They work together beautifully.

SA:  And, it shows — your use of color is beautiful.  OK, so folks know I’m an equipment junkie (oh, yes, I did buy another antique spinning wheel and wool winder this week)…What equipment do you use and why?

MYR:  Tools are the best toys.  Quality ones yield the finest results with the least frustration – but they don’t have to be fancy.  So some of the equipment I use, like my spinning wheel and drum carder, were chosen for their quality and function (I spin mostly on a Spinolution Mach II, and use a Louet Classic carder – both of these are great for art yarns).  Other pieces of equipment, like triangle and frame looms and my yarn winder, I’ve made.  Sometimes I like to play around with power tools and use my mitre saw and belt sander to create with wood – and I also have a sewing machine and serger for working with fabric.

SA:  I haven’t tried the Mach II, but I sure do love my Queen Bee Travel Wheel!

Tells us where you are headed next with your artistic endeavors?

MYR:  I always feel that I’m headed in many different directions all at once!  The demands of juggling my business and family life keep me hopping (wild hare, hopping – get it?), but my head is full of ideas.  I’ve had a few knitting patterns published, and have more in mind that I would like to take to finished form. I’d like to do more teaching. I would also like to explore different ways to use fiber and yarns, especially handspun art yarns, in ways that combine techniques, and doing multi-media projects that bring in more of my fine arts background.  Would I like to write a book someday?  Scary question… but yes.  For me, pushing through fears and trying new things, learning new techniques and experimenting is crucial to keeping the passion alive.

SA:  We will be interested to see where you take all of those ideas!  Where do you find inspiration?

MYR:  I can be inspired by natural forms – such as vines twisting up a tree, or the colors of a ripening pepper – as well as by ideas and feelings.  A glimmer of an idea sets my brain humming with that ‘what if’ question, and the work begins interiorly even before I take materials in hand.  Once I begin to work with the materials, I enter a certain state of being where words cease and ideas become their own inspiration. It is in a non-verbal inner world where time does not exist that I am most creative.

SA:  That’s a great description of what many of us experience, I think.  It is such a happy place to be…Tell us more about your dream of happiness.

MYR:  The life I am now working out contains so many elements of that dream that I almost hold my breath for fear of waking up!  I hope that I can continue along that path, supporting myself as a creative artist, setting a loving example for my children of pursuing your passion in life.  Perhaps when they are grown and on their own I’ll host an open studio fiber arts academy by the sea…

SA:  Hopefully, we will live close enough so that I can come participate in the seaside fiber arts academy!  Another personal question…who inspires you?

MYR:  I’m inspired by those I know who are not afraid to follow their passions in life, whatever they may be!

As for fiber arts, my ‘short list’ of heroes:

My great grandmother, Lora Caldwell, who was a prolific and talented quilter and crocheter and had the patience to show me so much when I was so young.

Elizabeth Zimmerman, the ‘thinking knitter,’ whose writings gave me confidence and ‘permission’ to experiment

My friend/fiber arts ‘grandma’ Priscilla Blosser-Rainey, whose example and encouragement keep me going!

Finally, my admiration and respect is due to Jacey Boggs (insubordiknit) and Lexi Boeger (pluckyfluff), who have done so much to inspire a new generation of spinners and fiber artists, and from whom I learned much about art yarn techniques.

SA:  Thanks so much, Melissa!  OK, everyone, let’s all head over to our stashes and say, “what if…” and see what happens.  Until next time, I hope you have lots of fibery goodness in your life!!

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