The Fiber Arts Center Of The Eastern Shore

by Dana Kester-McCabe

Amy Jacocks tells us about the Fiber Arts Center, in Denton, Maryland, an organization that is here to promote and educate people about the fiber arts here in our community.

It is a place for people to show their work, to learn more techniques, and a place for people to come and buy and support their local artists that are working in the fiber arts. It was started with a conversation with the Quilt Guild and the Caroline County Council of the Arts. The Quilt Guild needed a place to show their quilts. And, this building was becoming available as the town was renovating it for this arts and entertainment district. And so, the idea was born. Why not a fiber arts center? And so, instead of just quilts we are now able to feature all sorts of fiber arts that the community is creating.”

“It’s nice to find so many people that want something like this in their community and are willing to give their time and make sure it happens.”

“We tend to exhibits that last three or four months. And then we have other exhibits throughout the year. I try to have all local artists from the Delmarva Peninsula, but I will also go over into Annapolis and other areas to find as much creative talent as I can find.”

“So I was thinking about all the talent we have. And I was thinking, that person does a lot of birds; so does that person. So, I brought together four artists who do a lot of birds and we had a bird show. I’ve done a knitting show of local knitters. The Quilt Guild has had exhibits here.”

“We were also really fortunate to do an exhibit of the alpacas. So, we have a number of alpaca farms around the Delmarva peninsula. And, we have two of them that are local that are using their own fiber to make things that hey sell. And, they were nice enough to show some of their stuff here. And, one of those ladies does all her own processing. So, she showed me the whole process. And it’s done in her garage. And, it’s just fabulous that it’s being done in this area.”

“We’ve got some more quilt shows coming up. Quilts are really popular around here, so I try to work those quilters to keep those kinds of thing coming in.”

Quilting has become more than just making bedspreads. It is a fine art in and of itself. It is also an important part of our American heritage. The Fiber Arts Center and other buildings in the region are part of a unique public art display that honors our local history. These are elegant graphic signs based on single block patterns that were part of quilts hung out on clothes lines to signal runaway slaves traveling the Underground Railroad in the 19th century.

Amy Jacocks:
“The quilt blocks are along the Underground Railroad Byway. They are highlighting different parts of town and different sites that are highlighted on the Underground, or the Harriet Tubman Byway, I should say.’

“We picked blocks that represented what was happening on the Underground Railroad experience of African Americans in this area and beyond as they made their way north. Um, so, we’re trying to use fiber arts to highlight the history of our area. An, someone had the brilliant idea of using what are called “barn quilts” and putting them on historic sites. It’s been a very popular idea.”

“Then we had a local quilter, and she took all the patterns that we picked and made into a quilt that we now sell kits for. So, people can make their own version of it. And, another local artist did a drawing of Harriet Tubman and we put that onto fabric, and that is now the center medallion for thst quilt kit.”

Fiber arts may sound like something stereotypically feminine. But Amy told me how the Fiber Arts Center proves that stereotypes are meant to be broken.

Amy Jacocks:
“Well we actually just did an exhibit of just men. Um, it was called “Men At Work”. And one of my artists is a needle worker. In a time when Rosie Greer was starting to do his needle work, he was inspired by his book. And, he started to do it. Um, then we also have people who do the dying. I also have a male teacher who did the spinning. We have a lot of men who like to do the spinning part.”

“And, if you consider fashion a fiber art, which it is, there are a lot of men in the world of fashion. And they are working in the fiber arts. So, you know, people say there is a gender thing but it’s really not. Anybody can do it.”

“And, you know, sailors used to make all their own clothes, and do their own knitting on board. It’s a long tradition in ancient cultures of men being expected to do the dying and the weaving. So, it’s only a recent thing that people think of it as women’s work.”

A sense of community is at the core of the Center’s mission. They work hard to create programs and exhibits that respond to the needs and interests of the surrounding community.

Amy Jacocks:
“We do try to have quilting and sewing because that seems to be a popular thing at this time. But, we’ve done spinning classes in the past, and knitting and crochet. So, we’re trying to have a variety of things. We have a teen sewing night because a group of teens came to us and set we would like this kind of thing. So, we’re trying to cater to what the community wants right now.”

“Things like paper. Paper is a fiber and you can manipulate it. People make their own paper as well. You also have things like dolls, and the doll houses and the things that accompany them. And then anyone who uses fabric and manipulates fabric in some way. Then you’re looking at wool and leather. Then there is all kinds of beadwork.”

“There is just a plethora. And, people don’t realize how much fiber is in their daily life. SO, they tend to discount it as – “Aaa I see a knit or crochet scarf every day so it can’t be art.” But, it is because it is handmade by somebody and it is special, I think. It is a part of your everyday life, but it is still a work of art.”

Amy’s own love of design and fiber arts makes her a passionate advocate for a form of fine art that has come into its own.

Amy Jacocks:
“My background is actually in the museum studies with a specialization of clothing and textiles. I have a degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology in that. I knew that I loved history. But I also knew that I loved fashion and textiles. And, it was just something I had always done as a kid where I sewed clothes for my dolls and stuff like that.”

“Um, I worked in some really great museums in New York and D.C. And then, life brought me to the Eastern Shore. And I found out about the Fiber Arts Center, and I was like “Oh – interesting.” And I called up, and I was like “Hi want to volunteer. And, here I am” [Laughs] I just showed up at the right time to help this organization, and for them to help me have a place in this community.”

“I am proud that I have opened people’s minds to what fiber art is. There’s been so many times I’ve had to defend fiber art as an art, not only to the general public, but to the actual artist: that they don’t realize that they are actual artists. And, that what they do is important, and needs to be seen, and preserved, and shared.”

“So, that is the most important thing about a place like this, is that we get to all those people and let them know that there work is important and needs to be recorded.”

Be sure to stop by and see the Fiber Arts Center in person in Denton, which is a really cool place to visit. Their current exhibit is called Avant Garde. Artists Kathleen Dove, Judith Gunter, Lauren Lay, and Pam Phillips experiment with fiber in order to create new perspectives. The show runs through November 12, 2016.

FACES: Fiber Arts Center of the Eastern Shore -
7 North 4th Street
Denton, Maryland 21629