BY CHRISTINA STEUBE
PHOTOS BY BRUCE NEWMAN
The Yoknapatawpha Arts Council first started the Oxford Fiber Arts Festival as a way to celebrate fiber artisans in North Mississippi. Eight years later, the event has grown into an entire weekend of educational opportunities and cultural experiences.
It is the largest and oldest fiber arts festival in the state.
The festival came to fruition when YAC director Wayne Andrews and former University Museum director William Andrews wanted to develop a niche opportunity for people in North Mississippi. During the first festival, the Museum featured an exhibit by Gee’s Bend Quiltmakers, a legendary African American quilting cooperative in Alabama, while the Powerhouse hosted vendors and workshops.
“We were looking at the history of Mississippi, and as a state we have a lot of cotton and fiber in our history along with many skilled artisans in the area,” Andrews says. “We had something distinct and unique about our state and unique to the artists we had. We want to give artists of this nature and skill and chance to shine in areas from weaving to knitting to quilting. This celebrates the artists of the region.”
As the annual event has grown, so has its scope. The University of Mississippi Museum will bring in nationally recognized fiber artists including Mary Zicafoose, whose tapestry exhibit “Fault Lines” is currently on display at the museum. Andi Bedsworth, who also teaches at the John C. Campbell Folk School, draws on her network of fellow fiber artists to expand the class offerings.
Bedsworth incorporates fabric work into painting by hand-stitching appliques to the canvas. She enjoys experimenting with fiber in her mixed media creations and believes the Fiber Arts festival is the perfect place to showcase all styles of fiber art.
“I love that we’re showcasing both traditional and contemporary fiber arts,” she says. “We’ll have demonstrations of everything from spinning and weaving in traditional ways to new media fiber art through animation. I especially love showing young people the often forgotten styles of fiber art like spinning, felting and sewing.”
Artists are also taking traditional methods creating unexpected pieces, including contemporary clothing.
“Crocheting, knitting, quilting – you’d be amazed at what people are making these ways,” she says. “It’s not just your grandmother’s afghan anymore. It’s really cool stuff. “
The weekend of activities will be held Jan. 25 to 28 at The Powerhouse. The festival will showcase exhibits by local fiber artists, host artist demonstrations and hold more than 20 workshops for a variety of skill levels. There will also be a fiber market of 16 vendors for festivalgoers to purchase unique items by regional artisans that you won’t find anywhere else.
“January is not a warm month, so it’s a good time for indoor programming, like demonstrations and classes,” Andrews says. “The festival is structured over the course of a weekend to provide people with a weekend getaway so they can learn and experience this art during the day and enjoy our town at night.”
The best part about the festival is that it changes each year. The speakers and classes offered are never the same, and there’s always something for all ages. On Saturday, animals including angora rabbits, sheep and goats will be at the festival and artists will demonstrate how they collect their fur to create pieces in a safe and cruelty-free manner. There will also be children’s activities throughout the day to allow kids to create their own fiber art.
“Bringing in artists for people to affordably learn a skill through mini workshops introduces people to general knowledge of this type of format,” Andrews says. “It’s an opportunity for the community to get new information and experience art in a different way. Exhibits are wonderful, but to be there and have a conversation with the artist is something completely unique.”
For a full schedule of events, visit oxfordarts.com.