My Arrowmont Experience: Part 1


Sky lift over the campus

Today is my last night at Arrowmont and this has been my fave art experience this year. Arrowmont is my first craft school experience and I knew quite a few peers and instructors from KCAI that attended workshops here. Honestly, I didn’t think my skill set was up to par for places like Arrowmont, Haystack or Penland...I think the fine vs. applied art internal conflict in me kept me from looking into the opportunities. Craftsmanship has always been the thing I know I have to work at it triple time.

While I was getting my 2019 spreadsheet together (yes, a very detailed spreadsheet of every store I pitch to, show/residency app, classes I’m teaching and agents I’m sending work to), I ran across Arrowmont’s scholarship opportunity and decided to give it a try. I had my eye on a few classes but Jennifer Reis’ class “Put A Bead On It: Embellished Textile Assemblage” really caught my eye. My physical studio space just hadn’t felt roomy for experimenting and exploration this year, just stacked with things reminding me of deadlines plus undertaking growing a business. I really started the year with intentions to re-engage my hand and try new things in studio, this workshop looked like the perfect opportunity.

Entrance of Arrowmont campus

Entrance of Arrowmont campus


Put A Bead On It seemed like a perfect way to explore techniques that can activate the patterns I design digitally or by hand in a different way plus new ways of creating composition. Designing patterns comes really easy for me, once I get going I can come up with a hundred or so in a few studio days. Embellishment and embroidery forces you to slow down and be strategic about your stitches and next moves.

I was so worried about leaving town! Like I have a studio move this month, HutchFest and Art Westport inventory to prep...but I feel like taking time off to art it up? Oh okay then! But it really couldn’t have come at a more perfect time, September until the end of the year I’ll be in teaching, holiday, 2020 grind mode.


So, let’s start with this supply soon as I received it via email, I knew this class was gonna be a good time. Sequins, beads, costume jewelry, fabrics, trims...if you can sew it, basically pack it! I decided I wanted to fly and already figured my checked bag would be filled with supplies and I would carry on the week’s necessities. Arrowmont is located in Gatlinburg, TN. The nearest airport is in Knoxville, which is about an hour drive from campus. I flew Delta Airlines from Kansas City to Atlanta to Knoxville, making total travel time about 4 hours with layover time included. Check in day was Sunday, August 11th and check out on Saturday, August 17th. Class starts Sunday with orientations and runs through Friday.

Class is everyday from 9am-5pm with a 1 hour lunch break. Breakfast starts at 7:30am in the dining hall. I opted to stay in the Red Barn dorms for this visit since my scholarship would cover the complete cost of class and lodging/meals with that option. My room fit 3 people but I only had one roommate for the week which was nice, it truly is dorm style (especially the bathrooms) But you really don’t spend a ton of time in your room anyways. Now, let me take a moment to tell y’all how bomb the food at Arrowmont is.
I should’ve packed Tupperware and there was so much food, I’m not used to eating 3 times a day + on a schedule at home so it was nice to be spoiled in that way. The pot roast, beans and cornbread, tacos, shrimp & grits, and chicken wings were my fave meals oh and the lemon the fact that I could have fruit every day.


Back to class…

Artist Jennifer Reis was our instructor for the week, the thumbnail of her work for the class listing is what caught my eye. After reading the class description, I knew this was number one on my class picks. Not sure how to explain it but I have kinda been feeling like I’ve been stuck in a routine when it comes to studio, especially since this has been my official full time for the last almost two years. Check orders, marketing, working on the business, trying to keep the inspiration going, ya know...the regular degular. It was also dope to learn that Jennifer has a background as a gallery director and is currently an arts entrepreneurship professor

Jennifer’s work is incredibly beautiful and has to be seen in person. I love the planned composition of it but that she also leaves room for it to grow and decide it’s next direction (we got to see her work on a piece in class) Iconography and love of the visuals of the Catholic Church were some of the key inspirations that jump out at me. The shapes of her pieces are very altar-like and of course, the use of beading and embroidery provides the ornate quality mixed with the focus of vintage paper dolls as the center, empowered, focal point. During her evening presentation, it was great to see her progression into the frame of work she now creates, her art school experience and how textiles empowered her to create in the way and scale she wanted to.

Our first day started with our sampler, the previous night we got our quilt sandwich together ( I love that term, sounds so...delish) that would turn into our sampler. We had a class of 14, so the first 2 days or so we sat around the common table and learned from Jennifer together with our instructor assistant, Leslie Pearson. We started with the basics, doing a blanket stitch around the edge of our quilt sandwich. I know you’re thinking “Whit’s got this!” but I barely did haha. I can’t remember the last time I did blanket stitch, let alone worked with embroidery floss plus my problem with hand stitches I always get caught up over starting. A lot of the stitches we did were embroidery specific so I had never tried them before. French knots, stem stitch and split back stitch turned out to be my favorite!

Stay tuned for part two!