Where does an artist get inspiration?
Some creative people don’t have a clear answer for that question. They just have a talent for conjuring up beautiful, thought-provoking work that captivates the eye and stirs emotions in the viewer. That describes Austin, Texas-based artist Joan Edelstein. She specializes in textiles of all kinds – except wool.
“Can you believe it, a fiber artist who is allergic to wool?” she said.
Edelstein’s work is rich with color and abstract imagery. It’s also approachable and often filled with whimsy. A good example is her 70” x 20” silk wall hanging entitled “Maybe Geometry Class Wasn’t a Complete Waste of Time.” No surprise that it contains a wide range of geometric shapes in a fun mélange.
Another Edelstein wall hanging would fit nicely in a kitchen, or a coffee shop. It features a grinder, espresso pot and mugs. The title: “The Art of the Bean.”
Those are part of a series of her work known as “textile stories.” Wall hangings and wearable art – including beautiful scarves – make up much of Edelstein’s repertoire. Her work is not just unique because of the designs. She developed a process that involves anywhere from seven to 12 steps and includes the laying and mitering of the silk border and foundation, printing of thematic fabrics, layering of contemporary and vintage fabrics and fibers, then sewing, finishing and pressing each piece.
It’s a complex process that shows in the end-product. The works can serve as accents to brighten up any environment. Although Edelstein does market some production-grade fabrics, many are truly one-of-a-kind. A piece might combine some new cloth with an interesting fragment she found while rummaging through an attic or scouring vintage clothing in a thrift shop.
The path Edelstein took to become a fabric artist was circuitous. Her first career was in clinical social work. She evolved from therapist into shop owner and enjoyed finding unique items to sell. Eventually Edelstein sold her store, but she kept her hand in by working in a friend’s Dallas showroom.
She first learned the technique of scarf-making at a hobby industry show. It included the use of “stabilizer,” the support fabric that’s an essential element in sewing to prevent puckering and stretching.
“I went home and got some stabilizer, and I made a scarf,” Edelstein said. “It so happened that I was going to Dallas shortly after that to work in the showroom, and I made a second scarf, and I brought it with me to wear while I was working. Tons of retailers kept asking me, ‘Where can I get one of those!’ A friend suggested that I create a sample line for the next wholesale market. And that’s how I got started in 2004.”
After developing a style and product line, Edelstein made the decision to market her product through prestigious artisan vendors.
“I do all juried wholesale art shows, and I sell to museums and galleries around the country,” she said. “When buyers come in to the shows, they are very intrigued by how very different my works are, and my color use, and I get very wonderful comments.”
Edelstein’s path from social worker to shopkeeper to fabric artist may not be surprising, given that as a child, she always had a good time handling cloth.
“My father was in the textile industry, so I don’t know if I have it in my bones or not,” she said. “Neither my mother or I sewed, but I was always playing with fabric, and doing arts and crafts things as a kid. I just liked doing creative things, and I was always exposed to textiles. I didn’t really start doing it until I started crocheting and needlework. I took up quilting later on, and everything I learned along the way in terms of fiber arts contributed to what I do now.”
Wholesale buyers and customers alike remark to Edelstein that her work is unique.
“’I’ve never seen anything like this before’ – that’s a comment I get a lot,” she said. “I just do what I do because I love doing it. I don’t have any other motivation. I really do enjoy it. Another interesting thing when I am in these shows, often there are buyers from Judaica shops in the wholesale markets. Often people come into my booth and say, ‘You know what, we’re in a little Judaica shop and we’re so attracted to these pieces – did you ever think about doing these as tallises?’ It’s very interesting, the attraction for my work from the Jewish buyers, and they are never surprised to learn that I am Jewish!”
You can find Joan Edelstein’s unique scarves at the T Clifton Art Studio, 2571 Broad Avenue in Memphis.