Montana-born, Brooklyn-based fiber artist Amanda Browder produces large-scale fabric installations for building exteriors and other public sites. Her monumental work of public art, Metropolis Sunrise, was commissioned by Arts Westchester and sewn by many hands in the Westchester community. Under the direction of Amanda, over 400 volunteers have sewn 6,500 square-feet of fabric. Although COVID-19 has curtailed in-person sewing sessions, volunteers have gathered over Zoom to continue working on the project. During this Friday’s free Club CMA class, participants will create individual tiles and “connect” their pieces on their computer screens to create a virtual Zoom quilt. Get to know Amanda below.
Can you tell us about your art practice and how working with children inspires you?
I create building-sized fabric installations that are mostly hung on the sides of buildings but sometimes on top or around them. All the fabric in these installations are donated by people who live in the area or city where the piece is installed. To build the piece, we host Public Sewing Days in different locations that are open to everyone. People come to sew, or sometimes learn to sew, meet some new people and, in general, participate in the construction of a big public art piece.
What inspires me about children is their appreciation for learning new things. My favorite moments are when parents bring their kids into the Public Sewing Days, and within a short time, the kids are taking charge and creating their own system of organizing fabric, and then pinning and sewing their part of the piece. Working as a team, helping each other, the kids bring energy, enthusiasm and many times humor to the creative process.
With young children I do a “team sew” to introduce them to the sewing machine. “Why wouldn’t you want to play with it!? It’s loud! It’s a machine that goes fast and slow! And it puts colorful fabric together like glue!” I have the kids hold the foot pedal in their hands, I am at the machine holding the fabric, and on the count of three… we sew! It’s thrilling.
How did your Metropolis Sunrise project at Arts Westchester come about? How have you adapted the project in light of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Metropolis Sunrise started through the interest of Janet Langsam, the Director at Arts Westchester. She was excited to see how these installations brought the community together around public art, and wanted to create this one-of-a-kind piece for their building. I was so excited to work in the New York area, and because it was one of the tallest installations I had done so far, it was a challenge I was excited to take on.
Before the pandemic, we had hosted over twenty Public Sewing Days at different institutions and creative arts facilities in the Westchester area and had over 500 people participate in the assembly of the piece. For example, we held sewing days at places such as the Westchester Children’s Museum, Greenburgh Public Library, and The Pelham Art Center.
After the pandemic, we hold virtual meet-ups to try to keep our sewing group connected and let them know how much we appreciate their support. We made a “virtual quilt” using online meeting technology. We had everyone hold up a fabric they love up to their camera and we photographed that momentary “virtual quilt.
What advice would you give to young artists who wish to pursue an art practice?
Make as much art as you can! Talk to other artists and get to know what they are making. Even though many artists spend the majority of their time in their studios, it is very important to know and connect with your audience. Being part of your community will give people the opportunity to support you as an artist.
Why is it important to make art accessible to all children and families?
Creativity is not always supported in our culture. Yet it helps with stress (art therapy), it supports beauty, and builds strong brainstorming skills for problem solving. To limit this action would be like limiting reading — art, like reading, is a doorway to many worlds. Art helps us stay in touch with our own and others’ creativity; it inspires all ages, and our creative skills help us to be better, more understanding people in the world.
Amanda Browder, Spectral Locus, 2016. Commissioned by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Public Art Initiative, 2016, Buffalo, NY. Photograph by Tom Loonan.
Do you have a favorite memory of making art as a child?
I remember getting a ribbon at the Missoula County Fair for a photograph that I had taken. I was so excited that something I had made was appreciated. I was learning what it meant to me to make something that I might call art and although I made things all the time to have something on display for the public was a new experience.
Can you share a work or artist that inspires you to make art?
Many people connect my work with Christo and Jeanne Claude’s public art sculptures. I was inspired by them, but more than anything artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Lynda Barry, Yayoi Kusama, and Mierle Laderman Ukeles (who shook hands with every sanitation worker in NYC). I am inspired by how their works embrace the daily trappings of everyday life, and how they were able to flourish outside the norms of the art world traditions.
Pictured Above: Amanda Browder, Metropolis Sunrise (Proposal) for 2021 Project at Arts Westchester, White Plains, NY.