Women artists who inspire me

For International Women’s Day, I like to talk about some women who inspire me. I am sorry I do not have pictures for this entry. Please click on the links and see what joys await you!

Jen Athanas is someone I’ve known for almost 20 years. She helped me when I started sewing clothes. Any time I had a question, she’s always been available. Her support has been invaluable, so you can see why she’s important in my life, but she also works incredibly hard, has very high standards (something she helped instill in me), and is tenacious.

Athanas set out to get a degree in textiles at Rochester Institute of Technology. They axed her program before she finished, so she left. In the meantime, she moved to the Washington DC metro area and determined to finish her bachelors. She went to Marymount University and got a degree in fashion design. For her senior project, she used upcycled fabrics, something she continues to do today. She has been making beautiful bags for over 10 years and is just branching out into non-functional art.

Athanas does not just sit in her studio and create, she also a vital part of the art scene. She was juried into the Torpedo Factory last year and is now on the board. She teaches classes in the area and also volunteers at Scrap DC. She reminds me that all work and no play makes a dull gal. She finds time for yoga and other social activities too! Visit her at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria VA or check her out online at her website jenafusion.com

In my last entry, I mentioned friends I’ve made on Twitter. Immy Smith is one of them. She is an artist who has left the lab. Her work is stunning and thought provoking. I love seeing her trials and works in progress. Smith seeks out collaborations with labs and other artists. Her work aims to communicate science. I think she does this brilliantly, both as a fine artist and a cartoonist! Check her out on Twitter (drimmysmith or cartoon_neuron) or find her website and browse immysmith.com

I met Megan McGlynn at SfN14 and was privileged to have a booth next to hers. We shared inspirational images with each other all week. McGlynn went to art school and studied neuroscience at U Penn concurrently with getting an art degree at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. She’s interested in architecture and often couches neuroscience in this perspective. She works with ink and paper as well as sculptural elements. I cannot tell you how awesome it was to sit next to a booth with a 4 foot pyramidal neuron that everyone who walked by was drawn to. She also teaches sometimes. I wish I could take a class with her! If you are in the Philadelphia area, see if you can find her work. It’s worth seeing. You can read more about her on meganmcglynn.com.

Last, but not least, I met Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle last summer. They sing together and create amazing, intense crankie shows. Their beautiful harmonies complement the art that scrolls past, no matter if they are hand sewn, lino cut, or even shadow puppets. Their material ranges from somber to hilarious. They also have a radio show, somewhat in the style of Prairie Home Companion, that they organize on a monthly basis. They perform, they teach, they invite people to collaborate. They live their passion and inspire. Check them out at annaandelizabeth.com.

Best of all, even if you can’t see these amazing women in person, you can purchase some of their work.

The Skeleton and The Skin: Annet Couwenberg

The Skeleton and The Skin

Annet Couwenberg is a fiber artist whose art work is based on the concept of clothing as a metaphor for examining the precarious balance between the body/skeleton and the outer membrane/skin.

Dr. Lynne Parenti studies the comparative anatomy and distribution of tropical freshwater and coastal marine fishes mainly from Southeast Asia.

Annet and Lynne worked together during the summer of 2014 for a unique Fellowship experience studying the Division of Fishes’ collections through the lenses of both art and science.

Annet Couwenberg's Puff #2, made of laser cut buckram and wood

Annet Couwenberg’s Puff #2, made of laser cut buckram and wood

Last week I got an email with this description from my fiber arts guild email list. Gosh, it was right up my alley. I had to go. So, I traipsed into DC, ice and puddles notwithstanding, and listened to what they had to say.

Couwenberg has no formal science education (beyond your usual secondary ed, I assume). She’s got two degrees in fiber and a background in fashion design, but has long been interested in the relationship between the skeleton and the skin. We saw corset inspired art, for instance. But listening to her talk about her fellowship at the Smithsonian was great.

She really dove into the rich source material on so many levels. Not only was she inspired by how the fish looked, but she was looking at histograms (slides of tissue) and manipulating those and then creating art based on those.

Couwenberg works with a variety of materials. I was particularly taken with her laser cut pieces. Some pieces are lacey, others are stacked (layers and layers (HEY NEURO PEEPS, think about this for those stacked images you guys get — juicy stuff, am I right?)).

Origami is a rich source of inspiration for her too. She had all this folded buckram which was pretty neat (laser cut dots to help with the folds!). And yet, she holds she’s not a sculptor but a fiber artist.

I was struck by a couple thing she talked about. At least twice she talked about how it’s about the process for her. This is how she learns. Finally, someone else like me! I asked her if she could have learned science in this way, might she have been a scientist? She agreed it might have happened.

Someone asked if the technology allowed her to do things she wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. Her answer was interesting to me because she talked about how it didn’t make things easier, but I also have to wonder, if like me, she’s drawn to trying new techniques to help create her art, seeing the possibilities in them.

Dr Lynn Parenti was her science partner and this woman studies fish. I asked at one point if the difference between a scientist and an artist was that the scientist takes things apart while the artist makes things. I think fundamentally, at least in the sciart community, a lot of us are asking the same questions, but approaching from a different viewpoint. The goal is still to learn and communicate and educate.

It seems what Parenti got out of the partnership was the idea to take slides of a coelacanth brain and 3D image it!! How cool is that?

Finally, someone else asked Couwenberg if she thought about working with exoskeletons and exploring that relationship. The answer? She was just starting to do that!

Very exciting work. I’m so glad I went. So, what do you think? Would love to chat about it.