“Guided serendipity.” As Lopez textile artist Jan Scilipoti utters this phrase, her face is serene, beaming with joy. She is using these words to describe the process of discovery and revelation her work brings her, a theme she returns to repeatedly, a subject at which she always smiles.
The roots of her experience with fabric run deep, as far back as her grandmother and mother, both of whom crocheted, knitted, and did needlepoint.
“I started out doing all this as a child and I just never stopped,” she says. “I took Crafts classes in high school and my master’s is in Interior Design.”
Her background and education led to work designing corporate spaces, a profession which allowed her to cross paths with an important influence, the textile designer and craftsman Jack Lenor Larsen.
“That part of my job—connecting clients with artists for commission work—led to where I am today. The whole time I was helping clients ‘discover’ artists I kept thinking that what I’d really like to do is be the artist.”
Drawn to Lopez 10 years ago for natural building, she won a residency with the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology in Oregon and began producing frescoes. “I loved the studio experience so much I haven’t been without one since.”
At this last statement, Scilipoti gestures to the walls around her and laughs when I tell her that I would drive by when she and her partner, Neal Anderson, were building the studio they share and wonder why, exactly, the building was so tall.
“As an interior designer, I planned the building from the inside out. I needed nine-foot ceilings for my large pieces and Neal” (whose studio is downstairs from Scilipoti’s) “needed the same for his paintings. This studio is so amazing that I’m still surprised when I come in every morning.”
For a time, Scilipoti referred to herself as an improvisational quilter, a title which caused no small amount of confusion to people who would visit her hoping to see traditional quilts. “As a result, I started calling myself a textile artist,” a more general title coined to encompass her art.
Scilipoti’s felt pieces begin with Merino wool which she obtains undyed. She felts it, which results in a strong piece of fabric. From there, she begins the process of resist dying, using everything from wax to paper clips, rusty metal, and discarded clamps to block the dye and create dyed and undyed patterns.
It is while she is moving the piece back and forth between the pots of different dyes, refolding and re-clamping, that the nature of the work begins to emerge; it is this part of the process which she regards as serendipitous.
Finally, the piece is embellished with stitching and beadwork.
Like so many other Lopez artists, Scilipoti regards the island to be an integral part of her work. “I took a class with quilter Nancy Crow, who wanted to know why my palette was so dark. When she found out I lived in the Pacific Northwest, she understood. Everything from the cloud cover to our surrounding lighting influences the colors I use.”
In addition to her role as president of the Lopez Artist Guild, Scilipoti is involved in a small group of artists who meet monthly. This past summer, she hosted a workshop featuring the renowned felt artist, Chad Alice Hagen. The workshop was so successful that Scilipoti has arranged for Hagen to return in 2011.
Scilipoti also has plans to teach workshops in resist dyeing and stitching in the coming year.
Her recent show at the Lopez Island Library displayed many of her Merino felted textiles and she has been a fixture on the Lopez Island Studio tour. Those wishing to see more of her portfolio can visit her website at www.janscilipoti.com.
From the beginning of this conversation to the end, Jan Scilipoti never stops talking about the gift she’s been given, that of being able to find a home in a community she loves and of being able to explore the mysteries and joy of creativity through her art. It is, for Scilipoti and her admirers, a fortunate process indeed.