Spotlight: JoAnn Manzone, Felt Fiber Artist
With nature’s inspiration all around her, JoAnn Manzone transforms natural plants, dyes and fibers into one-of-a-kind wearable art. Always a needleworker, she knew she had found her place in the fiber world when she discovered nuno felting, a process for combining loose fibers, usually wool, with a sheer silk base to create a lightweight felted fabric.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I grew up with yarn. My mother, both grandmothers and aunts all knitted. When I was 10 years old, my mother and grandmother took me to our local yarn shop to pick out my first knitting project and I was hooked! Little did I know that I would be turning this skill into a lifetime passion of working with fiber. When I walk into a yarn shop today, I am triggered by so many memories, warm fall colors, light summer weight sweaters and excitement of a new project. But most importantly I feel a connection to the women in my family.
How much of your creative ability do you think is innate? Or is your creativity a skill that you have developed over time?
I think everyone has a creative bud inside of them. As children we are open to so many possibilities and through experimentation we learn to play and create. Our society doesn’t always value this aspect of ourselves and over time, creativity gets buried until we do not believe that we have the ability to create. I think the skill comes in the practice of learning how to open that portal again.
How long have you been nuno felting? How did you begin?
I started nuno felting about 7 years ago. My first exposure to felting was at Webster’s Yarn Shop in Ashland, Oregon. I learned how to make a needle felted scarf. Right around that time, I met Diane Ericson who told me about her friend, Polly Sterling, and her process of felting on silk. I contacted Polly who lives in Australia to see if she would work with me. She had no plans to come to the States, so she referred me to one of her students and that is how I learned to nuno felt. After felting for a few years, I was able to bring Polly to Ashland for a workshop, then I followed her to her family retreat in upstate New York and took a week long class in nuno felting, natural dyeing and botanical printing.
What other creative mediums do you play around with?
Today my work is focused on natural dyeing, botanical printing on fabric and paper.
Who or what inspires you? Are there recurring themes in your work?
Diane Ericson has been a huge inspiration. Her enthusiasm for the creative process and excitement in coaching new talent has helped me grow my work. Nature is a recurring theme in my work. The natural beauty of Ashland’s mountains, streams and forests influence me.
When you begin to create, do you have a finished product in mind? Or does the work evolve?
When I first begin to create, my head goes to a finished product. I am trying to break that habit and let my work evolve. When I am able to do that, I am much more satisfied.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced as an artist?
Self doubt. I do not have any formal training in art or design. My career path was in the area of psychology. When I retired I became a full time artist. So I sometimes suffer from impostor syndrome.
Do you ever face creative blocks? How do you get unstuck?
Yes, I think all artists do. When it happens, I walk away, do a rote project, spend time with other artists, take a class. If I try not to focus on the block, then all of these things can help.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I have a small studio in my home – a converted bedroom space. After having many studios, most open and large, I feel that this is the right fit for me. I also share a studio at Ashland Art Center. This space is open and I will often go there to meet the public and do some handwork.
Are there indispensable tools and materials in your studio? If so, how do they improve your work?
A design board and pictures of my favorite things. Objects and finished projects that inspire me.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, movies? What kind?
I prefer to work in silence. Occasionally, I will play Pandora stations. Van Morrison and John Hiatt are my favorites.
How many projects do you have going at once? Or are you one of those kind of people who only works on one creative project at a time?
I usually have no less than 3 projects going at a time. When I get blocked with one, I can work on another.
Is your work for sale? If so, where can people find it?
My work is for sale at Ashland Art Center. I do have a few pieces on my website, but I find it hard to sell that way as my pieces are one of a kind.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
I teach workshops throughout the year in natural dyeing, botanical printing, surface design and fabric piecing techniques. Here is how to reach me: