In honor of the 20th Annual Northeast Artists' Studio Tour, we've interviewed our super talented artists to share how they got where they are and why they make the work that they do.
Up next, textile artist Sharlene Bohr. Sharlene's studio is located in Cresco but instead of making the drive there, you can find her and her work (along with wine and delicious snacks) at location #22 at the Winneshiek Wildberry Winery at 1966 337th Street just outside Decorah, IA. This year's tour is Friday through Sunday, October 13th to the 15th, with all locations on the tour open from 10am to 5pm each day.
Who are you and what kind of art do you make?
My name is Sharlene Bohr and I use plants to dye fabric. I use all natural fabrics (silk, wool and cotton) and all natural dyes to create wearable and decorative art.
Do you see all of the leaf patterns in my work?
They are there because I use actual leaves to create them. It’s a modern natural dye technique called eco-printing, which I combine with other natural dye techniques to create the finished work you see. I pick the dye-plants I wish to use and lay out a pattern on a piece of fabric. Then, I roll up the fabric very tightly around a pipe or a stick, holding everything in place with string. Steaming the bundle releases the dye from the leaves, printing the color and shape of the each leaf directly on the fabric. Even though I know what to expect, unwrapping every bundle is like Christmas!
What is your background?
I’ve been interested in and creating art all of my life. I’ve taken classes in all sorts of media from grade school through college (Go Norse!) and into adulthood. An unexpected move to Cresco from L.A. resulted in a business opportunity and the start of my current work and passion. I’ve always been interested in fabrics, and plants, and am very scientifically oriented, and natural dyeing is a perfect blend.
What do you enjoy most about being an artist? What part of your process do you most enjoying doing?
What I enjoy most is walking out of my studio and into my dye gardens, picking each leaf or flower one by one, as needed, for every piece I create. I enjoy being surrounded by nature, working outside, and feeling the summer sun.
My favorite things to make are pieces to hang on the wall. I love to combine different natural dye techniques, with design and fabric layering and decorative stitching. I love visualizing an entire piece in my mind and then watching it appear in front of me when I unwrap the fabric bundle.
What inspires you?
Nature inspires me. Color inspires me. Music inspires me. The interconnectedness of life inspires me. Art that has an edge inspires me.
Who is your favorite artist or what is your favorite piece of art?
I have so many favorites. My latest is a contemporary artist named Mark Bradford. I saw an exhibition of his in Denver, CO, this summer and it was INCREDIBLE. The scale, the texture, the emotion captured in what one thinks should be paint….but it’s not. It’s paper. I could not get enough.
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
I once had a previous customer pass my tent at an art show call out to the 5 or 6 ladies inside looking at my work, “Buy it. Buy it all. You will receive nothing but compliments. I love my piece and wear it all the time.”
What will we see when we come to your location? How do we find you?
Winneshiek Wildberry Winery, on the northwest side of Decorah, is hosting me again this year. It’s a great place to stop while out an about on the tour and enjoy a meal and some tasty wine! Sometimes I like to make wine and scarf pairings just for fun!
My actual studio is in Cresco, IA and is open anytime by appointment. Everyone is welcome to visit. There, you’ll see fabric, leaves, more leaves, giant pots and pans, string, pipes, random pieces of metal, work gloves, jars of rusty water, plus my dye gardens. All the while listening to music. Tango, most likely. Or French jazz. Unless I feel dramatic, and then, it’s probably Saint-Saens’ Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah.
More about the Northeast Iowa Artists' Studio Tour:
The Northeast Iowa Artists' Studio Tour is a unique opportunity to explore artists studios for an intimate look into their creative process and a chance to purchase their newest works right out of the kiln, hot off the presses, paint freshly cured...you get the point! This year, you can experience 51 artists at 38 locations while also taking in the charm of Northeast Iowa's small communities, local fare, and the breathtaking scenery of the Driftless. Each artist is different, but they all share a passion for imagination and each one welcomes their guests with gusto. Visit the Tour's website to download a brochure, map, or GPS coordinates for each location.