Shannon Weber’s art has resonated powerfully and personally with me since the first time I saw it at least fifteen years ago. I felt an immediate, eerie sense of connection and a feeling that her work could guide me to a new place on my own creative path.
Recently, I asked Shannon if she would make a work for me, a commission piece of one of her boats that are so magically symbolic. During the time she worked on it, we talked back and forth about life and art and uncertainties. I knew that the piece she was making would be a guide for me and an inspiration.
Yesterday, the piece arrived from Oregon, packed meticulously in its own huge box, cradled with layers and layers of protective wrapping. The title of the piece is Compass. It could not be more perfect. And I could not be more grateful for this protective, symbolic vessel.
In a handwritten note, Shannon described the provenance of the pieces in the assemblage – “small beads, stones, and fossil from my magic beads gathered last year, bone harvested off side of road on forest drive, rusted washers found on construction site, nails from junk shop, vintage burn papers, reed, handmade papers, waxed linen, shell beads, feather.” And then she wrote, “I think it will fit in your nest.”
How is it that a piece of art can affect us so completely? Shannon says that the title, Compass, is for her all about direction. For me it recalls the saying about adjusting one’s sails when you can’t change the wind.
That red thread that sparkles in a few places is pure Shannon symbolism – throughout history and across philosophies, red thread has been worn for protection, faith, good luck, strength, and connection. It’s a symbol of being loved, supported and, feeling safe and secure. It’s a prompt to stay positive while facing any adversity.
Every element in Shannon’s work is meaningful, partly because she allows the collected material to direct how the work is going to evolve. Every element collected has a history or a mythology of location, age, or place that is allowed to shapeshift as the materials and techniques are mixed together to the form the structure of the designs.
Her work has attracted the attention of curators of Fiber and Fine Craft who have included her work in their lectures for her skill and methods in design, both nationally and internationally. She has been asked to speak on her methods and use of materials, and she has been featured in numerous publications worldwide.
I still need to look at Compass a lot more to discover more layers of meaning, but to be able to hold one of Shannon’s works in my hands and feel the connection is pretty awesome. When I get stuck, or get discouraged, or wonder why we make art, I’m going to have this wonderful vessel to guide me out of the rough spots.
The power of Shannon’s work comes, I think, in part from her ethical authenticity. Here is how she describes her process (from an article in Hand Eye Magazine):
By applying ancient techniques and transitioning to contemporary designs, I can achieve my desired effects by using a mixture of repetitive layers, weaving, stitching, and cold connections along with painting and encaustic. These multiple applications make it very easy to blend metal, wire, rubber, and organic materials of all kinds. Each layer of material mixed with different techniques begins to build structure that gives the objects and vessels their form and opens doors for detailed surface design embellishments of all kinds. While the form is taking shape, I consider it an amulet or talisman to be displayed in a personal space.
Thank you, Shannon, for this talisman – and for the lessons you have taught me about working with what I have and to be open to experimenting with almost any material to see what becomes of it. We all need a Compass, and you’ve provided one for me!