Artisan: Original Material 

For Cherri Allen Hankins, art and life are woven together.

She says this while mixing dyes to color fluffy skeins of wet mohair bouclé that her weaving students will use to make red shawls for holiday presents.

Hankins is a weaver, photographer, felt-hat maker and teacher whose outlets for creative expression are many and whose hours are long and well-ordered. She teaches felting, weaving and fiber arts at the Hand Workshop and in her home, and after classes, works until midnight making exuberantly colored felt berets and caps and intricate weavings of silk, linen and wool.

Her three children and husband are gifted artists too — "stimulated," Cherri Hankins says, "by the beauty of our surroundings," and also by the work ethic that drives the artist to answer the often-insistent call of creation.

Hankins learned to weave when a retired eye surgeon, Charlie Romaine, introduced her to the mysteries of warp and weft as a young adult, and taught her the all-important process of dressing the loom with patient reverence. "That's overwhelming if you've never done it before," Hankins says. "But it's eighty percent of weaving. I try to teach my students to love the simple part. And once they start weaving, everybody has this sense of elation."

As she helps students, many of whom are underprivileged, experience the joy of watching small tasks grow into finished products, she also demonstrates the interconnectedness of creative people solving problems and designing ideas.

"I think a mistake is an opportunity to learn something," she says, "and when someone makes a mistake in class, I gather everybody around to show how to fix it, to unweave and weave again until it's right."

Hankins also leads friendship workshops, where small groups come together to work with wet felt, making hats, laughing and simply sharing an experience that unlocks new skills and modes of expression. Her legendary home-cooked Thai foods and other delicacies find their way onto the agenda; Hankins exacts great pleasure from feeding her protégés in methods both culinary and philosophical.

It is an ancient craft she is called to imprint upon another generation. "Being a Presbyterian of Scotch-Irish descent, I feel my ancestors probably were shepherds who wove and spun their own tartans," she suggests. "I had never seen a loom in my life, and I found one for fifteen dollars at a yard sale and somehow just assembled it right away. I have such gratitude, for that was the beginning of an awesome journey."

Her heritage, her esteemed teacher and her innate desire to make art set into motion the lustrous topography of yarn that rises each day from her loom.

"To me," she says, not only of her artworks but also of her teaching, "it's about creating something of true value that can last for generations."

Cherri Allen Hankins' Web site is www.maidensweaver.com.




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