An Interview with Featured Artist Nellie Rose
Nellie Rose is a textile artist making clothing from her home studio in Thomas, West Virginia. Born and raised in the Mountain State, Nellie’s early immersion into the textile traditions that have long characterized the Appalachian region, her home, has helped to influence her path ever since. After studying Japanese and biology at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, Nellie followed her passion to Japan, where she studied Japanese textiles as a Fulbright Scholar at Osaka University of the Arts. Following her fellowship, she apprenticed under world-renowned artist Hiroko Harada in Shinshiro, Japan, learning the traditional dye practices of indigo and shibori. She established Nellie Rose Textiles in 2013 and has been an artist collaborator at Lamplight Gallery in Thomas since 2015. Committed to slow and intentional fashion, she makes and dresses people in clothing that celebrates their playfulness, strangeness, and tenacious self-expression.
(Interviewer: Vincent Trimboli, Appalachian Arts Editor)
What does the term Appalachian Art mean to you?
To me the term Appalachian art carries a meaning of something that is made with a degree of grit, raw ingenuity, and often utilizes techniques handed down from generation to generation.
Let’s take a moment to talk about the textile art you create; We have featured mostly “traditional” visual artists in the magazine and I wanted to expand to a medium outside of print or painting. What drew you to fabric and dye?
Both of my parents are textile artists so I very literally grew up in a household that depended on fabric and dye. So in a very simple sense, with colorfully patterned silk laying around on almost every surface, it was the easiest way for me to play as a child. I’d spend hours and hours cocooning myself up in these silks and tying them up in every which way. As a shy child, clothing myself seemed to be the most accessible way for me to find, explore, and express myself. Beyond accessibility to the proper materials, I was first fascinated with blending and gradating dyes—you see, it made me feel like a wizard. Honing this craft made me feel strangely powerful.
Geometric shapes reappear in your work, what about these shapes speak to you? What do they mean to you as an artist?
Honestly, I’m not sure. They simply feel good to me. I first started painting on fabric when I was in a time in my life when I didn’t believe that I could draw. I was held back by the thought that an artist was one that could draw well. But I started to feel anxious, like I couldn’t express what I wanted to or make work that reflected me just with gradating colors and pleating silk. So once I tried spontaneous painting with dye on raw silk, I didn’t judge myself, I let what wanted to flow out of me, flow. It was satisfying and playful and unpretentious. Exactly what I wanted to embody and put on my body.
Do you have a favorite color to work with?
No. I have always rejected the confines of “favorites”. Hate ‘em. BUT I love lots of color combinations a whole bunch. Especially ones that people told you clash. Like black and brown. And electric blue with a navy blue and black. Yum, give me that clashhhhh. Also fuck color wheels. Fuck confines. Do what pleases you.
I know you have been doing some large scale mural work, what has been your favorite project or series to work on. How is painting the side of a building different than hand painting fabrics.
Well, I’ve only had the pleasure to make one mural so far. So I guess I can concede my hard nose turn to favorites (there is room for good ol’ contradiction, right?!) and choose my favorite from the one and only. It doesn’t have a name, but it was derived from one of my textile patterns of colorful squares. I love it as a textile because when you wear it you feel like you are in a god damn cartoon! So I thought how lovely a building dressed up in it would be. Physically speaking it is a lot more difficult and time consuming to paint a building compared to fabric. But with lots of help and time, it is rewarding. I like that it brightens a once underwhelming structure and gives back to the community and passerby's with absolutely no cash exchange—the beauty of public art! I hope I have the opportunity to make more murals in the future.
You also have been designing clothes (that utilize your fabric) has this been challenging? Do you have formal training in clothes making or has this been a self-taught process.
I am a self-taught clothing maker; however, I have been sewing since I was 7. It surely has been challenging, but an exciting challenge where I am constantly learning, which is FUN, never boring and only sometimes frustrating. I count myself lucky because I am drawn to simple, free-form clothing. I tell you what though, its weirdly scary and intimidating in the beginning even if you know how to sew. A game changer was when my friend, Deb Ferrel, a local seamstress fluent in costume design/construction graciously gave me some of her time to discuss how I would approach making a garment. Once I had some direction, it felt more attainable. Little by little I started building up my patterns and having the confidence to modify them and even apply someone’s specific measurements to it for custom pieces. I still have a lot to learn and I am certainly not a tailor, but I can finally say that I can make some damn fine clothing.
Finally, what specific to this region inspires your work?
Ahhh, yess. My corner of the world. Well first off, I think it’s important to mention the palpable creative atmosphere I am lucky to find myself in. The artists who surround me are constantly working on original projects for their enjoyment. The caliber is high and the work feels like its being made at a prolific rate, which is inspiring and ripe for extensive trial and error—a necessity for gaining proficiency and personal expression. Now, this region, this place, this land, the home where my heart is most connected to physically and emotionally, inspires me undoubtedly. The music that fills these mountains and makes my feet and body move as well as the music that demands that I sit still and truly listen; the coziness of life mixed with the fiery colors of fall foliage; the twinge of nostalgia when I make a bouquet of dead dried wild flower stalks on the edge of a stark winter forest; the built up excitement for Spring’s verdant new growth that I was convinced would never come; and of course the overflowing delight of sweat and exhaustion, an accepted outcome and perpetual state of being when doing summer “right”; all of this imprints on my mind and begs me to interpret a mood in my limited and humble ways.