My Story

Mc Dowell News, April 2012

Artist of the month:

Rita de Maintenon, Heirloom Treasures Fiber Arts:

Fiber DayMy story is not so different from many artists I have met over the years – I learned my art by default. Being raised in Germany just after WWII required my strict mother and grandmother to keep me busy indoors; the rubble the war left behind was not a safe environment to play in. So, this little girl learned to knit, crochet, embroider and sew at a very early age. Precision and accuracy became my yardstick and I learned more and more interesting details about regional fiber arts while traveling all over Europe with my family.

As a young bride in Texas I rejected any notion of hand-crafted wearables until I realized that there was no guarantee of owning a one of a kind item unless I designed and created it myself. My favorite past time during the early seventies was to design and sew Square and Round Dance dresses and crochet capes to match. Broomstick and Hairpin lace was still seen occasionally, so just to be different, I resorted to combining the two techniques in a singular piece. I also revived my memories of Tunisian lace, often expressed in mod color combinations. Friends and family were gifted with everything from baby sweaters to afghan/quilt combinations with precise mathematical components, such as the number of stitches equaling the number of days a couple was married and the rows of blocks or stripes representing the number of children or grandchildren. Always a labor of love, I remembered some of grandmother’s rules and disregarded many others. I seldom used patterns but watched the rules of basic design and enjoyed the creativity of finishing touches. The seeds for Heirloom Treasures were planted.

A move to Florida brought more Special Education work, a friendly divorce and a few years of finding myself, which included more fiber fun. Some years later I met my perfect mate and we worked a business together while he counseled and I taught. We worked hard but played a bit at boating and flying as well.  When it came time for him to retire we traveled the world first and then settled down in Western North Carolina. A beautiful log house was built in Franklin and I started back to work at Southwestern Community College in Adult Education and the Business Training Center. GED and Adult High School became my passion and I worked at the Macon Campus for 17 years. My teaching job left enough time to continue with my fiber musings and as retirement came to mind so came the desire to be a full-time working fiber artist and designer. The seeds for Heirloom Treasures were still dormant.

In 2001 my fairy tale life came to an end when my husband died unexpectedly and my talent for precision handiwork became a therapeutic ally that transformed my grief into hope. I had a choice of going into a deep depression or pulling myself up by the bootstraps and find purpose in life and my future. A friend invited me to a small neighborhood arts and crafts show. To my surprise I enjoyed the experience and sold several items. It was a healing experience and I felt renewed energy. I was also inspired by a mysterious package we found in my friend’s attic – it held great treasures, such as an old Irish crochet collar, doilies, bordered and embroidered handkerchiefs and some funny looking tools that turned out to be her grandmother’s hairpin lace tool and a pair of size 50 wooden knitting needles. She gifted me the mystery box and a new inspiration was born – to re-visit the art of hairpin lace and to use the knitting needles as a broomstick tool, which her grandmother had done, as proven by a broomstick wrap in the bottom of the box. This entire kaleidoscope of treasures led me back to some of the old-fashioned techniques I glossed over as a child in favor of easier to do projects. So I went in search of ideas to return to the heritage techniques and ways to use and incorporate them in my more contemporary designs and possibly combine more then one technique in any given designer piece. Fiber is the perfect medium for my creative urges – I work intuitively.  The seeds for Heirloom Treasures began to sprout.

Since I was raised that only the best will do and perfection is the only acceptable work ethic I decided to challenge myself and applied for membership in the Southern Highland Craft Guild. In 2004 my sample work for the jury process was the “Royal Baby Welcome Sampler”, a Moses basket lined with a crochet lace border cloth held my first designer original thread lace Christening gown with matching booties and bonnet, a Victorian layette and some Victorian inspired toys, blocks and balls. To my delight I was welcomed to the Guild and have been active as a demonstrator and participant in Fiber Day and Heritage weekend ever since. I was invited to serve on the Educational Committee this coming year and hope to continue in support of any of our heritage arts and crafts at the Guild and any other possible venue. The teacher in me enjoys teaching classes and workshops at every level but especially in my beloved heritage techniques in contemporary application. I love to light the creative spark in other fiber enthusiasts!  The artist in me enjoys the freedom to use those skills in unusual combinations and applications, the “make your own rules and have fun as you go” motto rules in my studio! I often use unexpected materials for an unusual effect, the thread or yarn dictate the design and often the design choses me. I start with an idea and often something different emerges. The reward of following the work’s guidance is the opportunity to create surprising finishing touches and embellishments to complete the vision of the intended project. I love the outdoors and the sights and colors of nature inspire me – I will not live long enough to bring expression to all the ideas floating in my head. Heirloom Treasures is now in full bloom.

A_RitaLibSmileAfter retiring in 2007 I sold my log home and moved to a town house in Fletcher in 2009. It felt right to be close to my beloved Asheville, the Guild activities and teaching commitments. I also connected with a wonderful, artistic spouse and we enjoy our creative retirement together. Creativity brings joy into the lives of all it touches.

“I do what I love and I love what I do”