February 2018

by Cassie Stephens

Art Teacher

Johnson Elementary

Shana Kohnstamm

A couple of years ago, 2013 to be exact, I discovered the wonderful world of needle felting. If you aren’t familiar, it’s when you take wool roving, which is cleaned and combed wool that closely resembles cotton candy, and attach it to a fabric surface by stabbing it with a sharp tool. That’s right, you stab the wool. The needle felting tool used is not only razor sharp but also barbed, which helps to attach the roving to the fabric surface and further felt it. Think of it like collage but instead of adding glue to the back of one paper and sticking it to your masterpiece, the stabbing and forcing of fibers to the surface works as glue.

Trust me, after a long day, it’s just as cathartic as it sounds.

I have been needle felting sweaters, coats, shirts, you name it for quite some time, and I even fancy myself as a wee bit of an expert. I’ve taught several classes and pretend to know what I’m talking about. However, it wasn’t until I met the artist Shana Kohnstamm that I discovered just how much I have to learn and the endless possibilities of this craft.

I first met Shana about a year ago when I was interviewing the artist Doris Wasserman. Doris introduced us knowing that we both have a strong passion for fiber arts. I asked Shana if she’d be interested in my recording a video of her in her studio for my students and other artists and she happily agreed. Not too long after that, I visited her in her home studio in Nashville.

Going to the homes of artists is pretty much my most favorite thing ever. It’s like stepping into their inspiration board, their creative mind, and/or their beautiful thought process. Shana’s entire home was touched by her creativity: felted lamp shades, woven wall pieces, organic felted sculptures, some huge, some small. I must have done several 360-degree turns in every room, finding something new and amazing each time.

Shana’s work spoke to me on so many levels. First was her color palette. In her back yard, Shana dyes a lot of her wool, sometimes in long strands, which produces a beautiful tie-dye effect. The colors and textures of her pieces remind me of chalk pastel drawings: soft, subtle, and gorgeous. Second are her shapes. Shana’s pieces, from her jewelry to her sculpture, are fun, funky, and whimsical. Think Tim Burton meets Dr. Suess. They leave you tilting your head, smiling, and wanting to see more.

I was so excited when I left Shana’s home. She’d taught me so many new and amazing techniques that I cannot wait to share with my students, both young and old. And it left me with this thought: Just when you think you know something, you don’t. You’re just scratching the surface. With everything in life, there’s always so much you can learn if you are open to it. Thank you so much, Shana, for that lesson!

See more of Shana Kohnstamm’s work at www.shanakohnstamm.com.

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