DNA and papier mache: Science and trauma inspire Fafnir Adamites

Last modified: 2/5/2016 6:01:59 PM

On most days, fiber artist Fafnir Adamites is in her Turners Falls home-studio folding paper, cutting paper, and affixing wool and paper together.

When she isn’t kneading unspun wool under hot, soapy water to make felt fabric, she is hustling to make ends meet and share her minimalist designs with the world.

She works in her Victorian house on Central Street in Turners Falls to create one-of-a-kind vessels, wall hangings and sculptures out of unruly fibers. She converted the master bedroom into a studio, and she and her husband sleep in what used to be the dining room. Both their lives are entangled in art.

The studio is where she starts her day at 8 a.m., it’s where she orders mulberry paper in bulk online, investigates new materials and writes press releases for upcoming shows.

“There is so much that goes into it before you even put your hands on what is going to be the finished piece,” says Adamites. “It’s a process of trying to keep a lot of balls in the air and not getting bogged down by the administrative stuff that lets you keep working as an artist.”

Her workspace is jam-packed with supplies, and she’s the first to admit that she is quickly outgrowing the space. The sculpture that currently occupies much of the room looks like a black, 5-foot-wide dinosaur eggshell. The sculpture took roughly 30 hours to construct, and like much of Adamites’ work, it is a meditation on, and a visual representation of, trauma.

“The theory that anxieties and traumas are embedded in a person’s DNA and are then passed down to the next generation is a major motivation in my artwork,” she said. “Using repetitious processes such as felt-making allows me to physically engage with and meditate on the concepts I am working with. Material exploration is the starting point for all of my work and plays a key role in building the conceptual backing of each piece.”

The egg-like sculpture is one of three papier mache vessels that will make an appearance at Adamites’ upcoming show “Becoming Unstuck,” which opens on Friday, Jan. 15. in the Geissler Gallery at the Stoneleigh-Burnham School. There will be a gallery talk at 3 p.m. A reception will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Both the gallery talk and reception are free and open to the public. The exhibition runs until Feb. 17.

“The work, for me, is about dislodging things in my own life for the better,” says Adamites. “The process is about repeating and going over something, again and again.”

She says it’s an artistic process that is still evolving as she continues to read and research.

Adamites grew up in Florence, graduated with a bachelor’s degree from UMass in feminist theory and photography, and recently returned to the area after completing a two-year MFA program in fiber and material studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “Becoming Unstuck,” is her first show since returning to western Massachusetts.

She describes her work as organic and open-ended. It’s a process that starts with pondering materials. The fabric pieces begin as a formless mass, then quickly take shape. “I like the way that the pile becomes one,” she says. “Maybe they are not that strong on their own, but when (the fibers) come to together they are strong.”

Her interest in fibers started with sculptural knitting, evolved into felt-making, and also led to some dabbling in collage.

“The common thread between felt-making and papermaking is that they are both chaos structures,” she said. Each material is made up of tiny particles that are smashed together to form a whole.

To help fund her fiber artwork endeavors she has a day job at the special collections and university archives of the W.E.B. Du Bois Library at UMass, where she digitizes historical documents.

“Rarely are there expectations that an artist will get paid for their time,” she said. Part of her routine is researching grants to fund her art. Since returning to the area, she has received grants from both the Northampton Arts Council and Easthampton City Arts, organizations that support community arts projects.

Sometimes, she reaches out to local businesses for support. The Turners Falls paper mill Paperlogic donated an 8-foot-long roll of black paper for her upcoming projects. “You have to be creative with who you reach out to,” Adamites said. She called the mill and said, “Hey, I am a local artist. I work with paper, you make paper, maybe we can work together.”

Connecting with local businesses is just one way she navigates life as an artist. Starting this spring, Adamites will teach adult, intensive felt-making classes at Snow Farm, a nonprofit craft and fine art center, in Williamsburg. In August she will host a “Fiber Boot Camp” at the center designed for art teachers who want to learn new techniques to teach in their classes.

Greenfield Community College is also showing Adamites’ work from Jan. 27 through Feb. 23.

To learn more about the fabric artist Fafnir Adamites and to view a full schedule of gallery showings, visit: fafniradamites.com/home.html

Lisa Spear is a staff writer at The Recorder. She can be reached at 413-772-0261, ext. 280 or lspear@recorder.com.

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