Lynden event will honor fiber artist Mary Ann Drake

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 10, 2014 

I received a call from Bellingham resident George Drake, who wanted me to know about a special (and touching) event honoring his wife, Mary Ann Drake, beginning Thursday, June 12, and running through Saturday, June 14, at the Jansen Art Center in Lynden. Here's some of what he said in an email to me:

After about 40 years of developing her skills as a spinner, weaver, knitter and winner of many awards for her fiber arts at the Northwest Washington Fair and beyond, Mary Ann Drake (the M.A.D. Hatter) is calling it quits.

At age 84, having suffered a broken neck, loss of an eye and other ailments, she is putting aside her passion and love for the fiber arts. She can no longer spin, weave or knit.

On Thursday, the Jansen Art Center will host a three-day fiber sale of Mary Ann's "stash" and offer demonstrations of spinning and weaving in her honor.

Mary Ann had always been a knitter, but only on moving to Whatcom County did Mary Ann begin her love for spinning and weaving in the early 1970s.

Early on she became interested in natural dyes and became one of the local experts on lichen-dying and other native materials used for dying the wool used in weaving and spinning. She became an expert on locating the umblicaria lichen that grew ever so slowly on granite rocks at high altitudes, which she would put in a small bottle with ammonia and place it in the kitchen window for four to six months, shaking it every day until it was ready to be used to produce one of the most vibrant purple dyes imaginable.

She is best known for her hand-spun, hand-knit hats, which she designed herself. Most popular were the berets. Mary Ann used exotic fibers in her creations, such as dog hair, deer hair, angora, silk, mohair, camel, and many varieties of wool.

Over the years she knit and sold more than 1,200 hats. She formed a small cooperative of like-minded fiber artists and from the early days of the Bellingham Farmers Market she had a booth there. Mary Ann belonged to several fiber arts groups in Bellingham and often took her turn minding the display at the annual Northwest Washington Fair, where she often took home top prizes for her creations.

On her travels to foreign nations, mostly in Latin America, she would seek out local fiber artists and got to know their techniques for dying their fibers and their weaving and spinning skills. In southern Mexico, she visited the agricultural research stations that were exploring ways to produce the cactus on which the cochinea insects survived. In the high mountains of Peru she visited the fiber artists of Ayacucho and Cuzco and purchased dye material collected in the wild by the natives of those provinces.

On trips to Oaxaca and San Christobal de las Casas, Mexico she would meet with local artisans and observe their techniques for combing the wool, spinning it, often with an ancient drop-spindle, and then preparing it for the loom. Many times this was a back-strap loom where the natives were using techniques that were hundreds of years old.

In the villages of Guatemala, Mary Ann was in her glory talking with the native weavers and studying their intricate patterns. Over time she amassed a collection of huipiles (women's blouses) created by the artisans of the Mayan communities in southern Mexico and Guatemala, some of which took the artisan more than nine months to create and currently sell for more than a $1,000, if you can find one. In 2010, she donated that entire collection of Mayan textiles to the Latin American Cultural Center and Museum in Seoul, Korea, the only such museum featuring the arts and culture of Latin America in Asia. She wanted her collection to be of use in introducing the arts of the native populations of Latin America to other nations of the world.

When visiting Japan with the Bellingham Sister City program, she spent time with the artisans who were experts in indigo dying. They, in turn, were surprised to meet an American tourist so knowledgeable of their craft.

Much of Mary Ann's stash of raw fibers has already been donated to the fiber arts program at Western Washington University. What is being offered for sale at the Jansen Art Center are the more refined elements of her collection of material for spinning, weaving and knitting, including many of the tools she used in that process.

Mary Ann, the M.A.D. Hatter, will attend the opening of the "De-Stash Fiber Sale and Demonstrations" on Thursday. All spinners, weavers, fiber artists and friends are invited to attend and celebrate a life dedicated to preserving and promoting the fiber arts.

CHAMBER MUSIC FESTIVAL AT OLD CITY HALL

I talked with Bellingham pianist Victoria Sabo, who is helping to coordinate a weekend of collaborative chamber music.

Bellingham House Concerts (founded by Sabo and her husband, pianist Dan Sabo) and The Bellingham Chamber Music Society are collaborating with The Amadeus Project for a "Celebrate Chamber Music" weekend festival, Friday through Sunday, June 13-15, at Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall building, in the Rotunda Room, 121 Prospect St.

Tickets for the concert on Friday and Saturday are available at Piper Music and Village Books. Sunday's concert is free.

A family-friendly concert by Bellingham Chamber Music Society at 6 p.m. Friday, June 13, will feature music for winds and strings, including "Animal Ditties" by Anthony Plog. Children are invited to explore the instrument petting zoo, which begins after the concert. Performers are Lisa McCarthy, flute; Jennifer Weeks, oboe; Erika Block, clarinet; Robin Stangland; French horn; Pat Nelson, bassoon; and Leslie Johnson; violin/viola. Tickets are $12 adults, students get in free.

"Strings and Piano" is at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 14, presented by Bellingham House Concerts. Seattle string players Artur Girsky, Natasha Bazhanov, Leslie Johnson and Rowena Hammill will perform a Mendelssohn string quartet and Edward Elgar's Piano Quintet, in which they will be joined by Bellingham pianist Dan Sabo. Tickets are $20 adults, $5 students.

The final concert, "Two Great Trios," is at 3 p.m., Sunday, June 15. Violinist Artur Girsky and cellist Rowena Hammill will be joined by Bellingham pianists Jeffrey Gilliam, of Western Washington University, playing Brahms' "C-Major Trio," and Dan Sabo will perform Schubert's "Late Trio in E flat."

Details: bellinghamhouseconcerts.com, bellinghamchambermusic.org, theamadeusproject.org.

DEADLINE NEAR FOR SUNNYLAND STOMP

Last chance for artists in Bellingham's Sunnyland neighborhood who want to participate in the annual Sunnyland Stomp on July 12. The community event features local art, music, food, chicken races and more in a free, all-day, self-guided tour.

The stomp is organized by Alice Clark. Registration forms are due Monday, June 15. Details: sunnylandstomp.com.

Behind the Scenes focuses on the people who make the arts and entertainment world of Whatcom County happen. It appears in Take Five, The Bellingham Herald's entertainment section, each Thursday. Margaret Bikman is the Entertainment News Coordinator at The Bellingham Herald. Contact her at margaret.bikman@bellinghamherald.com or 360-715-2273.

What: M.A.D. Hatter De-Stash

When: 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 12-14.

Where: Jansen Art Center, 321 Front St., Lynden.

Details: jansenartcenter.org.

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