This June, textile designer and artist Marilyn Robert from Eugene, Oregon, came to PLAYA to “coax” hues from the plants of the Great Basin. As Marilyn says on her website, http://www.marilynrobert.com/, “Dyeing with natural dye is a feature of my work. The colors obtained from these dyes are beautiful and complex. This past year my focus with these dyes is ‘the neighborhood,’ the place where I live. I only need to walk out the door at home to find dyestuffs.”
In our ’hood (the PLAYA grounds and surroundings), Marilyn walked out the door of her cabin each day to explore the high desert and muddy lakebed. She could be seen wearing tall rubber boots, coming back with samples of plants that she then soaked, cooked, and squeezed to urge a marvelous range of colors into various fabrics.
Marilyn also arrived at PLAYA with a supply of natural indigo, a dye she often specializes in. Residents joined her in an outdoor workshop that produced all manner of designs and deep-blue fabrics. Many days after Marilyn’s departure, other residents carried on the indigo tradition—as evidenced by their blue-stained fingers.
Just after she returned home, Marilyn answered PLAYA’s questions about her time here, while the experience was still fresh in her mind. Her keen observations and rich exploration with the place highlight the importance of the natural environment to the PLAYA residency.
Special thanks and appreciation go to The Ford Family Foundation of Roseburg, Oregon, which gifted Marilyn an Oregon Visual Artist Mid-Career Residency Award during her stay.
- Marilyn, what led you to Playa?
I love spending time in southeastern Oregon and the high desert region. I’m drawn there for the bird migration and the geologic features. I’d also spoken with fellow artists who’d valued their residencies at PLAYA. The idea of working in a place like Playa took hold. It took two years for a plan to solidify, and then I applied.
- Did you come to work on a specific project? If so, did you make progress on it?
I planned a project informed by the place. One prominent feature of my textile work is dyeing fiber with plants. I wanted to discover the hues that I could coax from the plants of the Summer Lake region. To this end, I reviewed a plant list from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and worked with a consulting botanist, Nick Otting, to collect and identify plant species. My husband, Larry Koenigsberg, also helped with collections.
In my three-week residency, I worked with ten plant species. I brought wool, silk, and cotton prepared for natural dyeing. With each plant-dyed cloth specimen, I applied five modifiers so that each dyestuff (plant) produced 36 individual samples, plus another set of six for future trial, more than 400 cloth samples altogether. I brought six more plant species home to try.
I was pleased with my work, and that I met my goals. I began compiling a book of my PLAYA work. I had a documentation sheet for each plant, and mounted samples of the dyed fibers. I’ve only begun this process but plan to send a copy to PLAYA when I finish, and perhaps another dyer will see it there.
- How do you think the land and waterscapes here affected your work?
My work here was all about the landscape. I am more than curious to find color in plants. I think that, culturally, we need to find sustainable ways to do as much as we can. I know that in the art world there is interest in plant dyes, but I’m not sure how to go about effecting change in 21st century industry.
Looking out my cabin window toward the playa every morning put a smile on my face. The beach, the clouds, the birds all nurtured me, and I carry those memories.
- Describe a typical day at PLAYA.
Typically, I would start most days choosing which plants to work with. I’m used to working alone, but not in such a beautiful place. I could hang my samples on the back deck to dry and watch the birds busy themselves. One day I watched two swallows fighting over a large feather with which to line their nest. Back and forth between them went the feather until it fell to the ground. The swallows failed to notice.
I would usually take a break to eat lunch and read from one of the two dye books that I brought. Then I went back to dye work, cutting up plants, soaking them, cooking and straining the dyestuff, then dyeing the fiber. I was to bed early most days, and it wasn’t until the third or fourth day that I realized that I had been missing an amazing display of stars.
- What were some highlights for you?
The people! The other residents at PLAYA were a group with diverse artistic disciplines—interesting and friendly. Our scheduled, and nonscheduled, dinner gatherings were fun. The staff were very supportive of our efforts there. Oh, and the wind, a presence not to be underestimated.
Edge effects in ecological science are the “influences of border communities upon each other” (Brittanica.com). PLAYA alumni, friends, guests, and neighbors are invited to submit blog posts that explore the diverse influences experienced here or because of time spent with us—whether the effects are among disciplines, environments, relationships, or communities. Email PLAYA’s Executive Director to join this conversation.