Local artisans share the processes and inspirations behind their carefully crafted wares
by: Stephanie Maxwell
Cyndi Minister admits to an addiction: yarn. Having picked up knitting after having kids, Minister realized she could never find the colors and textures she was looking for in yarn. “When it’s commercially made, a machine makes it, so there’s not personality in it,” she says. After a couple years of sticking eight or nine yarns in one knitted piece to get the effect she wanted, she decided to try her hand at making her own yarn. “The yarn I make is really different. It’s got textures, and it’s full of stuff, thick and thin. It’s an art yarn.”
Now, Minister’s Facebook fans follow the journey from fluff to skein as Minister dyes and spins her fibers into technicolor textures for yarn and felted soaps.
Tell me about the different fibers that go into your yarn.
For the soap, I mainly use wool because it felts. When I make the yarn, I’ll use wool, alpaca, bamboo, silk — it just depends. Sometimes they’ll have the wool locks that come off of sheep. The alpaca I get from a local alpaca farm here in Conway, Sweet Clover Alpaca. I actually don’t have any of that right now. Anytime I’m spinning it, I get messages on Facebook and people buy it before I’m finished spinning it. I call it all-natural Arkansas alpaca. I get the wool through wholesale. Unfortunately, the sheep I like to use, the breed is called merino, and it’s too humid and hot for them to live here. A lot of people, when they think wool, they think itchy, but that’s why I like to use the merino. It’s very soft.
Your felted soaps are in more than 70 shops and in the U.S., Canada, Australia, England and China. How did you get into those other markets?
I sell a lot of my items on Etsy, and I market it wholesale and bulk. That's mostly the soaps. The yarn, I really don’t have as much time, fulfilling all the retail orders that we’re getting with all the soaps, so I rarely list my yarn. A lot of times people call dibs on them when I make it on Facebook. I’ve kind of been stocking up yarn because I’m going to the Arkansas Fiber Arts Extravaganza in September. I’m trying to hoard yarn so I have enough to sell.
Last year, The Twisted Purl won Arkansas Sourcelink’s Battle of the Brands against competition like Whole Hog Cafe and Mountain Valley Spring Water. How has social media affected how you’ve been able to turn your craft into a business?
It’s huge. Social media has been just absolutely amazing. What I do is so visual. I'm tapping into sharing that handmade journey with everybody and showing what I’m doing, showing the basket of fluff, and then showing how it goes from that to a carded bat, and then from that, turning it into the yarn.
What were you doing before you discovered a passion for yarn and fibers?
I worked for Bank of America as a personal banker. Then I had my kids and stayed at home. I wanted to find something to do to help supplement my husband’s income and really had no idea that this would take off the way that it has. I’m really excited about doing spinning classes and offering the ability for people who really want to make their own yarn but have no desire to actually physically make their own yarn on the wheel. I want to offer the opportunity to come here and pick out if they want sparkle or texture or whatever, then I can card it and turn it into yarn for them while they watch.
by: Emily Van Zandt
For the past year, tattoo artist David Steed has been translating his talents into a new medium. As owner of Substantial Goods, Steed crafts wallets, knife sheaths, aprons, eyeglass cases and more out of hand-stitched leather. Like so many good ideas, it all started by accident.
“I was riding my motorcycle over the river bridge, and the wallet I had flew out with a bunch of money in it,” Steed says. “So, I decided to make something I could put in my front pocket and went from there.”
How do you decide what you’re going to make?
Mostly, it’s that the s--- that I have is awful, so I should make something better. I wear glasses and sunglasses, so that led to the sunglasses case. When you ride motorcycles it’s a pain riding sitting on top of stuff, so you need the front pocket wallet. On a super tiny scale, it’s to edge out the cheap Chinese s---. You’re going to buy six of these in a lifetime, why not make one good.
Where do you source your materials?
I use a lot of leather from one of the few tanneries left in America. With that, I have to drive to Springfield, Missouri, to pick it up. I buy in bulk. I use Maine thread. I want to use as many U.S. raw materials as much as possible. People wonder why the economy is in the state it is, but you’re going to Walmart and not buying a single American-made product.
Why is buying American-made goods important to you?
When I started tattooing and working with my hands, it obviously become a lot more important to me because I depend on people’s interest in handmade artisan and craftsman goods. I have to survive from it. In that light, I can’t not practice what I preach. I mean, I can’t do it all the time, but when I can, I’m going to buy from somebody that I know.
How has your tattoo work influenced your work with leather?
I’ve got a better idea of how the hand tooling will look, and I know how well colors work together and things like that. I’ve also been doing an engraving technique that’s very similar to tattooing. I’ve only seen one other person doing anything like it. It’s supercool because it’s so different. But the leather is never something I could do as a full-time gig. The demand is just not there, and I would tear my hands up. One of the small wallets can take an hour or two, but I’m more interested in designs that are a little more complicated. They can take 10 or 15 hours.
by: Emily Van Zandt
Texas native Delita Martin knew she wanted to be an artist from the time she was in kindergarten. But she didn’t know exactly how she would go about it. While she first went to college with a drawing emphasis, observing professors working on a letterpress machine sparked an interest in printmaking, and soon she was enrolling for her master’s in printmaking at Purdue University.
“I didn’t have a plan B, so I’m pretty glad it turned out,” Martin says.
Explain the different facets of printmaking for people who aren't familiar.
There are four major areas: Lithography, where there are no raised or creviced surfaces. There’s relief, which is carving into a surface and printing from the surface. Letterpress is a form of relief printing. Etching, you’re printing beneath the surface by using acid to etch into copper or metal plates and fill those surfaces with ink. Then with silk screening, you’re using a fabric screen to pull the ink through.
What’s the appeal of printmaking for you?
I love relief and lithography. Growing up, my father and my grandfather and uncles were builders and did a lot of woodwork. That had an influence. I love the physicality of it. When you’re actually putting your entire body into the work, it’s another level of intimacy. It’s different than sitting there painting.
What’s a normal day like for you in the studio?
Typically, I get up at 6 a.m. and get my kids started getting ready. I head to the studio and start answering emails and returning phone calls. By 11 a.m., I’m actually physically in the work. It usually starts by preparing paper and laying out my inks. I don’t work from sketches, I print directly. If it doesn’t work, I don’t throw anything away. Sometimes, I’ll go back and pull old prints and cut out parts and sew it into a new print. I’m usually in the studio until 5 or 6 p.m. But if I’m really excited, I’ll go have dinner and then I’m back in the studio. It’s nice having the studio in the backyard because if [inspiration] hits me at 2 a.m., I can go out there.
Printmaking gives you the opportunity to make your art more accessible in the form of posters and other small products. Is that a consideration for you?
That’s very important to me. It’s very important to me to produce the highest quality of work that I can. I can’t produce something that doesn’t mean anything to me, and I’m not interested in the idea of mass production printing. It’s important for people to have access to quality work. I grew up taking art and I didn’t see imagery that looked like me. I didn’t even go to a museum until I was in college. So, giving that access to people is important to me. Having people be able to afford a poster or a note card is important. But I always keep the editions small.
by: Emily Van Zandt
Finding Ryan Sniegocki isn’t hard. Each weekday, the Little Rock native can be found at the potter’s wheel in Studio 4 of the Arkansas Arts Center, where he creates and teaches. Though he never thought he’d wind up teaching, Sniegocki is happy to be the person students turn to when their clay goes flying across the room.
What’s your schedule like at the Arts Center? Do you get much time for your own work?
I teach four classes a week, all adult classes. During the summertime there are kids’ art camps. A typical week is firing a kiln, teaching my classes with whatever other studio upkeep needs to be done. I get more than enough time to work on my own work. Sometimes too much time. I went from more sculptural and less utilitarian pots to more simple pots and focusing more on surface. I’ve been working with a really confusing glaze that I’m trying to lock now. But I’m moving back into sculptural now.
What’s the easiest way to have a ceramics fail?
Centering. Centering the pot. If they don’t stick the clay on the wheel too well, that’s when something goes flying across the room. In the beginner’s classes, the first night of class it usually happens a couple times. And also the wheel speed. Someone finally gets the pot up real tall and gets excited, and they forget that the foot has everything to do with it, and it goes from zero to 60 and it goes flying.
Are there enough opportunities for artists in Little Rock?
It could be better. But after growing up here, it’s quickly becoming a really great place with the Thea Festival and all the Arts Center does. There are lots of little galleries and private venues popping up to display your work, and it’s getting better really fast. I do the Thea Festival every year and the Arts Center sale every year. I’m starting a home studio, a basement spot. I’ve got my kiln and am a couple hundred dollars away from a wheel. With painting, you just get your paints and canvas and you’re set. You can paint in your bathroom if you have to, it doesn’t matter. With ceramics, some of the chemicals and equipment you’re working with, you can’t just do it anywhere. It makes a huge mess.
How important is the Arts Center to the arts community in Arkansas?
It’s underutilized. A lot of the other arts schools will charge by cubic foot for kiln space. At this arts center you pay for the clay, but it doesn’t matter how big it is. It allows people a lot more freedom. There was a student who recently made a 6- or 7-foot obelisk. It she had to pay for space in the kiln by the foot, she probably would have never gone that direction. It’s a great opportunity.