A Stray Goose No More, My Personal History as a Maker By Libby Ferrara
For those of you who know me well it will come as no surprise that I’ve been doing some thinking. As ideas bop about here and there upstairs a reoccurring thought keeps resurfacing about the relationship I have with my art practice and its subsequent relationship with the world beyond me—causing a realization to emerge. Though I have been making with similar design considerations and ideals since I first branded myself Stray Goose Studio as a college student in 2007 the perspective or “place” from which I make has shifted. This perhaps seems an insignificant or un-profound distinction but I think it’s actually a fairly weighty statement once it’s contextualized.
Back when I was a student of Metalsmithing & Jewelry Design at Maine College of Art my desire to make elegant functional objects was constantly challenged by the department’s then rigid stance that contemporary art in this field should be conceptually driven. I didn’t understand why drawing inspiration from wanting to improve practical forms in order to elevate their act of use and bring satisfaction and meaning back into modern life was not a qualified concept. Regardless of how I might re-frame this idea or present historical examples of its relevance in the field it continued to be a struggle. As a result I felt misunderstood, invalidated, astray and rebellious.
My art became a fight. I would prove my worth against what I considered to be a lot of pretentious bullshit, if that’s what it took, for the sake a simper, pure-er, more real life! It was both frustrating and exhausting to defend the work I felt so important to make at critique. Still, I persisted to construct for my thesis a set of personal belongings that would provide a sense of security, integrity and confidence with which to venture out into the world with. My associated research of the Arts and Crafts Movement and the Back-to-the-Land Movement of the 60’s and 70’s became my artistic heritage and identified the conflict: I was a Craftsman trapped in a Fine Art world.
After finally graduating in 2009 some of the bitterness started to seep out of me—no one was trying to derail me anymore—but I still found plenty of reasons to fight for my values. Navigating young adulthood in our consumerist culture is full of disappointment. Things I spent hard-earned money on broke easily or turned out to be unsustainably sourced or unethically manufactured beneath a guise of quality packaging. I felt cheated; so my striving continued. As a maker I would be different, counter culture, virtuous—a stray goose—who at this point was flapping across the country from the Northeast to far-flung Alaska for a summer.
The vastness of the landscape arrested me immediately—so big and so uninhabited by comparison. As I worked mediocre jobs to get established I didn’t notice the changes taking root in my outlook of the world because all of my spare time was gobbled up by the new activities of this new environment. Here everything was looser. A declared time, I discovered meant at least 15 minutes later, or in the off season could be askew by days. No one had expectations of me or my purpose in life. Also, my new circle of friends were recreationally driven to seek beauty in the surrounding mountain and ocean-scapes instead of in Art. In sharing their experiences I began to realize, in more that a philosophical way, my personal insignificance in the grand scheme of life on this planet.
I began to relax, unwind and accept that I couldn’t force my will on other people any more than I could make nature behave a certain way. The principle of the West Coast—go with the flow—made more sense and here and there I began to relinquish some control. “Where are you going to live this winter?” asks my mother, “I don’t know yet” I reply. “What will you do for work?” asks Dad, “Well, not sure, but something will come up” I assure him. “When are you coming home?” says my sister’s voice through the phone, “I think it might be a while… I really love it here but I miss you!”
Years passed quickly and while I never stopped making things the capitol “A” fully evaporated out of my art. Mostly I was occupied sea kayak guiding, camping, working random seasonal jobs, skiing and only occasionally would make something for myself to use. It wasn’t until after I began commercial fishing the summer of 2014 that I re-dedicated any substantial time to making again and only last winter that I set up for business and claimed on my taxes: Professional Artist, Owner of Stray Goose Studio.
Now, a year later and nearly 10 years after first naming myself for a lone, migratory bird, I am taking a conscious step back to consider this personal history and the origin of my brand. It seems that what was once an appropriate icon for my mission is perhaps no longer fitting. The place from which I create things now is not in conflict with my surroundings but defined by them. This place is not disqualifying my contribution but welcomes me as part of the community. I am not alone but have supporters who also desire quality and simplicity in their lives.
I find this both amazing and ironic. A decade ago I thought the only way to achieve these very things was to convince my viewers that my ideas and artwork had value. Ultimately it took an effort on my part; to slow down and decipher the ongoing relationship I have with my surroundings without trying to alter it. In doing this I’ve become aware of the potential of my art to speak for itself and the result is it attracts like-minded people—to me. Maybe it even has the ability to show people of other mindsets what being a consciously handmade thing is about.
I have a pretty day-dream that as my little trickle of objects converges with the giant river of the marketplace, along with the many other tributaries of many other like-minded craftsman, innovators and designers, that the mainstream is becoming more self aware too. I feel like there is more and more evidence of this, even at the grocery store where the variety of foods without questionable additives seem more available and increasingly household products are bio-degradable or compostable. The fact that marketing is trending towards transparency to promote products made as non-harmfully as possible indicates their perceived desirability. Perhaps the idea that humanity could choose to live more gracefully on this planet is gaining momentum.
How encouraging it is to see hopefulness and opportunity in place of daunting opposition! The gradual shift of my perspective has changed the way I perceive myself both as person and as an artist. While I no longer identify with the Stray Goose I once was this doesn’t feel like a death but a birth. I need a new name—a name that is evocative of this new place—but what word or phrase can summarize the feeling of having, in a way, arrived? Of being home, involved, understood? Of knowing that even though this world will continue to change and evolve that I will always be able to find my place in it? I’m sure there is an elegant solution to these questions but it hasn’t hit me yet. So, I’ll keep thinking, on this Tuesday morning, as the rain falls down on my bit of tin roof.
First, I would like to thank everyone who attended the Girdwood Christmas Bazaar and especially those who brought home a piece of Stray Goose Studio for themselves or a gift! Your support is greatly appreciated and I consider the sale a success thanks to you:)
Second, since another week has flown by bringing us all that much closer to Christmas, here are the details for Stray Goose Studio's Open Studio Hours:
This weekend, December 11th & 12th Open Hours: 10:00 am - 1:00 pm Next weekend, December 18th & 19th Open Hours: 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
The address is: 241 Higher Terrace here in Girdwood (see map)—feel free to park on the left and (carefully!) go down wooden steps to the lower tiny red cabin. You will be able to browse ready made items for sale as well as see the processes behind how they are made, ask questions and get more of my story as a maker. If you think you would like to place a custom order or customization request and have it made by Christmas the order deadline is Saturday the 19th (so long as you don't require shipping time, if you would like time to ship take that into consideration!)
In other news it is shaping up to be a great winter here in Girdwood! I am excited to have been getting out and enjoying the good weather and winter scenery. Yesterday was the first backcountry ski tour of my season and while I need to re-acquaint myself will how to ski powder (!!) it felt great to skin up a mountain again. Every year it becomes easier, the muscle memory surprisingly still there, and more fun. Always good to have a tired, happy dog as well! I will post some pictures soon, keep in touch!
Well, I have to say I am enjoying being self employed! My life for the past few weeks has consisted to getting out into the cold clear weather we have been having here, encouraging my legs to run, and preparing inventory for the upcoming Girdwood Christmas Bazaar where I will have a booth on December 5th. With the days being as short as they already are it feels like that's all there is time for... still, there is something comforting about the quiet, cozy way November is in Alaska. So soon true winter will hit, the snow will fall, the people who are all over the world soaking up sun-beams will return and life will accelerate towards the hyper-active outdoor lifestyle of a ski town. Till then I'm content making my wares and going for icy runs with my Finn dog, uninterrupted.
Here are a few shots of snow and ice as well as a few showing the process behind the new card cases I made the other morning. Check out the finnished product out at www.straygoosestudio.etsy.com! As always but especially with my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, approaching I want to thank those who have helped me get to this point where I can call myself a professional artist (at least in the winter!) full time. I could not be here without the support and encouragement from my friends and loving family!
Another snowfall and these trails will be xc skiable!
As of October 17th Stray Goose Studio has unpacked and launched into studio work with vigor and a deadline. With Christmas not far away I've been busily restocking my inventory for Sevigny Studio as well as to re-establish my online shop, hopefully to open in the next couple weeks. It feels good to re-make my studio space (especially since this time is better than ever!) and re-direct my mindset towards making. It was a very taxing work season fishing this summer which then rolled right into adventure travel time without so much as a pause. Always living life by the seat of my pants; I rented the space in which I now reside over the phone while visiting my sister in New York. Thankfully it all worked out! There is nothing better than after months of upheaval and uncertainty to have all my belonging in one place, under a dry roof, with a comfortable bed in the corner, a Finn dog nestled into the pillows and time to relax--literally since May 11th. Of course I couldn't really rest until everything was unpacked, organized and the gaps filled with things from thrift stores and Costco... Just having my own space and quiet is lovely, even inspiring. I want to go run. I want to sit at my freshly build jewelers bench and crank out earrings late into the night! Pictured here are a few peaks at what I have been up to in the last week as well as a few shots of my new little home. As always, feedback is appreciated and stay tuned for more!
Earrings made with salvaged twine, sterling silver and assorted beads
Same "steadfast" wallet with some new interior patterns. These are awaiting the last few finishing steps
For those of you following along it may be apparent that my pre-fishing season boat work continued seamlessly into the actual fishing season with barely a breath of down time... that by way of apology for my lack of presence here but until September 1st I am at the whim of my Captain and the behavior of the fish we seek! So far the fishing has been slow to start; we have been very busy as a crew however, getting the boat in order and working kinks out of our operation. Just a few little projects left, which is why I have time to account for that here, and then closures might be a little more relaxing (if nothing breaks and something always does but that's fishing). As for art, my First Friday opening at Sevigny Studio back in May went well. I sold three pieces the night of the event and Katie and Bill were excited about my work bring featured over the summer. Hopefuly it continues to sell, it would be pretty neat to come home from fishing and have sold out... maybe wishful but hey, worth shooting high. Just before I left all my new work in their hands I did photpgraph it for straygoosestudio.com but it's only now that I have posted it. Take a look; feedback is always appreciated! With that, I am off to the Fat Mermaid here in Valdez for the wood fired pizza and a beer. Will do my best to catch up again when possible and, fingers crossed, post pictures of some giant sets!