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.