"Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark. 
In effect, the people who change our lives the most begin to 
sing to us while we are still in darkness. If we listen to 
their song, we will see the dawning of a new part of ourselves."

Rabindranth Tagore

Existential Intelligence is the sensitivity and capacity to engage questions about human existence – how we got here, whether we have a purpose, and whether there is meaning in Life. Existential intelligence embraces the exploration of aesthetics, philosophy, religion and values like beauty, truth, and goodness. A strong existential intelligence allows human beings to see their place in the big picture, be it in the classroom, community, world, or universe.

First proposed by Howard Gardner, existential intelligence is one of nine theorized intelligences and is considered to be amoral – that is, it and the other eight categories of human intelligence can be used either constructively or destructively.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Visiting Barbara Lee Smith

I’ve been on a week’s vacation prior to teaching at the Pacific Northwest Art School next week. I am lecturing on Tuesday night so if you are in the area, come by and visit with us. It’s free!

Barbara Lee Smith is one of the most influential artists in my field. (There’s a hard one to define – Surface Design? Textiles? Mixed Media? Gosh, when are we going to get past the need to Name?) The author of the groundbreaking Celebrating the Stitch, she was instrumental in guiding textile processes into new and uncharted territories. I had the great luck of collaborating with Barbara in 1997. Our exchanges – literally, as in real time mail - and figuratively, as artists, colleagues and friends – profoundly influenced my own development as an artist.

Barbara’s studio in Gig Harbor is a place of shadow and light, which is appropriate, since her work is all about shadow and light; color and nuance. She was working on new pieces for a one-person exhibition at the Gregg Museum in the fall, and she graciously invited me into her space while she was working. The photos tell it all. The importance of organization, the impact of being surrounded by the things we love, the exchanges that consume us as artists when we are engaged by both material and subject matter.

I was reminded that Barbara has been working with Lutradur for over twenty years. Only surprising because if popular advertising were to be believed, one might think Lutradur was just invented yesterday.

Which led me to two strands of thought and the message of this essay.

First, an acknowledgement of humility, and an encouragement to learn something about those artist folks who were working in the field long before some of us came along. I’ve been guilty of it. Witness your history. Find something out about it and be grateful. We so cavalierly assume we are the cutting edge, the new world, the Now. If you don’t know where you came from artistically, do a little Googling. We have a rich and fascinating recent past and it’s definitely worth exploring.

Second. Pick something and then stick with it. While I was in the studio I admired one of Barbara’s pieces and this is what she said. “I think I am finally getting somewhere.” That’s probably with at least five hundred completed works under her artist’s belt. Daunting yes, but anyone can do it. You just have to begin. And not swerve. I love silk Habotai and when I get home, I’m going back to it. I see there must be more to discover. I welcome the opportunity.

Thank you, Barbara.


  1. Ah, picking something and STICKING WITH IT...there's the rub. And, as art historian is another one of my hats, I really appreciate the nod in tha direction as well.

  2. A good friend and book maker Dan Essig told me last year, "If you think you are doing something original, you haven't done the research". I reminder my students of that each workshop - especially since I work in the relatively un-researched field of feltmaking.

  3. I understand "I think I am getting somewhere"--What's done is done and I can't improve that piece. It was the best I could do at the time on all fronts including design and technique, everything! Each new piece is better in some way and the current trees are miles better than the ones 7 years ago. I'm not there yet, but one of these days... Thank you for writing and thank Barbara too!

  4. i just tried to look up your lecture... is it at pacific northwest college of the arts on johnson in portland or?

  5. I realize that your stated reason for the blog is to teach but I startled me to find that that is what happened to me today. I did google Lutrador and found out that I will have to investigate this more.

  6. Your reference to lutradur reminded me of something--in grad school (2000-2003) I was a printmaker who ventured into the fibers department for some surface design classes. I was surrounded by students printing, painting and working with layering translucent fabrics. I played too. Later I immersed myself in Robert Rauschenberg's Retrospective book and discovered his Hoarfrost series done in the 70s. I went to my professor and asked if Rauschenberg was perhaps the father of the contemporary textile movement and she said could be, but no one would ever admit it. Thanks for the introduction to Smith and her work, and for your thoughts about witnessing history.