Rachel Nicholson is a felt artist who has worked in felt for 20 years. She is a graduate of Meredith College, Raleigh, N.C. with a B.A. in Studio Art. She has studied at Penland Craft School, Arrowmont Craft School, Arts Student League in Washington, D.C. and John C. Campbell Folk School, where she taught surface design in March 2008 and will teach sculpture and mask making February 2010. She is a member of the Carolina Designer Craftsmen, Piedmont Craftsmen and Artspace Artist Association. Her three dimensional teapot is part of the Teapot Museum Collection, donated by Gloria and Sonny Kamm, to establish 10,000 teapots for a new teapot museum in North Carolina. Rachel does a three week residency at Meredith College each summer for visiting students from Taiwan. This program is part of the Meredith College Global Education Initiative. She also has work owned by Park Center, Meredith College, Raleigh, N.C., North Wake Medical Hospital, Bedford Building at Meredith College, Eye Care Assoc., Raleigh, North Carolina, and State Farm Insurance. Her work is in Private collections in the U.S., Europe and Asia.
As a felt artist, I work experimentally to develop new methods. I enjoy the risk involved with pioneering new techniques and the problem solving one must do to produce a desired result. I am challenged to create felt works that fit within our contemporary environment and venture beyond the strong ethnic heritage that often accompanies this medium. Each piece is developed by intuitively responding to color, texture, and the many organic forms within nature. My goal in working exclusively in the felt medium is to enlighten and promote public awareness of this beautiful art form.
A few words about felt:
In making felt I experiment primarily with two methods consisting of the traditional wet technique dating to prehistoric times and a dry method which has evolved in the twentieth century. The following is a brief description of each method:
Wet felt is produced by placing layers of wool fleece in alternate directions and covering it to prevent the fibers shifting. Add hot water and soap and begin rubbing and beating until the wool fibers mat together. After a significant amount of time rubbing and beating in the hot water, the fleece begins to emerge as a piece of wool fabric. I am fascinated by this natural fiber which can magically make itself into a piece of cloth or emerge as a free standing sculpture form.
Because the process is determined by the innate qualities of the wool fiber, it is difficult to control the finished image. I work with a palette of many fleece colors; mixing and blending much like a painter. I needle some of the graphic shapes in the design so that the fibers maintain their position during the felting process. In addition to the layered fleece, in some instances, prefelted pieces or commercial fabrics are embedded in the surface as the fibers begin to connect and mat together. The wall reliefs are molded over an armature of hardware cloth and polyester batting.
Dry felting or needle felt is the process by which one uses a needle to form loose fibers into solid form. A needle is punched into the loose fleece thousands of times compacting and connecting the fibers until the mass becomes solid. This process is a derivative of the large commercial needle punch machines which produce commercial felt. This new method of felting excites me and by needling only one punch at a time I can control both the color and form of the finished art piece.