Artists on Coping: Elin Noble

During the coronavirus pandemic, Art Spiel is reaching out to artists to learn how they are coping.

Working in the studio, March 2020. Photo by Lasse Antonsen

Elin Noble is a nationally and internationally known textile artist and dyer, living in New Bedford Massachusetts. She has spent more than 30 years investigating traditional and contemporary dye techniques, focusing in particular on Japanese itajime shibori (clamp-dye resist). She has lectured and conducted workshops in North America and internationally, most recently in the Netherlands, Hungary, and Japan. Elin has been included in numerous group exhibitions and has had one-person exhibitions at the Schweinfurth Art Center, New York; New Bedford Art Museum, Massachusetts; The Textile Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Visions Art Museum, California; and the La Conner Quilt and Textile Museum, Washington.

AS: How are you coping?

EN: Today is April 15, 2020. I live in Massachusetts and we are reaching the height of the infections in the state. Like so many others, my husband and I wear masks whenever we go outside and wash our hands dozens of times every day. Thankfully I have a daily meditation practice, but for some reason my daily at-home yoga practice has been harder to continue. In terms of community, I have found solace in making masks for friends and family. I also find it mandatory to laugh every day.

Korean bojagi inspired garment, 2020. Silk organza dyed with apples, apple leaves and bark. The garment was scheduled to be shown in the 2020 Bojagi Forum in Seoul, South Korea in May, which was cancelled. Photo by Lasse Antonsen

AS: Has your routine changed?

EN: Yes and no. Yes, because I am distracted and sometimes find it difficult to concentrate and no, because like most artists I work alone, and can still work. My husband, Lasse Antonsen, and I share a studio space about one mile from our home. We spend the mornings at home and by noon we are in the studio until about 6pm. We have a body of work we are designing and making for an exhibition this fall at The Narrows Center for the Arts, in Fall River, Massachusetts. This focus has been helpful to keep our minds and hands busy, so that we don’t check The New York Times and France 24, or other sources for Covid-19 information. At night after dinner, we are streaming more programs than we usually would, and sometimes binge watch a series. We keep up with friends via FaceTime and zoom, and every Friday night we FaceTime a cocktail hour(s) with a group of friends.

What has also changed is that we usually travel extensively for teaching, exhibiting, and lecturing, and we have cancelled our trips to Asia and Europe for the remainder of this year.

Vox Stellarum installed at The Art Gallery at Western Wyoming Community College, 2019, dyed silk organza. Photo by Lasse Antonsen

AS: Can you describe some of your feelings about all this?

EN: Each new day seems to blend into the previous day, and I am numb from the gravity of the situation. There is a pervasive sadness and grieving that I frequently wake up with. On the other hand, I feel grateful for the uninterrupted studio time and for FaceTime and Zoom to connect with family and friends. We are in touch and checking in with more of our friends around the world than we might have otherwise been. We are finding this very satisfying and comforting.

Vox Stellarum installed at the Fiber Art Fair, Seoul, South Korea, 2019, dyed silk organza. Photo by Lasse Antonsen

AS: What matters most right now?

EN: That we stay connected to friends and family, that we check in on our neighbors, get to the studio, sleep enough, eat well, and stay safe. Sounds so simple but is complicated.

AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?

Fugitive Pieces 17, whole cloth quilt, hand dyed cotton and silk and cotton threads. In the collection of the Quilt and Textile Museum, Lincoln, NE, 2016. Photo the artist.

EN: I am trying to be philosophical, but I am bewildered and scared. I also feel that there is possibly a new opportunity for all of us , eventually. We have two exhibitions scheduled for this fall and do not know if they will happen or happen later. While the unknown is uncomfortable, the unknown tends to be what artists thrive on and embrace. The way forward will not be the same road we have been on, but hopefully one that we choose and one that nourishes us emotionally, physically, and artistically.

View from the studio window, looking east over the Joseph Abboud manufacturing plant towards the Acushnet River. Working late, the world eerily quiet.