Artist Lena Kolb works as a weaver in her Bywater studio and also opened the New Orleans Weaving Studio as a way to teach weaving to the community. We had the opportunity to chat with Lena about her practice and New Orleans.
Where are you from?
I am from South Philly and have been living in New Orleans since 2008.
How did you become interested in weaving?
I was working at a school teaching young adults with developmental disabilities handwork (knitting, sewing, felting..stuff like that) and wanted to teach my students how to weave. On my commute to work I would always ride by a rug weaving shop Louisiana Loom Works in the French Quarter. I wanted to learn how to use a loom so I decide to contact the rug shop and propose some kind of work trade. Ronda, the owner of the shop, was so warm and excited about the work I was doing with my students she agreed to teach me. That was in the beginning of 2013. Ronda taught me how to thread a loom and weave rag rugs, and she helped me get a loom for the school and eventually one for myself. I have been working there ever since and now have my own studio and way too many looms.
What’s the interplay between a textile’s utility as an object versus as a piece of pure artistic expression?
As a weaver I started out focused on creating work that was utilitarian. As I explained above I learned to weave rugs, then when I got my own loom I began to experiment a little with tapestry but mostly was making scarfs and then fabric to make shirts out of. It was challenging making these kind of things at first but once I figured them out they began to feel repetitive. Their functionality only allowed me to go so far with my creativity and in some ways felt limiting. Then I kind of decided that I wanted to make things that were not utilitarian and just make things that I wanted to, that could look however I decided without any guidelines that are inherent in making something functional like a rug or a scarf. There is always a question of what makes something art. For textile artists this question seems to come up more, as there's this notion that somehow making paintings etc., is more artistic.
It’s interesting to see your production of a real world object with texture and size - can you speak to that some?
All I can say is that weaving makes everyday scenes look cool. It’s just like the vision of a photographer. They can take a photo and show us all the special things about a place or things that I may not have seen when I looked at it myself in real life.
Can you tell us about the New Orleans Weaving Studio?
New Orleans Weaving Studio is a group effort between myself and my good friend Phoebe Vlassis who I share my studio space with — we began teaching private weaving lessons and group workshops in October of 2017. I have a degree in education and have been a teacher all of my adult life, so beginning teaching weaving lessons was a natural progression for me. It has been really fun and very different from my previous teaching experiences because now I'm mostly working with adults.
What’s on the horizon?
I just got back to town from a super inspiring trip to Italy. So I am really excited to get back into my studio, I have all this incredible new inspiration to work from. I also have some weaving lessons set up and a bunch of personal work.
I'm going to be a part of a group show that focuses on textile artists at Brand Art Gallery in September and I will also have a piece in the Louisiana Contemporary show at the Ogden.