Knitting It All Together
Although Irene Schechter, BFA ’22, came to SMFA at Tufts University identifying as a painter, she has spent most of her time exploring textile arts instead. “I haven’t picked up a paintbrush in a really long time now,” she admits. She first explored fiber arts through an introductory course on the topic taught by Samantha Fields, a multimedia artist and degree program faculty at SMFA.
Schechter’s great-grandmother was a painter and potter, and as a result, Schechter grew up with art all around her in New York City. Among other skills, her great-grandmother taught her how to knit as a child, their heads bent together in concentration over knitting needles and balls of colorful yarn.
During the pandemic she picked the hand skill back up again to have something busy and tactile to do with her mind and body during long spells at home, and then accidentally became dedicated to textile arts in the process.
“There’s an immediate connection to fibers,” Schechter says from her studio at SMFA. “You’re working with something that has a comforting feel and your brain makes an immediate connection of I’m wearing clothes. I know what this feels like.”
That connection and a desire to explore professional opportunities within the medium guided her search for a summer internship—a hunt that took her to The Textile Arts Center. The Brooklyn-based resource facility is “dedicated to raising awareness and understanding of textiles through creative educational programs for children and adults.”
She first heard about the non-profit from following Elena Kanagy-Loux, a fashion and textile designer with Mennonite roots who once designed costumes for Courtney Love and currently teaches at The Textile Arts Center.
After applying online and going for a virtual interview, Schechter was offered the role of Educational Intern last summer. The position was paid, full-time and in-person, a requirement that thrilled her because she would be “thrown back into the art world.”
Her primary responsibility was to help with the Textile Arts Center Summer Camp, a six-week program for school-aged children. She was assigned to interact with kids from ages five through eleven years old, a wide range of ages, learning styles, and experience levels. “Before camp, I created a syllabus and figured out the projects the kids would be doing. And then during the camp I did a lot of setting up, I did some teaching, and I helped as a counselor as needed,” she explains.
Each week of the camp featured a different themed project often based on local art exhibitions, as well opportunities for the campers to experiment with techniques like sewing, weaving, and dyeing.
What Schechter liked the most about her internship was getting to meet and share making skills with local New York City area artists in the process. “Each week would focus on a technique and a living, local artist. They would come in and speak to the kids, give a presentation, and then work alongside them.”
She was particularly struck by the inclusive, welcoming character of The Textile Arts Center and “the huge variety of classes, artist in residence program, and community feeling.” The positive experience solidified Schechter’s commitment to pursuing fiber arts after graduation. However, she also learned that working with young children wasn’t quite right for her personality and career goals long term. “I could see myself working with older middle school or high school aged kids in the future,” she says.
Back at SMFA for senior year, she was thrilled to again have access to her own studio space in the 230 Fenway building—a place where undergraduates can apply for dedicated studios each year after submitting a statement of purpose. Schechter has covered her studio walls with notes, ideas, and inspiration from others, such as multi-media artist Kiki Smith. “I think there’s something visceral about her work. I look at it and I get an immediate reaction,” Schechter explains. “I see my studio as a living sketchbook. It’s a place where ideas go.”
And one thread that weaves through everything she imagines and creates is a subversive pleasure in making viewers slightly uneasy. “I think art should make you uncomfortable, whether it’s that the subject matter is an uncomfortable thing to talk about, or you think to yourself ‘I don’t like what I’m looking at.’” For example, she’s currently finishing a ceramics course and learning wheel-throwing for the first time, hard at work on a tea set crawling with slugs.
Being encouraged to dive fearlessly into multiple mediums without the added pressure of grades is what Schechter has most appreciated about her SMFA education. Without this approach she would never have discovered her commitment to fibers, or the internship and the practical work experience it provided. “I don’t think you can grade art. I don’t think there’s such a thing as an A+ piece of art,” she says with conviction, already thinking about her next project in the back of her mind, fingers itching.
Lead Image: Alonso Nichols/Tufts University