I interviewed Sarah, a poet crafter whose blog, Quince and Quire, is a lovely oasis of beauty, nature, and the handcrafted. Grab a cup of your favorite morning beverage and join me in learning more about this amazing mother of two.
Note: Readers will have a chance to win a handmade felt crown and three of Sarah’s painted leaves at the end of the interview!
JEAN: Sarah, first of all, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
SARAH: I am married and the mother of two young children, ages 2 and 5. I live in New York state in an old house with an old barn and enough acreage to offer room for exploration.
I have an MFA in poetry from the University of Iowa, where I also studied book arts. After grad school, I taught letterpress printing, calligraphy, and book history and design at a small liberal arts college before leaving my job to be home with my family.
JEAN: What sorts of things are you most inspired by?
SARAH: My husband and I have both been influenced by time we spent in North Africa; we live with the music, textiles and art of that region on a daily basis.
I am also attracted to the simple, clean approach that I see in Japanese design: the subdued colors and pure shape; the focus on craftsmanship. The concept of home, and what makes a home, is a lifelong obsession. Textiles are one key aspect of homemaking; my appetite for fabric ranges from homespun linen to velvet to bright cotton prints. When we moved into our current home, which is nearly 200 years old, I became fascinated with the old and beautiful things we found here.
We are all influenced and inspired by the outdoors, the world around us, the dirt beneath our feet: we are nothing, of course, without the earth and sky. How do you begin to understand your environment? By looking closely. My camera lens often sees more clearly than I do. My two exuberant children inspire me to bring these disparate interests together in a way that shapes their learning and informs their lives. I want craft to be a daily necessity; I want the shape of letters to be apparent as art; I want the weight of history to feel like a blanket at their feet; I want the urgency of peace to find its form in their creations. I want them to be rooted at home while investigating the traditions of faraway places.
JEAN: Wow! Yes, I want all that for my children, too, but couldn’t have said it so beautifully in a million years! I love your blog. Can you tell us what made you start blogging and what you get out of it?
SARAH: I began almost a year ago. It had been a few years since I’d left my teaching position, and I was feeling both uninspired and in need of a creative outlet. My poetry tends to be a serious pursuit, so much so that I needed to loosen up a bit. The blog began as a notebook of sorts, to show myself that if I focused, I could explore new ideas, have fun, and make art while spending time with my kids.
My note-to-self enterprise has grown, slowly but surely, over the past year. What was an unpublicized series of photos has become a reasonably coherent way of showing art, sharing craft ideas, and learning about what other people are doing. I am astonished and humbled by the creativity of other craft bloggers: every day I think, it’s all been done, and not by me! And then I realize that the point is to have a conversation with other like-minded people to have an artistic co-op of sorts, an online salon in which we admire and discuss our ideas and creations. I have been honored by and grateful for the comments that readers have offered me.
JEAN: Your blog name sounds wonderfully mysterious to me. How did you choose it?
SARAH: My maternal grandmother has a quince tree in her yard, and every year she transforms the golden, sour fruit into gleaming jars of quince jelly. She never wastes a single piece of fruit, ever. The quince has become both sentiment and symbol for me. It references the practical side of my interests, the desire to use what is at hand to make things of beauty and worth.
Quire is a word with many variant meanings, but it is at heart a term from bookmaking. It refers to a given number of sheets of parchment, vellum or paper; originally that number was four, folded to make eight leaves and sixteen pages. Quire is also an alternate spelling of choir, as in an architectural feature of a church. I like to have the echo of that meaning present as well and the quire part of my blog title is a gesture toward the bookish, intellectual, historic and, well, unanswerable side of my interests.
JEAN: Can you tell us about your outdoor art days?
SARAH: When I discovered your blog I was inspired by the toddler art group projects that you showed. I decided to do something similar outdoors. For the past two summers, I have invited friends with young kids to our house one morning a week for an art project. Some projects were more traditional explorations of art that involved painting, printing, collage, weaving and so forth. Others were specifically about being outside and using the materials we found in our yard to make art.
Outdoor art day gave me the chance to focus in a very intentional way on making art with my children. It also got us outside, which can be a more liberating and sometimes more challenging place to create art.
JEAN: What other sorts of artful opportunities do you help your kids have? How do you encourage their creativity?
SARAH: My daughter and son share an art table in our home, on which I have a few supplies always available: paper, crayons, colored pencils, scissors, and glue. I rotate other supplies, such as paints, oil pastels, and specialty papers. We collect bits of nature and bring them inside: walnuts, leaves, flowers and such; they become the basis for drawings and collages. My daughter often comes home from school and heads straight for the art table. She is at once inspired by her day and in need of some solitude; making art satisfies both impulses.
We take our kids to the local art museum, which has a wonderful and varied permanent collection and which offers art programs for families. At home we read beautiful illustrated books and discuss how the artist created the pictures. We go outside and pay attention to the seasons and the sensory gifts that each one offers, and we make art that reflects that.
The kids are blessed with art-loving grandparents. My father is a painter and illustrator; he and my daughter have an ongoing flying book in which they have a conversation through art. My mother sends exquisite dolls and doll clothes that she has created by hand. My mother-in-law makes costumes, clothing and heirlooms for the kids. My husband’s grandmother is a painter whose work hangs on our walls. Both of my grandmothers sewed, quilted, and crocheted.
Then there are my pages of calligraphy scribbles, my half-sewn projects, my knitting on the needles, my dance costumes from the pre-child era. My husband, scientist by trade, is also a musician and woodworker. In other words, the kids understand that in our family, art and craft matter.
JEAN: What are your favorite artful books for children?
SARAH: We have many artful books that are important in our household, but perhaps most important for us is the influence of two educational philosophies: Montessori and Waldorf. From Montessori we embrace the importance of providing a simple, beautiful home environment; of working with and learning through the hands; and valuing process over product. Waldorf inspires us with its emphasis on natural materials, seasonal awareness, and special family rituals. Both the Montessori and Waldorf traditions have been profound influences on our parenting and on our goals for a peaceful, tranquil and creative home life. (Note: Sarah also wrote a great post about her favorite books for children here.)
JEAN: Anything else you’d like to add?
SARAH: I am grateful for the opportunity to share my interests and influences. I am inspired on a daily basis by your blog, Jean, and by the work of the many talented women and men who want to make art and craft part of their daily life. Thank you!
Readers who leave a comment to this interview by Friday, October 30th at 12 midnight EST will be entered into a drawing for this autumnal felt crown and three hand-painted leaves — all made by Sarah! The crown is detailed with an acorn, oak leaves, walnut leaves and berries, and handmade from colorful pure wool felt. The three leaves are pressed maple, hand-embellished with white ink and gold gouache.