Mercer offers a wide range of courses, but there is no class like the Fiber Arts and Culture class offered in the Women and Gender Studies (WGS) department.
Students on the course gain hands-on experience and skills such as knitting, crocheting, spinning and yarn dyeing, as well as knowledge of the historical context of the practice. Currently, students in the class are making items to give to newborns and their families.
Senior Faith Reagin is currently enrolled in the course.
“I’ve wanted to take this course since my freshman year when I first heard about it,” Reagin said. “I’m an artist and I’m really driven by exploring materials, so I wanted to take the course to develop that on my own.”
The course explores the relationship between gender and fiber arts, which is how the class found its way into the WGS department
Read more: Women’s and Gender Studies students carry on longstanding traditions in the Textile Arts and Culture course
“Fiber arts are within the sphere of domestic arts, which relegates these arts to the realm of women’s work,” said teacher Virginia Young. “Most importantly, fiber arts throughout history and across cultures give us insight into the role of women, men and children in diverse cultures, while allowing us to consider the critical role of fibers and fabrics in our history and in our daily life. .”
Years ago, Young and biology professor Linda Hensel submitted a proposal requesting that the course be included in the Creative Expression block of Mercer’s general education curriculum. They ran into opposition.
“Notably, some faculty members didn’t think scientists should be teaching a course in the ‘art’ block,” Young said. “Also, some didn’t think fiber arts should be included because it’s traditionally considered craftsmanship rather than art.”
It is, in fact, a subject of discussion in the course.
Junior Rosie Maino is currently the teacher’s assistant for the fiber arts class.
“I really think there are elements of creativity in the classroom, and I think if you just heard it’s fiber arts, you might not recognize it,” said Maino. “I think we tend to think of fiber arts as a craft, which is kind of ironic because in the classroom we learn how fiber arts are often kind of diminished and pushed aside in considering them as a craft. Yet there are many examples of textile arts that are fine arts.”
It’s an element of the class that relates directly to women’s and gender studies, according to Young.
“The focus is on women’s work, how it has been valued or not over time,” Young told The Cluster in 2019. “It’s not a valued type of art. And that’s because it’s largely women’s work.”
Reagin said she considers fiber arts to be art.
“I think the distinction between ‘fine arts’ and ‘crafts’ is really stupid, because it’s really just a division created and perpetuated by a group of old white people who wanted to feel superior,” said said Reagin. “I consider all creative activity as art, and anyone who engages in it as an artist.”
Art history professor Erin McClenathan shared a similar sentiment.
“There are great art history and visual studies scholarships that bring art and craft together, refusing what I see as a false binary,” McClenathan said. “But we have a lot of work ahead of us.”
According to Mercer’s catalog, the Creative Expressions section of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ gen ed curriculum aims to help students “develop aesthetic sensibilities, personal creativity, and/or the ability to critically analyze and articulate meaning. [through the] the study or creation of artistic works.
Eligible options for this achievement include courses in art, English, philosophy, drama, and music.
“What I can say is that there are other changes being made to the area of creative expression in general education,” McClenathan said. “And that conversation involves evaluating which courses are the best fit.”
Reagin said she thought Fiber Arts would be a good fit for the Creative Expressions requirement.
“I really think Fiber Arts should count as a Creative Expressions course because it’s a really hands-on learning experience and you’ll learn that new skill that you’ll always have,” Reagin said. “I think being creative just means making things, and making clothes or fabrics is just as valid as making drawings or paintings.”
Although Young said she plans to resubmit the proposal, she is happy with the current status of the class.
“Students taking the course are students who really want to be there, not because it meets some general requirement,” Young said. “They want to learn more about fiber arts and learn some of the techniques that make up fiber arts.
This was the case for Maino, who took the course in 2019.
“I kind of signed up because it looked cool,” Maino said. “I had done weaving on my own for an art project in high school and discovered that I really liked it and already knew how to crochet, so I thought learning fiber arts as a that class would be really interesting.”
Samantha Homcy ’23 is a junior at Mercer majoring in journalism and criminal justice. She has worked at The Cluster since her first year and served as co-manager of social media during the spring semester of 2021. She is currently an internship intern at WMAZ-TV. In her spare time, she enjoys music, community service, watching television, and finding new ways to get involved on the Mercer campus.