Weaving a Place for Textile Artists into the Waterloo Arts District
When the Cleveland Institute of Art moved last summer to the $75 million complex on Euclid Avenue it had been building for six years, it had to make hard choices, like downsizing its fiber program.
There was no place to put the equipment, including 17 floor looms.
But adjunct professor Jessica Pinsky had an idea that jived with the institute’s philosophy of field-based experiential learning.
“I proposed that we keep this incredible equipment together and we open a non-profit arts association
somewhere else in Cleveland.”
The perfect location
She found what she thinks is the perfect spot for art institute students and other artists to create fiber art, in Collinwood’s Waterloo Arts District.
“There are so many amazing arts districts in Cleveland. It’s part of why this city is so incredible. But I found that the energy on Waterloo was so contagious. I mean almost like a buzzing. There are so many artists who
are moving here, and so many artists who are coming to open businesses.”
Some might call the new look of this Collinwood neighborhood a weirdly woven fabric.
Art galleries, stained glass and design studios, indie record stores and a concert venue share the same sidewalk as sausage shops, a tattoo parlor, construction and industrial supply companies, and the Slovenian Workmen’s Home.
Affordable, walkable and historic
The housing and foreclosure crisis made it affordable for artists like Jessica Pinsky to move into the neighborhood. She loves its diversity.
“I also love that it’s walkable, and I love the history of this neighborhood.”
A lot of it is sad history. Like the 1908 fire at Lakeview Elementary that killed 172 children.
Collinwood has always been a hard-scrabble working-class neighborhood, but along Waterloo Road, the arts have been a catalyst for businesses like the Beachland Ballroom, Brick, a cooperative ceramics center, and now Praxis.
The 7,000-square foot space was originally a furniture store, then an indoor flea market, but since June it’s been a place for art.
Not for members only
So far 7 weavers have joined the co-op. With key cards, Pinsky says they can use the equipment whenever they want to.
“Fiber artists who are already familiar with these processes and equipment can pay a monthly fee, and then they have access to the space, up to 24-7 access with private space.”
But you don’t have to be a member to learn to use the equipment. Pinsky makes sure there’s always a loom with a weaving on it in the workshop’s picture window.
“So anyone can come off the street, sit down and try it out, and then over time we’ll have a collection of these community-made weavings.”
Why the name Praxis?
“It’s a Greek word. You can find some associations with the terms process and theory. I also like the way that it looks.”
When we visited last spring just before the grand opening, Pinsky was happily at work, winding a bobbin of thread.
Once she snaps the bobbin into a gadget that looks like a wooden shoe (it’s called a boat shuttle), she can weave the weft through the warp.
She plays the loom like an organ, pushing down repeatedly with one foot on something she calls a beater.
“There’s a real rhythm to it. It can become a very meditative, I think a very therapeutic process at times.”
"People are really craving making things from scratch with their hands in this very slow-paced analog way."
Weaving for the digital age
But not everything’s done the old-fashioned way. There are also computer-assisted looms.
“You’re still the one physically weaving, but the computer is telling the loom exactly which yarns to manipulate in order to make that cloth.”
Accomplished weavers can work here and display their art, and beginners can start to get the hang of it.
“In 6 hours you can come in and truly learn one process and leave with a piece of art or a piece of fabric.”
Among those learning the craft at Praxis are Patrick Henry Elementary School students and victims of domestic violence. That’s thanks to grants from the Gund and Kresge Foundations.
A craving for hands-on art
A lost art? Not the way Jessica Pinsky sees it.
“I think that actually in this really technological age that we're finding ourselves in, that people are really craving making things from scratch with their hands in this very slow-paced analog way. We’re seeing a lot of young people who are really interested.”
Pinsky’s hoping if the loom in Praxis Fiber Workshop’s picture window doesn’t draw them in, exhibitions will.
The next one, by Praxis Artist-in-Residence Royden Watson, opens Friday, February 5.