CASE STUDY: Amy Meissner – Seeding Repair: Fostering a Northern Repair Culture

This case study explores a participatory textile making project by Amy Meissner. To see more case studies or find out how to contribute one yourself, click here.

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Left to right: Bodil Kjelstrup and Amy Meissner with mending workshop participants. Photo: Joshua Corbett, 2019.

Title of case study project or workshop

Seeding Repair: Fostering a Northern Repair Culture

Name(s) of practitioner(s) and institution/organisation, if any

Amy Meissner, artist

Keren Lowell, artist (June 2019-Nov 2019)

Anchorage Museum’s SEED Lab (Solutions through Energy, Equity and Design), a recipient of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge in partnership with the Municipality of Anchorage to support creative responses to climate change and envision sustainable futures for Anchorage and the globe.

Bodil Kjelstrup, SEED Lab Curator

Context for project

These artist-led mending workshops are a public engagement and participatory skill sharing project. Free to the community, these sessions provide a gathering place to explore sustainability, skill-sharing and relationship-building through the act of repair.

When did the project take place?

June 2019 – April 2020 (suspended due to COVID-19)

Background(s) of the practitioner(s)

Amy Meissner is an Anchorage-based visual artist with a background in the clothing industry and is currently an Anchorage Museum Northern Research Lab Fellow (2020-21). She has undergraduate degrees in both art and textiles, an MFA in Creative Writing, and is an MA candidate in Critical Craft Studies (‘21, Warren Wilson College, North Carolina).

Keren Lowell is an Anchorage- and Colorado-based visual artist with an MFA in Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Bodil Kjelstrup is based in Tromsø, Norway at the Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum (Northern Norway Art Museum). She works as a curator for the SEED Lab and has a background in communication, sociology, project management and museum work.

Aims of project

“Seeding Repair” aims to foster a Repair Culture in Alaska and consider alternative futures for the North as we experience climate shifts at double the pace of the rest of the world. Alaska has a long and vital history of repair, mending, and maintenance, however with the availability of quick global shipments, replacement is often a first response. We hope to revive the practice of repair as a first response and seek long-term sustainability through the skill sharing efforts of our community.

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Amy Meissner leading a workshop on mending sweaters and fine wool knits. Photo: Bodil Kjelstrup, 2020.

Description of project

“Seeding Repair” began in June 2019, with free monthly gatherings on location at the SEED Lab in Anchorage through February 2020. We provided basic supplies, including 2-3 irons, 3-5 sewing machines, and various reference books. Attendance began modestly, with a loose “drop in” feel, but shifted to a themed format (with attendance sometimes at 50) so participants could plan ahead for the type of mending they wished to engage in. This structure allowed for a 15-20-minute tutorial on a specific technique (i.e. darning socks, darning fine knits, mending jeans, etc.), then participants worked alone or helped one another while instructors “floated” from group to group offering guidance for the next 2 hours. Workshops focused on mending clothing and textiles, teaching darning, patching, visible/decorative mending, as well as basic sewing machine use.

When unable to meet due to COVID-19, we conducted two online mending sessions in April 2020 – themed, “Future Comforts: Mending Quilts and Rethinking the Materials of Home” – attended by about 20 participants. Bodil Kjelstrup moderated Zoom sessions from her home in Norway, while Amy provided instruction and answered questions on quilt repair from Anchorage. Two short films accompany the online version (see links below).

Why did you choose to work in this way?

Remote locations with scarce resources have long histories of repair, and Alaska is no exception. These are skills passed through generations (over thousands of years in the case of our Alaska Native population) however contemporary knowledge gaps are common, despite a resurgence in interest. Because the SEED Lab is a grant-funded project, we were able to provide free, accessible mending sessions in a welcoming community space.

What did you learn from the project?

We chose to collect feedback informally (in person or through social media), and shaped thematic tutorials based on this. We were bolstered by a surge in community interest, but like many projects, ours required repositioning when groups could no longer meet in person due to COVID-19. While online sessions were well attended, it was difficult to tend participants’ needs, equipment couldn’t be accessed, and the opportunities for sharing narrative was compressed.

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Keren Lowell demonstrating how to patch work pants. Photo: Amy Meissner, 2019.

Comment

“The combination of creative approach with highly developed technical skills has been a success factor for the project. We are very grateful for the creativity, skills, personality, perspectives and joy Amy has brought to these community events. Many of the participants have expressed gratitude and increased motivation to continue mending from home.” Bodil Kjelstrup

Influences

This project was inspired by artist-led workshops Amy has conducted through the Anchorage Museum and at various conferences.

Related projects

“Needle and Myth,” a participatory and collaborative art project using vintage textiles, found objects and embroidery featuring the work of 72 participants over the course of 6, 2-hour workshops held at the Anchorage Museum in the fall and winter of 2017. The project was funded by the Rasmuson Foundation.

Further information

Film: “SEEDing Repair Culture” by Joshua Corbett for the Anchorage Museum: https://vimeo.com/415271883

Interview with Amy Meissner on Alaska Public Media: https://www.alaskapublic.org/2020/02/13/listen-anchorage-clothes-repair-workshops-revive-the-practice-of-mending/

Anchorage Museum’s SEED Lab: https://www.anchoragemuseum.org/major-projects/projects/repair-culture/

Film created for online mending sessions, intended to capture the place-based and community feel of the workshops despite working in isolation: https://vimeo.com/415257800

Mending tutorial: https://vimeo.com/415259819

Instagram:       @amymeissnerartist / @seedlabanchorage

Artist website: www.amymeissner.com

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