words by Diane Kilivris, photo by Ilenia Pezzaniti
The genre of fiber art didn’t exist 100 years ago. Traditionally, skills such as sewing, knitting and weaving were seen as “women’s work.” Making household items like garments and baskets didn’t qualify as art because its purpose was utilitarian.
But today, fiber art lives in the realm of Fine Art, and Akron artist Natalie Grieshammer (pronounced “Grease-hammer”) has found success showing and selling her work. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Fiber and Material Studies from the Cleveland Institute of Art, a Master’s degree in Arts Administration from the University of Akron and recently became the Director of Galleries and Exhibitions at Summit ArtSpace.
Grieshammer uses her loom as a canvas for feminine metaphors. Some of her weaved wall art is meant to celebrate femininity while others, like the Guilt and Shame piece she’s conceiving now, are more provocative.
In her 2019 exhibit Bursting at The Seams at the Box Gallery (now part of Summit ArtSpace), her weaved wall hangings explored “universal feminine identities through the world of materials…to validate and celebrate femininity.” After the show, she had a “pay-what-you-can sale” on Instagram in which almost everything sold. “I was just happy that people wanted them and wanted to pay something for them… I don’t want to have all this art just sitting around,” Grieshammer says.
Grieshammer draws a parallel between the concepts of femininity and weaving; both are expected to be structured and orderly. Her work in Bursting at the Seams, for example, exhibited a disruption of that structure with the use of excessive materials and “sloppy craft,” representing a break from cultural expectations.
“I consider myself to be a Feminist artist, Feminine with a capital F… it isn’t necessarily always literally about sex or gender, but more like the social constructs around the idea of femininity vs. masculinity, kind of exploring those stereotypes,” Grieshammer states.
Over the past year, Grieshammer hasn’t been creating as much as she would like. She was laid off from a job at the Cleveland Art Museum due to the Covid pandemic, and life’s plans were interrupted. But in March, 2021, she was back on her feet with a new job at Summit ArtSpace.
An Akron native, Grieshammer is involved in the Akron art community on several levels — not only as an artist and arts administrator, but as a musician and entrepreneur. She operates Akron Recording Company with her fiancé, Ben Patrick, and the two were formerly part of the band Dreemers, in which Grieshammer was the drummer.
As an arts administrator, Grieshammer believes there are enormous opportunities for artists in the Akron area. “A lot of people think a place like Akron has nothing to do, but for an artist or arts administrator or entrepreneur you’re thinking ‘there’s so much opportunity.’ That’s the way an artist thinks about a place like here — how can we make it awesome,” she says.
She feels there are a lot of advantages in Akron, a smaller city, as opposed to a big-city. For example, she and her fiancé’s dream of starting a recording studio would not have been possible in a larger city.
“I think what’s unique about Akron is that it’s very community and collaborative based. To me, it’s not competitive. You’re not competing with other artists. You’re all trying to work together to get something out,” Grieshammer says.
As part of her new role as Director of Galleries and Exhibitions, Grieshammer wants to create a specified vision for each of its five galleries as well as bring in more nationally renowned jurors.
On a personal level, she envisions cultivating more art purchasing in the Akron area. “Local artists sell their art insanely cheap. Why go to (a store) and buy art when you can get something totally unique and funky and weird from a local artist, supporting them? To me, anyone can have a cool art collection and that’s just what’s going to make more of a thriving art scene here.”
Diane Kilivris is a freelance writer, podcaster and native Akronite. When she’s not working, she can be found on the tennis court or knitting in a cozy chair.
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