Farming in Kansas: An Update with Neil Goss
Neil Goss spent a month last year as TAC’s Sewing Seeds Resident Artist. During that month, he wove a very tall and naturally dyed totem installation that hung in TAC’s old Sewing Seeds garden on Dean and 4th ave. Recently, I was lucky enough to be on a cross-country road trip that planned to go straight through Lawrence, Kansas and stopped by Neil and his wife Monica’s farm, for a visit.
Above, Neil is telling me about this piece of fustic that he was gifted from a local’s Purple Smoke Tree. He’ll have to put it through a chipper before he can use it, but after that, he’ll have a lifetime supply of the dye traditionally used to create a khaki color. Nearly all of Neil’s materials are locally sourced from the beautiful Great Plain area of Eastern Kansas, either from local acquaintances or their huge garden, which is currently in it’s early stages.
Drying on these frames is some paper Neil dyed with onion skins, black walnut hulls, madder, plus a few more …
Neil has been dyeing t-shirts for sale recently. He regularly uses thrift-store t-shirts that he first dyes one solid color before bundle dyeing them for a primitive tie-dye effect. The pot on the left holds onion skins, osage orange bark and weld, while the pot on the right is sumac leaves and iron. I’m quite partial to his stirring device, the stick.
LH: Which dyes to you prefer and how do you typically source your materials?
NG: I love goldenrod, sumac, black walnut, coreopsis, sunflower, Ohio spiderwort, Osage orange bark and birch to name a few. I grow or forage all of my dyes except some mordants, indigo (even though I grow it), madder (even though I grow it). In due time that will change though. I usually get all of my wool yarn second hand but will buy it as well from the local yarn shop or if I have the extra cash flow, I’ll buy from a local wool producer in Lawrence. My hemp comes from a company called Hemp Traders on the inter-web.
I was so surprised when Neil told me this fiber was hemp, instead of wool … from the blue one clockwise ending with the brown: indigo, sumac leaves and iron, onion skins, onions and indigo, sumac leaves. Below, you can see the magnitude of Neil’s natural dye materials:
Neil is holding a bag of dried sumac leaves. He prefers to get his tannin from the leaf, instead of a purchased powder.
LH: Are you excited about any upcoming projects?
NG: Besides my bundle-dyed t-shirt collection, which Monica and I work on together, and teaching ceramics and natural dyes at the Lawrence Art Center, I have a possible project coming up with the local theatre, which would include designing and producing the set for an upcoming play. I have complete freedom and will basically do a “Neil Goss” installation on stage.
LH: Awesome, how fun! Do you have any upcoming residencies planned?
NG: Yes, Monica and I will be going to the Milkweed Mercantile at the Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage outside of Rutledge, Missouri. We both do the same things but our expertise lie in different areas. For instance, we both dye and weave but that is what I bring to the table. We are both interested and partake in herbal medicine but that is what she brings to the table.
Our work that we will create embodies the desire for human connection as well as a deep relationship with the earth. This will be portrayed through a series of communal weaving, dye, and medicinal plant workshops. The final result of our work will be an installation of woven healing totems. We will present a ceremonial performance: paying respect to the installation space while charging it with positive energy and the intention to heal. By creating an offering and intentional healing space, we can begin to heal ourselves as well as the wounds our species has made on our Earth. Our residency will reflect ancestral constructs of community and working symbiotically with each other in order to be at peace [one] with the earth and each other. We have a deep respect for our homeland. Our creator. We feel that the communal environment at Dancing Rabbit will not only align with our personal ideals and goals, but will also give us great inspiration and the freedom to make tangible a body of work that has been conceptualized for over a year. The project that we will create at Dancing Rabbit will obviously be made by us, but hopefully, it will include the hands of every member of DR, as we collectively bring the project to fruition.
We will bring our own yarn and prepared backstrap looms. While at the residency, we plan to forage medicinal dye plants to dye the totems before installation. We would also like to forage fallen tree limbs for the weavings and dig local clay for dyeing and grounding the totem. The dyes used will be native medicinal plants. These plants will also be utilized to create a healing space during the ceremonial performance in the form of smudging and intentional healing rituals. The materials we will use are ephemeral in nature and will weather and degrade with time. Therefore, the colorants absorbed in the fibers are of a medicinal nature and as the Earth reclaims them through natural elemental processes, it will consume the medicine. Leading to (a localized and small scale) healing of that region. In essence, the totem will be born, live, and die at Dancing Rabbit.
LH: This project sounds really similar to what you did at the Textile Arts Center last year in the garden. Will you also include a performance after the installation is completed?
NG: Yes, but this time Monica will also have a major role, thus it will become a collaboration. Yes, we will both be doing a dance/performance/calling for energy after the installation and will both be embodying our alter egos.
LH: Any other fun stuff coming up in this coming year? I imagine you must be excited about your farm.
NG: The farm is really exciting. Besides more natural dye plants in the works, there are a variety of medicinal plants, plus we’ll be growing food. We have one rooster, three chickens, two ducks and plan to get some sheep, probably an alpaca and more, for sure. I’m also applying to a show in Berea, KY at the college there, as well as applying to the Extreme Fiber show in Muskegon, MI. I have a solo show tentatively set for the Pratt Community College Riney Art Gallery. Beyond that I’m making more pottery, transitioning into adding “street art” to my bag and am planning a 2015 US tour to install healing totems across the US.
Neil Goss and Monica George sell their wears together in their etsy shop, Primitive Technology. I encourge you to check out Neil’s website, which includes many beautiful installations and other work, while Neil and Monica’s collaborative work is located here. Monica is also involved with two artists in an ethereal folk project called the Ovaries-eez, which is worth a listen.
Visiting Neil and Monica was beyond inspirational for me. As Neil always signs his emails: live and dye naturally.