I visited Hannah O’Hare Bennett at the TAC Manhattan studio space on the same Saturday she was preparing to host a free public workshop on card weaving with Inkle looms. Before the workshop I sat down with Hannah to ask some questions about her time as a Work in Progress Resident , her craft, and her own personal history.
J: I saw that you were an organic farmer. Does that play a role in your work or does it inform some of your interests and practice?
H: I don’t farm at all anymore, I barely even garden, which is kind of sad to me… maybe I will, someday. I grew up on an organic farm and we were this weird hippy family in central kansas with our 40 acres of all kinds of strange crops. Then after college, where I majored in printmaking, I decided I wanted to keep working with my hands.I wanted to do something really practical.
"I’m interested in the way that we have affected the evolution of plants and animals with our human activities."
This was 20 years ago, college was not as expensive, so I graduated with no student debt. I could go into farming and even though I wasn't making a lot of money, I wasn’t servicing any debt. It was easier than it is for a lot of kids now. I wouldn’t say I romanticize it, but the idea of working and accomplishing things is important to me. That certainly is a part of my practice. I produce a lot of work! I definitely transferred that work ethic from farming and a lot of jobs I've had that were along the same lines, like working in a produce department.
I’m interested in the way that we have affected the evolution of plants and animals with our human activities. When I went back to grad school I took advantage of the botany department. I took an ethnobotany class and some of my art professors were like “what, why? Why do you need to spend your time writing a science paper for this class that has nothing to do with your MFA?” But it did actually, because the ideas that I learned in that class were very important to my thesis. Now that I am not working towards a thesis I am still using those concepts and research that I do along with my actual art practice.
While Hannah works in a variety of different mediums she spoke to me about how her practice adapted to New York City. She’s been working on her card weaving using a two part loom set up made with simple things found at the hardware store while at the WIP residency. The card weaving loom has a warp tied at one end, cards stung along the threads, and Hannah uses flower pots filled with rocks she found to weigh down the other end and add tension to the threads.
J: Do you feel like card weaving on this setup has allowed you to adapt to working in different areas or this city in particular?
H: I came here with a backpack and a suitcase.I brought everything with me in that small amount of luggage. I've purchased a few things like those flower pots for loom weights. I found rocks to use as loom weights, there've been some flowers and things that had some interesting shapes that I've brought in.
J: Has the residency allowed you to see anything new in the city?
H: I like to travel, and I like to see new places. I like to see what will happen to my work depending on the environment that I’m in. Then more people get exposed to what I'm doing. I’ve also gotten to visit museums and organizations that relate to my work. Just the other day I was over at Dieu Donne , the paper mill. It's a pretty well known place in the papermaking world.
Hannah spoke about how she got into card weaving and the benefits of using these simplified looms to craft these bands of fabric. This is what she’s been working with during her residency and what she would be sharing with the class for her workshop. Once everyone had arrived she started helping them wind their warp threads. They then cut up some paper to make cards and finish the warping, adding tension to the threads. But this isn’t how she first started making straps like these.
J: Can you tell me a little about how you got into weaving these long thin bands?
H: When I was in grad school about 5 years ago I got some funding to do this social practice weaving project where I would weave outside. It was supposed to be backstrap weaving. I would try to do warping outside on poles stuck in the ground I would anchor the weaving to a tree to make tension. I was trying to use things from the environment that I was in. But I discovered that backstrap weaving is painful to me and I don't necessarily like the idea of attracting attention to myself. Well, I don’t mind attracting attention but I don’t like the point of my art to be: look at me, look at this weird thing that I'm doing. So going around to public parks, that didn’t work. But I still liked the process of making these long straps.
J: So then you started to use this Inkle loom like apparatus?
H: It's a very low tech thing, it's basically just a handle you anchor the start of the weaving onto and at some distance there is another slightly higher wooden part that the weaving goes over and then you weigh down the end of the warp with something heavy. You can use C clamps to put these things on the table, it's very simple, very low tech. I think my weaving teacher told me about it.
On the Future and teaching:
After her time at the TAC WIP program Hannah already has some plans for the future. Although she has thoroughly enjoyed her time in the city she is excited to start teaching back at Mount Mary University in Milwaukee.
H: I really like teaching adults. I got an opportunity to adjunct this semester so I'm going to be teaching college students two days a week. I’m really looking forward to building that teacher-student relationship. Hopefully I can encourage my students to really get interested in the processes they will be learning and not worry so much about grades.