Kimber Follevaag considers herself a fiber artist, albeit a very unconventional one.
Combining such disparate materials as metal, embroidery thread and photographs, Follevaag creates work that brings textiles to a new level.
"I wanted to take an old craft and put a new spin on it," she says of the work that's gotten her noticed in such places as the Jacklin Arts & Cultural Center, Terrain (two years running) and Coeur d'Alene's Blackwell Gallery.
Mostly self-taught, Follevaag talks about embracing mystery versus mastery, about being fully present when she's making art and just knowing whether or not it feels right, or feels done.
"I think doing art, you have to let yourself be very vulnerable," says Follevaag, whose approach to making art stretches well back into her childhood. Seventeen years studying ballet taught her that after the rigorous technique and endless practicing, there is a point when muscle memory takes over and you're just in the moment.
"People say that a picture paints a thousand words. A sculpture — because it's three-dimensional — paints a thousand pictures. Well, I think a ballet paints a thousand sculptures," she says.
Recognizing that a career in ballet was not imminent, Follevaag pursued a business degree in college, married, had three boys, then found herself raising them mostly by herself in her native Texas. Still, she said, creativity and craft were essential to her day-to-day life.
"I always had my finger on the pulse of something creative," says Follevaag, who experimented with textiles — stitching, weaving, knitting — and taught her sons how to knit, too.
Eventually Follevaag remarried, relocated to Idaho and channeled some of her creative energies into remodeling her parents' home overlooking Lake Coeur d'Alene. A devotee of mid-century modern, Follevaag and husband Carl often picked up artwork during once-a-year trips abroad: Portugal, Italy, Spain, France, England.
Travel fueled her passion for making art, and in 2011, she began making art in earnest. Her first pieces were a variation on bargello, a highly patterned form of stitching into open-weave material, which in this case was aluminum mesh she bought at the hardware store.
Next came her industrial series from photographs Carl salvaged from outside his office at North Idaho Legal Aid, where he works as an attorney. "I could just feel it," says Follevaag of the images of forlorn architectural sites, which resonated with her even though she wasn't sure how to incorporate them into her fiber work. Eventually she covered them in plexiglass and drilled into them, then embellished the surface using stitches of color similar to the original photo.
"If there's a hole, I can put thread through it," she says.
Her museum series followed, incorporating photos she took of people viewing artwork in Amsterdam's Stedelijk Museum. She collaged images and vibrantly colored thread into the composition, the result being a juxtaposition of space and light, similar to a holograph.
Her most recent work uses French knots and portraits taken in collaboration with Coeur d'Alene's Holly Harper Photography, work she's submitted to the next Terrain.
One of them, a portrait mounted over a mirror, seems to be going in a different direction.
"I've opened up little doors all over her. And as you're getting closer to figuring out what you're seeing, you're seeing yourself," she says.
Maybe it's a metaphor? Follevaag smiles.
"I'm a late bloomer," says the 50-something Follevaag. "I'm just hitting my stride." ♦