Often times, I read the answers sent in by one of MilspoFAN’s Artist Interviewees , and my first thought is “Ahhh! I love you!”(yes, I do the interviews by email- sorry to disillusion you all, ha!) Meghan Rowswell , fiber sculptor and sensei of ikebana, falls squarely into my “Artist Crush” column. Her words demonstrate a refreshing candor, thoughtful approach to her art, and firm self-possession that will hearten you, dear readers, while her work is stunning and thought-provoking. As with most (all?) of these interviews, you will see yourself in Meghan’s words– things you’ve thought a thousand times- and you will also find a new, unique, informative perspective. It’s a magical, lovely web we are weaving here at MilspoFAN, and I’m so pleased to add Meghan’s thread!
Now in her own words, here is Meghan Rowswell (You can find on the web at www.madmegh.com):
MilspoFAN: Tell us a little about yourself, your journey as a military spouse, and where you are today.
Meghan: Howdy! My name is Meghan Rowswell. My husband is Ammo (IYAAYAS!) in the Air Force. We’ve been in for six and liked it so much we’ve just decided to stay in for six more. Which probably means we are in this until he retires. I am a stay at home parent of a precocious four-year-old, though as she gets closer to being in school full time I’m really an artist that happens to work out of my home.
Both my husband and I grew up all over the place in families that weren’t military but had a history of military service. We met in Cheyenne, Wyoming. I started hanging out with his parents because they were both artists and trying to find an art community. I think they adopted me because they missed having kids around. Ian came to visit for the holidays and never left. We were married, he did basic and tech school, we moved to our first base in Misawa, Japan and I was pregnant all in one year. It has been a wild ride.
MilspoFAN: How did you become an artist?
Meghan: I’ve wanted to be an artist since I won a blue ribbon for a finger painting of balloons at the county fair. I grew up in a rough neck family so art wasn’t appreciated or understood. I tried really hard to go to college for a “real job” and started out studying botany at Cornell University but because of the way that my scholarships worked I couldn’t afford art classes. I didn’t make it long before I dropped out to study art. I have a BA from Hastings college in Art History but I was in the studio more than a lot of the studio art kids. Art is my passion, obsession and saving grace. I’m not happy unless I’m making something. It’s the best way that I can process and make sense of the world around me. Do you know that feeling? The one where there’s no other way? I must make art, now I just need to figure out how to make a living from it.
MilspoFAN: How would you describe your artwork work and aesthetic? How has your work evolved over time?
Meghan: The work I’m making now is sculptures and installations made from textiles and found materials that incorporate fiber techniques. In college I started out as a painter and a collage artist. I’m just not in love with drawing it’s boring and tedious so me. Which is hilarious because I do a lot of hand sewing. Towards the end of college, I started making quilts and embroidering dolls to deal with the stress of writing my thesis. I never thought of sewing and embroidery as “Art”, it was crafting traditions that had been passed on to me from my mother and grandmother to “make do”. Patterns bore me so I’m not a great crafter. But working in fiber and in three dimensions clicked for me so I’ve been a fiber artist ever since. I love working with textile sculptures because it’s so unexplored and I’m always creating problems for myself. “Can I make this do that?”
Right now my work is based on plants and organic shapes because of my interest in gardening and my training as a sensei of ikebana, Japanese flower arranging. I’m trying to meld my interests in fiber and plants into something new. Plants are so integral to the history of textiles because our first fabrics were completely made from and dyed with plants. I am trying to reimagine and reverse engineer that relationship with my current body of work that uses images of plants on textiles and creates three dimensional imaginings of them. It’s amazing how abstract flower patterns on polyester shirts are when looking at the living flower. I’ve also been reading a lot of sci fi so I like to think about the future, space, aliens. I am learning how to bring electronics and moving parts into my sculptures.
MilspoFAN: How has your role as a military spouse impacted your work as an artist- creatively, logistically, or otherwise?
Meghan: The military has been a great opportunity for me. It allows my family to have enough income that I can stay home with my daughter and be an artist. I have a certain amount of freedom to pursue my passions without worrying about making too much money. But I wouldn’t be able to do this without my amazingly supportive spouse. He is my biggest fan. We work really hard as a team so that each of us can be our best at our careers and our hobbies. Being an artist allows me the flexibility to drop everything during TDYs or he is playing in an exercise. At the same time, he knows that he’s going to be watching our daughter at night and on weekends while I’m at art events or planning meetings in the city.
And the travel! Our first base was in northern Japan. We had so many great experiences and got to see so many amazing things. Being an artist overseas does have its challenges. It’s really expensive to ship work back and because of the language barrier and the rural location I didn’t have much of an opportunity to do art. Our time in Japan allowed me to learn all kinds of traditional textile techniques and Japanese flower arranging. I taught crafting classes at the arts and crafts center and I made bags from kimono to sell to the American’s on base.
When we moved back stateside, just outside of Kansas City, I completely changed my art practice and business model to fit the location. Now I could do art and could show in galleries and be active with artist communities. Kansas City is such a great place to be an emerging artist, there’s a lot of help and acceptance of new artists. I still teach classes and make bags to sell but my real focus has been on doing work for shows in galleries.
I would say one of the draw backs for being in the military is that you don’t really have a choice of where you go and at each location there is going to be a different art community and set of challenges. Another downside is that it takes time to meet people and to build a community. It took me a year to find people and galleries to work with and by the second year things are really starting to happen and get interesting. The challenge of the art world is that it’s all about who you know. But the beauty of being a military spouse is that I know people all over the US, Europe and Asia that I can reach out to for help or guidance.
MilspoFAN: I was so intrigued and drawn in by your 30 in 30 projects on the blog. I know at least a few of our other members have embarked on these popular 30-day challenges. Can you tell the readers what that process was like? How was it different than your expectations and what did you learn?
Meghan: Goodness, 30 in 30 challenges are hard. But very rewarding. I was listening to a podcast, Artists Helping Artists, and they were doing a piece of art daily for thirty days. I am working on a show about quantum entanglement and had been doing this research but I was having a very hard time coming up with ideas for sculptures. Sometimes I can get so deep in the research that I have a hard time making the work for fear of getting it wrong. I wanted the 30 in 30 to be a way that I could make concept sketches for the show but also try and break through my “art block”.
I only had an hour and a half a day, which is a very short time when you are hand sewing or creating, so I kept them small. Some days I wanted to make sculptures, somedays not. I tried not to control it too much. The achievement was that I was coming to the studio every day, making something, and thinking about the imagery that I’d gathered in my research. Most of it was trash but every few days some idea or material combination would speak to me.
I asked a coffee shop to hang them on the wall as I was making them. Every few days I would go hang new ones up and they would be numbered after the day they were created. I expected more greatness and that I would get more work done but to be honest there were days where I’d spend half an hour staring at my fabric pile unable to think of anything. But that’s ok too. The important thing was that I was in my studio and making work. It has taught me to regularly set time aside to make work or at least be in the studio.
MilspoFAN: How do you meet other artists or plug into the local arts scene when you PCS?
Meghan: My advice is to join a group that does art, or connect to them on social media. It’s all about commenting on posts! I joined the Fiber Guild of KC and they have been an endless source of knowledge and supplies. They have given me scholarships to do art business classes that have led me to other artists.
When I first move to an area I like to start locally and then build out farther and farther. I think it’s really important to be involved in your base and local community before you start the mad dash to the city on the weekends. Small towns need art too! I go to the gallery openings, I talk to people about what I do, I write thank you letters and follow up emails. It’s scary to be the new kid but you’ve got to dive in and start networking. You never know who will lead you to the next project or the next job.
I also think that you must be flexible in your business model. What was working for you at the last base might be impractical at this one. As an artist you should be striving for a portfolio career where you are generating streams of income from multiple aspects of your art. To earn money, I teach classes, take commissions, apply for grants and scholarships, and make crafts for shows. You can focus on or dial back any of these different areas depending on what the area around your base is like.
You can find me at:
Instagram and Facebook @madmegh
Thank you, Meghan, for sharing your work and your words. Now, dear readers, are you inspired, engaged, or curious? Don’t be shy, post a comment below or on our facebook group or facebook page. MilspoFAN artists love to hear feedback (and adoring praise, or course!) from you.