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Fiber artists teach intro classes at Menahga School

When people think of art, they often think of a painting to hang on the wall. But art can also be practical items used in everyday life, and making those items can be an outlet for creativity and a way to connect with others.

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Instructor Janice Yliniemi shows Janine Bronstrom how to begin crocheting her scarf during the first fiber craft workshop. Participants got a start on their scarves and then took them home to finish. Photos contributed by Andrea Haverinen
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In Menahga, a series of fiber arts classes offered through the school’s community education program were made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Five Wings Arts Council and a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

One of the goals of the Minnesota Legacy program is to explore how the arts are interwoven into every facet of community life.

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Whether crocheting a scarf or making a basket, the emphasis of the fiber art workshops is practical art with an everyday use. There is also room for art that is simply to be enjoyed, as is the case with the Scandinavian snowflakes.

Menahga School Board member Andrea Haverinen wrote the grant.

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“On the school board, we talk about lifelong learning a lot,” she said. “Community education classes are one way to do that. Passing on traditional and functional skills to community members, especially children, not only maintains a living history, but also helps people learn skills that could supplement their income.”

Haverinen said that, while many people are interested in learning new types of art, they often lack the materials or knowledge to get started.

“This grant has allowed us to bring in the instructors and provide the needed supplies,” she said. “We wanted to do art that would go into people’s everyday lives like baskets, rugs, scarves, quilts and pillowcases. They are still considered art but are more of a lifestyle type of art.”

Art with a purpose

An introduction to crocheting class by Janice Ylienimi from the Shell Lake-Osage area kicked off the fiber arts series.

Participants were taught the basics, while those who had experience learned new stitches. Everyone got a scarf started, then took it home to finish.

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Participants in the class at Menahga School used a flat base and top to create a basket for trinkets.

The basket weaving class was taught by Shannon Westrum, who learned some of her techniques in Ireland.

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“We made a little basket to use to hold trinkets,” Haverinen said. “It had a flat top and bottom so we didn’t have to do the hardest part of making the base. That made it more user friendly. We used round reeds to weave up the sides of the basket and then put the lid on.”

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Basket weaving is a traditional art in many countries.

Westrum came back to teach another class this week, how to make Scandinavian snowflakes out of flat reeds.

“It was a fast project and really fun,” Haverinen said. “Most of the people had been in the basket weaving class and already knew how to soak and handle the materials.”

Flat needle felting was taught by Sharon Nordrum of Laporte.

“She really got the class talking and wanted to know everyone’s life story,” she said. “She had options for people to copy a design or do their own design.”

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Learning the art of flat needle felting, Corinna Haverinen was one of the youngest participants in the Menahga Community Education class.

Upcoming classes include “Scrappy Improv Quilt Blocks” and a pillow case class with Haverinen, plus “Weave a Rug ToothbrushTechnique” and “Hand Embroidery” with Jamie Jokela.

The most any family will pay to go to all of the classes offered is $10 or they can pay $5 for one class.

“We wanted to make it affordable for everyone,” Haverinen said. “Some of the kids in the classes already have plans to give what they made to grandma or grandpa.”

Haverinen said the “Scrappy Improv Quilt Block” class uses leftover fabric scraps. Each person will create their own pattern rather than following a specific design. “It will look similar to the old style quilts when people used scraps of clothing to create a quilt,” she said. “If you go to a quilting shop and buy a pattern and all the supplies, it can cost tons of money. What I’m trying to show is that you can go back to the old traditional way and make it look however you want without spending a lot of money.”

She said class participants have been inquiring about whether there will be more classes and if not where they can get supplies to do more projects at home. “That’s exciting because that’s what I was hoping for,” she said. “Maybe they go to all eight classes and just find one they like. That’s fine.”

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Instructor Shannon Lucas Westrum shows participants what the Scandinavian snowflake will look like once completed. Some participants plan to use them as gifts, while others will hang them on the wall or on their Christmas tree.

Benefits of art

Haverinen said bringing people of different ages and backgrounds together is one of the benefits of these art classes. While Zoom classes can teach some of the skills, she said nothing compares with being in person because of the hands-on learning that takes place.

“Like with the stars, they have a 3-D component to them,” she said. “Showing them how to do this in person is way easier than having a class on Zoom.”

The classes also promote interactions between children and adults.

“The kids pick it up so fast, but sometimes adults have had more experience so it’s a nice mix,” she said. “Everybody needs ways to make life prettier. We spend so much time trying to do our day to day things that sometimes we forget about things that make us happy.

Since COVID-19, research has shown that both children and adults have experienced more mental health issues and stress.

“I definitely think that art and creativity allow people to play, to be able to try things, to be able to mess up,” Haverinen saied. “There’s really no right way to do art. That isn’t true in most other areas of life. Having that play outlet can relieve some of the stress in other areas of your life.”

Creating access to art

Haverinen said she comes from a “really artsy family.”

“My grandma Ellen Torola in Michigan is a painter in acrylic, oil and watercolors,” she said. “She has paintings all over the world. When I was growing up in Michigan she lived about two miles from us, so I often got to paint with her. She had a gallery in her house for teaching art classes and selling art.”

Quilting is something Haverinen learned as an adult.

“I bought out a quilt shop in March of 2020, hoping to teach community ed classes, and then that wasn’t possible due to the pandemic,” she said. “I did work with my daughter, Corinna, on one of her first quilts.”

Haverinen said they always have lots of art supplies in their home.

“My children always have access to art, but not all kids get that opportunity,” she said. “Through community education we have opportunities to give access to art they might not get in their classroom or in their own home.”

Related Topics: ART
Lorie Skarpness has been writing for the Enterprise since 2017.
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