Avalanche Looms – Artist Story

 Avalanche Looms – Avalanche, WI
Hand-woven textiles
Susan Johnson

The more we do these artist stories, the more we are amazed at the gems that are hidden in the land around us… and this time we found an amazing weaver and a cute red shop just minutes from our home! Who knew?

There’s something about this area — the Driftless Region — that captures people’s hearts. We love this quote from Susan’s response in the Q+A’s below: “I remember the day I was in my office in downtown Detroit thinking I’d rather be a cow on a hill in Coon Valley than myself in my dumb job.” :) She and her talented builder-husband have created an endearing little studio + shop where she does her daily work and entertains strangers. Here’s a tiny peek into her process of how she creates on 100-year-old looms:


>>Why Viroqua/Avalanche? What brought you here? Best thing about living in this area?
We left Michigan and bought our farm in Avalanche in June, 1978.  On a few trips with a friend, we had discovered the springs and creeks, hills and valleys, in SW Wisconsin, and couldn’t get them out of our minds when we went back to our city life and jobs.  I remember the day I was in my office in downtown Detroit thinking I’d rather be a cow on a hill in Coon Valley than myself in my dumb job.  Luckily, Daniel was ready for a change, too. Land prices in SW Wisconsin were really low, then. We sold our Michigan house, and put everything in a U-Haul and a pick up truck, including a cactus collection and our Cat, and landed in Avalanche. The farm we bought was bigger than the nearest County Park where we lived in Michigan, and we loved living here. We still do.

>>Where did you learn your craft?
I’m self taught. My mother sews, and always had beautiful fabrics around, and a scrap box. I grew up sifting through that box in her closet, sewing doll clothes and stuffed animals. Also, we had a collection of Finnish woven rag rugs all through our house, from my mother’s aunts. I spent a lot of time lying on them studying the threads. I do remember studying my rag rug during nap time in kindergarten.  I’ve always had a fascination with weave, and color. I looked at old  rag rugs in antique stores, and collected a few. After I set up my first loom,  I  started out copying  those designs and colors.

>>What is the best part about working with your hands?
I wanted to write stories and novels, or paint. But what I love about weaving, unlike painting or writing, is that there is a beginning, middle and end to every piece.  I know where it starts, and when and where it ends.There is an arc, but working  with my hands and eyes at the loom, it’s clearer. I love to feel the textures of the threads and cloths as I work with them, the heft of the beater as I beat weft in the loom, or throw the shuttles. My mind drifts, and I’m not so much at the center of my world for a while. That’s a good thing.

>>What’s your favorite part of your schedule/lifestyle?
Everything. I’m very,very lucky to have stumbled into this. In Sweden and Finland, I saw it was very common for an artist to have a studio and a retail store combined, sometimes in very rural locations. I thought it would be a good idea to do the same thing in Avalanche. It’s a business model that would not impact the area in a way that would change it for the worse. It has worked very well for me, and our family, I think.

>>Describe your process (in simple terms!):
I start with a raw material, thread or rag, color and texture, on a boat shuttle, or pushed with my hands, through a path of a warp, coming toward me from the back beam of my loom.

As I weave, the threads accumulate. The beater beats each weft thread in, and consecutively, the cloth grows, and I wind it on to the front beam.  Time passes. I make choices about color, design, texture, and the weave is a record of those choices.  A rug is, literally, a path, that anyone who walks on it will, momentarily follow.


Find out more about Avalanche Looms on her website, follow Susan’s blog (full of beautiful photos!), and purchase her work on Etsy.

This post is part of our Artist Stories series – to find out more about why and what we’re doing, head here. Follow along on Facebook to watch for more Artist Stories like this!