A tapestry weaver and textile artist, Jen Hiebert is one of Emily Carr’s Sewing + Soft Shop technicians. Drawn to helping and teaching others, her plan was to go into education but while doing her pre-University program at Capilano College (now University), she became as she likes to note, “distracted by textiles.”
To subsidize her art practice after graduation, she applied
for an administrative role at Emily Carr, knowing friends and a studio mate who
worked here. That job didn’t materialize, but due to her textile practice and
experience, an offer to run the university’s Soft Shop did.
“A while ago my sister asked me ‘If your 16-year old self knew what you were doing for a living, how much would that kid freak out?’ And honestly, my 35-year old self didn’t know this was a job! It’s fantastic!”
Jen loves telling students that particular story because she feels that if you have interest in working in an area or a place or a field, everything that you do can contribute to that. She says, “Don’t just apply for the job, apply for the job that you want. My career path has been circuitous, but all the skills that I’ve learned and worked with I use every day.”
When asked to describe her practice in three words, without skipping a beat, she responds: “Always learning more.” And this is a motto that she also fully embraces within her role at Emily Carr.
With increased interest and gradual expansion of ECU’s Soft Shop over the past eight years, Jen has been continually learning and teaching new techniques, as well as getting to know new materials and equipment. She’s taken time to collect processes and to really think about how learning happens. She’s recently had the opportunity to get back into physically making more weaving and tapestry and feels motivated being back in that creative space.
Jen says, “As an artist, there are often high expectations of physical output. But realizing that, and incubating and looking at how people interact with materials and practices, and art making, is really a practice itself.”
Jen is one of seven curators, and a featured artist, in the current exhibition, Intertwined, on display in the Michael O’Brian Exhibition Commons. The exhibition, which corresponds with the 2018 Textile Society of America Symposium, did not happen by chance. Assistant Professor Emily Hermant, Emily Carr’s representative to the Society, approached Jen and other artists within the community who were working in textiles well over a year ago to organize the exhibition, as well as a member’s reception. The symposium also saw members taking part in a Jacquard weaving workshop utilizing the university’s new loom, an acquisition instigated by Hélène Day Fraser, Associate Dean of the Master of Design program and Co-Director of Material Matters.
The curators wanted to showcase how textiles happen at Emily Carr because there isn’t a specific program; textile practices are integrated all over the faculties and departments. “It’s something that is quite different from other institutions,” Jen says. “There is a lot of interest from people working with these processes and materials, but also just the ideas of incorporating textiles into existing practice.” The juried exhibition includes work by 57 students, staff, faculty and alumni.
For her piece in the exhibition, Jen pulled out her vertical loom which had been in storage for over 10 years. The concept behind the tapestry comes from a digital image that she took quite accidentally as she was walking home from Emily Carr’s former Granville Island campus one evening. She was taking photos to capture the light and produced a photo that looked to be an abstraction of the landscape, and the idea gelled.
With this work, she attempted to connect the digital aspect of the photo to weaving, and the pixelation of the image married well. As a landscape, she also wanted to pay homage to the size in some way so the image at 72 pixels per inch is represented in the weaving with a corresponding 7.2 threads per inch. She notes that this shifted slightly in the process, but that is ultimately what determined the size of the piece, which is the largest she has woven to date at 36”x27”.
Five Questions with Jen Hiebert
1. Name your favourite place on campus.
Definitely the Soft Shop! And the Oasis Garden on the 4th floor patio.
2. What role should creatives play in the community?
An integral one. The ability that creatives have to look at things from a different point of view is essential to be able to help us understand our place in the world, as well as the creative problem-solving that we do. Thinking critically, is key in this world.
3. Who or what inspires you?
The students here are a huge inspiration. I really enjoy the students that come to me with the unusual or hard questions, and their persistence in trying something new. And I love being able to help them find that path to what they want to create. I’m also really inspired by how things work — looking at structure, and how objects and materials and hands interact with each other. I am a technician through and through!
4. How has your practice changed since school?
I’m coming back into tapestry now. But this time, I’m okay with my work being a lot looser than what it was. My perfectionist tendencies are something that I work on a lot. For me, I think knowing there is room for flexibility comes with age and experience.
5. What’s the best piece of career advice you have received?
Just keep weaving. It goes to the idea of not looking for perfection, to keep going with what you’re doing and figure out things as they go. Don’t spend all your time planning, spend some time doing.