Fiber Arts Have a Home in Riverwest

By Judith Swanson A little known gem hides in the lower level of Gaenslen School – the Alice Bertschy Kadish Memorial Weaving Center. A haven for fiber arts operated by the Milwaukee Recreation Division and Wisconsin Hand Weavers Inc., this center offers classes for artists of all skill levels. Many of the Weaving Center’s classes and workshops focus, obviously, on weaving. With 76 looms in house, it’s what you might expect. Beginners learn the basics, from warping a loom to different weave structures, ultimately gaining enough skill to complete their own project. Intermediate students continue to hone and advance their skills, and skilled weavers working on independent projects can attend “open weave” sessions. The fiber arts consist of more than weaving, though, and the center offers several other classes throughout the year. These classes are often taught by visiting artists and focus on skills like tapestry, beading, or quilting. This summer, JoAnn Engelhart was artist in residence. An instructor at UW-Milwaukee during the school term, Engelhart brought a number of skills to her classes the Weaving Center. Shibori Quilting, in which one makes dyed patterns to use in quilts, was one. Another class focused on discharging color from fabric, and another on the application of dyes and pigments using paint, stamps, and stencil patterns onto fabrics. Members of the center all seem to agree there is great satisfaction in making fiber arts. Georgiann Gielow, volunteer and member of the center’s steering committee, has been weaving since the 1970s. She says one of the best things about fiber arts is “the satisfaction of working with your hands to bring a project to life from scratch.” The sentiment differs for all fiber artists, though. Some weavers are entranced with the mathematics involved in warping a loom, designing, and updating patterns. Some weavers like to sell their products — from rugs, bookmarks, and shawls, to baby items. Others like the competition – at state and national conferences, weavers can showcase their work, submit pieces for competitive judging, and take workshops. Another instructor at the center, Susan Buss, uses her art as a way to let go of stress. She says, “Weaving is a wonderful way to relax, and it is meditative.” At the end of the day, if she feels she hasn’t done enough, working on a project will give her a sense of accomplishment. “Weaving is both creative and purposeful, as you can create something functional. It is easy, but can be time consuming. The end product is worth the effort,” she says. A recent UW-Milwaukee graduate, she teaches evening weaving classes, and will begin a tapestry class this fall. With such high praise of the program, you may think that the center has been at Gaenslen School forever. It hasn’t. In fact, its history since inception during WWII has been quite tumultuous. At first, there were weaving centers all over the city, mostly in schools. These centers eventually consolidated, forming a single site at Wisconsin Avenue School. That school soon experienced a space crunch, however, and the single weaving center was moved to Lincoln Center’s basement. Things started to fall apart. Support dwindled, and classes were not even advertised. That’s when Alice Bertschy Kadish got involved. Kadish was a kindergarten teacher for Milwaukee Public Schools, who started weaving in the 1970s, after retirement. A remarkable woman, she was also an avid traveler and benefactress of the UW Science Bag program, the Boys and Girls Clubs, the zoo, and several museums. Kadish wanted weaving in Milwaukee to survive, and to help it do so, she and her husband established a foundation to help with the center’s finances. It is now known as the Albert and Alice Kadish Foundation. After the Kadish family became involved, the weaving center moved a final time, in 1999, to Gaenslen. It was that same year that Wisconsin Handweavers Inc. joined with the recreation division to operate the weaving center. Since then, Gaenslen School has been a good home to the center, in return getting several benefits — including instruction and great facilities for some lucky students. Furthermore, Gaenslen has some great displays for the school’s hallways, including personal artifacts that Kadish collected during her world travels. The Alice Bertschy Kadish Memorial Weaving Center is located at 1250 E. Burleigh St., at Gaenslen School. Along with classes, the Wisconsin Handweavers also offer workshops and meetings. The programs will be held the second Saturday of each month, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., September through May. The 54th annual Wisconsin Handweavers Inc. will hold an exhibit and sale November 4-7 at the Whitefish Bay library, and the Midwest Weavers Conference, “Waves of Weaving,” will be held at Lakeside College in Sheboygan County on June 12-18, 2005.