November 6, 2016

Artist Event at James Webb Space Telescope - Part 2

JWSTArt Event, James Webb Space Telescope mirrors
In Part 1, I posted about the experience of attending the James Webb Space Telescope Artist Event and shared my pictures of the event and my tour of the facility. Here I will share how I approached the event artistically and the beginnings of the work I intend to make in response.
JWSTArt Event, James Webb Space Telescope in clean room
The main feature of the telescope I wanted to focus on is the most obvious one, the beautiful gold plated mirrors. The hexagon is a universal shape in nature and in antiquity, with countless examples ranging from the structure of beehives to mosaic tile patterns. It's a structurally strong shape, hence its use in the telescope. Relevant to my vocation as a fiber artist, hexagons are a perennial theme in quilt designs, and are currently very trendy, turning up in everything from traditional Grandmother's Flower Garden quilts to more innovative and cutting edge work.

Working in fiber for a plein air or live paint event is a bit different for a fiber artist than for a painter. My work is time consuming, and partially dependent on the machinery in my studio. So I can't show up for an event with a blank canvas, or blank fabric, and hope to accomplish anything significant in a few hours. I've prepped for plein air events by preparing a foundation for needlefelting with wool roving, and that's worked out well, but it produces softly edged designs. Here I wanted a more hard edged, manufactured look.
JWSTArt Event, Sue Reno, Fiber art kit
I prepped by cutting a bunch of 2 inch hexagons out of pellon, a slightly stiff synthetic non-woven material. I covered them with gold silk and basted it down on the back side. The silk is from Mysore, India, brought back from adventures abroad. In my opinion it is the finest silk in the world, handwoven on human operated looms. The warp is black silk, and the woof is gold threads, producing "shot" silk that shimmers in different ways when viewed from different angles.

I also flirted with the idea of crocheting galaxy forms from cotton and wool threads, and prepped for that as well. I didn't end up using that idea on site, but I may return to it.
JWSTArt Event, Sue Reno, silk hexagons, image 1
At the event, I found myself a spot on the floor next to the viewing window, and looked at the telescope while listening to the speakers explain the mission and technology involved. I began hand stitching the hexagons together to mimic the forms of the mirrors on the telescope.
JWSTArt Event, Sue Reno, silk hexagons, image 2
It was a very chaotic--in the best possible way--scene. Lot of new people, new information, a crowded room, and a stunning and almost visually overwhelming technological marvel to look at in close proximity. I kept myself grounded, literally and figuratively, by doing what I often do, centering in the meditative aspects of doing repetitive work with my hands.

Also currently trending in the fiberart/textile world is the idea of slow stitching. It's akin to the slow food movement; the idea that in a world that requires a quick response time in most of our activities, we benefit from slowing down and focusing on meaningful activity. I've instinctively done this from a very young age, so muscle memory largely controls my movements and my stitching proceeds almost on its own accord.
JWSTArt Event, Sue Reno, silk hexagons, image 3
I got nine hexagons connected before stopping to go on the tour of the facility. It's significant to me that the work was actually begun on site. I am still working through my photos and impressions of the event, and considering how to proceed.

JWSTArt Event, Sue Reno, silk hexagons, image 4
I will document and share the process here and on social media as it unfolds.
Facebook page:
Twitter feed:

JWSTArt Event, Sue Reno, end of day
Here's the group of happy artists, at the end of the day, posing for the best ever Jazz Hands picture:
JWSTArt Event, group photo with jazz hands
You can follow the group activity  @NASAWebb on Twitter and Instagram, and use the hashtag #JWSTArt to see updates as they happen from the artists.  Follow on Facebook at
 There's an unofficial storify at

I will leave you for now with this gorgeous fisheye view of the telescope:

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