Laura Wilder of New York State is a distant cousin of Almanzo Wilder, husband of Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957), who created a still-flourishing cottage industry when she began, in her sixties, to document her family’s survival of near-starvation, blizzards, and grasshopper plagues during her frontier childhood in the American West. LIW turned her memoirs into a legacy series of young-adult books, and when the current Wilder travels across the country to ply her own trade — Arts & Crafts-style blockprinting — people often ask first about her name.
“‘Are you related?’ is what I hear many times a day at shows,” Wilder tells Asheville Made. “And I love it.” She even memorialized the connection by making a print of a Laura Ingalls Wilder quote: “It is the sweet, simple things that are the real ones after all.”
“That seems to be the main theme of her books, of my art, and of the Arts & Crafts movement,” says the printmaker, who’s back by popular demand to teach a workshop this month at the National Arts & Crafts Conference at the Omni Grove Park Inn. It’s true that the perennial Craftsman movement in architecture and decorative arts — begun as a rejection of both the Industrial Age and Victorian frippery — prizes what is strong, handmade, and honestly adorned. That doesn’t mean the process of creating art in the vernacular is easy, however.
In fact, while Wilder welcomes beginners to her workshop, she’s noticed an interesting trajectory about her students’ progress. “I’ve seen an amazing professional artist struggle more than a complete newbie, because the process is so technical,” she reveals. But like her literary namesake, who once remarked, “All I have told is true, but it is not the whole truth” — referring to the tricky business of shaping sometimes-harrowing memories into charming children’s literature — Wilder the textile artist discourages a narrow interpretation.
“The end results [of Arts & Crafts blockprinting] are always stunning, yet never quite perfect,” she says. “Our class mantra is: ‘That’s the charm of the handmade print.’”
— M.J. MacAodh
The 32nd National Arts & Crafts Conference at the Omni Grove Park Inn happens Friday, Feb. 15 through Sunday, Feb. 17. See arts-conference.com for an agenda and more information.