Handmade: Fiber artists take advantage of business idea
Jocelynn Brown, The Detroit News 12:07 a.m. EST December 25, 2014
When opportunity knocked, Mandisa Smith and business partner Leslie “Najma” Wilson, both fiber artists, welcomed it with open arms.
After learning about the 2013 “Revolve Detroit” competition, a collaborative program of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation designed to “foster the evolution and vibrancy of Detroit’s neighborhood business districts,” the business-savvy artists entered the contest and were named among its winners.
“We had the opportunity to move into a pop-up space for three months,” Smith says. “After the three months, we signed the lease, and here we are. We’ve been open since September 2013.” The two opened their pop-up space under the name Detroit Fiber Works on Livernois, just south of West Outer Drive in Detroit, an historic area once known as the “Avenue of Fashion” during its time of financial growth.
The women have both garnered an impressive career in the world of fiber art and beyond. Smith has worked in numerous mediums, including textile design, painting and marbling on fabric, papermaking, bookmaking, glass fusing and bead making, jewelry design and metalsmithing. Her work has been featured in the Grosse Pointe Art Center’s National Fiber Show, and sold at Savvy Chic, Dell Pryor Gallery, Arts Extended Gallery, Lawrence Street Gallery, Michigan Artisans and the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center. She was also featured in Hour Detroit magazine.
Wilson, a fiber artist for more than 30 years, studied at the College for Creative Studies, where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts. Currently retired, she worked in education for 18 years in the Detroit Public Schools system, and spent two years teaching children in Ghana, Benin and Senegal. A board member of Arts Extended Gallery, Wilson has had her fiber work exhibited in Boston, Chicago, Detroit and Washington, D.C.
As co-owners of Detroit Fiber Works, Smith and Wilson showcase not only their work, but also that of other artists, including those who come to town to do trunk shows at their gallery, where small gift items are also available. “We have work in all genres on the wall. Our goal is twofold,” Smith says. “We want to have a space filled with beautiful things, but we also want to offer things made by other artists.
“Business has been steadily improving,” says Smith, who was a craft finalist for the 2014 Martha Stewart “American Made” contest. “People are getting to know we’re here by word of mouth, and we’ve built up a pretty good email list with over 1,500 people on the list.”
Detroit Fiber Works was recently named among winners of the Knight Arts Challenge, which through the Knight Foundation “invests in artistic excellence, funding arts projects that engage the Knight resident communities in collective cultural experiences.”
Plans for the new year will include a list of classes to help individuals learn different fiber art techniques.
Detroit News Staff Writer Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more craft news and giveaways, visit her blog at detroitnews.com/crafts.
Contact Detroit Fiber Works (19359 Livernois, Detroit 48221) at (313) 610-5111 or visit detroitfiberworks.com.