Chuck France/University Relations

Neil Goss kneels at the entry of Earthway Studio, a project he constructed near Lindley Hall and the Art and Design Building. Goss will use the project as a work studio and a space to educate the campus community about traditional practices such as dyeing natural fabrics.

Down to Earth

'Earthway Studio' to double as art installation, educational space

As the sun comes out and melts the freezes of a long winter, it’s not uncommon to daydream about moving a workspace outdoors. While most university employees can’t drag a desk outside to enjoy a sunny day, one KU student is taking his studio to the outdoors and building it, literally, from the ground up.

While most students were off campus enjoying spring break, Neil Goss, a fourth year textiles major from Pratt, Kan., was building “Earthway Studio,” a project he lovingly refers to as a “truncated, inverted teepee.” The studio, constructed entirely from foraged tree limbs and materials, will be his place of work for the rest of the semester. He also plans to use it to reach out to the campus community and share his knowledge of traditional, natural and ancient textiles and ceramic methods.

“In this installation I will be able to share and display the technical and craft skills I have been developing for three years here at the university,” Goss wrote in a proposal for the project. “Those processes include spinning, dyeing, weaving, basketry and wheel-thrown pottery. My reciprocal relationship with nature will be represented by the use of our vegetal, animal and earth matter to create and compose artworks. Through these activities, I will be able to introduce and expose the general public to the possibilities that are stored in our land.”

The studio, located in the wooded area in front of Lindley Hall and the Art and Design Building, across from the Chi Omega Fountain, will be on display until May 15. Goss gathered 21 10 to 12 foot branches and buried them about two feet deep to form the stakes, or walls. He then wound hand-woven and naturally-dyed hemp strips around the outside. The top is open.

“It’s essentially a large basket,” Goss said of the studio. “I had the idea of it being open and harnessing energy from the sky and placing it directly into the ground.”

Submitted/Neil Goss

This model shows the original coneption of Earthway Studio.

While in the studio he’ll be doing his ceramic, dyeing and weaving work that he would have done indoors, all with the intent of drawing in interested faculty, staff, students and passers by to learn more. Goss will post signs outside the studio explaining the work and will invite interested parties inside to learn more. He has scheduled a series of performances to demonstrate various natural techniques. The first, “The Earth Run,” will cover collecting materials for construction, dyeing and even for food. In the second, he will gather water from Potter Lake and demonstrate how it can be used for dye baths. On Earth Day, April 22, he will collaborate with dance students Jennifer Walker and Raylene Gutierrez for “The Earth Dance.”

Goss will be doing the lion’s share of the work on and in the studio, but he credits several faculty members for helping make the project a reality, including Mary Anne Jordan, professor of textiles and chair of the Visual Arts Department, Ruth Bowman, associate professor of textiles; David Brackett, assistant professor of textiles; Carla Tilghman, lecturer in textiles, Marshall Maude and So Yeon Park, assistant professors of visual art.

“Neil has a truly heartfelt interest in sustainable textiles and textile processes,” Jordan said. “He is an ambitious and serious student and we look forward to his work in the Earthway Studio on campus. This will be a new experience for him and for the Department of Visual Art. I hope that people visiting campus and current students will stop to see Neil's work and engage in a conversation about any aspect of the performance and resulting artwork.”

A senior, Goss hopes to graduate next year. He plans to attend graduate school with the ultimate goal of becoming a textiles professor. Before settling in to grad school, he hopes to take some time to live off the land. His grandparents own a large parcel of land in Oklahoma, and he says he’d like to take time to put the lessons he’s learned to use by gathering and foraging everything he needs for food and shelter.

In the meantime, he’s looking forward to both practicing traditional, and even ancient, native techniques for collecting and dyeing natural fabrics and educating the public about them.

“I think a lot of people have no idea that these things are still being practiced, or ever were practiced,” Goss said.

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