Bad sewing is a really big inspiration to me, says Chicago fiber artist Danny Mansmith, 36, who creates clothing, accessories, soft sculpture, and drawings in his Northwest Side studio.
I walk into a thrift store and see a garment made by hand thats really badly made. I think They didnt know what they were doing, but they still needed to make this. That sort of fire, thats what its all about for me.
Much of Mansmiths work incorporates fabric scraps, wooden trinkets, found objects like ticket stubs, and old photographs. My grandma was one of my biggest influences. She was a big dumpster diver. She worked as a housekeeper in the wealthy neighborhoods, and sometimes I would help her out. After her shift was over we would walk the alleys, finding things the rich people had thrown away. She would find a chair and reupholster it herself. She would find a frame in the garbage and make a picture to go in it. Her whole house was all found and made things.
Mansmith, the sensitive redhead who was picked on in school, felt shunned by mainstream society. Inspired by fiber-artist friends, he decided to create his own wardrobe as an expression of his identity. I bought the cheapest sewing machine I could find and immediately started taking apart all my clothes and following the patterns. I think I burned through that first machine in about a month.
Eschewing classes and how-to books, Mansmith learned his art by studying the homemade and vintage clothes he found in thrift stores. I wanted to make my work look sort of haphazard and naïve, with flaws, but still be well made, he says. It took me most of the 90s to figure out how to do that.
Mansmith began showing his work in 1999 and opened his own studio in 2005. Its a balancing act, he says of making his art a business. I do this because its my joy. But I have to figure out a way to make some money and feed myself.
He sells his work on Etsy, and has shown in galleries from New York to Florida. He was recently chosen to design custom panels for design giant Herman Millers 2007 Neocon display. I rarely find myself with nothing to do these days, he says.
Mansmith calls his process improvisational and champions a jump-first-ask-questions-later attitude. Dont say, Oh, I cant do this because I dont have money to buy the right paintbrush or the right canvas. When I started painting I didnt have a canvas, so I took the labels off soup cans, gessoed them together, and painted on that.
Mansmith doesnt agonize over the details of his materials or his process, or spend time worrying about what the rest of the fiber art world is doing. I just make things that make me happy.
— Stephen L. Moss
See more of Mansmiths work at scrap-dannymansmith.squarespace.com.
Whats he up to now? Im just getting back from a residency at The Wormfarm Institute. I collaborated with Alexis Ortiz on a site-specific installation using found materials that were at the farm. In October 2009, I collaborated with Pam Louik, using her clay prints and my sewing to create an offering bowl for the annual members show at the ACR gallery. Another collaboration was with Cathi Bouzide; it was inspired by a fabric-wrapped 18-foot corn bin we did last year in Oregon, Ill. Cathi made 10 porcelain miniature corn bins and I responded with sewing and fibers for the show "Collective Conversations in Clay" in Chicago. I was also in a two-person show, Muses Etcetera, with Bert Menco at the Avram Eisen gallery showing my sculptural works, and finally I created a site-specific installation in the show Stitch Me A Story at the Noyes Art Center. I guess I usually work alone, but it is so nice to share and be around other creative spirits. It's inspiring and refuels me to keep working!
Photography by Anna Knott