Signature Pieces

Signature Pieces

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Transparency, 2011; habotai silk, merino wool, bamboo fiber

An Indigo Crane piece is not just a scarf; it's a statement. Anna Katherine Curfman's glowing, textured, nuno-felted work is more like a floating, wearable sculpture. That's no accident, but maybe it's serendipity.

Curfman had always dreamed of designing clothes. The Bainbridge Island, Washington-based artist was inspired by her mother, a gifted sewing teacher who owned a fabric shop and designed children's clothing. Once Curfman arrived at the Rhode Island School of Design, however, apparel design somehow didn't feel like a good fit. She switched to graphic design. After graduation, she spent a year as a packaging designer for Nordstrom. Then, through a RISD connection, she learned that glass master Dale Chihuly was looking for a designer for his books. Curfman landed the job.

In the nine years she worked with Chihuly, she examined thousands of slides of his work. Studying Chihuly's unexpected, layered color combinations made Curfman rethink the way color works. "I walked away with a sense of fearlessness about color," she says. Meanwhile, her career in graphic design took off.

As a release from the hours and deadlines of her job, Curfman decided to take a four-hour workshop on nuno felting. It was a revelation. "When I got home, I said to my husband, ‘This is what I am supposed to do,' " she says. She found herself transfixed by the possibilities of the method and began honing her skills and developing original techniques. Felt - at once a textile, a sculpting material, and a means of layering color - is as versatile a medium for Curfman as glass is, perhaps, for Chihuly.

The scarves she now creates are in a class all their own. The fine layers of merino fiber felted through a base of gauzy sari silk allow underlying colors to show through, causing optical blending, while areas of silk left bare ripple and undulate. Many of her pieces also allow light to travel through open spaces or structural curves, adding depth and luminosity to the color. The final effect is striking.

When Curfman introduced her scarves at craft shows in the West and Midwest over the past several years, business built quickly. Appearing as an emerging artist at the American Craft Exposition in Illinois in 2009 helped her define and understand her clientele. Appealing to a remarkably broad age range, the scarves are a particular hit with professional women. Designed to be worn throughout the day, the delicate-looking accessories are actually remarkably durable, and travel beautifully. Many of Curfman's clients find the scarves become a signature item in their wardrobes.

"My clients often tell me they will wear, say, an all-black or all-brown outfit and the scarf, and that's it," she says. "They don't need jewelry,
they don't need a lot of clothes. They put on the scarf, and they are put together for the day.
It becomes their go-to thing for business outfits. It sets them apart from their friends. It says they care about art, they support art. And it's easier to buy than clothes."

Rachel Schalet Crabb is a fiber artist and writer in Minneapolis.