Mother’s gift manifests into an artistic journey for Aurora professor

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AURORA | Sandra Clark’s northwest Aurora studio in the back of Jubilee Roasting Company is a passage to a bygone era, one in which fabric doesn’t just appear in neatly packaged bundles lining the shelves of the local Hobby Lobby.

Nestled between another visual artist’s studio and garage doors that lead to the coffee shop’s rear parking lot, a bulky, four-shaft loom sits in the center of the work space with an in-progress piece patiently lying across the dozens of warp lines.

A spinning wheel and skein-winder lie in wait nearby. Other, handmade wooden tools — like a homemade umbrella swift that is used to coax hand-spun yarn into a ball-like cluster — pepper the table spaces and shelves on the peripheries.

Demonstrating the beginning of her seemingly endless artistic process, Clark reaches for a heart-shaped wicker basket teeming with wispy clouds of sheep’s wool and begins feeding it into her spinning wheel. She slowly wheedles the mass of fluff onto a spindle by steadily gliding her Birkenstock-clad feet atop two wooden foot pedals.

That’s just the beginning of an artistic process that takes so long, Clark says the hours bleed together to form a single amalgamated effort.

“It takes so much time that I kind of forget,” she says with a chuckle.

After filling the spindle several times over, the artist still has to use an Andean tool to ply the material, wind the skein, soak it in water, stretch it, press it dry with weights, re-organize it with the umbrella swift, wind it with a ball winder, and, finally, measure it using a warping board.

Just spinning enough yarn for a work totaling roughly 20 inches by 62 inches in size takes about 24 hours, according to Clark. She says that after that initial step, she quickly loses track of how much time she devotes to the entire process — one that sometimes involves cooking up noxious chemicals at her house in the Mission Viejo neighborhood.

“I’ve been known to keel over the grill with my respirator, in the snow, stirring my lye,” Clark says, the lye used to eat away at yarn she weaves with a Kevlar core. “The neighbors must wonder what kind of witch I am.”

Clark, an Aurora-based textile artist and resident at Jubilee since last October, has been making fabric works since her mother gave her a sewing machine as a Christmas gift when she was 19 years old. Since then, the medium has managed to creep into just about every aspect of her life.

“I thought that was a really odd gift,” Clark says of the now decades-old sewing machine. “Then it kind of formed the rest of my life.”

Clark’s creative résumé has continued to balloon in recent years, and now includes bachelor and master’s degrees in fibers from Colorado State University as well as several notable commissions. A Chicago-based car dealership purchased a version of her final thesis project from CSU, which features nearly 200 diamond-shaped hanging ornaments strung with holographic thread.

A professor in the art department at the Community College of Aurora by day, Clark says that she’s committed to educating the public and CCA students on the versatility and history of fiber-based art.

“One of my huge passions is to introduce people to fiber art and what it can be instead of just quilting or crocheting,” she says.

Last semester Clark was granted permission to start CCA’s first ever art class devoted solely to fiber artwork. Using small table looms, her students created scarves using a Japanese dying method known as Shibori. The works are currently displayed in a small gallery in Estes Park in a showing that coincides with the town’s annual wool market, which takes place each year at the beginning of June and offers wool from just about any animal capable of producing it, according to Clark.

“Anything that produces a fiber that you can spin, they have,” she says of the gathering in Estes Park. “Alpaca, llama, goats and rabbits — they’ve got it all.”

Clark has also worked as a visiting artist in the art department at Smoky Hill High School.

“A lot of elementary school kids do weaving on a meat tray, and it kills me,” she says of most students’ experience with fabrics. “I think it’s a great experience for that age, but I really want to see it start to come into the high school level, and that’s something I’m working towards through trying to educate teachers.”

Long tethered to her home studio in Mission Viejo, Clark moved to her space in Jubilee last fall after catching wind of the business’ plan to rent small studio spaces to artisans. She says that the transition to a collaborative space has helped enhance her creative output.

“I really wanted to be around other people because working around other artists is very inspiring, even if you’re not doing the same kinds of things,” Clark says. “Just having that kind of daily conversation about art and seeing the different things that people do is so nice and helpful.”