It was a Christmas snowstorm 20 years ago that blew through the life of Judé Ernest of Parkview Drive and changed her direction.
An engineer with a young child, she spent two very cold weeks in Minnesota with her husband’s beloved grandmother, who was pretty convinced that if Ernest didn’t learn to do something else with her hands besides hold the baby, little Max was going to be spoiled rotten. Granny’s solution to her concerns was to hand Ernest metal needles.
“She grabs me by the hands, and she says, ‘Sit here. I’m going to teach you how to knit.’” Ernest says. “So we started doing the family booty pattern.”
The process awakened in the young woman’s questing mind a fascination with the process of working with fibers that led to decades of experimentation, countless classes from other artists and techniques from around the world.
As she explains to anyone lucky enough to visit her studio on Cedar Boulevard, where vibrant colors cascade from every surface in silks and wools, the fibers have microscopic scales that will tangle, binding them together. Like links in a chain, the more connections that are made between the strands, the stronger the material becomes.
Her dedication to her art surprised everyone, including her spouse, whose plans for a gift were waylaid in favor of a needle felting loom.
“For our 20th anniversary, Bryan wanted to get me a new ring, but I said, “Honey, this machine is a little bit more than the ring.’”
With this machine and her gathered knowledge, she creates brooches and shawls, paintings and fabrics, clothing and her own happiness.
It is important to her that her materials are earth friendly. She works with tiny pellets spun by worms to release silk that resembles gauzy quilt squares, and she gets to know farmers of sheep and alpacas so well that she can sometimes name the animal who gave the wool in her creations.
Through this work she teaches. As the Mt. Lebanon Library’s Artist in Residence, she helps all kinds of artists build their skills in Makers’ Space (a project currently getting an upgrade), and she teaches fabric art classes for groups and individuals by request.
“My contact with people becomes part of my fabric of life,” she says. “It just keeps on weaving.”
She can’t seem to stop teaching any more than she can stop making art, offering informal lessons that evolve from her conversations with people who approach her booth at shows like the Mt. Lebanon Artists’ Market or friends who happen to call her on the phone.
Her classes, whether planned or impromptu, move seamlessly from the science of the tangled fibers to the ethnic history of different techniques. But philosophy always seems to be where her lessons end, as Ernest will eventually explain how she believes that the fibers are like each of us: tangled up together trying to create something beautiful from this life.
Ernest tips for learning to create art
There is art in all of us if we only open up and try. “I want people to find their expression, their interpretation, their uses,” she says.
“Don’t stop at one thing. Take a journey and do something completely different.” There is no model for your art.
“There are no mistakes,” she says. “Often times, I make things, and I have an idea, and it doesn’t work out. But I don’t discard that.” She instead uses the lessons to inform her next steps.