By Megan M. Seckman

Vallorie sews a Nuno piece of fabric, which she created to make her top.  Nuno involves felting together merino wool and silk to produce a warm and soft fabric. Photos by Melissa Donald  




Like most art, Vallorie Henderson’s textiles mirror her life. She takes fragments of felted wool and silk, a traditional technique inspired by her native Kentucky roots, cuts them up into morsels of color, and pieces them together to make a masterpiece. The lines are sometimes askew, the edges are often rough, the array of colors contrast, yet somehow create cohesion. The final product is not perfect, it is never precise, but each imperfection helps to create a small miracle. It is alive, organic, and raw. A new life born from scraps of disjointed ideas.

This is also the work Vallorie does as a management consultant with the Small Business Development Center. She takes entrepreneurs’ ideas, oftentimes fragmented and raw, and helps them piece together the tedious process of starting a business.

Vallorie created the Nuno top she is wearing in this photo. 

“I see art in entrepreneurship, and the business in art. Entrepreneurs have to be creative; business is creative. As an artist, I believe it is important to lead by example; I want to help other artists sell their work, and I believe that people should be able to make a living doing what they love. In my art, it’s always about the construction, not the surface design. I see beauty in the fabrics and piece them together like a quilter. So, what I do [at the SBDC] is a natural step —I help entrepreneurs piece together their vision into something sustainable,” Vallorie says.

Vallorie was raised in Somerset, Kentucky, and comes from a long line of crafty women. She learned the art of native basket weaving from her grandmother, a Cherokee, and she spent much of her childhood learning to quilt with her mother. The call toward traditional crafts was strong, so it was a natural step for her to attend Berea College. There, she learned to weave using a four-harness loom and pursued her interest in textiles.

These baskets, also created by Vallorie, are on her fireplace mantle. She says the inspiration for these art pieces comes from nature. 

“There were many expectations for me to carry on the art of traditional basket making, but it was too precise for me, too exact. I liked fibers and was introduced to the Japanese tradition of Wabi-sabi.”

Wabi-sabi is a technique that uses unrefined, minimally processed natural products, subtle hues, and rough edges to create art that celebrates imperfection. Wabi-sabi philosophy finds beauty in the blemishes, reminding us of our impermanence. Many of these characteristics are found in Vallorie’s fiber art.

Vallorie creates her own version of a burden basket. These are typically woven baskets made by Native Americans. 

“My art is never perfect, but I am able to be a successful artist because I’m really good at marketing myself. I am truly ambidextrous. I can go back and forth between analytical thinking and creative thinking with ease. There are many artists who are better than me, but I know I am doing the right thing. I think art is about making change in your community, and I can do that by coming out of my studio and helping other people.” Vallorie learned the business side of art after earning her MFA in fibers from Miami University in Ohio. She gained an arts administration background while working for various museums and the Kentucky Arts Council. She has been able to support her career in art through the expertise in business and marketing she gleaned throughout the years. Vallorie’s art is now sold in 23 states, and she has received countless artist grants to further her professional development. She loves to pass along her strategies for success to Louisville’s business startups and budding artists.

This art piece is an example of Wabi-Sabi, a Japanese technique based on creating a piece of fabric that celebrates imperfection and finds the beauty in blemishes. Photo provided by Vallorie Henderson

Still, Vallorie sees herself as an artist first, a managing consultant second.

“My job has given me paid vacations and health care, but my art keeps me content. I can retire from my job, but I will never retire as an artist. Making art keeps me out of trouble, it makes me happy. Right now, I don’t need to date, I just want to make art.”

To see examples of her art, go here.



Reading

  • Sharon Louden’s The Artist as Culture Producer is a collection of essays written by current artists about their experiences balancing their art with earning a living. Each essay helps to develop the common theme: the positive impact that artists have on our communities and the role of the artist as change-maker in our society.
  • Greatbigstory.com This is part of Vallorie’s morning ritual, just before her morning yoga. It is a newsletter she receives every day that contains stories from all over the world about various topics. On the morning of our interview, Vallorie had read a story about how Curious George escaped the Nazis.
  • Marriage of Opposites by Elizabeth Hoffman. This historical fiction novel is about painter Camille Pissarro’s life in the early 1800s.

Watching
Vallorie was going to the film Victoria and Abdul with her daughter the evening of our interview.
“I’m a huge Masterpiece Theatre nerd. Right now I’m loving Poldark, which is set in Cornwall and stars a gorgeous Irish actor. It’s my guilty pleasure right now,” Vallorie says.


Listening to

  • Neil Young’s new release Hitchhiker
  • Local musicians: Ben Sollee, Jim James, and Appalatin are her favorites
  • Vallorie’s all-time favorite musician is Santana