Power of the Arts Coordinator Karen Schubert caught up with Linda Shevel, owner of Three Sheep Gallery & Workshop, who one day dreamed of bringing creative women together.
There was a time in my life (and it's still happening) when I kept making friends with talented ladies. Each one creative in their own way. In my 40's, I guess I was thinking about "retirement" years and how I would like to spend them. Well, wouldn't it be nice to have a place to live, a lodge perhaps, where your friends could join you, all bringing a little something different to the table, be it gardening, pottery, cooking, sewing... We could host retreats and be self-supporting, not a hippie commune, just good friends living a good life. Well, fast forward a few years and here I am at Three Sheep, gallery & workshop. My friends don't live with me, but we are all creative, and love sharing our talents with others. We strive to work well together, create beautiful items and we want to share this experience with you…
This is Karen Schubert for Power of the Arts and I'm at the very lovely Three Sheep Gallery in Boardman, on Market Street, with the lovely owner Linda Shevel. Linda, Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with me today.
Linda Shevel: Oh, thank you Karen, and thank you for including me!
Karen: So I’m here and it’s this bright, cheerful shop with so many colors and textures. I love the lights. I can see that you have wonderful eye for design. So, before we get to the heart of this work, just tell me a little bit about encountering this space and how you envisioned it. How it’s divided here, the lights, and the lighting. What did you love about this space? Did it happen that way? Was it accidental?
Linda: It sort of didn’t happen that way –
Linda: I never intended to have a gallery, I never intended to have a store. My husband has a project where he makes grills –
Karen: He makes them…?
Linda: He makes Brazilian barbecue grills. And we are in the old Amer’s Hobby Shop building which is around the corner from our house. When they closed it was the perfect place for him to be, the back half of the building. So he said, well you can have the front half and the store you always wanted with your friends. And I said what store is that? And I have always dreamed of having a lodge where my friends can come and live with me. And they all had to bring something to the table, If they wove or threw pots or liked to garden or cook, so the concept for the store is to just to bring my friends in and we all do things that we enjoy.
Karen: That’s an amazing beginning! So, your friends are very talented. [Laughter] You have people who are painting with so many different kinds of paints and tinctures. You have classes and there is this fiber art. Tell me about everything.
Linda: Wow [Laughter], so we started about two years ago,
Karen: Only two years?
Linda: Yeah, less than two years. I had a handful, just a handful of friends, because I’m not from this area and I searched out a few new friends. We started with twelve ladies and we had so many that made cookies and so many could made jewelry and a couple painted. I knit and spin, you know, so it started with these twelve ladies and we have over eighty ladies involved. I do have two gentleman whose products are here, but I do keep it ladies because that was my original concept. Oh goodness, I would kind of have to walk around to see everything we have. The cards, and glass work, silver work, raw cooking, all kinds of things.
Karen: Yeah, it’s incredible. And why focus on women?
Linda: Because that was my original plan when I think of my lodge. I still think of this space as preparation for my lodge, or maybe it is my lodge. Just a way to connect with women and friends and we can all learn from each other. I think it’s great to connect different ages of women together just to see a different viewpoint, the group of women together. It’s really a variety of different things we can learn and benefit from each other.
Karen: Including girls, I see your pictures of girls taking classes.
Linda: Yeah, we have a few grandmothers and granddaughters that come in for classes or mothers and daughters coming in to take classes together too. We had a grandson and that was good too, he was really well behaved. We work with one of the local homeschool groups and their girls come in and do fiber projects and writing projects. All at all different ages. From seven years old to ninety years old.
Karen: Oh my gosh!
Linda: We have one that just celebrated her ninetieth birthday and comes out to take classes and knit and paint things.
Karen: That’s really great, and women are interested in trying things they’ve never done before? How do you create a space for that?
Linda: Some of them just learn from each other and they see that someone else is having fun doing it and they want to give it a try. There’s no failure. It is a safe place to experiment and try something new. Maybe you like it or maybe you don’t.
Karen: You’re deliberately fostering that environment?
Linda: Yes, when we have classes, I like to have classes that everybody succeeds in. If it’s not that it’s that easy to do but if that was the right instruction and encouragement that everyone can be creative and make something.And something that they’re sort of proud of.
Karen: Yeah, especially if you are just beginning, you keep continuing to practice and to work into something you’re even more proud of.
Linda: Some people can be intimidated need it and say oh she does it so well I can’t do it. But when you encourage each other and I’m going to jump to something else, but we’re starting to do a type of weaving where the philosophy that is in the weaving is more important than the weaving itself. Part of that philosophy is that there is no student and teacher, that we can all learn from each other.
Karen: That’s really great. So, you sent me a few narratives and some comments from people who had taken classes with you, I think, and some others. Is that right?
Linda: The narratives that I sent were quotes from my artisans that have their work here and are about what moves them to create their art or how they got started. Some sweet stories.
Karen: Yeah, they were really terrific. I remember the one woman saying that she loved making mud pies, I remember that so much when I read that.
Linda: -and then decorated her mud pies with flowers. I’m not sure if that's in her narrative but that is part of her is in her story but she is a fabulous potter now.
Karen: Oh that is really great. So what do you remember making?
Linda: I remember making cookies, which was one of the first things with my mother. And doing some needlework with my grandmother. It was just nice time spent with them. I don’t know what type of cookies or embroidery floss but just the time that was spent with my mom.
Karen: Yeah, that’s really wonderful. So, tell me about your spinning and knitting.
Linda: So I’ve been a knitter since the 70’s, getting older, and I lived in Maine at the time and they were knitting with locally sourced yarn and it was really rough.
Karen: What was it, alpaca?
Linda: It was wool, I don’t know what grade of sheep it was from but it was pretty rough and scratchy –
Karen: Because Alpaca’s soft…
Linda: Alpaca is very soft. So that’s what you did up in Maine in the winter when it was cold. I knit a long time and I made to apply to a went to a fiber show a few years ago, yeah I’m a knitter. But the spinning is interesting. I evolved into spinning and the weaving looks interesting but I don’t do that either. So now I brought that in and it all goes together. To use your hands by knitting with yarn, it’s fun. It’s rewarding. It's great to say I made this
Karen: And that wonderful tactile experience. I think that’s what I love about cooking, having my hands in all the different textures, and you can smell, it’s so physical.
Linda: I’m picturing the herbs…
Karen: Exactly, it gets all over your hands. How does spinning work, you begin with what?
Linda: Well, I begin with fleece that has already been cleaned and pretty much prepared. They sheared the sheep and then they have to (I think it’s called skirting) they separate the usable fiber from the not usable and it has to be washed, or not washed, and they take the lanolin and it is very greasy, you could spin the grease before its washed. Then it’s combed and it’s just a nice texture to work with. From there you can dye the fiber yourself or there is lots of independent dyers and you can buy beautiful colors and different grades of sheep. That’s where you begin.
Karen: Are there local or regional sources or where does it come from?
Linda: It comes from all over the place, it’s nice to have U.S. raised sheep or alpaca. We have some alpaca here that is locally sourced. A lot of our fibers that are here are grown in the U.S. and prepped and dyed in the U.S. There are some fibers that aren’t.
Karen: Do you get any from New Zealand?
Linda: My spinning wheels are from New Zealand and I don’t know if I have fibers from New Zealand at this time or not, I’d have to check the shelves.
Karen: That’s really cool. So, also I saw on your website that you’re also involved with charity crafts. So women are knitting blankets?
Linda: So, the charity crafting before opening the shop I had a group that met at my house twice a month and we would make things for ourselves and it would be a variety of things. From blankets for babies, to toys for child advocacy, to nursing homes, and blankets. When I opened the shop and didn’t have time to meet with my friends at home anymore, I thought it was it is important to give back to the community. Once a month we have charity crafting and we make some baby gowns for the Heal program at Saint Elizabeth’s, we do some projects for child advocacy, we do knitted knockers for breast cancer survivors. We just started weaving hats to go to cancer centers. W, we’ve adopted, officially now, the Joni Abdu breast cancer center and Salem hospital with our knitted knockers.
We have great artisans who does a polymer clay and worked with all the homeschool girls and they made beads. Their breads were turned into bracelets for Hospice of the Valley, for the children’s bereavement classes. It is the charity crafting, my thought on it, women can come together and we don’t charge anything for the time they spend together and we supply all of the materials and people donate things so that everyone is on an equal playing field. Because not everybody can afford a class. If you have or are wonderfully talented in anything, if the only thing you can do is use a pair of scissors, there is something that you can participate in and is beneficial to the whole group. It just helps the ladies who do the work to be together. It helps the community with whatever it is we’re going to donate and find a home for.
Karen: That’s really great. I think a lot of the valley perceive that there is so much need, but we don’t necessarily know what to do about that. You’ve found a way that is so personal for everyone that is involved. It’s wonderful.
Linda: I had some of the homeschool girls one Saturday they came in and we made bracelets and this is the only time we’ve done this and this is a good idea, they made macramé bracelets and we took them to the ARC for bingo prizes. I don’t want the girls to deal with something too tragic and so we try to fit things about who was there that day.
Karen: Oh that’s really great. So how much of a geographic area are you drawing people in from do you think?
Linda: Akron A lot of what we do is kind of specialized for the spinning wheels and the fiber and that draws people from the fiber community.
Karen: Is there a network of shops and artisans? Not really?
Linda: We have a local spinning group and they hold their meetings here once a month. They were displaced form the fairgrounds right when I opened and I had been part of the group, so they asked if they could come here.
Karen: Are they growing their own wool?
Linda: No, they’re spinning, some of them have angora sheep and angora bunnies, and have different things. Probably the majority of them spin, primarily.
Karen: That’s really great. How difficult is it for you to compete with chains and online markets. Do you think that’s a struggle for you?
Linda: My business plan is to have a place where my friends can come and make things. S you know you can go to a chain store and have a 50 percent off coupon and we really can’t do that because I have these women who bring me their products to sell and they set their prices. If they want to put it on sale they can, but I can’t put their works on sale. And you know we are a business and we need to keep the lights on, but my purpose is more to take good care of the ladies who come in as artisans or come in as someone to take a class or come in to have a cup of tea.
Karen: Maybe in the consumer landscape-- we haven’t had a nuanced conversation about the difference about something that is mass-produced and warehoused and something that is handmade in a small batch and important to the local community and local economy. But still you are in the impoverished area and I hear you being aware of that as well. It is a bit tricky here, right?
Linda: Sharing the space with my husband helps with that. That I don’t have 100 percent of the pressure to take care of everything on my own here and I think in time you know, I don’t know... that we have a nice experience for people when they come in and hopefully they feel welcome and they bring a friend to share that with them.
Karen: You and I were chatting a little bit before and we were saying that our perception is that people are interested in making things more. Do you have any ideas about why that might be? that's my perception. Do you have any ideas on why that may be?
Linda: There’s just a satisfaction in making something. If you like to cook and as you prepare you meal and it feels good, tastes good or not, it feels good that you made something. Just to be able to make something, that’s what I think.
Karen: I think so too. It’s interesting to think about how women’s lives changed whre a few generations ago, not so long ago it was women’s lives about making things. It was hard worth and a measure of her worth, and her endless work.
Linda: Her endless work and years ago you would want to take a break from that work and now when you get a break you want to do that work.
Karen: Yeah, just to get back into those textures and experience of accomplishment.
Linda: And things are so pretty. And there is so many pretty things to see. And if you see it as if you paint, and some of our painting classes and the alcohol paint colors are fun and vibrant. That in itself is pleasurable and if you can turn it into something visual that is even better.
Karen: I see handmade arts everywhere I go; it just seems like our community really makes a space for that. It sounds like you’ve met a lot of people in the community, you haven’t really been here so long. What do you, I feel like I might be throwing you a curve ball here, so go ahead and duck if that's the case, but I just wonder if you have any thoughts about what people who grew up here don’t know about this place. That you know having just arrived.
Linda: This community? That this community is rich. That it might be a depressed area, but there is a lot of richness here, and a lot to enjoy, a lot to see and experience. I grew up outside of Philadelphia, there’s a lot going on in Philadelphia and a lot of history. I had some high school friends visit for the first time and we went to the Butler. Oh My. We have this treasure right here and I don’t know all the places to see yet but I was really proud to have the Butler there and it was free. How many people have lived here their whole lives who have never gone or never gone to the rose garden? People need to get out there and experience. Not to-- I say free, free, free-- it is worth spending your money to experience art, but it is available to everyone. No matter what extra money you have to spend in that area or not you can still go to enjoy these things.
Karen: Well that is a wonderful note to end on. That was a perfect hit and let’s make sure people come and visit you at this treasure. You’re in the former Amer's Hobby shop, Market Street, almost to 224. Just a stone’s throw from you.
Linda: People go to the Health Foods which is right across from us.
Karen: Was there anything else you wanted to touch on?
Linda: Well we can meet some new friends when you come to visit and we welcome men too. We don’t encourage it but we don’t discriminate. There’s a table conversation when there’s a man in the class and that’s not always a bad thing, it can be a very good thing, too. It’s a safe place for women.
Karen: Thank you so much Linda, we really appreciate it.
Linda: Thank you, Karen.