A Little Weather: Cheerleader for Grief
Oct 27, 2017 • Alex Matisse
Jessica Green of A Little Weather is a weaver and homesteader just over the hill from East Fork in the Sandy Mush community. Together with her partner, Daniel Bowman, she raises pigs, cows, and sheep - whose wool she uses in her textiles. She is committed to celebrating and honoring traditional "women's work" - for reasons she so beautifully illuminated when we sat down to chat one sticky, sweaty Tuesday in July.
Jessica was born in Salt Lake City, Utah but moved to Austin, Texas in the late 80s. She says it was a really sweet time to be in Austin...
C: Has it changed?
J: So much. It was a really small town when I moved there. Whole Foods was a tiny co-op and my best friend’s dad ran it. We’d eat grilled cheese in the back of it. That’s a real signifier of change. [...] But Austin is a really sweet spot and I really love going back there - my mom is still there. She’s a real wild, creative lady.
C: Tell me more about her.
J: She is... a true individual. And a real beautiful unifier of so many people’s enthusiasms. She makes beautiful art too, but she’s pretty shy about it. She makes crazy installations and beautiful sculptural things with a lot of humor...she loves to collect old, weird shit - Cracker Jack toys - and makes thoughtful, meditative things with them. And she’s an art consultant - she loves working with folk artists and young artists. She’s constantly looking for what new people are doing and loves to support that and find ways to help their careers.
C: I love the concept of being a unifier of other people’s creative endeavors. You can tell right away when someone has that personality or skill - they’re just such a wealth of information for what’s happening.
J: Yeah. I think enthusiasm is such a wonderful way to be humble. She’s just so excited about other people and knows so much, and it never feels like she’s talking down to anyone or has some kind of aesthetic hierarchy. She approaches everything with such a brightness. And my dad...he lives in New York City. He’s an actor. [...] He was a corporate lawyer and then in his early 40s before he left that work and started teaching yoga and acting.
C: That’s quite a change. Does he get much work as an actor?
J: Yeah, he does. He’s working all the time. Mostly theater, and, like most theater actors, some weird AARP commercials and stuff like that.
C: Do you have a place you feel is home?
J: Western North Carolina really feels like home - like my home. Texas is home in so many ways - it’s the home of my mom, which is a really important place. My cultural home really feels like Salt Lake City, Utah. That’s where my parents come from, and they have these huge families and they’re all still there. I’ve lived in Salt Lake on and off in my adult life while researching my family and doing my undergraduate thesis work.
C: What did you learn about your family while researching them?
J: It’s a deep Mormon history - a path that most of my family is still walking. And so mostly I’ve been curious about how that affects the women and the history of the women in my family. It’s an interesting thing to be able to see from afar - I feel like I have such a beautiful perspective of Mormonism because I wasn’t raised in it, but I was so peripheral to it that it’s not taboo to me or interesting in any silly or voyeuristic ways. But I also don’t have the trauma of it. So I’m able to see all of the beauty and how deeply committed to family they are. And all of the joys of how their rose-tinted glasses are able to affect everyone around them - and the deep, hidden pain that that those rose-colored glasses can create.
C: When I was pregnant I started coming across all these blogs and Instagram feeds by Mormon women with young families - all super young moms in their very early twenties or late teens with these beautifully curated and documented lives - it was hard to tell at first that they were Mormon. Someone told me that the blog and social media world is really embraced by Mormon women because of their longstanding journaling culture.
J: Totally. A deep journaling culture. Really, really important.
C: I don’t think any other community I’ve come across shows the beauty of everyday life quite as thoughtfully as the Mormon community…
J: I know...it’s so special. And not something that a lot of people know about. There’s a beautiful tradition of mom’s giving their daughters their first journals at a certain age. The idea that there’s this deeply private inner life that can be shared and considered - that’s really special. The early Mormon women were also avid journal writers and record keepers, but their stories have been totally subverted and homogenized. Now they’re presented as good wives and mothers when they were actually totally ferocious bitches who were fucking trying to make it work in that mid-19th century search for Utopia.
C: But it’s all written somewhere? This subverted history?
J: Oh yeah, if you go into the archives you can find it and read it. But the women who were finding that history and speaking it who were trying to bring this so-called Unspoken History front and center today, they were getting excommunicated almost immediately. There was all this fear around actually investigating it, which is shocking because so much of the history is about the subversion of women’s voices in the first place. The people who are trying to publicize it or are trying to contextualize their faith through a feminist lens, that’s the thing that’s getting shut down. It's such a complicated culture. So that’s the basis of my whole family. And me and my close friends and my partner joke how it’s so clearly, deeply ingrained in how I see the world and how I function in it.
C: How does Mormon culture express itself in you?
J: I have deep cheerleading positivity.
C: Like that enthusiasm that your mom has.
J: Yeah. My family is really all performers. Even if it's not their profession, when we get together everyone plays the piano and sings songs or tap dances or does a harmonica solo - and that can happen all day, every day, for days! I feel like I have a lot of that in me - being able to see the performance in everyday life.
C: This might not be right, but is there a part of that enthusiasm that’s almost performative too? Like a dance through the bad times mentality?
J: Totally. That’s something that we talk about, particularly with my nana, my mom’s mom. She encourages tap-dancing through the bad times. And that’s something I’m really aware of and something I really don’t want to have as a part of my life. I understand its function in my family’s culture and am thankful that I’m able to see it clearly and make other choices. So I’m a real big cheerleader for grief, too. I believe in embracing the journey into the dark heart of the earth, which is something that really freaks my family out….
C: I love the idea of being a cheerleader for grief, or a director of grief. Grief then becomes something you do rather than something that happens to you or uses you.
J: Yep. My nana just turned 90 and we just got back from a whole family shindig - she has 10 kids - and all those kids brought their kids and some of those kids brought their kids. All in all it was over 130 people. We had a whole family talent show - it lasted well over four hours.
C: What were some of the talents?
J: There were some great young pirates who did some dance numbers. My mom’s sisters have a bunch of kids, so my cousins worked on these really beautifully layered harmony pieces that they sang - they were so touching. Everyone in my family has such beautiful voices, so there was a lot of singing.
C: When you were growing up did everyone have to have a skill or a talent or an activity that was their own?
J: No, it’s much more unified than that - just singing around the piano is enough. And everyone is really humble and shy about it. Some of my cousins have a hard time even looking you in the eye - but then they get up in front of everyone and have these incredibly tender, beautiful, heartfelt songs that they wanted to sing. And my nana makes these incredible melodies - they tell a story and there’s a lot of different songs from musicals that she rewrites the words to - to tell the story of your life or of your marriage - and so my mom and her siblings together wrote this beautiful melody for her that my nana made them perform like three different times throughout the talent show because she loved it so much. And my nana performed so many times on her own because she couldn’t handle not being the center of attention for too long.
C: And in front of a crowd of 130 no less.
J: She had to shuffle up to Buffalo! She had all these short little interludes. So yeah, that’s them! I’m shockingly close to them all. I’m really close to my cousins who are leaving the Church, because I’m one of the few sounding boards for them. And there’s more and more all the time. I’m really close to every single one of my aunts and uncles on both my mom’s and my dad’s side. Family is so important to me. And my younger brothers aren't really close to anyone in our extended family - they didn’t quite get that bug.
C: It’s amazing to see that closeness can happen despite some very fundamental differences in worldview
J: Yeah, totally - it’s fascinating. To be able to let big stuff go and just love each other in this much more basic way.
While we talk, Jessica braids pieces of cut grass, arranging the braids in a mandala on her thigh...
C: And how did you come to weaving?
J: You know...I just did. I didn’t study it in school. I studied Anthropology and Performance Art. When I look back I realize that a lot of the sculptural, modern dance based work I was doing - and it was all so slow and contemplative - were movements that really feel like weaving. I’ve always worked with fiber, I’ve always sewn, I’ve always made clothes, I’ve always been a knitter. But I hadn’t really encountered weaving. When I was living in Brooklyn I was working at the Textile Art Center for a weaver named Tali Weinberg, doing some natural dyeing for her. I sat down at her loom and started weaving...and from then on it was a really fast transition. As soon as I started I had one of those deep karmic washes where it felt like all the information just flowed through me very quickly and then I knew the craft.
C: Not just the physical motions of the craft…
J: No, it really felt like the whole thing. The spirit, the history…it all made total sense. So then it was easy for me to start exploring it deeper right from the beginning. I learned through classic apprenticeships, where cranky old ladies would give me a job.
C: Is the world of weaving mostly still cranky old ladies?
J: Well not any more because it’s just so trendy right now. Which is really exciting…
C: Because now I’m sure people want to come and learn from you…
J: Yeah! And I do love to teach. I feel like I’m so excited about people having a knowledge of cloth and an interest in cloth. But I’m very sensitive to movements becoming commodified and the language around a movement feeling meaningless because everyone is using it and maybe not correctly. I’m curious about where it might go. Community is fucking awesome. But it’s really hard to understand what the next step is and how is that going to affect actual radical change in the world.
C: Do you think of your work as having a social component right now?
J: I would like for it to, but I don’t think it does. My traditional work, the work I do for my business, the work that goes into the world, it doesn’t at all. I’m not really asking people who buy my stuff to think very hard about it, so then I don’t really think hard about it. I’ll say some things about moving slow and say some things about meaning, but everybody’s saying that, so...no. And that’s a really big issue that I have with my business. I’m not really sure how to reconcile that. The big news is - and I don’t think I’ve told you and Alex this! - the big advancement is that the property next door to us went into foreclosure a couple of weeks ago and we just closed on it on Friday. There’s this big crazy Ukrainian-Immigrant American Dream Mc Mansion over there. There’s like five jacuzzis. And everything in it is crazy and wobbly. The family built it all themselves. It’s almost like a fun house. And I want to turn it into a school.
C: Amazing! Had you been into the space before?
J: Never. As soon as it went into foreclosure and we saw the neighbors leaving, they told us everything that was going on. We really loved them a lot and it was fucking tragic and so violent. Just the worst fucking thing. Because they’re just gone.
C: Do you know where they're going?
J: Some of them ended up in Mars Hill but the dad moved to California. There were three generations - like 15 people - living over there. But it’s perfect for a school. So that’s how I’m trying to reconcile all this. Where I do find meaning is creating community with other people. And I love the weaving so much, it really does feel like my soul’s calling, but I’d love to find a way to not rely on that as much as my job.
C: I feel like craftspeople right now are being expected to play so many roles - to have integrity, to revitalize the tradition, to have sustainable businesses, to tell stories that people want to hear...
J: You have to be pure!
C: You have to live a pure, beautiful, bucolic life and create social change and be an active member of your craft community and make it affordable and sell it to fancy people in big cities and big galleries and high end stores. You just can’t do it all.
J: Yeah, it’s just such an unfair thing to ask. It’s killing the potential of the movement.
C: Craft is somehow becoming this counter-culture object. It can all become so politicized.
J: And there doesn't seem to be a forum to have public discourse that feels relevant or useful to me. Craft is where I want to have that conversation, but because of Capitalism that’s a really hard place to do it. Art is not where I want to have that conversation because there’s so many huge pitfalls of misguided narcissism - it can’t happen there. So I feel like education is a very safe place to start putting in some effort. But where I’m most directly focused is on trying to create vibrant community. Which is funny because I live a pretty cloistered life in the middle of nowhere.
C: Yeah, but you have a crew of folks here today, on a random Tuesday afternoon, who are building a sauna and just dug up a makeshift pond - I feel like you do a pretty good job of bringing people together.
J: I’m trying. I feel so committed to slowness - I think that's why I’m a weaver. I’m so comfortable sowing seeds and taking care of them and watching something gently emerge, as opposed to this now, now, now approach. And I’m such a loner, so that also contributes to the slowness. With you and Alex, I consider you really close to me but I don’t actually know you very well and I don’t have any anxiety around that; I don’t think we’re going anywhere anytime soon. So we can slowly meet and merge…
C: Alex is in this position of really wanting to scale the business up right now. We’re in this moment where we need to take off or else we’ll just be stuck standing still and that dilemma creeps into every single part of our life. This week we have two nights that are “free” and Alex is like, “Here’s a short list of people that we should have over for dinner this week.” And I’m like, “Okay, but maybe we can have one night where we just eat dinner by ourselves and go to bed?” It’s true - we’ve probably known you for two years and we’ve seen each other a handful of times - but it’s nice to have a relationship that can just happen in its own time.
J: Especially since for a while I was moving every 18 months - so there was this rush to make the connections you needed to make and build community and make it feel good and try to construct a sense of foreverness on a deadline.
C: I feel like you have to be pretty secure in the life that you’re living to be comfortable with letting things happen slowly. When I first moved out here and I didn’t know anybody, my desire to make things happen right now was so intense. If I spent social time with somebody and two days later I didn’t hear from them again I’d be like Now what? Now what do I do? I guess that relationship isn’t going to happen.
J: Thinking about the pressures you guys have of scaling up the business - I feel so hard for you guys about that. That right there is the active violence of Capitalism - because it really is a now or never thing. And there has to be this “get it done now” mentality.
C: Like if you don’t send an E-mail to this chef or restaurant owner at exactly this time then somebody else is going to get that account and that might lead to such and such publicity. It can be easy to always feel like you're just missing the boat...
J: And that’s what makes me a really bad business person! Because I feel that pressure and I’m like, “Hell no.” And that’s something I respect about Alex - that he feels that pressure and he’s ready to step up to it and still manages to maintain so much integrity, which of course is the real danger. That’s why things are so fucked up.
C: We really try to make sure everything passes the integrity test. We were trying to write some copy the other day and I was like, “Yeesh, this makes us sound like such assholes. We can’t say that!”
J: There is a difference between craft and art - we’re not making our work in a vacuum. And having the community that we have - there are so many voices to chime in and help keep everybody real - it’s so important. And that’s Asheville, too. We have so many folks here making such an effort to be inclusive.
Next stop on this thought train is a conversation I’m sure you’re familiar with about the disconnect between our real lives and the lives our Instagram accounts say we have. I’ll spare you the bulk of it...
J: The external perspective can feel so different from what’s happening. I try so hard to tell the true story. But the fact is that the true story is not always what people want to hear, it’s not even that interesting to them.
C: What’s the story you think people want to hear from you right now?
J: People definitely want to hear this purist story about a homesteader. They want everything to come off the farm. They want me to raise and dye all my own wool. Which just isn’t how it is. I raise like 60% of my wool and I dye a lot of stuff sometimes! It totally depends. They want to hear that my practice is a deeply contemplative, spiritual oasis when in fact a lot of times it really just feels like any old job and sometimes I’m just trying to fucking get shit done. They don’t want to know that I watch Gilmore Girls.
C: Why don’t they wanna hear that?
J: So many of the shops that I sell with want me to show up for launches because it helps them - even though I think arguably it doesn’t. But there’s this really funny game that people play of asking questions until I let them down: Do you live off the grid? No. That’s a really quick one! Some people are done after that one. You’re not who we thought you were.
C: Are people who are asking these questions aspiring to this ideal themselves or do they just want you to be doing it so they feel good about what they’re buying?
J: The really common thing, and I’m sure you get this too, is “You’re living the dream.” It’s like, holy shit. Well...maybe I’m living my dream but I can tell you 100% it is not your dream.
C: The first three years when I lived in Madison County with Alex and East Fork was just getting off the ground, I was horribly depressed. So depressed. A totally different person. And people would be constantly telling me that I was living the dream. They’d write things on my Facebook feed like, “Wow, Connie, what a nice life.” And I would just wanna shake them! Maybe I was living someone’s dream at that time, but it sure as hell wasn’t mine at the time.
J: That’s another thing that gets me excited about the school - being able to give people an opportunity to taste something real about this life. To come for ten days and work really hard and bring them beyond that idealism.[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="2500.0"] Napkins and Runner by A Little Weather with Dinnerware from East Fork [/caption]
I was hoping to get a message to Jessica . I accidentally came across her site, or was it the Universe stepping in with a little guidance for me to see and feel something so esthetically fresh and calming in design? Either way… wow!Jessica use to be my niece by marriage. And before I realized the beautiful weaving was “that Jessica” I was so overwhelmed by the beauty that this woman had created and in a way that still managed to feel so calming and simplistic.
As I read and realized it was “that Jessica” I really wasn’t surprised.
I knew her as a child and I always felt drawn to her sweetness and impressed by her grace. She was my favorite. I still remember how amazing it was to have her and her best friend help us prepare for our beautiful wedding., which was hosted at her mom and dads home. This is a wonderful family that she came from and described so perfectly in your interview.
If Jessica was open to reconnecting with a friend from the past, I would surely love to say hello.
And back to the original reason I was hooked in, her work is stunning, also not surprising, as I remember from years ago, she was always creative. I would love to buy one or more of her pieces to hang in my home as well as one of my businesses.
If you are so inclined, please pass this note along to her.
Great and enlightening article.