Nora Renick Rinehart: Standing on the Horizon of a Revival

-Michelle Argento

American folk & craft and mixed media arts have recently seen a massive revival amongst a new generation. Throughout the country, millennial artists have begun to put their stamp on media such as woodworking, quilt making, glass art, and utility art. For emerging artist and teacher Nora Renick Rinehart, the budding reemergence of fabric-based mixed media art has opened up doors while also letting her repent for an early childhood faux pas. 

A Crafty Start

Collaboration with *Liz Anna Kozik

Renick Rinehart remembers her childhood in Massachusetts as “whimsically crafty.” Her family would allow her to explore her wildest whims—even if it was out of reach of her skillsets. When asked about her earliest memory of impactful art, she describes how, at three years old, she enlisted her mother to assist her in making shoes:

She got out her sewing machine and some pattern paper and went about trying to build a three dimensional, shoe-like form. I being three and therefore not the smartest person on the planet, traced my foot on to cardboard, had it cut out for me, and then duct taped the cardboard soles to a pair of socks. I wore those shoes around for weeks.

Renick Rinehart’s mother enjoyed arts and crafts, and she encouraged her daughter’s artistic dreams through a nearby arts center. However, what really set her on an artistic path was an incident over the holidays. “I hurt my mother’s feelings by insulting her homemade Christmas present,” Rinehart laments. The event “scarred” her, she continues, setting her off on a quest to both perfect and defend objects made by hand.

By fifteen, Renick Rinehart had gone through nearly every fabric at both the nearby arts and crafts stores. She had her pick of “an extensive selection of arts classes” in high school, where she developed a strong interest in photography. By the time she was starting college at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, she had a plan to combine her passion, photography, with something more practical: arts education.

Finding Fibers

Collaboration with *Liz Anna Kozik

Collaboration with *Liz Anna Kozik

Today, Renick Rinehart primarily makes a living as a teacher; she also has been producing some photography projects of late. While this is exactly what she began college by studying, however, neither course gave her what she felt she needed. She was particularly interested in feminist and female-centric views on history and society. “I wanted to learn social history [and] women’s history,” she explains, adding that her ideal department would have “a supportive female environment” and focus on a technical education.

She was surprised to find everything she could have wanted in a place she didn’t even know existed. “I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a Fibers program until I discovered the one at MICA,” she says. “It was my saving grace.” Renick Rinehart graduated from MICA in 2007 with a BFA in Fibers.

Following graduation, Renick Rinehart moved to Philadelphia, which she calls a “great (i.e. ‘cheap’) city for a recent grad to start an art career.” Though the city boasts a population of more than 1.5 million, she explains that its tight-knit communities and neighborhood-oriented feel offered her the perfect opportunity to find a niche in order to show her early works. She also learned the benefits of freelancing, picking up some stitching work for the well-known Fabric Workshop and Museum. In 2010, she left Philadelphia for her current space in Chicago, where she maintains her own studio and teaches at the Lillstreet Art Center.

Renick Rinehart’s productions blend an ever-changing sense of style and brilliant eye for color-texture combinations with a sense of humor that she calls one of the best ways for an artist to endear herself to an audience. “A little bit of humor,” she muses, “goes a long way to… making [an audience] question itself in relation to a piece or an idea…. It can be such a powerful tool.”

To supplement her living as an artist, Renick Rinehart teaches and hosts seminars at Lillstreet Art Center in Logan Square. Through these courses, she hopes to imbue students with “the confidence to continue working on their own, the inspiration for new projects, and enthusiasm for the processes.” She says she’d eventually like to teach at the college level.

Renick Rinehart has also taken advantage of the easy-to-use boutique sales on Etsy to craft on-demand. Though her sales have been “reliably unreliable” since she first opened her shop in 2006, she is happy to use the pre-existing structure to conduct online business rather than having to set up her own shop or go through the expense of selling through consignment. She continues:

I like the flexibility that Etsy provides. I can make what I want, when I want, and however many I want—which is perfect, since sometimes I don’t want to make anything to sell. I prefer to take commissions and work hand-in-hand with customers to create whatever it is they need or want.

While she doesn’t foresee her situation changing in the immediate future, Renick Rinehart says she’s keeping her possibilities open. “Some days,” she says, “I see myself doing this forever: making stuff, teaching textiles, talking about art… And then other days, I just want to pack it all up and open a tailoring shop instead.” 

Always the Artist

Still, in her heart, it is very obvious Renick Rinehart will always be an artist. Whether it is in the textiles of her professional medium or the photography that has long been a passion, Renick Rinehart describes her art as lovingly as a mother might describe her children. “My work tends to be disparate in concepts and aesthetics,” she explains. “It approaches an experience and tries to suss out its universalities.”

Her most recent work, Blue is the Sky, is some of the most immediate of her career. The photographic series was created over ten months as a daily installment of commercial paint colors close to each day’s sky color. Through an emphasis on emotion over analysis, Renick Rinehart explores the differences between perception and reality via a truly universal, yet personal, subject.

Though she has been working in photography of late, Renick Rinehart still holds fibers dear. “Textiles have a ubiquitous presence in our lives,” she says lovingly. “We wear them; we dress our houses with them; their production propels our global economies.” She believes her audiences bring with them personal experience that adds to their understanding of a textile work. All of these, she says, have led to a resurgence of textile work, particularly handmade folk designs. “It might sound cheesy,” she concludes, “but I think fiber is the material of the moment.” That’s certainly a great thing for someone who has been designing artistic wares since she was three. Her designs may have grown more intricate and advanced, but the same do-it-yourself spirit remains.

Collaboration with *Liz Anna Kozik

To see Nora’s work in person, you can check out her exhibits at Bedford Galleries in Walnut Creek, CA (through May 25th); and shows in Chicago at the Lillstreet Art Center’s Gallery Annex (through April 13th), Beauty and Brawn Gallery and Think Space (April 12th-May 31st), and Chicago Artist Coalition (May 31st-June 16th).

You can follow Nora Renick Rinehart on her Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. You can also check out her website >>here. To see more of Liz Anna's work, first her website >>here