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Karen L. Tembreull

Fiber Artist

When fiber artist Karen L. Tembreull joins natural materials with traditional techniques, the result is something of a celebration. One of the harmony she creates when, for instance, she tightly twines basswood cordage over cedar spokes. Every time, the result is a unique basketry form that offers style and function. Tembreull’s love for fabrication and fibers emerged at an early age and manifested itself in the form of basketry. Born and raised in Portage, MI., Tembreull took her first basketry class in 1983. She has subsequently taken classes all over the country from skilled instructors in order to hone her technique. Tembreull and her husband moved to the U.P. with the hopes of providing their kids with the chance to experience a U.P. childhood – a childhood her husband experienced, having grown up in Alberta, MI. For Tembreull, the area represents an abundance of natural beauty, of raw inspiration. More so, the U.P. marks the beginning of her process. Tembreull uses locally gathered barks, roots and grasses, and she often incorporates knots and blemishes to keep the beauty of the material alive in her pieces. Finding material processing to be both fascinating and fundamental to her work, Tembreull relishes the ability to combine materials in a wholly unique way. The search, the challenge presented by the materials themselves, gives life to work. It only follows then, that Tembreull’s passion aligns with her belief in exploration. One, she states, must get out and explore – live in the world, not on it.

Tembreull’s pieces – their nuances and craftsmanship – reflect fiber and fabrication techniques from different cultures, such as Scandinavian / Russian cylindrical forms with folded Native American style lids. Tembreull’s signature patchwork piece begins with birch bark gathered in June. (Note: Only from private property where permission is granted.) The process is an intricate one that consists in laying out the patchwork design, putting into practice embroidery stitches, heating the piece to form a cylinder and adding a liner to conceal stitch work. To finish the piece, Tembreull creates a lid in which petal tabs are folded over a ring of birch bark, establishing a flower shape, and stitched in place over a spruce root. Tembreull adds liners and finishes all seams to complete the piece.

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