AHA! A House for Arts

S6 E12 | FULL EPISODE

AHA! | 612

Explore Marjolaine Arsenault's career as a fiber artist along with nuno felt garments & accessories. Learn about Steve Sheinkin's suspenseful history novels for young adults. Have you ever died and lived to tell about it? Singer/songwriter TJ Foster has, and he wrote a song about it too.

AIRED: September 09, 2020 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

(lively intro)

- Marjolaine Arsenault's wearable art of nuno felt,

award winning author, Steve Sheinkin,

on writing history for young adults

and a performance from TJ Foster.

It's all ahead on this episode of AHA.

- [Narrator] Funding for AHA

has been provided by your contribution

and by contributions to the WMHT venture fund.

Contributors include Chet and Karen Opalka,

Robert and Doris Fischer Malesardi,

the Alexander and Marjorie Hover Foundation

and The Robison Family Foundation.

- At M&T Bank, we understand

that the vitality of our communities,

is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M&T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts and we invite you to do the same.

(upbeat music)

(gentle music)

- Hi, I'm Laura Ayad and this is AHA, A House for Arts,

a place for all things creative.

Let's send it over to producer Matt Rogowicz,

who was on location in Warren County,

for today's field segment.

- I'm here in North Creek, New York

at the studio of Marjolaine Arsenault,

who creates wearable art out of nuno felt.

What exactly is nuno felt?

Let's find out.

(upbeat music)

- This was love at first sight.

(upbeat music)

It had limitless potential of color combination,

of sculptural quality, just so many things

we could do with a felting.

So felting is actually a very ancient process

that's been used for thousands of years.

You can go back to Mongolia, where they were actually

using felt to create boots, to create hats.

The felted hats, they're still being used today,

to create also insulation on their yurts,

so they would actually, on the yurts,

they would create the inside walls of the yurts,

sometime even creating the entire yurt from felting.

Polly Stirling, who lives in Australia

is the woman who invented the process of nuno felting.

Nuno, is Japanese for cloth.

So it's combining the cloth and the wool together

to create a lightweight felt.

And of course in Australia, being so warm,

it was nice to be able to create a lightweight felt,

that was a little bit more airy than the traditional felt,

that is all solid wool.

And I was very inspired by that process.

I really like the quality,

the drapey quality of the nuno felt.

Polly's sister, Robin is in Glens Falls

and she is the owner of the studio

where I learned the process.

What I like to make personally are seamless garments.

So, that means there's actually no stitching.

We use silk to create the base of the felting,

then I apply the wool on top of it.

I overlap it a little bit

and then you just kind of try to follow

that same line that you have here.

- So, it's almost like cotton candy.

- It is like cotton candy.

(playful music)

Over the years, my work has changed from being

solid wool covering all the surface of the silk,

to gently and slowly opening up,

allowing these little windows of silk

to appear through the wool.

And lately what I've been calling it,

is a stained glass window effect.

So I used the luminous quality of the silk

as the background of the wool.

I also do a silk painting, using silk fibers.

I use silk hankies, silk fibers, bamboo fibers,

all these different natural fibers

to paint on top of the wool

and it allows for an additional colors

to be incorporated in the process.

- Once this layout is done,

then what needs to happen to get it

to a wearable piece of art?

What I have to do is I actually have to apply water to this,

with a little bit of soap

then it's rolled around a swimming noodle,

the fiber swimming noddle's now being put to work

and what that does is it starts

migrating the wool fibers through the fabric.

So, and it creates, once it's merging together,

then it creates a new fabric.

So I look at the past

and I realize I've been every so many years,

changing career or being called to do something different,

you know, being a graphic designer for 20 years,

then going into landscape design

and then from landscape design,

falling in love with Nuno Felt.

With COVID-19, I feel that

and this summer has definitely been a time of reflection,

a time of really asking myself, "Okay, what is next?"

All my shows have been canceled for the entire year.

I keep hoping every two months, well maybe the last,

the next two shows will be happening

and then I get the notice of the producers

that the shows have been canceled.

All my teaching class, all the contracts I had,

everything was also canceled.

So it's been very depressing.

It's been very difficult this summer, not knowing, you know,

where you're gonna be next

and keep hoping that something will come up.

I do feel it's time for a change.

I do feel that it's time,

I've been very attracted to do teaching.

Maybe the teaching will be something more in terms of,

you know, giving lectures, giving hope to other artists,

giving hope to people, that there's something else

that can be created.

And if I look at the patterns of my life,

I have not been afraid to take a leap of faith

and to step into the unknown and just take a big risk.

It's scary to take a leap of faith

and just go into the unknown,

but at the same time, if we don't take risk,

then what happens to our life, you know?

The same thing gets repeated

and yes, it's safe and it's comfortable where we are,

but I think COVID-19 is asking each and every one of us,

you know, what do you want to do with your life?

What makes your heart sing?

I know what is it that you've been dreaming to do

and you been in a waiting,

waiting for what?

- Award winning author, Steve Sheinkin,

has a secret to tell us.

He used to write textbooks, which as we all know,

can be dry and tedious terms of information,

but there's nothing boring

about Steve's suspenseful history novels for young adults.

Let's chat with Steve to learn about

how we can make history more accessible.

Steve, welcome to A House for Arts.

It's a pleasure to have you.

- Thank you, thank you so much for having me here.

- Steve, tell me about the work that you've done in the past

and the work that you do now.

- Yeah, I mean, always trying to be some kind of writer.

I guess that's the through theme to it all

and I've tried a lot of different ways, when we were,

we, I said me and my brother, when we were younger,

we wanted be filmmakers

and that was the kind of writing I thought about

when we were in school.

Not so much the type of writing that you do in school,

but, you know, so we made lots of little movies

and comedy sketches that we filmed

and through our 20s we tried to make movies

and had some success and some failure at it.

Then through a winding path that led me to evolve things,

textbook writing, history textbook writing,

which I'm forever apologizing for

because I hate those books and kids hate them

and they're just very boring for a lot of reasons,

we don't need to go into,

but it was, that was my 10,000 hours.

You know, that idea about

how long you have to practice something to get good at it.

And it really was one of those kinda blessing in disguise

type of things, because practiced writing every day

and for the first time, I really got into the idea

of writing, not fiction especially history,

because I saw how it was being written

for young people and I'm talking of like upper elementary,

middle school into high school ages.

And, but how it could be done too,

that the fact that these stories were actually not boring,

as I thought they were when I was in middle school,

but actually very exciting and interesting

and thought-provoking and that the material was there.

Everything, every element that you need

for a great story, was there.

And so I'm saying as though it happened overnight.

It didn't, but I eventually came up with the idea

of taking this material that I had learned

in my textbook researches

and trying to write books on history

that people would find more enjoyable to read,

but would still get across all this information

that we want everyone to know.

- You know, you talk,

I know that you didn't wanna keep going

into the dry textbooks, but I have to know in your opinion,

I mean, you talked about memorizing dates,

but what do you think is so uninspiring

about traditional history textbooks

and what makes a story more interesting

or inspiring in your opinion?

- Yeah, I mean the boring part of textbooks

and it's not exclusive to history,

is if it's just memorization.

And there's sort of a,

the history is the worst of that,

because it's just the kind of thing that adults,

if you corner them, they'll have to admit,

they don't actually know either.

You know, when this or that battle took place

or what this explorer, what river this explorer went on.

And so it's actually not super important.

So you have to get away from that

and turn it, you know, like we've been saying, into a story.

So the elements of a good story are the same,

whether it's in fiction or in film

or a TV series or a comic book

and you can bring those into nonfiction,

with great characters, great dilemmas for those characters,

challenges and ideas

and bring all that in and wrap it up into a great plot.

And if you become a history nerd and embrace it like I have,

then you have these ready-made plots

that have everything you could ever want,

That everything if you take a screen writing class

that tells you, "Remember to put it in conflict

and have different things happen in each act of the story."

And all that naturally happens--

- (indistinct) yeah.

- In stories so well

and so it's fun to find those

and then figure out the puzzle of how to tell it,

while keeping it totally true. - Yeah.

You know, I'm thinking about,

when I think about history and history textbooks too Steve,

I think about this issue of truth.

You did talk about how certain moral dilemmas come up

when you write history,

but even the very nature of writing about history

really deals with the issue of truth and I'm wondering,

you know, the internet is now rife with

misinformation about historical figures and events.

I've seen people mistakenly or intentionally misquote

a historical figure, in order to push an agenda

or maybe like promote really kind of extreme views

on certain issues.

I'm wondering, you know, what advice do you have

for Americans who want to understand

the truth about our nation's history

and more largely, what can writing and reading history

do for us on a larger level?

- Wow, that's a really big, really big question,

but yeah, you can do it.

It's so important to do and to know history.

I think so much of what we're struggling with now

would at least be a little bit clearer,

if we knew history.

Take black lives matter for instance,

and then you go back to the moral dilemmas,

there's no deeper moral dilemma in our country than racism

and the fact that most of the founders, were slave owners.

So that's kind of sewn into us.

And so, if you know that, even just that basic thing,

that our first president,

the man who wrote the declaration of independence,

the man who said, "Give me Liberty or give me death."

And so on down the liberal slave owners,

then you wouldn't have to explain

why we need to say black lives matter,

because you would just know.

You would understand it

and it wouldn't be political, it would just be logical.

So that's really why we need to know this stuff.

And so we don't end up arguing about facts.

That's a very strange thing

and I guess people always think, in their time,

there's something unique about their time

and maybe people have always struggled with this,

but it seems like we've let it get too far

where facts are now things that we get to argue about.

- Yeah.

Well, Steve, why don't you tell us a little bit about

an upcoming project that you have.

Do you have any books currently kinda cooking in the oven

or is there anything that you've recently published

that you think could be worth sharing?

- I always have many things in the oven

and as you say, many projects.

So, I'm kind of almost lucky.

I don't have anything coming out this year.

So many writers do

and they were either delayed

or of course they're just much harder

to promote and talk about.

So much of what I do is to go into schools,

which obviously is not going to be happening anytime soon,

other than in this kind of format.

And so, but I do have stuff in the works.

So next year I will have a new nonfiction book

and probably the book that that's best known of mine

is a book called Bomb, a World War II story

about the scientists who made the atomic bomb,

but it's also kind of a spy thriller,

the spies who stole the secrets of the bomb

and that's exactly what I'm trying to do in a nutshell,

it's kind of like this page-turning nonfiction thriller.

And so I'm kind of doing a followup on that story.

It's gonna be called Fallout, about the cold war.

Kind of taking the story of the arm treaties

and spying into the cold war.

And so that's gonna be my next nonfiction book,

which will be next,

It's only a year from now.

And then the thing that I'm talking about

that I'm working on, for the 1850s

is actually a graphic novel, which I love.

I love comics and I love reading them.

I like to draw, but this is something that I would write

and get a much better artist to actually draw.

And it's a, you know, what I was saying,

a story of American politics in the 1850s

leading up to The Civil War.

So that's writing.

That's really going full circle,

cause that's writing,

writing a comic is really almost not different at all

from writing a screen play

and you're imagining everything

that you're seeing and hearing and just writing it down

and instead of filming it,

you're handing it up to an illustrator, to draw it.

So those are the two projects I'm working on,

but I'm always thinking, you know, what's next?

What's next?

That's part of the fun of this job,

is to, to skip around, to try out different things.

- Well, Steve it was such a pleasure talking with you

and best of luck on your coming projects.

- Thank you.

- Please welcome singer songwriter, TJ foster.

- All right, this song is called The Background.

It's told from the perspective of

a guy who doesn't really recognize his country anymore.

Here we go.

(upbeat guitar tune)

♪ I don't want someone to tell me how to live, son ♪

♪ I got a hole inside my heart the size of June ♪

♪ I wanna live inside the barricades ♪

♪ Of a summer-of-love holiday ♪

♪ But I know that wouldn't feel the same ♪

♪ I don't want someone to pick apart my misses ♪

♪ I wanna talk to strangers like we're the closest friends ♪

♪ Oh, I'm tired of always being ♪

♪ The smartest guy in every room ♪

♪ I guess that will never change ♪

♪ Don't you put me in the background ♪

♪ Don't you leave me in the fog ♪

♪ Haven't we already done this ♪

♪ I remember back in '41 ♪

♪ We were sleeping at the wheel ♪

♪ And now the wheels are turning ♪

♪ I don't want someone to tell me how to speak, son ♪

♪ If I'm afraid to say my peace then we're at war ♪

♪ Now you can look me in my tired eyes ♪

♪ You can sing me another lullaby ♪

♪ I know that wouldn't change a thing ♪

♪ Oh I thought these things were supposed to kill fascists ♪

♪ I remember well the days when that was true ♪

♪ I don't need your foot upon my throat ♪

♪ To tell me what I already know ♪

♪ Some people ain't ever gonna change ♪

♪ And don't you put me in the background ♪

♪ Oh, don't you leave me in the fog ♪

♪ Haven't we already done this ♪

♪ I remember back in '41 ♪

♪ We were sleeping at the wheel ♪

♪ And now the wheels are turning ♪

♪ Wheels are turning ♪

♪ Wheels are turning ♪

♪ Wheels are turning ♪

♪ Mm ♪

(upbeat guitar tune)

♪ These old haunts are coming apart ♪

♪ These old lies are coming apart ♪

♪ This old faith is coming apart ♪

♪ This old brain is coming apart ♪

♪ And these old haunts are coming apart ♪

♪ And these old lies are coming apart ♪

♪ This old faith is coming apart ♪

♪ This old brain is coming apart ♪

♪ And these old haunts are coming apart ♪

♪ And these old lies are coming apart ♪

♪ This old faith is coming apart ♪

♪ This old brain is coming apart ♪

♪ These old haunts are coming apart ♪

♪ These old lies are coming apart ♪

♪ This old faith is coming apart ♪

♪ And this old brain, whoo ♪

(upbeat guitar tune)

♪ I don't want someone to tell me how to live, son ♪

♪ I've got a hole inside my heart the size of you ♪

♪ And when I look around at my hometown ♪

♪ I wanna burn this whole thing to the ground ♪

♪ I fear nothing's gonna change ♪

♪ Yeah, nothing's ever gonna be the same ♪

♪ Nothing's ever gonna be the same ♪

All right, this is gonna be my last song.

It's called Fire Away.

It's the first track of our debut LP.

This song's about a time I collapsed on the bathroom floor

and was legally dead for 15 seconds.

It's very uplifting.

(uplifting guitar tune)

♪ Last year was a car crash for the ages ♪

♪ For 15 seconds I was dead ♪

♪ Sprawled down on the floor ♪

♪ And you were calling for me, deeply ♪

♪ Oh I hope I never feel that way again ♪

♪ I know I shouldn't care ♪

♪ But there's a fire in my bones ♪

♪ And I'm gonna let it burn ♪

♪ Make it if I try and I'll fake if I don't ♪

♪ I don't ♪

♪ So fire away ♪

♪ Fire away ♪

♪ Last year I couldn't quiet down all the voices ♪

♪ Guess I'll take my pills and stay afloat ♪

♪ I'm so ashamed I've become complacent ♪

♪ I'd change it, but ah ♪

♪ Who's got the time to turn it around ♪

♪ You told me once a song couldn't change anything ♪

♪ I respectfully disagree ♪

♪ Life ain't always so black and white, old man ♪

♪ I promise you that ♪

♪ Me, I'll never be satisfied that way ♪

♪ I know I shouldn't care ♪

♪ But there's a fire in my bones ♪

♪ And I'm gonna let it burn ♪

♪ I'll make it if I try and I'll fake it if I don't ♪

♪ I don't ♪

♪ So fire away ♪

♪ Fire away ♪

♪ Fire ♪

♪ Last year was a car crash for the ages ♪

♪ For 48 hours I was done ♪

♪ I'm afraid my foundation's crumbling ♪

♪ Like California with a terrible view ♪

♪ I'm flesh and blood but I'm telling you I'm a ♪

♪ Piece of work and I'm coming undone ♪

♪ I don't wanna be the way I am ♪

♪ I know I shouldn't care ♪

♪ But there's a fire in my bones ♪

♪ And I'm gonna let it burn ♪

♪ The future is a ghost ♪

♪ It'll haunt you till you die ♪

♪ You die, you die, you die ♪

♪ Fire away ♪

♪ Fire way ♪

- Thanks for joining us.

For more arts, visit wmht.org/aha

and be sure to connect with WMHT, on social.

I'm Laura Ayad.

Thanks for watching.

(upbeat music)

- [Narrator] Funding for AHA,

has been provided by your contribution

and by contributions to the WMHT venture fund.

Contributors include Chet and Karen Opalka,

Robert and Doris Fischer Malesardi,

the Alexander and Marjorie Hover Foundation

and The Robison Family Foundation.

- At M&T Bank, we understand

that the vitality of our communities

is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M&T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts and we invite you to do the same.

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