Kathy McGow, Joan Haab, and Kathy’s daughter Molly McGow. photo by Chris Gustin
Mother, Daughter Weavers
Joan Haab, Kathy McGow
by Barney Quick
Brown County is home to a mother and daughter, both of whom are weavers and mutually supportive of each others’ approaches, while maintaining their own material preferences, aesthetic sensibilities, and marketing practices. Their enthusiasm has a ripple effect throughout the area’s weaving community.
Joan Haab operates Country Mouse Studio from her home—actually, one corner of the living room of a bustling house where any combination of her extended family can be found on any given day. When this reporter paid a visit, one granddaughter, Molly, was over for lunch and another called to arrange a shopping trip before returning to college. Bear and Happy, lazily affable dogs well into middle age, languished on the porch. Three daughters, including fellow weaver Kathy McGow, are neighbors, and drop by regularly.
Another shared enthusiasm in Haab’s family, horses, actually precedes weaving (as well as the craft of cake-decorating, which another daughter plies professionally). Haab and her family lived on a farm in northern Indiana and raised horses. They frequently came to Brown County to ride in the state park and Hoosier National Forest. Haab and her husband moved here in 1972, and, one by one, the daughters and their families followed suit.
It was during this time that Haab took up weaving, quickly evolving beyond the basics. “I did my share of pedestrian things like placemats and wall hangings, like all weavers do,” she says. For many years, she has specialized in garments.
She works on a Le Clerc jack loom, made of maple. “You want to keep the design as simple as possible,” she explains. “I try to utilize the edges as much as possible and keep cutting to a minimum.”
She is naturally drawn to brighter colors such as reds and oranges, but occasionally works in earth tones. Her favorite material to work with is rayon chenille, because, as she explains, “It has iridescence I like.” It is spun from wood fiber. (Chenille is from the French for “caterpillar.”)
Haab currently shows her work at daughter Kathy McGow’s Salt Creek Weavers shop at 58 Main Street in Nashville, as well as Studio 434 in Columbus. She will participate in Nashville’s Fall for Art show and the Chautauqua for the Arts in Madison, both in September, and the Weavers and Spinners Show in Bloomington in December.
McGow says that the tables have turned since the days when she and her sister would set up and thread their mother’s looms at the shop she ran in Nashville for many years. “I’d think, ‘This is way too tedious for me.’ Alas, about thirty years ago, she found herself taking up the craft in spite of herself.
“I like to use big, loopy yarn like cotton boucle,” says McGow. Some of her pieces also blend in mohair, although she notes that that material is going up in price.
The loom in her store is a four-harness jack style built by the Schacht Spindle Company. She procured it from fellow Brown County weaver Chris Gustin. She also has a little hand-held two-harness loom for making mug mats and placemats.
She stocks other woven items besides those produced by her mother and herself, as well as clothing, posters and incense. Her vendors has amassed keep her tuned in to trends in her field, as well as cultural developments in countries throughout the world. “A lot of them have come to me and given me leads on where to find things. A lot of it has fallen into my lap. I can’t really get away to trade shows.” A travel agent who has frequented her store for some time brings her pieces from Latin American markets. She offers handbags and other items made by women’s cooperatives in Nepal. A Native American from Quito, Ecuador “comes to see me about once a year,” she says. “He brings me llama- and alpaca-hair items.”
Return customers are the most rewarding aspect of the shop for McGow. “They tell me, ‘You can’t ever close! This is where I get my clothing!’ Your clientele designs and shapes what’s going to be here.”
Country Mouse Studio can be contacted at (812) 988-7920, and Salt Creek Weavers can be contacted at (812) 988-8520.