ARTIST INTERVIEW: Abigail Chapin
Abigail Chapin is a New York City-based musician, mother and artisan. She writes songs, sings and tours the world with her band The Chapin Sisters and as a back-up singer for other projects. She started ARC of LA, her line of block-printed leather bags and pouches in 2011, and has been selling them at the Echo Park Craft Fair ever since. After the birth of her daughter Elspeth in January, 2016, Abigail finally found a use for leather scraps stored in her studio- hand printed leather baby shoes, under the moniker Chapinettes.
Describe the path that led you to the work you do now.
While studying Fine Arts at Oberlin College, I was drawn away from representational painting and toward utilitarian objects and the repetitive geometric patterns of quilts, weavings and ceramic tilework. I have always made things for myself to use- mostly sewing and knitting clothing, but surface pattern design and printmaking have always been of particular interest to me. On a whim I started block-printing in 2011, and something really clicked for me. Carving the blocks, and the repetition of printing the pattern were immediately very soothing and meditative, and watching the pattern grow was extremely gratifying. I had spent a year of heavy touring on the road with my band, and being home in LA gave me the desire to make things- to sew concrete objects with my decidedly-not-portable sewing machine. The first pouch I made was a birthday present for my sister, Lily and my bag line took off from there. Although I’ve now relocated to my childhood home of NYC, I kept the name ARC of LA as an homage to the years I spent in that city, the community there, and the freedom of space and time that allowed my craft to grow. More recently, after the birth of my daughter, I have expanded my printing process to include hand-dyed block printed baby clothes, and with the leather scraps I’ve collected over the last 5 years, baby shoes.
What are your most important artistic tools?
I use 4 inch X 6 inch rubber blocks, and chisels to carve them. Some of the blocks are the same ones I carved 5 years ago. They have changed over time with the layers of paint that haven’t completely worn off, as well as the decay of the rubber, so when I see prints I made early on, I can see the slight difference in the zig zag or the size of the dots. The imperfection of the prints is part of my aesthetic, so being able to see this change and decay is inspiring to me.
Do you have any artists or creative people in your family? If so how did they influence you?
I’m lucky enough to come from a family of artists- many professional, but many also have other careers and make art very seriously on the side. My grandmother Elspeth Hart who passed away last year at the age of 96 was a literary editor by profession, but her passion was embroidery and quilting, and she was a true artist within her medium. She was a life-long member of the embroidery guild of Brooklyn, and went to quilting expos all over the world, where she was somewhat of a celebrity. We had a show of her work at her memorial service and there were hundreds of pieces included- she was extremely prolific, and the artistry, quality and workmanship in each one was completely amazing. She, along with my mother, who is a great seamstress, also taught me to sew. My father is a musician, and is an avid photographer, and when I was growing up he was a stained-glass artist as well. He is always working on something- practicing guitar, taking pictures, writing songs, his hands are never idle. For me, being a song-writer is very cerebral, and is difficult and heady. It makes sense to me that we would be drawn to making something physical and visible as a counter-balance.