NAN HONORS: Permission To Play

This article first appeared in NANthology, the NAN newsletter, in summer 2013. 

At Assembly 2013, Carlene Harwick gave her final presentation in completion of Honors. In NAN’s entire existence, only 23 people have completed Honors. Carlene graciously agreed to an interview sharing her experience in achieving this notable goal.

What is “Honors”?

Honors is an exceptional research project that goes more into depth than usual research – beyond the investigation one does in almost any other needlework certification program.

What brought you into the Honors program?

I finished my NAN teaching certification in 1986 when Joyce Lukomski was Director of Education. It was her practice to interview completing candidates, and when I met with her, she asked what my next step would be. She also asked if I might be interested in Honors, and I said yes. I was subsequently awarded a scholarship for this purpose.

Through the years, I kept thinking “I’ll get to it…” But then my children’s lives got busy and as they say, “life happened” and my energies were diverted into other directions. I eventually got involved with ANG, and then came back to NAN through the Judge’s Certification Program. I thought to myself “NOW I’ll get to it!” But then I was asked to be NAN’s Director of Education…so Honors went on the back burner again.

Finally, 27 years after receiving the scholarship I was ready to dive in. I had helped set up the ANG Master Needleartist Program and completed the program with a focus on Charles Rennie Mackintosh. I was determined to study Bess of Hardwick – since I’d love to think we’re related – but everywhere I turned I encountered more dimensions of Mackintosh (and more writings about him) that I hadn’t explored. Then I visited Scotland and the Mackintosh bug really dug in – the person and his art had a fascination for me. So, I changed direction, doing 2/3 more work than anticipated as a result.

What was the biggest surprise once you were in the program and working on it?

I kept discovering more and more information…I learned that Mackintosh was an architect as well as decorator. He had a holistic design vision. He’d go to a property, have a vision of room, and build an edifice around it. He called this the “creative soul of the house”. He was a total artist…most of us are good at one thing, but he did it all – friezes, furniture, architecture, tile. One writer described Mackintosh as digging a hole and falling into it. His personality was fascinating – his drive meant he didn’t work well with people; I might know a few people like that! One of his colleagues described him as a “beautiful thread in the tapestry of life”. It’s a lesson that one should never discount those who are different.

Where did this journey take you? And what resulted from it?

Don’t close any doors. Keep your mind open to any possibility. It’s easy to get locked in a box, confined in a space where you’re comfortable. Keep playing! Let go of boundaries! Sometimes you just have to put your work out for others to see – you can never figure out what others will pick up on in a piece. One of my more popular pieces is a design that I struggled with and finally set free. I’ve completed three needlework designs inspired by Mackintosh, with one in the works, and another one in mind.

What type of person do you think would enjoy Honors?

Someone who likes research, wants to learn, wants to challenge themselves.

After a while – after you have a few years of experience in any endeavor – everything starts to seem the same. Honors is about finding something new and enjoying the journey.

Any lessons learned that you’d like to pass on to others considering Honors?

Look at everything around you to find beauty. Now I even find patterns in tire tread and think “I could do that in stitchery”! Open up your mind.

When I was 2/3 of the way toward completing my studies, the initial excitement had waned – the dreaming phase was done – and I was ready to be finished. I got over the hump by delving into a weekend project, which was a memory quilt for a friend. That brief break made me able to return to my Honors work and finish it. The lesson is that when you’re stuck, set your work aside and don’t look at it for a while. The time away will give you a new perspective. Sometimes persistence isn’t a strength!

Is there anything else you think NANthology readers might find interesting?

Too often, we all set a goal and focus only on the end product. Take time to enjoy the journey! Be willing to change a design, to play with it. Be willing to experiment! I tend to like the same stitches, so I need to push myself to try something different. Always explore. Sometimes as a teacher the need to produce – to meet deadlines – is at odds with exploration. Honors give you the opportunity to do that. I do more playing now, and I want to do even more of it.