Workshops by Joan

Felt-making Background

I learned the art of felt-making at Tapeis Gael, a fiber arts studio in Donegal, Ireland, and came home to Wisconsin to continue my learning. Through reading, workshops and hands-on work, I have continued to be fascinated with the magical properties of turning wool into art. A workshop with a Turkish rug-maker helped me to see the possibilities in large, colorful pieces, and I applied for, and received, and Artist/Community Collaboration Grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board to create a large felted installation. Working with young people from local schools in grades 2-11, we constructed a 4 sided “storytelling hut” of felted wool panels, each side with symbolism and artwork relating to seasonal changes and traditions. Much of the art is based upon the Celtic “Wheel of Life”, in which the changes in our sun, moon and seasons are acknowledged and celebrated. I have an Irish heritage, and have traveled widely in Ireland and Scotland, and have instructed Irish Art History classes in Ireland through our local college. Called the “Seanachie Shelter” (“Seanachie” means storyteller in the Irish language), our completed installation will travel to schools and libraries for students and teachers to enjoy, along with a curriculum I have developed to enhance its use. I have taught numerous felt-making workshops to adults, using wet felting techniques and dry needle felting, in which we create both functional and artistic pieces. The following workshops will use the dry needle technique, with demonstrations on wet felting included if desired.

As an artist, I create wool felted artwork ranging in size from 5 by 7 inched to 4 by 6 feet, for sale in galleries as well as commissions. On the following pages are views of recently completed work, both my own and the panels from the recently completed Artist/Community Collaboration Grant through the Wisconsin Arts Board.


I offer several workshops based upon the felt-making process which range from 1 day to 5. Courses can be geared to ages 8 through adult, and workshop content is varied and flexible. The content I love to explore with groups can be any of the following:

  • mythology and legend, and the visual depiction of powerful story
  • Celtic studies, Irish art and art history, traditional celebrations and their meaning
  • ancient rock art, stone circles, artifacts and structures from 5000 B.C., and the related symbolism. My strongest areas of interest and research are Native American art and European/Celtic
  • “the story of a place”, which involves bringing together the aspects that make a place unique, including its history, geography, inhabitants past and present, ecosystems, legends-and making art together getting to know, and celebrating the place

Workshop content always includes presentations, discussion and hands-on creation of artwork, and each one is different and based upon the people, ages, and place we are working.

Below I give an example from one of the content areas with different length sessions detailed:

1 day sample session would include:

  • presentations on the Celtic year, as well as cross cultural art history, myth and symbolism
  • re-enactment and performance of one or more traditions such as Morris dancing, Strawboy stories, Masks and guising, The Greenman, Sun Mythology
  • creation of a collaborative felted piece relating to time of year and story
  • creation of individual pieces by each participant

2 day session:

Includes the same as above with more emphasis on individual pieces and more detail on the collaboration and process of felt-making

5 day session:

Includes the same as above with the addition of the following possibilities:

  • slide presentation of site visits in Ireland and Scotland, with discussion of ancient legends surrounding standing stones, solar observatories and stone circles
  • students will learn and perform several traditional dances such as the spiral dance, basic Morris dancing from England using wooden swords, and “Border Morris” dances using wooden sticks, which were done to celebrate the turn of the seasons
  • students will create their own masks and disguises to accompany performances
  • poetry and drama will be incorporated through presentation and/or performance through pieces that re-enact the change of season, with myth, literature and legends incorporated into each day
  • discussion of the Ogham alphabet, the first written Irish language, in which each letter corresponds to a symbol, which also represents a tree. Examples of Ogham carvings will be presented and students will learn basic writing
  • Traditional use of natural materials will discuss how rushes, wheat and straw were fashioned into love and harvest knots, Brigid’s crosses, willow work, and straw disguises
  • slide presentations on elements of Celtic design, such as knot work and triskeles. We will look at designs ranging from rock art through the Book of Kells, and apply to our collaborative and individual pieces.

Fees: Fees are based upon length of workshop, travel distance, lodging, expenses, and materials required, based upon number of people and content. Please call to discuss.

About the Instructor: Joan Molloy Slack holds a BA in Art Education and English, and a Masters Degree in Ceramics/Visual Arts. She is a certified teacher of Art K-12, English 7-12, and Art at the Vocational/Technical School System in the State of Wisconsin, and is a certified Project WILD instructor of outdoor/environmental education. She owns and operates Riverrun Center for the Arts, a gallery, teaching and studio space, where she creates her own artwork and teaches year-round in a variety of media.

Ceramics Background

A 25 year career in clay has allowed me to explore functional wheel-thrown work as well as handbuilt, sculptural forms. My love of story, myth and symbol always brings me back to creating one-of-a-kind claywork that illustrate in 3 dimensions. Often I will create my version of a myth, such as “Raven Brings the Sun”, or a Celtic story of the Salmon of Wisdom. Storied are what we learn and need to live by, and I am fascinated at all the forms in which they can be told.

Examples of my work in clay and myth on the following pages exhibit the wide variety of inspiration that flows into my work- the Silver Lady of the birch trees, the Green Man and Green Woman of the forests, the songs of the mermaids enchanting Irish sailors.

Workshops    I travel to offer demonstrations, presentations and hands-on workshops as follows:

1 day workshop: “Mythic Pottery” this workshop includes demonstrations on creating a vessel in clay that incorporate myth, story and legend. Many examples to illustrate the process and content are provided. Students will create small, hand-built pieces and experiment with the application of colored slips and carving the forms.

2-3 day workshop : An expanded version of #1, this class will provide a more in-depth coverage of myth and clay and cross-cultural examples will be discussed. Several different construction techniques will be demonstrated, with discussion about vessels and adding sculptural elements. Clay that is pinched, coled, slabbed and thrown will be combined to enable students to create individualized pieces. Creating and working with colred slips, carving forms, and slip trailing will be covered as well.

5 day workshop: In this workshop, we will take more time with all of the techniques mentioned above, and allow students more opportunity to explore individually. An expansion of the story and myth component will be incorporated into each day. Students will create several pieces throughout the workshop, but the emphasis will be on finding new forms of expression, exploring visual depiction of ideas, and learning new ways to combine techniques of construction in clay.

Fees: Fees are based upon length of the workshop, travel distance and expense, materials required, and follow-up firing arrangements. Please call to discuss.

About the instructor: Joan Molloy Slack graduated with a degree in Art Education, and has taught at the high school, elementary and college levels during the last 25 years. She received a Masters Degree in Ceramics/Visual Art, and has operated her own pottery business for many years. She recently built a new facility called Riverrun Center for the Arts, located in northern Wisconsin, where she has a working pottery/sculpture studio, exhibits her own work and that of over 40 regional artists, and teaches classes year-round in a variety of media.

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