Kaffe Fassett is known as a master of color knitting and other intricate handcrafts who has adopted England as his longtime home. But many of his fans might not know much about his life before the Rowan books and shows at museums around the world.
You might not know, for instance, that he grew up in the artistic, bohemian, beachy community of Big Sur, Calif., with parents who founded the legendary Nepenthe restaurant on the grounds of a cabin they bought from Orson Welles. Or that he briefly studied acting but was told by fellow classmate Dustin Hoffman that he had no talent.
Or that the master of color went through a period of painting still lives in white. These and many other highlights of this prolific artist's life are shared in his lovely autobiography Dreaming in Color.
Not Your Average Autobiography
If you think an autobiography of a knitter sounds like a pretty boring read, then you don't know Kaffe Fassett. To use a bad pun you could say his life has been colorful from the beginning, surrounded by artists, musicians and big dreamers throughout his life. He attended Happy Valley School, run by followers for Jiddu Krishnamurti; studied painting at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and then struck out to England, where he would spend most of his life creating and exploring the wide world of color.
He's a multi-crafter in the best sense of the words, seeking to master each genre and doing so quite successfully. He began with painting, then branched out to knitting, needlepoint and tapestry-making and quilting. He's worked in mosaics, designed yarn and fabric, made theatrical costumes and sets and traveled the world teaching and talking about art, color and design.
The book manages to encompass all that in a narrative that brings readers into his world and makes you want to read slowly so you can linger in that experience. A multitude of large photos help bring the story to life and show that from the beginning, no matter the medium, Fassett was always painting beautiful scenes.
This book is actually designed more like a coffee table book than a book you're meant to read from cover to cover, but whether you read it straight through or browse it from time to time, you're sure to be rewarded with an inspiring look at color, art and style.
The Art of Making Art
This book is of course filled with stories about people who have been important in Fassett's life through the years. Some of them you will have heard of -- Paloma Picasso, the Missonis, Barbra Streisand, Brandon Mably -- some not, but it's always interesting to see the patchwork of personalities that help to make up a life.
He speaks of those people who were supportive of his efforts, giving him the "praise that every artist craves to receive" and offering "the best gift to any artist, to be stretched and appreciated." It is that willingness to stretch that has brought him into so many different artistic endeavors and allowed him to travel around the world sharing his work and his love of color.
His writing expresses a passion for his work that I think most of us wish we could feel: "My work has never felt like drudgery or duty to me, and I'm still pinching myself to make sure that this life -- making a living from something that gives me such deep satisfaction -- isn't just a dream."
There is so much I could say about Dreaming in Color. It's a hefty book exploring a life of more than 70 years, the people, places and art that have shaped it, and how the making of art becomes the making of a life.
Fassett fans of course will want to pick this one up, but it will interest anyone who has a passion for knitting (or needlework, or quilting) or an interest in art. The book itself is beautiful and inspiring, and the story is interesting and in its way inspiring as well, giving readers a push to bring more passion -- and color! -- into their work and their lives.